A respected Muslim academic is in the crosshairs of the Austrian authorities for his work on anti-Muslim hate crime.

Academic and anti-Islamophobia scholar, Farid Hafez, was targeted by Austrian authorities as a sign of a growing crackdown on those that speak out against the government's anti-Muslim policies.

Hafez, an Austrian academic, spoke out against the raid on his family home for the first time since it happened on November 9, 2020.

In a video released on Monday, Hafez, an internationally published academic, recalls guns with infrared dots were aimed at his chest as police sporting balaclavas stormed his house.

A scholar on racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, Hafez has been a strong critic of Austria's increasingly draconian policies towards its Muslim minority.

Born in a village in Upper Austria, Hafez, in a video, recalls the growing spectre and confidence of the far-right in the country, which has focused in particular on Muslims.

"This is the reason I became interested in Islamophobia because I felt like nobody was talking about it," says Hafez in the almost eight-minute video.

The Austrian government has seemingly taken notice and is now on a mission to silence Hafez, who works at the University of Salzburg and is a senior research fellow at Georgetown University in the US.

Hafez has not been charged with any crimes by the Austrian government, leading some to believe that the government is deliberately harassing the academic in a bid to muzzle his research.

One academic called Hafez's treatment by the Austrian state "a gross miscarriage of justice."

Whereas another called it a "chilling...witchhunt against a Muslim academic."

During his ordeal, Hafez was asked what he thought about the term Islamophobia and whether he believes "Muslims [are] discriminated against in Austria" and even if he prays, casting aside any doubt about why he was targeted.

Other questions that were posed to the academic were whether he allows his wife to go to the supermarket and if his children play musical instruments.

The Austrian government has also blocked Hafez's bank accounts, putting his family's livelihood in jeopardy.

The Austrian authorities have a right to keep the investigation open for up to three years without providing any evidence and without pressing charges while maintaining restrictions on Hafez's bank accounts.

In the words of one academic, the state's actions were "a scary reminder that Islamophobia is entrenched in EU politics and govs aren't shy from politically persecuting Muslim academics."

Supporters of Hafez have set up a fundraising page to help the academic pay for his legal costs.

Austria's problem with Islam?

The country up until very recently was the only Western country to recognise Islam as an official religion. The move stemmed from the country's annexation of Bosnia in 1908, a land it had occupied for several decades.

Muslims in Austria have experienced a relatively strong level of tolerance compared to other European countries, however, that tolerance has recently eroded.

The most significant turning point was in 2016 when the then right-wing government changed a century-old law on Islam by making it illegal for mosques to receive funding from abroad while allowing synagogues and churches to continue to do so. 

The move was widely seen as an attempt to interfere in the workings of the Muslim community in the country.

Since then, the Austrian government has been on a crusade to tighten its grip on the Muslim community.

In 2017 the state instituted a niqab ban, a face covering worn by some Muslim women. In 2019, a hijab ban aimed at school girls was overturned in December 2020 after the country's highest court ruled that it was an infringement of Muslims' rights.

Austria's right-wing Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has recently sought to create "political Islam," a vaguely defined term, into a criminal offence.

Kurz has warned the country's Muslim population that mosques could be closed down, and the state could create a register for imams in a bid keep track of Muslims.

When TRT World spoke to Farid Hafez at the time he warned, "This is the latest step by the government to crush Muslim civil society and send a message out that no one is safe."

Source: TRT World