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Austria to shut down mosques and deport imams

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Austria to shut down mosques and deport imams

Photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI

The government of Austria is preparing to close down seven mosques and deport up to 60 imams in what it says is “just the beginning” of a crackdown on “political Islam” and Islamic communities whose funding trickles in from abroad.

This is the first time the country’s right-wing administration is invoking the controversial “law on Islam” — introduced in 2015 when current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was foreign minister.

The said imams and mosques are suspected of breaching portions of the law that makes foreign funding of Islamic communities an offence and punishable.

“Austria is a land of diversity, where religious freedom is highly valued, but it is also clear that we are a constitutional state where statutory rules are needed to organize our coexistence,” Kurz said Friday. “Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country.”

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, whose anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Freedom Party is currently in a coalition government with Kurz’s conservative People’s Party, said the crackdown on “dubious finance flows” was “just the beginning” of the fight against “radical political Islam.”

The measures, critics have cautioned, indicate an Islamophobic attitude in Austria’s new government, formed last December.

Turkey whose nationals are mostly affected are not happy about the move Austria intends to implement. Spokesman of the Turkish government, Ibrahim Kalin tweeted on Friday Austrias “ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of co-existence.”

The crackdown would hit an Arab Muslim group that runs at least six mosques as well as a society that runs a mosque linked with the “Grey Wolves,” a nationalist Turkish organization.

Austria’s Office of Religious Affairs will control the process to close down the mosques and expel the 60 imams who are all connected to the Turkish Islamic Cultural Association (ATIB). Together with their family members, they could number up to 150 people and their expulsion from the country would be on the grounds of allegedly receiving foreign funding, according to Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.

Austria has close to 700,000 Muslims most of whom have Turkish roots who make around 8% of the population.
Turkish government spokesman Kalin described the decision as “a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country.”

“It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points,” he wrote in a post on Twitter, adding, “Efforts to normalize Islamophobia and racism must be rejected under all circumstances.”
Mahmut Askar, an ATIB consultant in Cologne and former chairman of ATIB Germany, described the measures as “shocking.”

“This is a shame for democracy — and especially for the Muslims in Europe,” Askar said. “Difficult and bad days are ahead for the Muslim minority in Europe.”

Immigration and Islam was the main issue in last year’s election campaign in Austria, with the far-right Freedom Party calling for “minus migration” and a ban on “fascistic Islam.” Earlier in the year, Kurz’s party was the driving force behind a law banning full-face Muslim veils in public spaces.

Passed in 2015, Austria’s new law on Islam has been widely criticized by its opponents as discriminatory. Although it guarantees certain protections for Muslims — including the right to celebrate Islamic holidays and to access halal food in schools and hospitals — critics pointed out that no other recognized religious groups in Austria face bans on foreign funding.

However the Chancellor Kurz believes it’s the best for the country under the current circumstances. , “We don’t want any imams who are employees of other governments,” Kurz said.

Austria to shut down mosques and deport imams

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