The far-right government of Austria plans to close seven mosques and expel many imams in the country.
Government leaders in Austria are describing the moves as “just the beginning” of what could be a series of policies possibly implemented soon that would negatively impact Muslims living inside the country.
The mosques and imams are being removed because the Austrian government claims they are being funded, in part, by Turkey in violation of a 2015 law that restricts religious organizations from receiving donations from foreign governments.
That law also requires Muslim organizations to take great pains in order to ensure they reflect “a positive fundamental view” of Austria itself, including its government and society. Such a law is obviously in violation of Muslim leaders’ free speech rights, as condemnation of the law itself could be seen as a criminal action.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz defended passage of the law in 2015.
“Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” he said then.
This law, and other policies like it in Austria (including burqa bans) are evidently intended to harass and otherwise demean Muslims in the country. Indeed, Kurz and his government came to power in direct response to an influx of Muslims refugees seeking asylum in Europe — a move that Kurz and like-minded lawmakers were intolerant of.
The planned expulsion of imams and the closing of mosques in Austria were condemned by a prominent Muslim organization in the country, a group called IGGiOe (whose acronym roughly translates to “Islamic Religious Community in Austria” in English).
IGGiOe President Ibrahim Olgun explained that the recent moves by Austria sought to “discredit the religious community.”
“Solutions should be worked out together around a table rather than unilaterally on the backs of the Muslim minority,” he elaborated.
Given Kurz’s anti-Muslim rhetoric from the past, Olgun’s assessment seems to be spot on. Muslims in Austria are being treated unfairly by their government, which views them through a bigoted lens.
Rather than find ways to harass or belittle the people who sought their country out for refuge, the Austrian government should find positive ways in which to integrate Muslims entering their country, while at the same time still respecting their religious beliefs. There is no reason to hold these far-right biases, and the fact that Kurz is implementing policies that seek to do harm to a fundamental human right should trouble the rest of the continent, and indeed the world.
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