The Austrian government has launched an initiative to identify and register social and educational institutions that are the targets of Islamist-controlled organisations for political purposes — to formulate a new law that would make “politically-motivated Islamic activity” or “political Islam” an offence in the country.
The Cabinet of Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, agreed to the proposals that include the ability to keep individuals convicted of terror offences behind bars for life, electronic surveillance of people convicted of terror-related offences upon release and criminalizing religiously motivated political extremism. ‘We will create a criminal offence called ‘political Islam’ in order to be able to take action against those who are not terrorists themselves, but who create the breeding ground for them,’ Kurz tweeted after the Cabinet meeting.
Austria will order the closure of mosques that it deems a threat to national security. Austrian police on 9 November raided more than 60 addresses allegedly linked to radical Islamists, with orders for 30 suspects to be questioned, prosecutors said.
These operations came a week after a convicted Islamic State group supporter killed four people in a shooting rampage in the heart of Vienna, but prosecutors said the raids were not linked to the attack.
The attack in Vienna followed an attack in Nice, France, in which four people were killed by a man of Tunisian origin.
In the wake of several assaults, France has begun to close mosques and is cracking down on the organisations it suspects are spreading hate.
Austria, in recent years, has seen increasing far-right activity and Islamophobic incidents. A report looking at Islamophobia in Europe found that there had been a doubling of Islamophobic incidents in 2019, with 1,050 cases of anti-Muslim hate crime.
In consecutive elections in Austria, the fear of Muslims has been often used as a tool to gain more votes by far-right parties, however, according to the Islamophobia report “no political party to date has really positioned itself against those anti-Muslim claims, suggesting that Islamophobia still enjoys a hegemonic power across the political spectrum.”
In 2019, Austria’s far right government led by Kurz, implemented a hijab ban in primary schools and in 2017, it instituted a controversial ban on face veils. Both moves have been instituted on the grounds of fighting “political Islam”. Many Muslims will now be left wondering what other normative Muslim practices may fall inside the ill-defined government dragnet of “political Islam.”