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Using Anti-Terrorism As An Excuse, Austria Is Escalating Its Domestic War On Islam

The anti-Muslim laws of Germany’s southern neighbor are among the toughest in Europe. And they are about to get tougher: Here’s an in-depth look at the dynamics of anti-Muslim racism in Austria.

The caricature above is titled “Liebende Eltern” (loving parents) and depicts Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz (on right) and disgraced former vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (on left) of the right-wing FPÖ party trying to take the hijab off a Muslim girl (Author: Artium72, permission by Matthias Laurenz Gräff).

In the wake of the November 2nd terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria’s undeclared War on Islam is entering its next decisive phase: the government has expedited tough new legislation that will further diminish the already limited civil liberties of the country’s half a million Muslims. 

The day after the attack, which was perpetrated by a 20-year-old Austrian of North Macedonian parentage that left 5 people dead, including the attacker Kujtim F. himself, and two dozen injured, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) held a speech that is exemplary for the West’s supremacist, fallacious, and racist approach to anti-terrorism. 

While freely engaging in worn-out clash-of-civilizations rhetoric by saying things like “this was an attack on our model of living, on our core values, on our democracy” and “this is a fight between civilization and barbarism” (despite the investigation into the attack and its motives still ongoing), Kurz also didn’t hesitate to juxtapose Islam and terrorism in that gloriously liberal racist manner that veils insults as compliments.  

Despite assuring the Muslim community that Austria’s enemies were “never all the members of an entire religion” and “never all the people that originate from a certain country” and that this was “not an altercation between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants,” Kurz quickly showed the true nature of his government as evidenced by the wanton closures of mosques and police raids that followed. 

Furthermore, in an attempt to legitimize this brand of ad-hoc Islamophobia and make it more democratically palatable, the Austrian government on November 18th passed a package of  controversial “anti-terror” measures that includes everything from preventive electronic surveillance of released prisoners deemed a threat to national security and stripping away the Austrian citizenship of convicted terrorists to easing the closures of Muslim organizations and outlawing “political Islam.” 

Like the country he governs, Kurz has a history of duplicity and contradictory actions with regards to Islam: As head of the foreign ministry from 2013–17, which in Austria is also tasked with negotiating and drafting treaties between the Austrian state and domestic actors like religious groups, he was the driving force behind the country’s 2015 “Islamgesetz”, a law regulating the legal status of the world’s fastest-growing religion in Austria. 

A law which the Austrian political scientist Farid Hafez, founding editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook and co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report, candidly described as “institutionalized Islamophobia” at the time. 

Kurz on the other hand, summed up the 2015 law by saying that “there should be no contradiction between being a devout Muslim and a proud Austrian” – an august proclamation that did not stop him from otherizing and fear-mongering against immigrants throughout his campaign for the 2017 general elections which he won, making him the youngest democratically elected head of government in the world.  

One who — lacking an outright majority to govern — had no qualms about entering into a coalition with the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), appointing its party leader Heinz Christian Strache as Vice-Chancellor. 

In the best Banana Republican tradition, that first Kurz-led government lasted a whole five months when in the course of the “Ibizagate” corruption scandal surrounding Strache it was forced to resign and make way for fresh elections which Kurz and his ÖVP won again. 

One of the last official “successes” of the Kurz I cabinet was the passing of a hijab ban for children in elementary schools by Austria’s parliament in May of 2019. The law not only forbids “the wearing of ideological and religious clothing that entails a covering of the head”, but does not even try to hide the fact that it exclusively targets Islam: the Jewish kippa and the Sikh patka are exempt from this discriminatory and blatantly Islamophobic ban. 

Only four years after proclaiming that devout Muslims can be proud Austrians, female Muslim-Austrian schoolchildren are now forced to choose between their religion and their homeland. 

Welcome to Austria, the Land of Unatoned Nazism

Whatever you do, dear reader, don’t be surprised: the country of nine million people that is further doing away with the civil rights of its Muslim minority under the guise of fighting “political Islam” (what that term is supposed to mean not even those Western “experts” constantly throwing it around seem to know) and “terrorism” is the same unapologetically xenophobic nation that brought you the world‘s most notorious terrorist: a white, NON MUSLIM man named Adolf Hitler. 

What white fragility and the Israel lobby will undoubtedly construe as a tasteless comparison that denigrates the Holocaust and will have Zionists instantly reaching for their worn-out anti-Semitism card, there is ample truth behind this intended hyperbole: the Übermensch-mindset of your average white Austrian Hans, citizen of a country so insignificant that most people in the English-speaking world confuse it with settler-colonial Australia, has not significantly changed since the days of European Fascism. It has simply learned to adapt to the confines of liberal democracy. 

In its 2020 report on Austria, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) concluded that there were “high levels of Islamophobia” in the country and that public discourse had become “increasingly xenophobic”. “Political speech has taken on highly divisive and antagonistic overtones particularly targeting Muslims and refugees”, the report went on to say. 

Some historical context: Under its most famous export, a failed artist who — the true aggrieved pathological narcissist that he was — overcompensated the trauma of amounting to nothing in his home country by embarking on a stellar political career in neighboring Germany that began with soap-box hate-mongering and climaxed in death and destruction around the world, Austria was ultimately incorporated into the Third Reich in what is known as the “Anschluss.” 

While Germans like to blame the Holocaust and World War Two on the foreigner Hitler and “the Nazis”, as if they were some alien life form that descended from outer space and tricked innocent Germans into fascism, remember that Hitler’s NSDAP party won the November 6, 1932 elections (the last free and fair elections of the Weimar Republic, as Germany between 1918 and 1933 is called) with 33.1 % of the popular vote. 

There is a song by German rap group Antilopengang (who unfortunately identify with the anti-Palestinian Antideutsche movement that supports Israel’s right to settler colonialism and Jewish supremacy in Palestine) in which they condemn their countrymen and women with the line “In 1933 you would all have been Nazis”, alluding to the long-overlooked role of the average German citizen in the rise of Nazism. 

Antilopengang’s condemnation equally applies to German-speaking Austria which after the end of World War Two never went through a comprehensive process of denazification that Germany (was forced to) put itself through, no matter how performative and inadequate the undertaking turned out to be in hindsight, what with racism to this day still endemic in Germany despite its culture of constant top-down Vergangenheitsbewältigung (dealing with ones past) since the war. 

Like the Germans, Austrians were not passive victims of Nazism, but active proponents: when Hitler gave his famous 1938 speech from the balcony of the Neue Burg on Vienna’s central Heldenplatz square declaring Austria’s Anschluss to the Reich, 200,000 supporters cheered him on in frenetic unison. 

Dear China: Will trade white Austrians for Muslim Uyghurs

In Austria’s case, this never-having-to-own-up-to-the-past has resulted in an unchecked racist privilege that festers openly within the state and society of a country where right-wing politics have been mainstream for decades and where the consensus of white supremacy in a liberal democratic context allows racism to flourish across party lines and political ideologies. 

Austria’s right-wing FPÖ — much like the Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) in Islamophobic France — has been an established party within mainstream politics since the 1990s, scoring its biggest victory in 1999 when it won 26.9% of the vote in national elections and became a junior partner of an ÖVP-led governing coalition for the first time. 14 EU-member states reacted by deciding to reduce their diplomatic ties with the Austrian government to a minimum, a move which the latter — in a nod to their nationalist electoral base — vilified as “sanctions.”

It is also noteworthy that the first two chairmen of the FPÖ, founded almost a decade after the surrender of the Third Reich, were former SS-officers. That should tell you all you need to know about the unchecked tradition of organized racism and the level of its popular support in Austria. 

And when you throw in Austria’s historic Islamophobia, a tradition dating back to the days of the Ottoman wars in Europe when the army of Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna for two weeks in 1529 and Kara Mustafa Pasha besieged the city in 1683, this time for two months, you have a veritable smorgasbord of diversified racism in Austria of which Muslims, the most otherized community in Western societies today, bear the brunt. 

What white Austria needs is a thorough de-Nazification. Here’s an idea: How about we free all the Muslim Uyghurs in Chinese “re-education“ camps and fill them with Islamophobic Austrians? Those camps would fill up pretty quickly, by the way. From gaming addicts to Turkic Muslims: we all know how much Orwellian China loves to “re-educate“. 

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To those who are shocked by my hypothetical suggestion: you might want to double-check the racist double standard of your cognitive brain function that chooses to be appalled by hyperbole but willfully turns a blind eye to the actual unexaggerated reality of Chinese concentration camps that are filled with over a million innocent Muslim Uyghurs who — according to numerous human rights organizations, advocacy groups and investigative journalists — are subject to the most despicable of treatments: from being force-fed pork and forced into marriages with non-Muslim Han Chinese to harvesting their organs in a way that would make Josef Mengele proud. 

The manufactured consent of Eurocentric narrative construction

Western narrative construction following terrorist attacks committed by Muslims is so predictable it would make one yawn weren’t it so destructive to the lives of the Muslim community as a whole. It is instantly guilty by association and therefore collectively punished by the state, in this case, Austria. 

One guy kills a couple of people in downtown Vienna and the government responds with counter-terrorism measures so unnecessarily over the top that it wholly discredits the whole “fighting radical Islam” and national security angle. The Muslims of Austria, the most heavily regimented religious community in the country, are being punished wholesale by this new set of anti-Muslim legislation in the wake of a deplorable CRIMINAL act perpetrated by an INDIVIDUAL. 

Had the attacker been a white Austrian instead of the son of North Macedonian immigrants of Albanian heritage, we all know how hesitant the white-owned political and public discourse would be to brand him as a terrorist, since white terrorists virtually always have the white privilege of being lone wolves and of suffering from alleged psychological disorders intended to decrease their liability and protect their supremacist status.

Austrian media dutifully played its part in stoking the flames of Islamophobia, pre-emptively jumping to their foreseeable, racist conclusions by saying there were multiple attackers, even though Kujtim F. seems to have acted alone. 

The Vienna attack is another reminder that Muslims are never afforded the agency of lone-wolfism and of acting as individuals: the xenophobic fears of the Islamophobic gaze immediately cast them as deterministically conspiratorial. Furthermore, they are painted as angry bogeymen who have nothing better to do in life than wage war on the West and “the Western way of life.” 

As if the attacker just woke up one fine morning and said “Hey, I’m gonna go downtown and wage war on the Western way of life today!” 

Austria is yet another example of a Western, multicultural society taking the easy way out by outsourcing the blame it should partially be apportioning to itself for its exclusionary identity politics, its culture of accepted white supremacy, and its unrelenting racist micro and macro aggressions that collectively have the power to turn one’s own people against their own country. 

In an interview with the online edition of German (neo) liberal newspaper Die Zeit which was published shortly after the Vienna attack, Austrian Islamic Studies scholar Rüdger Lohlker stated that discrimination played an important role in radicalization. 

Unfortunately, this academic consensus has not yet trickled down to public discourse and lawmaking. On the contrary: with each terrorist attack committed by a Muslim in a Western country, the security state and its public relations officers, a.k.a. the mainstream media, make it a point to draw the wrong conclusions and act upon them in a manner that further marginalizes the Muslim community. 

The marginalizing of Muslim heroism

Not only did the Austrian and German-language media overblow the Western attacker’s “oriental” motive through culturalist framing, but with few exceptions they also neglected to feature prominently the heroic stories of Austrian Muslims that “saved the day”: like that of Recep Tayyip Gültekin and Mikail Özen, two young Turkish-Austrians who in the midst of an active shooter situation risked their lives to help an injured police officer and a passerby to safety. 

Or the story of Osama Joda Abu El Hosna, a young Palestinian man who noticed a bleeding policeman just meters from the fast-food restaurant where he was working at the time. Under the hail of gunfire, he rushed out to give the officer first aid and helped carry him to an ambulance. For his courage, Vienna’s police command awarded El Hosna with the Golden Police Medal. 

Coincidentally, last year the El Hosna family tried to buy a house outside of Vienna, but the mayor of the rural town of Weikendorf opposed the transaction, citing as a reason that Islam was not compatible with Western values and cultural mores. The family took the case to court, which ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The house has since been bought, but the family has still not moved in due to fears of a racist backlash by the townspeople. 

It behooves to point out that the aforementioned mayor is of the conservative ÖVP party, not of the right-wing FPÖ. This is how mainstream Islamophobia is in Austria. 

Apart from a few news outlets, you were hard-pressed to find these uplifting and comprehensive, multi-angled stories in mainstream German-language media. Why? Gross negligence at best, hegemonic strategy at worst. Whatever the motive, it underlines the media’s complicity in the rise of state-sanctioned Islamophobia in Austria, a conclusion the ECRI report I have quoted above also arrives at. 

The Austrian Left is complicit in Islamophobia

The elections that were called after the fall of the ÖVP/FPÖ government returned Sebastian Kurz to the chancellorship, albeit with a different coalition partner: the Austrian Greens. 

The Greens in any country are supposed to be a left-wing party, but that did not stop the Austrian ones from backing Kurz’s agenda of further legalizing Islamophobia under the guise of fighting terrorism. Proving once again that if there is something the sycophantic Left and the proud Right can agree on, it’s anti-Muslim racism. 

Not unlike in Germany where the Green party — despite its performative dedication to racial diversity and support of Black Lives Matter in the U.S. — staunchly supports white supremacy and settler colonialism in Israel and occupied Palestine, the Austrian Greens seem to equally cherry-pick their way through the interconnected maze of social justice causes, with shameful disregard for the holistic nature of freedom and democracy. 

Austrian Greens go even further and have no qualms in striking Faustian bargains with the Right under the pretense of Realpolitik: in the state of Upper Austria, they are part of a coalition government led by the ÖVP that includes the FPÖ and the Social Democrats (SPÖ). 

Immediately after the Vienna attack, this 9-person cabinet introduced a draconian 10-point proposal against “terror” and “Islamism” that easily passed a vote in the regional parliament and was with no doubt intended to send a clear signal to the national government. 

In a classic case of Left being the new Right, the Upper Austrian regional government’s sole member of the center-left SPÖ opposed the resolution — which was more of a demand list to the federal government than actual state legislation — while its sole Green party member greenlighted it. 

“Within every Austrian, there resides a mass murderer”

I would dare to say that Austria is as bad a place to be a Muslim as France. At least in France, immigrants in general and Muslims, in particular, are strong in numbers: what they lack in political strength, they make up in demographic clout, a culture of historic opposition to France through long-established center-periphery relations via the country’s (continuing!) colonial history and well-organized, grassroots activism embedded in France’s unparalleled general culture of indignantly protesting perceived injustices of any kind. 

In Austria, despite legions of dedicated social justice warriors, Muslims are weak in numbers and even weaker in representation and political influence. And like the Muslims in my native Germany (where they are demographically stronger, but fail to wield the political power commensurate to that numeric strength), the lives of Austrian Muslims are overshadowed not only by the hegemony of all-encompassing whiteness but also by its historically and empirically evidenced propensity to commit potential harm. 

In the famous words of the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989) who hated his country with a passion: “Within every Austrian, there resides a mass murderer.” So, dear white Austria with your abstract fear of Islam that you never fail to translate into concrete racist measures: you shouldn’t fear Muslims. If anything, Muslims should fear you.

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