Austria's right-wing populist coalition government came under fire last week for shutting down seven mosques, revoking the residency permits of two imams linked to Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and moving to expel 40 other imams. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz responded to critics by saying that his actions were in line with the "Islam Law" passed three years ago, which bans the foreign financing of Muslim institutions.
Austrian Culture Minister Gernot Blümel accused those mosques of spreading radical views and Turkish nationalism and added that the government was compelled to take action because the religious institutions in question did not obtain permission from the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGÖ).
IGGÖ President Ibrahim Olgun, however, rejects the claim that his organization is complicit in the Austrian government's crackdown on Islam: "We are opposed to the closure of mosques and temples. If there is a problem, it must be solved by implementing certain changes. Shutting down mosques won't solve the problem."
This is a vital issue because there are 600,000 Muslims in Austria. Provided that the fascistic practices in Austria could influence other countries like Germany, millions of whose citizens are Muslim, the rights violations become far more serious.
If the Muslim world responds in kind to the fire that the Austrian government started, the results could be catastrophic. After all, there are millions of Christians in predominantly Muslim countries around the world.
At this point, it would be best for the West, especially the far-right populists in Austria, to heed the warning of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: "They say that they will kick our clergymen out of Austria. Do you think we will stand idle as you do this? We will do some things as well." This might seem harsh at first, but the experiences of Turkey, where millions of non-Muslims live freely, are quite valuable. After all, Mr. Erdoğan is a reformist politician who reversed a great many discriminatory practices inspired by the rise of fascism in Germany and elsewhere.
Most recently, the Turkish government restored the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, also known as the Iron Church, in Istanbul. The Turkish president stood alongside his Bulgarian counterpart at the re-opening ceremony. Under his leadership, Turkey lifted all restrictions on the property rights and the freedom of assembly of non-Muslim faith groups – just ask Christians and their religious leaders themselves.
As the civilized world is still trying to heal the wounds of World War II, everybody has a responsibility to stand up to Austria's neo-fascist chancellor and his government. This isn't just about Muslims, it concerns Christians, followers of other faiths and even atheists.
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