The case of Austria's foreign minister and Muslim kindergartens

FARID HAFEZ @ferithafez
Published 07.07.2017 00:00
Updated 07.07.2017 01:00

Historically, there has always been a relation between knowledge production and power structures. Austria's Foreign and Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz has called for the shutting down of Islamic kindergartens in the country a week earlier. This happened against the backdrop of a more than one-and-a half-year campaign against so-called private Muslim kindergartens breeding 'Islamists' and future terrorists.

What happened a week later is surprising. Austria is currently in the midst of an early election campaign. A weekly magazine, known for its investigative journalism, discovered that the author of a study on Muslim kindergartens, which was presented in December 2015, had written this survey with consent from integration department staff – the same department that funded the survey with 36,000 euros. Altogether, two people made more than 900 changes in the document and one is named after the initial and first name of a high-ranking politician in Kurz's cabinet. Many of the alterations changed the meaning of the report to its opposite.

Many within the Muslim and scientific communities had already criticized the kindergarten report, which was presented by Ednan Aslan, for its limited quality as well as political nature. Aslan is a scholar of Islamic Religious Pedagogics at the University of Vienna who usually supports every Islamophobic policy coming from Austria' People's Party. It all started in 2007, when he became a professor and was on the committee to support the then minister of science, who was the first of the People's Party to call for a ban on hijabs. Aslan has since supported the image of organized Muslims being identical to jihadis. He asserted that every mosque in Austria shares the goals of Daesh and that fasting during Ramadan is not obligatory for students in school. In other words, every Muslim was not enlightened, until he followed what the integration minister and he called an "Islam of European imprint". He was one of the very few public Muslim figures who supported the Islam law that was widely regarded as discriminatory to Muslims by the vast majority of Muslims as well as most legal scholars.

Aslan and Kurz invented the Muslim kindergarten based on a system of ethnic and religious profiling of kindergartens, since in legal terms there are no Muslim kindergartens. This essentially bigoted politics has found few critics. With the current leaks from the weekly Falter, something has become known, which seemed so obvious for many activists and critical intellectuals long before: Some scholars are producing knowledge that is simply invented and apart from facts and figures, serving nothing but the populist agenda of those in power to maintain and widen their position of power. And this is done on the back of young children and their institutions, criminalizing them both.

* Lecturer and researcher at the Department of Political Science at the University of Salzburg. Worked as a Fulbright visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

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