On Sept. 25, four days before national parliamentary elections, a minor political platform lead by former Green member of Parliament Peter Pilz introduced a bill to ban two Muslim associations in the last session of the upper house of the Austrian parliament, the National Assembly. Pilz will most likely disappear after these elections, polling at less than the 4% required to enter the National Assembly. As a last populist means to mobilize the electorate, Pilz opted for banning what has become known as "political Islam" in Austrian public discourse. Pilz, who has traditionally been a more left-leaning Green parliamentarian, has at the same time focused heavily on fighting the "Islamist threat," although – as he argues – from a fundamentally different perspective than the radical right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ).
While Pilz suggests "protecting" Muslims from the threat posed by so-called political Islam, he finally ends where the staunch anti-Muslim party FPÖ does. Pilz proposed a resolution to ban two Turkish-origin Muslim associations. One is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation (ATIB), which is connected to the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs' Diyanet. Another is Millî Görüş. Pilz wanted to prove he was staunchly against political Islam, while the other parties only talk the talk; however, both former coalition parties, the radical right-wing FPÖ as well as the largest party, Sebastian Kurz's People's Party (ÖVP), have both supported the resolution.
On his Facebook profile, Pilz wrote that he succeeded in convincing others to support a ban of "Erdoğan-shock troops." While Pilz alleges that the ATIB "spies on and persecutes opponents of Erdoğan," he argues that Milli Görüs would be the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood faction that would "operate under the guise of the Islamic Federation to create an Islamic state in Austria." These allegations are quite serious and could even be contested in court, but they make perfect sense given the latest developments in Austria regarding the relations of the Austrian state with the Muslim community.
First, the last government coalition of the radical right-wing FPÖ and the ÖVP under the leadership of Kurz declared political Islam as the country's main threat. But political Islam serves nothing but to discriminate against common Muslims, as was the ban of the headscarf in kindergarten and primary schools. The Symbol Act was amended in 2019 to not only ban the logos of Daesh and al-Qaida, but also those of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Grey Wolves, a Turkic-nationalist movement. And the last report by Austria's sole security service of the Interior Ministry even included the Islamic Religious Community, a church-like legally recognized institution representing all Muslims, as a security threat. Also, the previous government attempted to create an observatory institution to monitor political Islam. This resolution, adopted yesterday in the National Assembly, pretty much fits this track. The interior minister has been asked to review the associations affiliated with the two organizations. With this resolution, the new coalition government, which will most probably be another coalition of the FPÖ and ÖVP, will have a clearly defined order to follow.
Still, the resolution is not binding, and hence more of a populist measure rather than a policy-making initiative at this point. It is similar to another initiative that was taken and supported by the FPÖ and the social democrats along with Pilz's party to close down the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), an international organization with headquarters in Vienna, in June 2019.
But this does not make it less problematic. Even with a legally nonbinding resolution, keeping the last anti-Muslim legislation in mind, this move will most probably pave the way for targeting exactly these two Muslim associations, who – together – constitute at least a quarter of all mosque institutions in Austria. This Sunday, the ÖVP, which also supported a documentation center for political Islam, will most probably be the winner of the national elections and – as most observers suggest – form a coalition with the FPÖ. In this case, the resolution is a working program. It might not be so easy to implement this populist measure, but it will most probably have no consequence at all. As we have already witnessed in the case of the closing of seven mosques, this initiative by the far-right government was unconstitutional, and the mosques won their case. But this example also shows how far the far-right government goes in terms of risky steps.
But even if this does not happen, both associations will suffer heavily in terms of their public reputation. Portraying a quarter of the organized Muslim associations as a threat to be banned will not be without consequences. The last time mosques were portrayed as radical in the media, these institutions were vandalized.
* Nonresident research fellow at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative and researcher at Salzburg University's Department of Political Science and Sociology