A move by Austria to include Muslim and Turkish symbols as banned signs of extremism has drawn the ire of these communities who denounce it as a politically-motivated move amid the rise of the far-right in Europe.
Austrian parliament approved the amendment on Wednesday for the ban of what the law called extremist symbols, including a gesture of the "grey wolf," a symbol of the Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the "rabaa" (or rabia in Turkish), a hand gesture commonly used by the Turkish government and Muslims to symbolize unity.
The ban, which will come into force in March 2019, brings fines up to 10,000 euros for the use, distribution of badges and other material containing the symbols.
Farid Hafez, an Austrian-born Georgetown University researcher and a prominent political scientist, told Anadolu Agency that the amendment did not openly mention symbols but openly mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood and the Austrian Turkish Federation.
"What is more dangerous for Muslims that the [Austrian] interior ministry can define any group as extremist and ban them. It openly targets Muslims and wants to disturb the Muslim community in the country," Hafez said. He says the Austrian coalition government of far-right and center-right parties pushed for more bans recently and pointed out that the new law did not ban symbols belonging to racist and far-right groups. "They don't do anything against their own ‘extremists'," Hafez said. He says this "discrimination" indicated that the government was not actually fighting extremism as it claims.
Murat Durdu, the head of the Land of All Cultures (HAK) party that was founded by Turks in Austria, spoke about the ban on "grey wolf" gesture and said the Austria chapter of the Idealists' Club, a famous nationalist organization of Turkey, was not on the watch list of Austrian authorities for extremism.
"The club does not have any illegal or any anti-Austrian agenda. The law aims to portray Turks and Muslims as criminals," Durdu said, adding that it was part of a vicious policy which also manifested itself in a planned ban on headscarves.
Wilhelm Lagthaler, an activist and writer, described the ban as "anti-democratic" and said that the far-right government sought to polarize people by targeting some communities with such bans.
"Bans drive communities to marginalization and remove the chance of co-existence," Lagthaler said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced the ban on Wednesday in a statement. "It is worrying and concerning that a legal action with an ambitious goal like cooperation in counterterrorism was deviated from its course by a political and populist move. It is clear that the law does not comply with democratic values and it does target political establishment and democracy as a whole, not only those who use the symbols," the statement said.
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