The high level of anti-Muslim hatred in Austria is a rising concern, according to an expert commission of the Council of Europe.
An annual report published Tuesday by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) elaborates that the public discourse has become “increasingly xenophobic,” and the political scene is taking part as well. The report describes political speeches as “highly divisive and antagonistic,” targeting Muslims and refugees.
“Certain politicians and media persist in portraying Muslims in a negative light,” it said. “Claims about a presumed lack of integration of Muslims in Austria and about their alleged opposition to 'fundamental Austrian values' leading to violent extremism remain common in public discourse and contribute to a climate of mistrust and fear of Muslims.”
One example of the populistic approach is seen in the discussion of girls wearing headscarves at primary schools. The report said that the School Education Act in 2019 “raises concern regarding the principles of lawfulness, neutrality and non-discrimination.” It went on to say that there has been a steady increase in discrimination in educational institutions. While there were only 47 such cases reported in 2016, the numbers rose to 173 in 2017, reaching a peak in 2018 with 260.
The general intolerant discourse toward Muslims raises further concerns, the report said, using two studies as examples. According to a study in 2017, around 28% of the Austrian population do not want Muslim neighbors while 65% were against further migration from Muslim states. Another study showed that in the previous year, 32% of the questioned Muslims said they had experienced “harassment due to their ethnic or immigrant background.”
ECRI also appealed to the parties to adopt policies that prohibit hate speech. They recommend that Austrian authorities establish closer cooperation between the police and risk groups, especially people of color and Muslims.