The rise in hate crimes towards Muslims in Austria is part of a broader trend that has real and negative ramifications for their safety in Europe.
The Anti-Muslim Racism Report 2018 shows an increasing number of anti-Muslim incidents in Austria. The main target of these incidents were women. In 2017, a total of 309 incidents had been reported and in 2018, the number of reported events increased by 74 percent, which makes a total of 540 incidents.
Recently in Vienna, Austria, an older woman insulted a young Muslim lady and spat at her afterwards. “That is my country you wh**e!” the old woman shouted. She referred to the Muslim lady as an “animal” and “pig”.
The Muslim lady pointed out that she was born in Austria and that she is not going to leave her home country. The woman responded by shouting that the FPO (the Austrian Freedom Party, which is also part of the coalition government) would throw all of “them” (meaning Muslims) out.
Anti-Muslim racism is a daily problem in Austria and there is a risk that this behaviour is becoming increasingly normalised in the country’s political and social climate.
The Austrian government’s anti-Muslim smear campaign
Austria’s Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, from the Christian Democratic People’s Party (OVP) strongly condemned the incident on Monday. He said: “A disgusting attack that I condemn in the strongest terms. In Austria, we stand for a respectful and peaceful coexistence of all religions!”
That might seem like a statesmanlike act from Kurz, but both he and FPO Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache are taking part in this smear campaign against Islam and its followers.
Their whole election campaign in 2017 was grounded in combatting “political Islam”, a term, which was not even defined or explained.
In public debate, it is striking that concepts and terms (such as Sharia or jihad) based in Islamic tradition are rarely explained. In most cases, words that are not known to the public at large are deliberately deployed to stir up confusion and anxiety in society.
Before using such terms, it is important to clarify them and convey the different views on the subject. The vagueness of the term benefits the very purpose of the Austrian government. It is easier to scapegoat somebody if the problem stays abstract. As a result, the wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims threatens to be driven deeper and deeper as politicians and other protagonists are continue to demonise Islam.
Links to the Christchurch terrorist
The far-right FPO has links with right-wing extremists such as the Identitarian Movement of Austria, which, it was recently revealed, received a significant donation of nearly $1700 from the Christchurch terrorist who attacked two mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 Muslims.
The Christchurch killer had networked internationally with several right-wing extremist groups, but so far, the clearest connection is with Vienna.
The terrorist wrote in his ‘manifesto’, which he posted online before the attack, that he had donated money to many nationalist groups and associations.
The leader of the Identitarian Movement of Austria, Martin Sellner, claimed he didn’t know that the donation was from the Christchurch assassin, but the link prompted a preliminary investigation into Sellner under Austria’s anti-terrorism laws.
Strache emphasises that his party has nothing to do with the Identitarian Movement, however he has repeatedly shared posts from the movement on his official Facebook page.
Photos from 2015 have also emerged showing Strache and members of the Identitarian Movement at the same table.
Both the chancellor and vice chancellor expressed their sympathy for the victims of Christchurch on the day of the terrorist attack via Twitter.
However, no such post appeared on their Facebook pages, ensuring there was no awkward backlash from their Facebook followers.
The Anti-Muslim Racism Report 2018 also shows that more than 50 percent of the reported anti-Muslim incidents occur online.
It is no secret that the FPO has carried out several anti-Muslim campaigns in the past.
The current Home Secretary Herbert Kickl is famous for using Nazi terminology against migrants and refugees. He also pulls the strings behind several anti-Muslim slogans such as “home instead of Islam.”
The opposition Social Democrats and liberal party JETZT have demanded Kickl’s resignation.
The government is carefully taking steps against Muslims and migrants. Kurz is arguing for the shutdown of Islamic kindergartens, saying they are dangerous. It once again highlights the unequal treatment of those with Islamic faith, compared to the followers of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion.
Islam is the very concern of Kurz and Strache and through the way they deal with Muslims and Islam, it is likely that the discrimination will only increase.