By Diane Cooke
The shock announcement that Austria is closing down mosques is rooted in a 2015 law that requires Muslim organisations to express a “positive fundamental view towards the state and society” of Austria, and bans foreign funding of religious institutions.
Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of around 40 imams employed by ATIB, a group that oversees Turkish mosques in Austria, are being reviewed because of concerns about such financing.
For defenders of the move, writes Vox, Austria’s decision was a necessary stance against radical religious extremism. For its detractors, it was an example of the kind of nationalistic Islamophobia many see as characterising the current Austrian political climate.
Austria is currently controlled by a coalition of the center-right Austrian People’s Party and the far-right, nationalist Freedom Party. In campaigning for last year's election, both coalition parties called for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam. The government recently announced plans to ban girls in elementary schools and kindergartens from wearing headscarves, adding to existing restrictions on veils.
Austria took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers during Europe’s migration crisis, an issue that helped Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives win an election last year by taking a hard line on immigration.
“Our goal is to confront any development of parallel societies in Austria,” Kurz told ORF radio, using a term he and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), the coalition partner, favour to describe what they see as a threat posed by some Muslims to mainstream culture.
Approximately 600,000 Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin, live in Austria, which has a population of 8.8 million.
A survey conducted by the Chatham House Europe Programme shows public opposition to any further migration from predominantly Muslim states.
Respondents in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK were presented with the statement: "All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped". The majorities in all but two of the ten states agreed to this statement, ranging from 71% in Poland, 65% in Austria, 53% in Germany and 51% in Italy to 47% in the United Kingdom and 41% in Spain. In no country did the percentage that disagreed surpass 32%.
The findings of this report go hand in hand with similar surveys on this topic. The Ipsos Perils of Perception Survey 2016 found that the current and future Muslim population in Europe are enormously overestimated in most countries. Out of the list of all 20 countries where respondents overestimated the Muslim population by more than 10%, 12 are European, while the USA and Canada are among the remaining eight countries.
When asked “Now thinking about 2020, out of every 100 people, about how many do you think will be Muslim?”, the top 20 countries that overestimated the Muslim population were mainly European (11). The average guess in France was that 40% of the population would be Muslim in 2020 when the actual projection is 8.3%. Italy comes third with 26% overestimation, and Belgium and Germany fourth with 24% overestimation.