Erdogan fumes at Austria mosque closures
Austria says it plans to shut seven “politicised” mosques and expel numerous imams and the coalition government of conservative and far-right parties said the measures were “just the beginning” of a push against radical Islam and foreign funding.
The move prompted a furious response from Turkey, which was accused of funding the targeted mosques.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said what had been called a “hardline, Turkish nationalist mosque” in Vienna would be closed and the supposedly radical Arab Religious Community would be axed.
“Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalising tendencies have no place in our country,” said the 33-year-old Kurz, whose People’s Party formed a coalition with the extremist Freedom Party earlier this year.
Austria’s “law on Islam”, introduced in 2015, bans foreign funding of religious groups.
In April photographs appeared to show children at a Vienna mosque dressed as troops taking part in a re-enactment of the First World War’s battle at Gallipoli where the Ottoman Empire defended the Dardanelles. Austria was on the same side in the conflict.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the move would provoke an extremist response.
“These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world toward a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan told an event in Istanbul.
Austria has around 9 million citizens and around 600,000 Muslims, mostly from Turkey or with Turkish origins.
Vienna said it could expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and their families.
Interior minister Herbert Kickl of the Freedom Party said the targeted imams had apparent links to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB), a branch of Turkey’s religious affairs agency Diyanet.
Kickl said they were thought to have contravened the ban on foreign funding of religious organisations.
Other European far-right leaders welcomed Austria’s move and, more surprisingly, Austria’s opposition parties were broadly supportive, with the centre-left Social Democrats calling it “the first sensible thing this government’s done”.
The Greens, however, said it had provided a propaganda victory to Turkey.
Erdogan said yesterday (Saturday): “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?
“That means we’re going to have to do something,” he added.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, called the policy an “Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave”.
“The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of co-existence,” the Turkish spokesman tweeted.
The Turks and the Ottomans have a long history of antagonism. The Turkish Siege of Vienna in the Vienna Museum, Picture credit: Wikimedia