Austria to Close Mosques in Crackdown on 'Political Islam'

Kurz government says nearly a quarter of Austria's imams could face expulsion for receiving funding from Turkey: 'Parallel societies and radicalization have no place in our country'

FILE PHOTO: Muslims in Europe are meeting resistance to plans for mosques that befit Islam's status as the continent's second religion
REUTERS

Austria's government said Friday that it is closing seven mosques and plans to expel imams in a crackdown on "political Islam" and foreign financing of religious groups.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government is shutting a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community that runs six mosques.

Nearly a quarter of Austria's 260 Muslim clerics could face expulsion proceedings as they are under scrutiny for possible illegal funding from Turkey, the government said.

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) stands next to Manfred Weber of Germany's conservative CSU party as he gives a statement during a meeting of the European Parliament's faction of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Munich, southern Germany, on June 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / dpa / Peter Kneffel / Germany OUT
PETER KNEFFEL/AFP

The actions by the government are based on a 2015 law that, among other things, prevents religious communities from getting funding from abroad. 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.

Kickl said that, in two cases, permits have already been revoked. Five more imams were denied first-time permits.

The conservative Kurz became chancellor in December in a coalition with the anti-migration 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.

"Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country," Kurz told reporters in Vienna. He added that the government's powers to intervene "were not sufficiently used" in the past.

Friday's measures are "a first significant and necessary step in the right direction," said Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party's leader. "If these measures aren't enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there."

Austria's move angered the government in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said the decision "is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country."

"It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points," spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. He added that "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."