On Friday, the Austrian government announced that it plans to close down seven mosques and potentially expel about 60 imams from the country.
The announcement, which was made by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is rooted in a 2015 law that requires Muslim organizations to express a “positive fundamental view towards [the] state and society” of Austria and bans foreign funding of religious institutions. “Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” said Kurz at a press conference. His vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, added ominously, “This is just the beginning.”
At the conference, Austrian Culture Minister Gernot Blümel told journalists that the mosques had been shut down because of suspected “extremism.” All the mosques that were shut down were believed to belong to the Salafi tradition, a strict and literalistic school within Islam.
For defenders of the move, 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 characterizing 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. Both parties campaigned on anti-immigration platforms. Approximately 600,000 Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin. live in Austria, which has a population of 8.8 million.
National and political considerations seem to be underpinning the move. Forty of the imams under investigation is formally employed by ATIB (known in English as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation), an organization that manages Turkish mosques in the country and has close links with Turkey’s increasingly theocratically aligned government.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the move. His spokesperson Ibrahim Khalid decried the Austrian government’s decision on Twitter as “a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country” and “an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points.”