Here’s the latest report from our Austrian correspondent ESW about the controversy over Islamic education in her country, and other related matters.
The News from Austria
Following the now infamous study which “concludes Muslim teachers in Austria have largely anti-democratic beliefs and one in five is ‘fanatical’ as well as 22.6 per cent of the 210 Muslim teachers he had surveyed [who] had ‘fanatical attitudes’ and 21.9 per cent rejected democracy as incompatible with Islam,” the Austrian government forced reforms of Islam classes in Austrian schools upon the Islamic Faith community.
Even the Greens party, usually an avid supporter of Multiculturalism, i.e. Islam, “demand that Islam teachers should have a mandatory nationalized education before they start to teach young Muslims in Austrian schools. All courses of instruction and materials should be checked thoroughly.” It is interesting to note that both the ÖVP (conservative) and the FPÖ (Freedom Party) have so far been silent on these matters. The FPÖ merely blasted in its party newspaper that “We have said this all along, but nobody was listening!”
One positive aspect of this discussion can be seen in the fact that Islam as a whole and the Faith Community in particular are under closer scrutiny than ever before. Anas Schakfeh’s usual line “I have nothing to do with all this” is no longer sufficient as an explanation of what is not going well in the Faith Community. One case in point can be found below, from Islam in Europe:
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Austria: Calls for resignation of Muslim community head
The dismissal of a progressive Muslim teacher by the IGGiÖ (Islamic faith community of Austria) Wednesday provoked an outcry among politicians, who criticized the conservatism of this institution.
El Ghoubashy was punished for publishing an opinion column in Der Standard Tuesday where he said that Islam classes, as they were planned, failed to integrate Young Muslims into society [Lernen für das Leben in der Isolation (Learning for life in isolation)]. The president of the IGGiÖ, Anas Schakfeh, justified this decision, stressing that these remarks deliberately caused considerable harm to the organization.
The Social-Democrat Party of Chancellor Werner Faymaan strongly condemned the dismissal. Punishing a religion teacher who says he supports internal reform is completely incomprehensible and contrary to the intention of the Education Ministry, they said. Unusually in agreement, the opposition Greens party, as well as FPÖ and BZÖ, both of the extreme right, called in the strongest terms for the resignation of Schakfeh.
In office since 1999, Schakfeh’s position weakened in recent weeks when he tried to prevent the publication of a study by the University of Vienna which showed 22% of Islam teachers interviewed in Austria rejected democracy. Moreover, in mid-February he was ordered by Education Minister Claudia Schmied to fire a teacher who distributed in class a list of “Jewish” multinationals to boycott.
Austria finances religious classes which, besides exemptions, are obligatory in schools. Appointing and inspecting teachers is, however, the responsibility of the different religious communities. Austria employs 294 Islam teachers for 50,000 Muslim students.
And also from Islam in Europe:
Vienna: Muslim community upset at teacher sacking
Vienna’s Muslim community has voiced its anger over the sacking of a Islamic religion teacher by the federal government for distributing anti-Semitic leaflets to pupils.
Social Democrat (SPÖ) Education Minister Claudia Schmied ordered the city school council yesterday (Thurs) to bar the teacher who had been teaching at the Cooperative Secondary School (KMS) on Brüßlgasse in Wien-Ottakring district. She said “delay would be dangerous.”
The leaflets contained a list of allegedly “Jewish” firms from which, the man told the students, they should not buy anything.
A Muslim Teachers Association spokesman claimed today the man had said: “Every form of racism and anti-Semitism contradicts the ethnics of Islam and my own ethical principles.”
The spokesman added the man felt bewildered, considered himself the object of persecution and had denied he had distributed such leaflets to his students.
The man had claimed the students themselves had drawn up the list of supposedly Jewish firms and sent them to one another as SMS, the spokesman said.
The banning of the man from teaching, the spokesman added, “without examination of the evidence and without having heard from both sides was an overreaction.”
The education ministry, however, said today the man had confessed to distribution of the lists, and school director Karlheinz Fiedler told ORF Radio Wien the students had told him the teacher had distributed the lists.
The city school council said today it had become aware of the teacher’s activity on 21 January after a district inspector and the school director had informed it the teacher had been engaging in political agitation in the classroom.
The council added the teacher had been informed in a document he might face disciplinary proceedings. The council said the teacher had returned the document with his signature on it, which, the council declared, constituted an admission of improper behaviour.
The Islamic Believers Denomination informed the teacher on 28 January it would take disciplinary action against him.
Source: Austrian Times (English)
The story below was briefly discussed during my most recent appearance on the Gathering Storm Radio Show, but I admit I do not know what to make of it. Local newspapers did not report on this other than a brief mention. Notice, however, how anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are linked. Again, from Islam in Europe:
Austria: Anti-Muslim graffiti at Holocaust memorial
The latest instance of right-wing extremism in Austria was the recent defacement of the outer wall of the former Nazi concentration and death camp at Mauthausen, Upper Austria.
The words, “The progeny of Muslims are for us what the Jews were to our fathers. Be on your guard. A third world war — an eighth crusade,” were spray-painted in 70-centimetre-high letters on the outer wall at the memorial’s entrance. The vandalism was discovered last Friday morning.
In response, Mauthausen Committee Austria Chairman Willi Mernyi called the defacement “a radical-right provocation” and said it constituted “a wholly new dimension of right-wing extremism.” He added the choice of words showed the perpetrators were familiar with Nazi hate language.
The Austrian Islamic Denomination appealed to politicians and to civil society to take “the frightening signal” seriously and to undertake measures to promote more public consciousness of the situation in Austrian society.
The organisation added the incident was closely linked to anti-Semitism and hatred of Muslims.
This story (based on ORF with additional material found in the print edition of Kurier) is worth reporting because it epitomizes the dire situation we are currently in. In the spring of 2008, a 28-year-old woman applied to become a trainee doctor at a well-known medical spa in the Austrian province of Burgenland. The interviews went well, until, it seems, the managing director, Rudolf Luipersbeck, conducted the final one. Sonia Z., apparently a convert, was told she could have the job if she took off her headscarf. She declined and contacted the equal opportunities commission. There was no charge filed because the spa paid €4,500 in compensation. She now works at the Vienna General Hospital — in a headscarf. This poses no problem because there are many doctors and nurses in headscarves catering to patients in hijab.
The brave managing director defended his actions as follows: “When I hire employees I do not ask about their confession. However, we do have a dress code and regulations, and they prohibit headscarves.”
This story is problematic, to say the least. This lady not only set a precedent, she is also forcing employers to hire staff they do not want to hire in the first place for fear of being sued. This reminds me of a story about a hairdresser, after interviewing a Muslim, headscarved girl who wanted to become a hair stylist, decided not to hire her. This wonderful girl then sued the store owner, who was accused of “direct and indirect” discrimination.
What will the Muslim future look like? A girl in hijab suing a model agency because she was not accepted as a model? Because she was discriminated against as she could not fulfill her dream to be the first veiled Vogue model? Another girl suing because she is discriminated against for not getting a job at a butcher’s because the meat is not halal and pork products are sold as well? Isn’t all this crazy? Hasn’t the world turned into a crazy place?
Speaking of crazy place: the US State Department’s latest human rights report blasts Austria for “some societal discrimination against Muslims”. It goes on, “Muslims complained about incidents of societal discrimination and verbal harassment, including occasional incidents of discrimination against Muslim women wearing headscarves in public. There was a public debate on the question of erecting minarets throughout the year. Zoning laws in two provinces, Carinthia and Vorarlberg, were amended to make it more difficult to build minarets that “conflict with the traditional appearance” of towns. There was also significant public opposition to the expansion of a Turkish Muslim center in Vienna.”
I will not comment further, other than quoting the prime minister of Vorarlberg, Herbert Sausgruber, “This criticism is exaggerated and unwarranted.”