Below is a report by our Austrian correspondent ESW about a public discussion at an academic institution in Austria. Criticism of Islam was deemed racist by some of the podium participants, and all but one left the room to protest statements made by one of the speakers.
“Who Am I, Where?”
Waldviertel Akademie, Wer bin ich, wo? 03 09 bis 06 09 2009 in Weitra, NÖ
This report was compiled by ESW, with reporting by Harald Fiegl. The speaker, Dr. M-S, was also interviewed.
The Waldviertel Academy, a think tank sponsored by the ÖVP and active for the past twenty-five years, presented a conference on the topic “Who Am I, Where? — Identities, Orientation, Fear of the Future.”
The debate focused on the topic of multiculturalism, whether multicultural tolerance can be seen as a form of indifference and whether we can expect something from those who migrate to Europe.
The second day brought a heated and emotional difference of opinion, as a result of which three out of four members of the podium decided to abandon the podium in protest.
The dispute broke out because of the following group of statements:
Criticism of Islam is not a form of racism. One must never forget the lack of freedom of religion in Muslim countries as well as the lack of separation of church and state. Multiculturalism that includes Muslims thus leads to the dismantling of the European identity, which is based on Christian values.
During her speech, Dr. M-S (a member of the Akademikerbund) spoke about the fact that Islam-criticism is equated with racism, which is unacceptable because when we criticize Islam, it is Islam as a cultural phenomenon. The racist identifies the other as inherently inferior. We do not intend that, but say that Islam is a dangerous religion which endangers us here in Europe. We are thus not racists because we are not saying that Muslims are inherently inferior.
One of the members of the podium accused Dr. M-S of a being a right-wing extremist and added that he refused to sit on a podium with such a person. Because he was not given the floor as per rules of discussion, he got up and left.
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Another member of the podium accused her of academic fundamentalism and said he was unable to identify with the notion of a European “we”-feeling. Dr. M-S in turn asked him about his own identity, to which he answered, “This question is beneath me,” got up and left, adding he would never return to this academy.
The remaining member of the podium also decided to leave and Dr. M-S was on her own.
This incident once again shows the deep rift separating Austrian society and the lack of a debate culture, which results from political dogmas.
It is interesting to note that all this took place after two members of the podium called for more truth with regard to integration matters: “Until now the official Austria has followed the politics of looking away. The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation shies away from a thorough analysis of Islamic matters.”