Claudia Bandion-Ortner is a prominent Austrian politician and judicial official who also happens to be the Deputy Secretary General of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, a Vienna think tank funded in large part by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Thanks to the recent rise of the Islamic State, Austrians, like most Westerners, have become more aware of the “fundamentalist” brand of Islam as practiced by the mujahideen of ISIS. The more astute members of the Austrian public have noticed the essential similarity between the doctrines, habits, and customs of Saudi Arabia and those of the Islamic State.
Judge Bandion-Ortner’s role has come under public scrutiny as a result of this heightened awareness. She got herself into a bit of trouble last week after giving an interview to a major news outlet. Public outrage was aroused by her ill-considered remarks about public beheadings in Saudi Arabia, but that’s not really the most appalling thing about this interview; it’s simply the most sensational. Her more humdrum responses are even worse: they reveal someone who has moved far beyond the status of “useful idiot” and become an active collaborator with Islam.
Rembrandt Clancy deserves our deep gratitude for undertaking the major task of translating the interview and ancillary material about Claudia Bandion-Ortner.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff sends this introduction to the scandal:
Claudia Bandion-Ortner is in trouble. What she said in the interview is not in line with the Austrian government’s position on human rights, and there have been attempts to have her removed from her current position at the Center.
In addition, the two governing parties — ÖVP and SPÖ — are playing ping pong about whose fault the Center is: originally, it was former foreign minister Michael Spindelegger who had pushed for its establishment, eyeing more Saudi investment in Austria as a result. However, SPÖ chancellor Werner Faymann gave his OK as well, and cannot escape responsibility. Both parties are currently “looking into” the contracts — due for renewal, if only the contract for the building — in order to perhaps cancel the Center here in Vienna.
The media are upset about the privileges garnered by the Center’s employees: they enjoy the same status as UN employees, that is: they pay no income taxes, among many other privileges.
What also irks the Austrian government is the fact that so far nothing has resulted from the Center’s activities. This does not come as a surprise: “interfaith and intercultural” dialogue has been around for a while now, and has not yielded any tangible results anywhere.
Could it be that we should be grateful to Mrs. Bandion-Ortner for her “stupid” remarks?
One thing is for certain: public perception has changed dramatically since her interview. Coupled with the Islamic State and ever more Austrian IS fighters making their way to Jihad, this could turn out to be the long-awaited wake-up call for those with their sleepyheads perpetually stuck in the sand. To mix metaphors, it’s high time to face the music. Or, better, reality. It will bite us if we don’t watch out.
Interview with Claudia Bandion-Ortner on everyday life in Saudi Arabia: “Beheadings don’t happen every Friday”
An Interview with former Minister of Justice Claudia Bandion-Ortner on her work as Secretary-General of the controversial “King Abdullah Dialogue Centre” in Vienna and her entirely positive impressions of Saudi Arabia. Plus: Excerpts from the conversation taken from Audio Files.
Interviewer: Christa Zöchling
October 21 2014
Translator: Rembrandt Clancy
Profil online’s Preamble
[Translator’s note: The original profil online source prefaces the interview by embedding three brief German-language audio files, each under separate headings, all three corresponding to controversial statements made by Claudia Bandion-Ortner. These three audio recordings are translated below. Because the “King Abdullah Dialogue Centre” challenged the “correctness” of the interview, profil’s intent in revealing the audio recordings, was to verify that Claudia Bandion-Ortner made the statements the magazine publisher claims she made.]
Translation of the Three Recorded Audio Excerpts from profil’s Interview
Bandion-Ortner on executions and the death penalty
Profil: “… and every Friday afternoon after Friday prayers public executions occur…”
Bandion-Ortner: “That does not happen every Friday; that is nonsense, it is nonsense. I am against it… Of course I am against any death penalty….”
Bandion-Ortner on the Black Abaya [garment that hangs from the neck to the feet]
“I did not have to wear any head covering. But the abaya is mandatory. You have to already have it on in the plane… it is practical. It is a comfortable garment. It reminded me a little of the judge’s robe; I am certainly accustomed to that.”
Bandion-Ortner on a Ladies’ Night
“One evening was a so-called Ladies’ Night; which is to say, I met only women. And I was surprised how cultivated and highly intelligent the women there were; managers and university professors. And it seemed to me like a ladies’ circle in Austria. There was really no difference.”
[Translator’s note: At first glance it may escape the reader that the otherwise insignificant “Ladies’ Night” in Saudi Arabia was an expression of gender apartheid. Hence criticism has arisen to the effect that the “emancipated” Claudia Bandion-Ortner implicitly endorses this policy by her presence at the event itself and by her subsequent statement in the interview. Humanistische Pressedienst (hpd) makes the point that she trivialises gender apartheid by comparing two situations which lack equivalence, since a “ladies’ circle” in Austria represents freedom of association. The hpd asks rhetorically if Bandion-Ortner is talking in this manner because she is “full of anxiety concerning the loss of her post” at the King Abdullah Dialogue Centre, even though “she has several times been at pains to explain that Saudi Arabia has absolutely nothing at all to do with the Centre.]
profil: The whole world is talking about the terrorism of the Islamist IS brigades. What does the Saudi-financed König-Abdullah Centre in Vienna make of it?
Bandion-Ortner: On 18 and 19 November there will be a conference on the topic “Religious Leaders against Violence in the Name of Religion”. We are trying to bring in high-level religious representatives from the Middle East. What’s important is that they demonstrate cohesion. We have received commitments from the United Nations. More than that, I cannot announce in advance. A conference like this is a security risk.
profil: It was only after the request of Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz that your Centre published a condemnation of the “heinous crimes” perpetrated by IS. Why so hesitant?
Bandion-Ortner: It was not like that. Our explanation was our own initiative and was already on our homepage more than a month beforehand. But I am really pleased that Kurz is standing so firmly behind the [König Abdullah Dialogue] Centre.
profil: The “King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue” [KAICIID], as it is officially called, is being criticised as a hypocritical affair, because in Saudi Arabia everything except Islam is forbidden. How, then, is a dialogue possible?
Bandion-Ortner: We have accomplished a great deal in the past two years. We do not always go public immediately with these things, because we deal with very delicate issues. We have emphasised training; many small-scale workshops in Ethiopia, Argentina, India and a conference in Vienna. How can we prevent children from having immediate prejudices against other cultures? These prejudices are found also in school books here in Europe as regards Islam; but of course also in Arab states in relation to Christianity. We undertake actions which promote peace without shouting them from the rooftops.
profil: In our part of the world, dialogue reminds us immediately of Lessing’s Nathan the Wise…
[Translator’s note: Nathan the Wise (1779) was one of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729-1781) trend-setting plays during the German Enlightenment. It treats of religious tolerance. Lessing himself is regarded as a seminal literary figure in the German speaking world.]
Bandion-Ortner: Yes, that suits us very well.
profil: But the money comes from Saudi Arabia.
Bandion-Ortner: Well I have to say quite honestly, Saudi Arabia does not interfere in our work at all. Our organisation is unique in the world. No decision is made without the representatives of the five world religions; and at the same time we have on board Spain, Austria, Saudi Arabia — represented by their foreign ministers* — and the Vatican, which has special observer status. But you’re right: the financing in the first three years has been coming from Saudi Arabia, while Austria helps through infrastructure services and certain tax concessions. Our annual operating budget amounts to 17 million. We are in the process of putting the [König Abdullah Dialogue] Centre on a broader financial footing. There are affluent countries showing an interest.
* [Translator’s note: The founding of the König Abdullah Dialogue Centre was contractually agreed in Vienna among Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia. English language source: KAICIID Dialogue Centre]
profil: Whom do you sponsor?
Bandion-Ortner: We are not allowed to sponsor anyone, only to enter into collaborative activities. We have such a co-operative arrangement with The World Organization of the Scout Movement, which is constitutive of no fewer than 40 million members. We also have good contact with various universities. At our Centre, university professors are always coming and going.
profil: In a welcoming speech at the [König Abdullah Dialogue] Centre’s opening in November 2012 a religious representative from Saudi Arabia said, in Arabic, that the Centre was conceived for the purpose of spreading Islam throughout Europe.
Bandion-Ortner: What? Good God! Well I cannot imagine that! We are an international organisation and not a religious community.
profil: Have you ever been in Saudi Arabia?
Bandion-Ortner: I was in Saudi Arabia for the first time a year ago. It was very exciting. It is not your normal travel destination, but I was pleasantly surprised. For a woman, it is certainly not easy to live there. I am also an emancipated woman and would certainly have my difficulties there. But I was treated very well, and politely. The quite ordinary people there were incredibly kind and nice. I was really surprised.
profil: Were you able to travel around wearing the same apparel as here?
Bandion-Ortner: I did not have to wear any head covering. But the black abaya is mandatory. One must already have it on in the plane. But I have to say: It is practical, — it is a comfortable garment. It reminded me a little of the judge’s robe [Talar]; I am quite accustomed to that.
I was welcomed everywhere. I was at the Human Rights Commission. There I held very interesting discussions. I was invited to a University of the Security Academy [“an einer Universität der Sicherheitsakademie”]. The return visit happened three weeks ago when an entire delegation of judges and prosecuting attorneys was here.
In Saudi Arabia I was invited to a dinner at the home of the King’s son. One evening was a so-called Ladies’ Night. There I met only women. I was surrounded by cultivated, highly intelligent women, women managers and female university professors. It seemed to me like a ladies’ circle in Austria. There was really no difference. That fascinated me a lot.
profil: David Rosen, one of your board members, is not permitted to enter Saudi Arabia at all since he is a Jew.
Bandion-Ortner: Of that I am not altogether certain. But that’s politics. (The next day, the press spokesman [of the König Abdullah Dialogue Centre] advised that Rabbi Rosen will be allowed to enter.)
profil: A law was enacted recently in Saudi Arabia whereby atheists are to be treated as terrorists.
Bandion-Ortner: That is already an older story. I have no insider’s view of the precise legal situation. But I am against the death penalty and in favour of equal rights for women. What many people here fail to see is that no international organisation can interfere in a country’s internal affairs. I believe, thanks to the readiness for dialogue in Saudi Arabia — the King is thus very much behind it, I have spoken personally about it with the King — that through dialogue things will slowly change. That will not happen overnight, because the society is not yet ready. Therefore one must be patient. In Saudi Arabia something is happening: in the Shura — that is a parliamentary institution — there are now thirty women. Two of them have visited me in Vienna and they spoke to me of much progress.
profil: Saudi Arabia financed the IS for some time. Many radical preachers, who today stir up the youth, were trained in Saudi Arabia.
Bandion-Ortner: I do not know about that. But I do know that the Saudi government has put enormous sums toward fighting the IS; and it is strictly forbidden for Saudi citizens to have anything to do with the IS.
profil: Actions, which the world condemns in the case of the terrorist IS-militia, are everyday occurrences in Saudi Arabia. Already in 2014, sixty people have been executed with sharp, scimitar-shaped swords. Public beheadings and whippings take place on Fridays after prayers.
Bandion-Ortner: That does not happen every Friday. Of course I am against the death penalty.
profil: Have you personally learned something new with regard to religions?
Bandion-Ortner: The two years were enriching unlike any previous year. When one encounters people of all world religions, one learns much for oneself personally. One becomes more content. One smiles at the events happening in politics.
profil: A self-reassurance?
Bandion-Ortner: Before understanding other cultures, one must set oneself straight. What’s really important is that the West does not find itself involved in a new Islamophobia. That could also be the meaning and purpose of the IS. Islam is a peace-loving religion. I work together with Muslims a great deal. They abhor violence to the exact same extent we do. The IS has nothing to do with religion.
profil: But IS invokes Islam.
Bandion-Ortner: I think one could do them some damage by simply changing the name. Why does the entire world say “Islamic State”? Yes, they designate themselves as such. In reality it’s a joke. Why does the community of nations not band together and say: “We are now labelling them differently”. It is unfair to Islam and Muslims.
profil: The Sharia, which IS practises in their conquered regions, is also in effect in Saudi Arabia. Women, for example, can only be seen in public with the permission of their husbands or fathers, and then only if they are veiled. Also Saudi Arabia does not accept the Convention on Human Rights.
Bandion-Ortner: I work here. Human rights are written into the preamble of the KAICIID. That is important. The dialogue is also being conducted in Saudi Arabia. Our chief is also there, the head of the National Dialogue Forum.
Clarification: Interview with Bandion-Ortner duly authorised
(Excerpt from e-mail exchange and audio files)
“Profil” firmly denies the claim of KAICIID, that the interview — in the current edition of profil — with Claudia Bandion-Ortner, Deputy Secretary-General of KAICIID, was unauthorised. The text of the interview was sent on Thursday evening by e-mail to Bandion-Ortner’s personal press spokesman, Christoph Hasslböck. According to the e-mail header of KAICIID’s Press Secretary Peter Kaiser, the interview was returned late in the evening with minor changes. This version lacked the sentence on the tape which made reference to the death penalty: “That does not happen every Friday; that is nonsense. Of course I am against it.”
At 10:16 Friday an e-mail went to Mr. Kaiser with the comment, “almost all changes accepted”; and the entire interview, as it was subsequently printed, was returned. The corresponding passage now read: “That does not happen every Friday. Of course I am against the death penalty.” Peter Kaiser’s answer at 11:36 reads: “I have understood.” He said he would be able to reach “B-E (sic) in about 20 minutes”. A ‘thank-you’ and a friendly greeting arrived at 11:52.
The Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Graz is Investigating
From “nonsense” to a “huge scandal”: such is the range of reactions to the statements of the former Minister of Justice of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), Claudia Bandion-Ortner. She defended in “profil magazine” the political and social situation in Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Justice has now forwarded for investigation the case of this judge, who is on unpaid leave, to the Regional High Court (OLG) in Graz.
Source: news ORF.at
October 21 2014
The OLG must decide on a possible disciplinary proceeding, according to a statement issued from the Ministry. On Tuesday, Wolfgang Brandstetter, likewise nominated by the ÖVP [Austrian People’s Party], declined to comment to journalists on the controversial statements Bandion-Ortner made in Saturday’s “profil” interview. He is not familiar with the case “in detail”, said Brandstetter after the cabinet meeting; its content will “have to be clarified”.
Beheadings “not every Friday”
Claudia Bandion-Ortner is the Deputy Secretary General of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), which is for the most part financed by Saudi Arabia. To the charge that in Saudi Arabia condemned persons are publically whipped or beheaded after prayers on Fridays, she answered: “not every Friday”. Bandion-Ortner characterised the black gown (abaya), which Arab women have to wear, as “practical” and “comfortable” — and said it reminded her of a judge’s robe [Talar].
In any event, the Justice Minister’s department has forwarded the documents to the competent Regional High Court in Graz — a routine procedure, as the Minister emphasised. The matter is presently “there, where it belongs”, said Brandstetter. Whether a disciplinary procedure threatens Judge Claudia Bandion-Ortner, who is on unpaid leave, the Minister could not say. The decision on it will be made by the OLG in Graz, he said.
Faymann: “Misguided Statement”
Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ [Social Democratic Party]) found words which are more pointed and spoke of a “markedly misguided statement”; but he did not wish to elaborate on the statement itself. The head of the SPÖ has already ordered that he be sent information bearing on the contract with the King Abdullah Centre. First the Chancellor wishes to have the opportunity to look at the documents.
In front of the cabinet, SPÖ Party Whip Andreas Schieder also expressed his shock to journalists at the content of the statements and at the “stupidity” contained in this interview. That in the interview, the former Justice Minister and judge relativises human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, is “intolerable”. To his knowledge, the King Abdullah Centre is supposed to be a “platform for dialogue”, said Schieder; that it profits from tax privileges was “unclear” to the Party Whip: “Therefore it requires clarification”.
ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) is Laying Low
Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling (ÖVP) did not speak to the case and made reference to the jurisdiction of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, since the matter concerns an international organisation. Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (both ÖVP) are currently in China.
Greens see “Misguided Policies”
The Greens do not wish to leave unchallenged that the SPÖ were not informed about the situation of the King Abdullah Centre, which was founded in 2011 and financed predominantly by Saudi Arabia. In a press release, Alev Korun, a human rights spokesman for the Greens, emphasised that for years she has been pointing out the “misguided policies” to the governing parties.
“The federal government have acted over these three years with subterfuge and deception,” so accuse the Greens. Thus at first it was said that [the Centre’s] Deputy Secretary General, Bandion-Ortner was on “personnel loan”; as it turns out now, that is no longer correct, critiqued Korun.
Allocated to the [King Abdullah] Centre whilst a Judge?
Bandion-Ortner was still being paid as a judge for several months while already working for the Centre. For how long has obscurity been dominating this affair? In answer to an Austrian Radio (OE1 ORF) e-mail inquiry, the Ministry of Justice specifies the time between 1 August and 31 October, hence a three-month period. On the television broadcast, “Report” of 11 July 2012, Bandion-Ortner said she had been allocated to the Centre. At that time she was actually still working for the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) in Laxenburg near Vienna — more on this at oe1.ORF.at [German language].
”Profil” Defends the Interview
To date Bandion-Ortner herself has not spoken to the accusations. In a press release, the King Abdullah Centre characterised the statements as incorrect and taken out of context. “Profil” points to the authorisation of the interview, but acknowledges that the sentence regarding “executions not happening every Friday” was inserted back into the text, complaint notwithstanding, since this is the way it comes out in the recorded interview. The spokesman of the King Abdullah Centre was informed about it, according to “profil”.