The following analysis of the new anti-“radicalism” law in Austria was written by the Austrian scholar Christian Zeitz, and has been kindly translated by JLH. Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff supplies an introduction to provide the current political context.
by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
Vice President of Wiener Akademikerbund
There was an uproar of excitement when a few weeks ago, on a Friday, only “hours away from Iftar, the breaking of the fast”: the Austrian government introduced measures to curb the influence of “political Islam” in Austria. While the measures to shut down “extremist” mosques sounded like a long-awaited solution to the proliferation of Islamization of Austria were lauded by many both domestically and worldwide, there were those voices who knew right away that nothing would come of this announcement. They were, as always, brushed off, but, as always, their analysis proved not only sound, but also true. To this day, not one mosque has been closed and, as far as is known, not one imam has left the country.
This situation is unfortunate, but unsurprising. All of this was predicted by Christian Zeitz back in 2015, when the Islam Law was debated in parliament. And it is most unfortunate when members of parliament go on television and say that this law was passed in good faith, which is patently untrue and is documented as such (here at Gates of Vienna).
One would hope that now, in view of the obvious failure of the Islam Law, lawmakers would approach the one expert available to provide ideas to fix this botched law. This hope is in vain. No one has thus far approached Christian Zeitz, the one man who has always maintained that there are solutions available. Alas, Zeitz has been shunned. To the detriment of the Austrian population.
The following analysis is likely the last on the topic of Islam Law. There is nothing more to add until the politicians wake up and fix a law that was broken to begin with, instead of continuing on a path of destruction. The question is: are the politicians willing to admit their mistake?
Bombshell in Ramadan
Why the PR-effective measures announced by the government will only function in part, and why the Islam Law must therefore be reformed immediately.
by Christian Zeitz
Whatever else happens, June 8, 2018 will enter the political history of the Republic of Austria. At an unusual hour — 8:00 a.m. — the government presented a package of measures and intentions intended to halt abuses and subversive activities which have become established in parts of the Islamic community. With statements from Chancellor Kurz, Vice Chancellor Strache, Chancellery Minister (ergo Cultural Affairs Minister) Blümel, as well as Interior Minister Kickl, this intention was presented with a display of personal presence and determination unequaled in the Second Republic. Publicly making the theme “State and Islam” an inter-ministerial causa prima is noteworthy and deserves great approbation. The enormous resonance in the media (from the tiny Austrian town of Perchtoldsdorf to Washington) justifies the government in its public act just as does the agreement of the ordinarily carping opposition parties. Both of these things signal especially that by far the greatest portion of the Austrian population is finally fed up with the appeasement, indeed circumventive lying, about certain conditions and events inside the Islamic community, and is no longer willing to accept the obviously increasing threats to public security, the rule of law and everyday culture.
The representations of government members, taken separately, were doubtlessly heading in the right direction. Kurz: “The idea of the Islam Law (2015) was to prevent foreign political influence by abolishing foreign financing (of Islamic Communities).” Strache: “It is about opposing radical political Islam. Hate preaching and the abuse of religious instruction for the purposes of indoctrination must be stopped.” Blümel: “Illegal mosque enterprises must be banned and, if necessary, closed. The Department of Cultural Affairs must check the conformance to the law of these institutions.” Kickl: “ATIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria) is breaking the law. Imams are being financed from outside the country. Various activities in the associations can be classified by the government as politically radical.”
The government has announced the following steps as immediately in prospect or already in process:
|1.||Closing of a mosque in the10th district in Vienna, where the “Wolf Salute” is used, representing the ideology of the Grey Wolves. The mosque is illegal. Even the IGGiÖ (Islamic Faith Community in Austria) reported this mosque to the competent authorities.|
|2.||Dissolution of the “Arabic Cultural Community,” which had a “Salafist background” and would therefore represent political Islam. A decision from the Department of Cultural Affairs for dissolution is imminent.|
|3.||Repeal of current legal status of (ATIB-) imams, and/or refusal of restructuring and/or extension, because they are financed from abroad, which would be contrary to the ban on foreign finance. There are eleven present cases, altogether ca. forty.|
|4.||The Department of Cultural Affairs is charged with supervision of mosque establishments with regard to possible further instances of foreign financing (considering any possible evasive arrangements), as well with inspecting activities which could violate the principles of the “basic alignment of state and society in Austria.” Among these are certain activities in youth work (“war reenactments in kindergarten”).|
|5.||The investigations may result in further closings of mosques and other facilities.
At first glance, the measures appear convincing and sensible. Hardly anyone in Austria would not want them to be successful. The question is whether and to what extent their execution is realistic. This depends primarily on the foundation for legal action the authorities authorize. In this connection, the ministers named or referenced the following laws to the following responsible authorities:
- The Islam Law, 2015. Primary responsibility lies with the Department of Cultural Affairs, which is a subordinate division of the Office of the Federal Chancellor.
- The Settlement and Residence Law, administered by the Ministry of the Interior.
- The Associations Law, administered by the provincial organizations authorities under the Ministry of the Interior.
Before the tenability of the grounds or enforcement and the likelihood of implementation of the announced measures are investigated, the following should be noted:
In recent years, the authorities have made several attempts to stem the steady proliferation of the Islam sector, the radicalization of many of its protagonists and the interlacing with the political aims of domestic and foreign organizations and players. Among them were very similar attempts to those now being announced. It is true that they were not as effectively publicized nor as supported by a massive political will as is now the case. In fact, however, none of these attempts has had any effect. Rather, diversion and shifting of activities to various, increasingly numerous institutional substrata and the real pressure — both political and external — on the authorities to cooperate in diverse compensatory measurements have always led to the Islam sector being strengthened and stabilized and even increased by such attempts at “enforcement through the Rule of Law.”
This — at least in the view of those who wanted to defend the secular state — was one of the reasons for the initiative to renew the Islam legislation, which ultimately led to the Islam Law of 2015. This is regarded by the government as the most important resource in implementing the desired goals. That is precisely the weak point of the project. However much the government is to be praised for its enormous initiative, its estimation of the level of instrumentality must be seen as extremely unrealistic.
Necessary support for this determination in the following analysis must largely be confined to assertions, since presentation of the complex, logistical, institutional, Islam-specific and political structure that would have to be understood cannot be accomplished in this limited space. Please be assured that the relevant analysis does exist. Here, then, is an extraction of it:
The longstanding originators of renewing the Islam Law had, almost a decade ago, proposed three principles which were to re-order the Islam sector in accordance with the interests of the Republic, and secure the maintenance of religious peace in the land:
|1.||The obligation to reveal the principles of faith (including German translation of the Koran and Ahadith), in order to have a standard for judging compatibility with the laws and customs of the country.|
|2.||Dissipation of the uncontrolled proliferation of religious facilities whose quantity and content evade any government control and any responsibility by virtue of being a legally recognized religious community.|
|3.||The ban on financing of Austrian Islamic institutions by foreign nations or organizations (“foreign financing”), to close off radicalizing influence from outside Austria.
The Islam Law of 2015 appears to have conformed to these proposals. At any rate, this is the case only on a nominal, terminological level, while the specific logistical construction has a precisely opposite effect:
|Ad 1.||Transparency in the Islam Law was so standardized that it represents no obligation to the state, but is an “inner affair,” because it is issued as part of its “constitution.” (§ 6) The Department of Cultural Affairs, accordingly, has accepted a seven-page, completely vacuous pamphlet as “doctrine” of the IGGiÖ, in which slavery is whitewashed, and it is utterly tentative to external parties.|
|Ad 2.||On the basis of apparently meaningless subordinate clauses (in §8), alongside the religious community and the “cultural communities,” the associations too are admitted as support institutions for mosques. Thus even the proliferation of mosques is still protected by being outside legal authority by means of the connectivity of the “cultural communities.”|
|Ad 3.||The ban on “foreign financing” in the Islam Law is, first, only indirect (“financial independence,” § 6 Abs. 2) and, second, not applicable to associations. The consequences of the Islam Law are so absurd that the authorities (the Department of Cultural Affairs and the authorities governing associations) officially allowed (had to allow?) the establishment of Bosnian mosques in Austria under the (Saudi Arabian-dominated) religious authority RIJASET in 2016.
Among the deficiencies already noted is a fact that is clearly unknown to the appropriate, responsible (political and administrative) bodies. That is, the Islam Law of 2015 canceled the determination in the Islam Law of 1912 that “Islam” itself is “a legally recognized religion.” This now standardizes to conditions for acceptance of Islamic religious communities. However, since these religious communities (by the 1988 decision of the Constitutional Court) no longer have a claim to sole representation, other groups can assume religious freedom in whatever legal form they choose and, when necessary, claim that they represent a doctrine which deviates from the IGGiÖ. And when no law excludes this organizational format, this is a possible form.
Using the legal framework described, the actual make-up of the Islam sector in Austria has taken the following form:
The Islam sector’s “umbrella” is the legally recognized religious society IGGiÖ. It is the “political player” in Austria, takes care of public relations, does the “inter-religious dialogue” for appeasement, organizes religious instruction and makes demands of the state. “Under” it are “cultural communities,” which by law are simultaneously members of IGGiÖ and “persons of the public sector.” Many of these, founded by third-level institutions — the mosque associations — are, on the one hand, under the cover of the IGGiÖ and to be left in peace, and on the other hand, able to develop their own ritual life without interference. This system could also be called “Islam’s holding company.”
The IGGiÖ is deeply political. Its “high aristocracy” is divided between two spheres of influence — the Arabic and the Turkish. The latter divides again into the realm of ATIB (subordinate to the Turkish religious authority Dijanet) and the “Islamic Federation” (Milli Görüs). The many small ethnically and nationally associated mosques are arranged under the umbrella of the IGGiÖ in one way or another. The “Arabic cultural community” under criticism and facing dissolution is, with altogether ten mosques not exactly a part of the Arabic sector of the “IGGiÖ high aristocracy.” On the contrary, it is not at all a constituent part of the Muslim Brotherhood Network in Austria. This “Arabic cultural community” is not under the dominion off the IGGiÖ and is therefore open to elimination. The same is true for the dissolution-vulnerable “Nasim Abu Mosque” in the 10th district, which is a spinoff of the “Grey Wolves” and therefore not sanctioned by the leadership of the IGGiÖ.
On the basis of the legal and institutional relationships sketched out here, there are a number of possibilities for thwarting or evading the measures or regulations announced by the government. Not only the affected cultural communities and associations, but the IGGiÖ too, has made some unambiguous announcements in this regard. A reliable prognosis of developments in the next months (and years) can be undertaken without extreme risk of error.
Any such should be preceded by three comments:
|1.||In the rationale for the intended measures (especially for dissolution), reference is made to § 4 section 3 of the Islam Law, in which there is mention of a requisite “positive basic attitude toward the society and state.” First, however, this is only a criterion for acceptance (and not for dissolution) and, second, it has no relevance at all for the question of the associations. Furthermore, the concept “basic attitude” is not a juridical one, but at best an interpretive criterion. It is important at this point to warn against endowing this concept with a juridical category. As the concept “hate” already has, this could become an arbitrarily deployed weapon against (political) critics of all kinds.|
|2.||The concept “Salafist positions or views” is also ill-suited as a criterion in the search for “grounds of dissolution.” This is the revenge of the years-long, all-too-casual treatment of important concepts in public discussion of Islam. And meanwhile, “Salafist” has become everyday terminology for “terrorist.” Although Islamic terrorism is not infrequently inspired by Salafist activists, the connotation is nonsensical. Salafism is after all just the extra-territorial variant of (Saudi) Wahhabism; and that is a political branch of Hanbalism. The Hanbalist school of (religious) jurisprudence is nothing less than one of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence presented by the Islamic religious community as recognized schools of thought, which also had to be recognized by the Department of Cultural Affairs. So-called “Salafism” also does not fit the formal “dissolution criterion.”|
|3.||Finally, certain relevant modes of behavior and events are presented as facts which would be legal grounds for dissolution. Re-creation of warlike slaughter by small children in kindergarten may certainly offend the cultural sensitivity of the average Austrian, but it is not grounds for dissolution. What law is it supposed to be breaking? It may perhaps reflect what some understand as “political Islam,” but it can no more be dealt with legally than all the previously-mentioned concepts. That is, there is no “political Islam”, because, among other things, there is no “non-political Islam.” Could it seriously be maintained that the Islamic interdicts least compatible with Western social order — such as blood feud, polygamy, and wife-beating (Sura 4, 34) — are expressions of a “political” concept? Instead of pursuing the phantom of “political Islam,” the legal regime in which the state communicates with the Islamic sector should make clearer to Muslims what elements of the Islamic belief cannot and must not be realized/enacted in Austria. Not now and not ever.
After all the intellectual preparations, now is the time to venture a qualitative prognosis for execution of the measures announced by the government.
|1.||The chances of dissolving the “Arabic cultural community” are good. It can only exist as a cultural community if it is accepted by the faith community as a component of itself. Since it is regarded by the IGGiÖ as an insubordinate foreign body, its removal is as good as certain. However, this does not apply to the mosque associations that belong to it, which will presumably organize anew and quite differently. Furthermore, the authorities must beware of becoming no more than accessories of the IGGiÖ.|
|2.||The mosque associations cannot at this time legally be dissolved, except those that appeal the decision as a kind of mobile warfare, and found a new association. It is important here that the law on association, which is its sole basis for implementation, contains no provision against associations that practice religion, and no ban on financing from out of the country.|
|3.||The negative disposition of original application procedures or extension procedures in regard to residence permission for imams will function — although modestly. But mosque complexes have manifold possibilities of channeling foreign donations. A Turkish imam paid by an Austrian legal entity can hardly be reproached for receiving no income in the sense of the Settlement and Residence Law, even if financed indirectly from foreign sources (of which he can be ignorant). The Dijanet (Turkish religious ministry) has 117,000 employees, of which some can be sent to Austria in rotation, and indeed in such quick succession that the authorities in Austria do not come close to creating a basis for enforcement.
The thinking expressed in this analysis is in no way in service of criticism of the government’s intentions per se, or meant to relativize. On the contrary, appreciation for an initiative like that of the current coalition government cannot be expressed fully enough. Critical remarks help to create a realistic view of the amount of success that such a project might achieve under present conditions. And they are useful above all for insight into the unconditional necessity of re-ordering the legal basis of the Republic’s dealings with Islam, its collective implementation and its institutions. Only such a re-ordering can improve the prospects of success.
The Islam Law of 2015, contrary to its public image, is a more than insufficient basis for implementation. But its present condition is by no means immutable. The rudiments of an effective reconstruction have been discussed in detail and are ready to hand. In its coalition agreement, the government has already decided to revise the Islam Law. It should begin.
Revise the Islam Law — now, and not sometime!
Mag. Christian Zeitz is the academic Director of the Institute for Applied Political Economics, and the Islam expert of the Wiener Akademikerbund.
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