Europe

'Islamophobic, racist': Turkey slams Austrian move to close mosques, expel imams

A man stands in front of the closed Nizam-I Alem Ocagi mosque in Vienna, Austria. Source: AAP

Turkey's presidential spokesman has lambasted Austria's decision to expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques as an "Islamophobic" and "racist" move.

Austria said it could expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and their families and would shut down seven mosques as part of a crackdown on "political Islam", triggering fury in Turkey.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said the new policy was part of an “Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave” in Austria.

A view on closed Nizam-I Alem Ocagi mosque in Vienna, Austria.
A view on closed Nizam-I Alem Ocagi mosque in Vienna, Austria.
AAP

“Austria’s decision to close seven mosques and expel imams is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country. It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points,” Turkey's presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Twitter.

“The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of co-existence. Efforts to normalize Islamophobia and racism must be rejected under all circumstances,” he added.

Austria, a country of 8.8 million people, has roughly 600,000 Muslim inhabitants, most of whom are Turkish or have families of Turkish origin.

Austria's government said it was concerned that a number of Turkish-funded imams have contravened a ban on foreign funding of religious office holders.

"The circle of people possibly affected by these measures -- the pool that we're talking about -- comprises around 60 imams," said Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the junior partner in Austria's coalition government.

Kickl was referring to imams with alleged links to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organisation, a branch of Turkey's religious affairs agency Diyanet.

The ministry said 40 of them had an active application for extending their residency and that a number of these had already been referred to immigration authorities, where a process for expelling them was underway.

Once family members were taken into account, a total of 150 people risked losing their right to residence, Kickl told a Vienna press conference.

European far-right leaders welcomed the announcement.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French Front National, said on Twitter: "Austria is taking things in hand and showing that 'when you want to, you can!'"

Matteo Salvini, head of Italy's League and interior minister in the new government, also tweeted his approval, saying: "Those who exploit their faith to endanger a country's security should be expelled!"

'Laughable' claims 

Seven mosques will also be shut after an investigation by Austria's religious affairs authority sparked by images which emerged in April of children in a Turkish-backed mosque playing dead and re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

The photos of children, published by the Falter weekly, showed the young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead.

Their "corpses" were then lined up and draped in the flags.

The mosque in question was run by ATIB.

ATIB itself condemned the photos at the time, calling the event "highly regrettable" and saying it was "called off before it had even ended".

Asked to address the question of foreign funding of imams on Austria's O1 radio station, ATIB spokesman Yasar Ersoy confirmed Friday its imams were paid by Turkish authorities but said that this was made necessary by a lack of training and funding for imams in Austria.

One of the mosques targeted by Friday's measure was in the Favoriten district of Vienna.

The government said it had been operating illegally and that it was under the influence of the far-right Turkish political movement, the Grey Wolves.

Worshippers arriving for Friday prayers were met with a sign on the door reading "closed" in Turkish and German.

Kursant, a 26-year-old, told AFP: "I've been coming to this mosque since I was a child. I've never heard anyone at the mosque... express any Salafist opinions. That's laughable."

He also denied the mosque had any links to Turkish political parties.

Six other mosques are being closed down, three in Vienna, two in Upper Austria and one in Carinthia.

All but one of the mosques affected belong to the "Arab Religious Association," according to the government.

Strained relations 

Even Austria's opposition parties were broadly supportive of Friday's announcement, with the centre-left Social Democrats calling it "the first sensible thing this government's done".

However the Green Party pointed out it could serve as a propaganda victory for the Turkish government.

Turkey's relations with Austria have long been strained, most recently when Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he would ban Turkish politicians from campaigning in Austria for upcoming elections.

Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked Kurz, saying: "This immoral chancellor has a problem with us".

Both Kurz, of the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and the FPOe made immigration and integration major themes in their election campaigns last year.

The topic had been pushed up the political agenda by the migrant crisis of 2015-16, which saw more than 150,000 people seek asylum in the country of 8.7 million.

In Friday's press conference Kurz was keen to emphasise that the action was being taken under legislation to regulate Islamic associations that he himself brought in as a minister in the previous government and which had so far -- in his opinion -- not been used often enough.

Source AFP - SBS, Reuters - SBS

Topics:

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch