“A Documentation Centre for the Institutionalisation of Criminalisation of Muslims”
The Austrian Integration Minister has finally presented the long announced establishment of the “Documentation Centre for Political Islam”. First and foremost, the Documentation Centre is nothing but a further consistent step of the Austrian government’s authoritarian policy towards Muslims, a young history that started with the Islam Act in 2015. This policy was especially developed in the course of the coalition of the centrist-right Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP) with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). But when the government speaks of “Political Islam,” it does not refer to groups of people who advocate violence or extremist views. Secret service agencies such as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Fight against Terrorism (BVT) would be in charge of such movements.
Rather, ‘Political Islam’ is a deliberately loose term that aims at criminalizing Muslims, especially organized Muslims, and criminalizes Islamic religious practice. In the past, the headscarf ban, the extension of the Symbol Act to include non-terrorist organizations and the closure of mosques, which was later lifted by the Vienna Administrative Court, were all justified by the reference to the fight against so called ‘Political Islam’.
This contradicts a rhetorical core message of Minister Susanne Raab, who said that the Documentation Centre was not directed against Islam. In the past, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has stated unequivocally that there is no need for Islamic kindergartens, and that the headscarf ban should be extended to universities and public spaces. A second rhetorical core message was that the new center should be “free” and “scientific”. This is more than questionable. After all, all the names involved in the center so far are closely tied to the network of the propaganda apparatus of the ÖVP. This was already true of the two experts who presented the project, Lorenzo Vidino and Mouhanad Khorchide.
Good Muslims, Bad Muslims
So what is the aim of this new center? Given that the Austrian secret service already surveilles Jihadist networks? The Minister was very open in this regard and declared that she wanted a “mapping of the Muslim associations”. In the end, the documentation centre is supposed to be a semi-governmental information body, who can assess “which associations are good partners for the authorities” in order to tell “where tax money should be invested” and when not.
In other words, this means to implement a McCarthyism-like system from the Cold War-era to list bad associations to criminalize and socially exclude these movements. In a sum, this latest initiative of the Austrian government is a step to institutionalize the criminalization of Muslim civil society, especially those, who are vocally critical towards the authoritarian policies of the government.