‘Cross vs. Crescent’ again? Seriously?
The Turkish government has continued to react strongly against Austria’s June 8 decision to close down seven mosques in the county and opened a probe regarding the residence permits of 40 imams working in those mosques. The move was presented by the Austrian government as a crackdown on “political Islam.”
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who leads the right-wing Popular Party in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, said that “parallel societies, politicized Islam or radical tendencies” having no place in Austrian society. After assuming office in 2017, Kurz began investigations into a number of Muslim organizations “suspected of violating” the Islam Law of 2015. Under the law, Muslim religious organizations are banned from receiving major financial resources from outside Austria. A number of imams working in such organizations are paid through the Europe Turk-Islam Union (AITB), which is linked to Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), and are therefore considered Turkish civil servants.
It was President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın who gave the first reaction to Austria’s decision to close down the mosques, which are mostly visited by the Turkish community in Austria, who make up most of the 600,000 Muslims in the 8.8 million-population country. Kalın said through his Twitter account that “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.”
President Erdoğan personally slammed the Austrian chancellor as well.
“I’m making a call to the Austrian prime minister: You are still young and you need experience. Your inexperienced behavior could cost you heavily,” Erdoğan said, targeting the 31-year-old Kurz at a late-night event to mark the Islamic observance for Laylat al-Qadr on June 10, repeating his earlier warning that Austria’s decision “could start a crusader-crescent war.”
The Turkish president also said Germany is responsible for the Austrian chancellor’s move, suggesting that Kurz would “listen to” the Germans. “I am also making this call to the whole West, particularly to Germany: Straighten out your man. Otherwise the situation may get out of hand. We have some steps to be taken in accordance of our arguments,” he said.
There is more to the historical background, as Austrians are proud of being the nation that protected Christianity in Europe by stopping Ottoman armies at the gates of Vienna twice, in 1529 and 1683. It was not only coffee and the croissant that were left behind by the Turks as a contribution to European culture, it was also centuries-long stories.
Being skeptical of Islam has long been one of the main political motivations of right-wing parties in Europe. It has nowadays merged with anti-migration policies and xenophobia, going beyond security concerns and turning into a new form of racism. There are six countries now in the European Union who are run by governments with such motivations: Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and recently the Five Star-Northern League coalition government in Italy.
The fact that a populist debate between governments in Europe is being carried out through centuries-old religious-oriented antagonisms could indicate a dangerous escalation in the political axis of tension and should be avoided.