Europe’s Crackdown on Islamists: Austria Bans ‚Political Islam‘, France Issues ‚Republican Values‘ Ultimatum

Written by | Saturday, November 28th, 2020

The recent terrorist attacks in Nice, Paris and Vienna were not a major surprise for Europe’s counterterrorism experts. These events have only brought back onto the radar of the general public a phenomenon that the European counterterrorism community knows well: The threat has never disappeared. Though being less acute than it was in the years 2014-2017 marked by an array of Islamic State-led or inspired devastating attacks across the continent, the terrorist threat has certainly not disappeared as the European jihadi scene has certainly not evaporated. But now it is „Austria, Not France, (That) Is the Model for Europe’s Crackdown on Islamists“, as a recent Foreign Policy article argues.
After the attack in downtown Vienna that saw the attacker killing four people and injuring 20 more, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “Our enemy, Islamic extremism, which is directed against all our values and our constitution, does not only want to cause death and suffering – it also wants to divide our society, and we will not allow this to happen.“ A couple of days later, on 11 November, Kurz announced Austria was banning “political Islam” in a move by his government that will lead to a wide range of “anti-terrorism” measures, including the ability to keep individuals convicted of “terror” offences behind bars for life, electronically surveilling people convicted of “terror”-related crimes upon release, and criminalising religiously motivated and politically “extreme” acts.
But Ramazan Demir, who has worked as a Muslim prison chaplain in Austria for eight years, warns that “we see that radicalisation in the prisons is increasing more and more.” Prevention work should start as soon as people are exposed to “radicalisation”, especially in prisons as many people turn to religion, Demir said. Nadim Mazarweh, who works as an extremism and deradicalisation expert at the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGÖ), said the government’s plan was a rash decision. “The assassin could and should have been arrested in advance,” he said, adding that instead of investigating why this did not happen, the government is presenting a package of measures against “terror” and “political Islam”. “I was shocked by this completely aimless formulation. The term ‘political Islam’ is completely useless and is rejected by experts. It is like talking about political Christianity or political Hinduism,” said Mazarweh. For the Muslim community, which currently counts about 8% of Austria’s population, such rhetoric means people feel like they are automatically suspected.
Meanwhile in France, a new French bill was drafted in the aftermath of a gruesome beheading of a teacher earlier in October, which makes it a crime to intimidate public servants on religious grounds and also makes it an offence to share the personal information of a person in a way that allows them to be identified or located by people who want to harm them. Like his Austrian counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has clamped down on what it calls “radical Islam” following the murder of Samuel Paty, who was the target of a vicious online smear campaign for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. Many Muslims believe any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous. Macron has promised his country would “not stop drawing caricatures”, drawing severe criticism from leaders across the Muslim world and protests in a number of countries.
Just weeks before Paty’s death, Macron had set out plans to tackle what he called the “Islamist separatism” in poor French neighbourhoods that aimed to create a “counter-society” where Islamic law prevailed. The bill provides for each child to be given an ID number that would be used to ensure they are attending school. “We must save our children from the clutches of the Islamists,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the media. The draft law also cracks down on online hate speech of the kind suffered by Paty by allowing for suspects to be summarily tried. But French human and civil rights activist Yasser Louati said bringing new laws is not a solution, considering that laws already exist to tackle online harassment and hate speech. “The issue with Emmanuel Macron is every time there is a social problem, they come up with new laws,” Louati said, adding that “I doubt they will apply it to protect the everyday citizen, let alone the everyday Muslim, or a Muslim woman who gets harassed online.”

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