Statement on the newly established "Documentation Centre Political Islam"
Dokustelle Austria is calling for the #Decriminalization of Muslims in Austria
Vienna, 21st July 2020
The Dokustelle Austria (Dokumentations- und Beratungsstelle Islamfeindlichkeit & antimuslimischer Rassismus) is concerned about the government-led establishment of a so-called "Documentation Centre for Political Islam". The new Centre will be equipped with half a million euros in funding deriving from the budget of the Integration Ministry. The principle activities will comprise auditing and monitoring organizations, associations and individuals related to "political Islam" in Austria.
The government's singling out of one form of extremism comes at a time when antiracist organizations and international Organizations are documenting rising numbers in racist hate crimes and hate speech. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlights in its sixth report on Austria that "political speech has taken on highly divisive and antagonistic overtones particularly targeting Muslims and refugees."1 The Dokustelle Austria "Antimuslim Racism Report 2019" and Zara "Racism Report 2019" both document a sharp increase in reported cases.
Notwithstanding the evident need to take measures to combat everyday racism as well as its institutional and structural forms, the Austrian government established a Centre which strategy seems to be informed by the scientifically debunked and racist assumption that any Muslim has the potential to become radicalized and violent.
Institutionalization of Suspicion
The assumptions underlying the Centre's focus and planned activities pose on many levels a challenge to democratic values. To begin with, it singles out one religious minority in Austria and puts Muslim communities under general suspicion of posing a potential threat to national security.
The Ministry of Integration and Women, Susanne Raab said in Wednesday's press conference (15th July), the Centre aims to tackle "the fight against the dangerous ideology of political Islam" and to "contain extremism and foreign influences". What is understood as political Islam has yet to be defined. Instead, the speech seems to suggest that "Muslim religious affiliation" is the guiding criteria informing the selection of individuals, organizations and associations that should be subjected to the Centre's monitoring activities. The fostering of so-called "Parallelgesellschaften" and creation of "division of society through disseminating disintegrative content" are further criteria used to decide whether an organization, association or individual should be criminalized. While explaining the Centre's activities, the Minister repeatedly highlighted the importance of putting Muslim associations, religious sites and their activities under observation before a criminal offence is committed and to criminalize activities even if no breach of law occurred. The government's intention to punish before a violation of law was committed could pose a threat to the protection of fundamental rights as guaranteed in the constitution and EU.
While the notion of what poses a threat is broadened in an ambiguous way, the subject who represents the threat is identified in the Muslim Other. This indicates a further development away from the presumption of innocence to an institutionalized suspicion against people perceived as Muslim.
Considering the surge in right-wing extremist groups, antisemitism and racism, the establishment of a Centre focusing only on one form of extremism raises the question about the political strategy underpinning this endeavour. Concomitantly, one wonders about the Centre's impartiality, objectivity and independence.
Furthermore, the new position is supposed to find good and bad partners in the fight against political Islam. The question arises here why some cooperations have been deliberately ignored up to now and why communication with established specialist agencies, such as the IGGÖ'2s Prevention Centre against Extremism, has not been sought.
Fighting all forms of extremisms
We are concerned that the measures taken will lead to an unequal treatment and criminalization of communities perceived as Muslim. The assumption that any Muslim has the potential to become radicalized and violent, is scientifically debunked3 and racist4.
- We demand that extremism, regardless of its religious, ideological, cultural origin, be equally outlawed.
- We also demand that an independent, evidence-based human rights assessments of public policies and public sector regulations on preventing extremisms and countering terrorism.