Austria takes 'pioneering' approach to tackle influence of political Islam

Austrian Integration Minister Susanna Raab sets up new centre to document Islamist ideological control over community groups

epa08536974 Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks during a press conference with  Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, Austrian Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler and Austrian Minister for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, Rudolf Anschober at the Austrian Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, 09 July 2020. Austrian government introduces corona traffic light system (green, yellow, red) for every district in Austria.  EPA/FLORIAN WIESER
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Austria launched an initiative on Wednesday to identify and register social and educational institutions that are the targets of Islamist-controlled organisations for political purposes.

The new approach will involve an audit of groups through the country's Documentation Centre for Political Islam, which will serve as a resource for integration policy and the security agencies.

Minister for Integration Susanne Raab said that the goal was to end parallel social structures that promoted patriarchal and separatist communities.

The government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, which is a coalition of the centre-right and Green Party, has adopted an integration policy based on transparency to fend off attacks from the far right.

Speaking at a meeting with experts and officials, Ms Raab said she was engaged "in the fight against the dangerous ideology of political Islam". She added that she was determined to "distinguish Islam as a religion from political Islam as a dangerous ideology".

Part of the new approach is to monitor social media and integrate this data with research and documentation of religiously motivated political extremism. Austria has a strong presence of Turkish government-controlled organisations as well as those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Political Islam is a poison for our community and social life and it should be fought by all means" she told the meeting. "With the establishment of the Documentation Centre for Political Islam, Austria will be a pioneer in Europe."

The standalone body is modelled on another recently launched agency, the Austrian Integration Fund, and Ms Raab is believed to be keen on recruiting a woman to lead the organisation's permanent staff.

The Austrian government set up other research-focused bodies to fight sectarianism and racism in the past.

One area of focus is thought to be after-school groups or weekend clubs that are targeted by the ideologically extreme activists. Austrian newspapers warned of the dangers of "playground controllers". That is when pupils and youths are inculcated into networks that control their outlook and lifestyle.  
The new facility is not directed against Islam itself, Ms Raab emphasised, but only against the "extremist ideology of political Islam".

Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University, said the underground nature of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood was an issue for many countries. He said Austria's approach was pioneering compared with the policies of its neighbours.

"Most European countries at this point are at this point debating political Islam," he said. "Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in terrorism and the debate over the last three or four years has been all over Europe the growth of the challenge from political Islam in all of its manifestations." 
Mouhanad Khorchide, who runs the Centre for Islamic Theology at Munster University in Germany, pointed out that despite large numbers of organisations controlled by political Islam, no country had properly established whether particular community groups were under the control of a dangerous ideology.