Outcry over Austria's 'Islam map' showing names and locations of mosques

Council of Europe says map makes Muslims feel stigmatised

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has spoken out about what he calls "political Islam". Bloomberg. 
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has spoken out about what he calls "political Islam". Bloomberg. 

An “Islam map” showing the locations of mosques and Muslim organisations in Austria is causing an uproar in the country.

The interactive map was unveiled by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab last week, with the names and locations of more than 600 mosques and Islamic associations.

It led to concerns the project was discriminatory and could stigmatise Muslims.

Days later, police in Vienna removed a set of unofficial street signs that displayed the web address of the map and told pedestrians: "Warning. Political Islam in your area."

The signs were illustrated with a stereotyped image of a Muslim man, which was condemned as a racist caricature.

It was not clear who put up the signs, but the incident led to renewed condemnation of a project that had already alarmed many of Austria's Muslims.

“I appeal to minister Raab to immediately remove the map, distance herself from it and apologise for it,” said Vienna deputy mayor Christoph Wiederkehr.

Nurten Yilmaz, an integration spokeswoman for the opposition Social Democrats, said the street signs were a “reminder of the darkest hour in our history”.

“The Islam map stirs up hatred and divides our society in an unprecedented way,” she said.

It comes amid reports of increased physical and verbal attacks on Muslims since an extremist rampage that left four people dead in Vienna last November.

On Monday, the Council of Europe – a human rights organisation separate from the EU – said the project “overshoots the mark”.

“Many Muslims perceive the form and timing of the publication as extremely discriminatory,” the council said.

“They feel stigmatised and threatened in their security by the publication of addresses and other details. The ‘Islam Map’ of Austria should therefore be withdrawn in its current form."

An example of the 'warning' signs that have appeared in Vienna. Falter Magazine/Vienna
An example of the 'warning' signs that have appeared in Vienna. Falter Magazine/Vienna

The map was drawn up in collaboration with the University of Vienna and the Documentation Centre of Political Islam.

Muslims in Austria said they could not imagine a similar map being drawn up for Christianity or Judaism.

Ms Raab, a member of the centre-right OeVP party, defended the controversial project, insisting that it was not meant to “place Muslims in general under suspicion”.

The aim was “to fight political ideologies, not religion”, she said.

But there was criticism from the OeVP’s coalition partners, the Greens, who said they had not been consulted about it.

“The project mixes Muslims with Islamists and is contrary to what integration policy should look like,” said the Greens' spokeswoman for integration, Faika El-Nagashi.

The government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is pressing ahead with a package of anti-terrorism measures in the wake of November’s attack.

The measures include creating a new criminal offence in Austria called “religiously motivated extremist association”.

In raids after the attack, prosecutors said more than 70 people were being investigated on suspicion of ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Kurz has frequently criticised what he refers to as “political Islam” and conservative politicians raised fears of “parallel societies” emerging in cities such as Vienna.

A report published this year said a leading body overseeing Sunni Muslim affairs in Austria had “long been under suspected Islamist influence”.

Prominent members of the group were of Turkish origin and had links to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party, according to the Policy Exchange report.

The report praised Austria as a “little heralded, but important example” of how democracies could face the extremist threat.

Updated: June 3, 2021 01:00 PM

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