The Islam Act — A Black Day for Austria

The long-anticipated revision of the 1912 Islam Law was passed by the Austrian parliament late last month. The new act was ummahaustriaintended to subject Islam to the same scrutiny directed at other religious organizations, but it is unlikely to accomplish its ostensible purpose.

The following article by Christian Zeitz reviewing the likely effects (or non-effects) of the new Islam Law was published on February 26 by Politically Incorrect. Many thanks to JLH for the translation:

The Islam Act — A Black Day for Austria

Yesterday, after long discussions, the new Islam Act was passed in the Austrian National Assembly. The new act is a revision of a law from 1912 and was intended to be a great advance. What resulted is somewhere between half-baked and counterproductive. It misses the central point and is de facto unenforceable. Christian Zeitz, academic director of the Institute for Applied Political Economy, was involved intensively beforehand with both the law and the material. If Austria had enacted his insights, they would at least be one step further along.

But neither the expertly qualified critics nor the much publicized “broad base” had a say. The entire parliamentary opposition — albeit for various reasons — voted against it. And so what was decided was neither helpful nor beneficial, or, as Christian Zeitz foresaw:

The Islam Act — Project of a Constitutional Attempt to Deal with Islam — Is at the Point of Collapse

On January 13th, the government template for the Islam Act was the object of vigorous debate in the constitutional committee of the National Assembly. In the framework of hearing the testimony of experts, specialists familiar with the subject matter worked out the weaknesses of the draft law that the government was hoping to have rubber-stamped by the entire chamber. I myself concentrated on the formal defects of this legislative approach and on the fact that it completely ignores the reality of Islam and its representative institutions in Austria. With the implementation of this law, the Islamic organizations would receive even more privileges. Even more significant: with this law, the rampant, creeping Islamization of our land will be protected against any national supervision or control and against any timely attempt to prevent a progressive radicalization in government agencies. Neither the Minister of Culture, Josef Ostermayer, nor his staff, were able to counter these doubts.

What happened? What does the background of this awkward matter look like? Why is this legal matter of such great relevance for the social and political situation in our country? Where does it go from here?

In 1912, four years after Bosnia-Herzegovina had been incorporated among the legal entities of the Danube monarchy, the Emperor signed a law in Austria that was a worldwide first, in which the “followers of Islam” were legalized as a recognized religious community. For the hundred-year jubilee in 2012, a “time-appropriate” Islam Act was foreseen, which was to have portrayed the actual situation in “multi-religious Austria.” At first, extended negotiations with the IGGiÖ, which sought an expansion of its rights (its own university faculties, state-compensated spiritual directors in the army, Islamic ministry in hospitals and prisons, Islamic cemeteries, Islamic provisioning in public facilities with Islam-compatible “halal” foods) delayed the project. Also because of that delay, however, three of the most important requirements advanced by citizens for years as causing concern for the maintenance of secular, liberal order and religious peace in the land were accepted. They are:

1. The obligation to make public the articles of faith in the Islamic communities. Such an obligation is not only necessary to make possible the repeatedly invoked “inter-religious dialogue.” Even more, it is indispensable to being able to determine what elements of the “doctrine of Islam” are not compatible with the laws of Austria. Actually, the Law of 1912 already requires such a procedure. For there are certainly reasons to assume that substantial portions of especially the Islamic social and legal system (sharia) are not compatible with the laws of an enlightened constitutional state. It is a particular scandal that there are critics of Islam who have been convicted of “derogation of religious doctrines”, which doctrines, however, have not been revealed by anyone, anywhere.

2. The banning of the financing of Islamic religious enterprises (mosques, et alii) by foreign sources. This regulation would be especially important because the experience of recent decades, both in country and out, shows unmistakably that radicalization of Muslim communities frequently results from investment (“mosque-building”) and personal expenditures for religious officers (“imams”) by foreign institutions that are interested in bringing about a radical form of Islam. Saudi Arabia is especially active in this area, as is the Turkish religious authority with its Austrian branch ATIB (Avrupa Türk-Islam Birliği [Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Organizations in Europe]).

3. The necessary dissolution of mosque and prayer groups which have been established in a rampant, unmanageable process in recent years, and have overspread all of Austria with a dense net of 460 such institutions. The reality of the practice or pursuit of a religion in completely unaccounted-for organizations is incompatible with the idea of a legally recognized religious society which is responsible for its actions and its practitioners and therefore enjoys legal protection and privileges.

These three requirements were included in the ministerial draft for the new Islam Act which was published on October 2nd of last year. There was an instant storm of outrage from Muslim functionaries and their political and media protectors. The new Islam law would manifest a “general suspicion,” would “discriminate” against Muslims, and make Muslims “second-class citizens,” and therefore unworthy of constitutional protections and human rights.

The defects of the draft law disappeared in the propaganda storm produced by Islamic functionaries, who had one more opportunity to demonstrate their high dudgeon at being insulted and play once more the role of victim. And this assures that the requirements mentioned will not be enacted and/or enforceable, and thus the same, unsatisfactory and dangerous make-up of Islam in Austria remains not only untouchable, but totally legally secured and therefore preserved forever. The actual make-up of Islam is a bizarre twofold enterprise: the legally recognized IGGiÖ (Islamic Community in Austria) manages state-financed Islamic religious education and political public works, for which it receives pubic donations, meanwhile not being responsible for one single mosque or religious community. The 460 Islamic organizations, on the other hand, manage mosques, sponsor Friday sermons and generally take care of the practice of the Islamic faith, by serving Muslims at the grassroots level, thus defining everyday Islam in the country.

The draft law is snarled up by connecting the dissolubility of the organizations on the basis of their “doctrine” to that of a legally recognized religious society. There is not sufficient space here for a detailed analysis of this thorny matter and a demonstration of the consequent effects of the faulty legislative construct. This was done in the course of a detailed presentation by the Wiener Akademikerbund. The fact is that the organizations, according to this law, cannot be dissolved. This is tragic, since the requirements of “transparency” and “foreign financing” cannot be applied to the sponsors of the mosques and Islamic religious enterprises.

This problem, which seems to be merely an academic-juridical one, is of eminent significance for social co-existence, maintenance of our own culture and religious peace in the land. It affords a glance into the daily Islam-relevant reporting of the media, in just recent days. Three relevant examples:

In an interview conducted by the magazine PROFILE, with Dr. Fuat Sanac, president of IGGiÖ (Number 3 2015, of January 12, 2015), he denies the existence of the death penalty for blasphemy in Islamic states as well as the endorsement of suicide attacks by the highly influential Islamic legal scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. “Islam is not political.” “Islamic scholars must never cease to emphasize that the actions of terrorists are absolutely un-Islamic.” And then a much-quoted mantra of all Islam sympathizers: “Killing a single person, according to the Koran, is the same as killing all of humanity.”

It is worthwhile to quote the appropriate verse from the Koran: “Therefore we have commanded the children of Israel that anyone who kills a person other than for vengeance or if he [the person killed] has committed some mischief here on earth, then it is as if he [the killer] had killed all of humanity…” (Sura 5:32) Fuat Sanac suppressed the important second part of the verse. This, in fact, is one of the bases for Islamic blood revenge/right of vengeance. This becomes specific just one verse later where the consequences of the “mischief on this earth” are foreseen: “But the reward of those who rise up against Allah and strive only to bring ruin upon the earth shall be that they are killed or crucified or have their hands and feet chopped off on opposite sides, or that they shall be expelled from the land.” (5:33) This is not the place to deal with the question of whether the methods of IS in Iraq are different in any detail from this Koranic imperative. The question to ask is, why Sanac so consistently (and repeatedly) misrepresents the details of his faith. And exactly that is the point.

How is it possible to advance a beneficial co-existence, let alone a respectful interchange, with representatives of a religious community which consistently refuses to offer any vaguely true information about its beliefs, and on the contrary, replies to any serious reappraisal with drop-dead arguments. The implementation of “disclosure of the elements of faith” would be an unconditional prerequisite for creation of a common base for Muslims and non-Muslims in a community of Austrian values.

In the January 19th 2015 issue of KURIER, Muslim functionaries are upset about Minister Kurz’s insistence on oversight of activities in Islamic religious enterprises. The omnipresent press representative of the IGGiÖ, Carla Amina Baghajati, speaks of “an intervention in the internal affairs of recognized religious societies.” This is yet another archetypical demonstration of the confusion in the Islam Act! To what recognized religious society does Baghajati refer? As already noted, the IGGiÖ does not manage one single mosque. NONE of the managing organizations of Islamic religious enterprises are recognized religious societies, and they have nothing to do with IGGiÖ, in that they neither operate under its auspices nor are (able to be) internally supervised — and this completely regardless of whether they are “aid organizations” or not. President Sanac himself stated this unambiguously in August, 2014. So the IGGiÖ at will either assumes the role of spokesman and protector of all of Islam in Austria or, when necessary, distances itself from individual institutions that are not in good odor.

This second quotation from the media is firm evidence of the necessity of dissolving the rank proliferation of mosque organizations, as is indeed suggested but not made possible in the draft Islam law. The above example illustrates why this requirement is of such political importance. One pillar of a functional and just religious law is the equality of coverage of rights and duties as well as responsibility and supervision, by which a legally recognized and privileged religious society should be characterized. The shabby hare-and-tortoise game between religious society and proliferating organizations undermines this pillar and must, in the long run, damage or destroy any trust between the Muslim community and the majority society.

So it is of the utmost importance not only in the interests of the indigenous Austrians, but of at least the integration-ready Muslims, that the requirements mentioned here be made legally actionable and be politically enacted by a properly established Islam Act. Integration-ready Muslims in Austria have a right to be informed clearly by the state community they wish to belong to, what elements of the Islamic doctrine cannot be experienced and carried out here. Indeed, we do not just have a “general suspicion” but the general knowledge that sharia in its entirety is not compatible with the law, customs and moral concepts of Austria (see, e.g., right of revenge, bodily punishments, inequality of women, polygamy and discrimination against “infidels). It is an expression of the dishonesty and failure of the political elite to have consistently suppressed this obvious truth until this day.

So it is no wonder that the Muslim functionaries of the next generation — after no resistance to implementation of the Islamic legal concepts — are becoming increasingly more offensive in their demands. The third media quotation shows this vividly. In the STANDARD-KOMMENTAR of January 23rd, the front woman of the MJÔ (Muslim Youth of Austria), Dudu Kücükgöl, denounces the “daily, Islam-hostile exaggerations of populist political discourse,” the “public paranoia,” the “legally prescribed discrimination” and the effect of “crude Islamophobic think tanks.” She demands “not just equality,” but “attention from the state,” which no doubt means this is not just a question of “religious freedom” but of the realization of political-Islamic demands. And in this sense, it is about the maintenance and buildup of the necessary instruments.

As an exemplar of the academically educated female Muslim in Austria, Kücükgöl sees already that the new Islam Act would protect these instruments, and that she is only deploying the old saw about the “scandalous draft for a new Islam Act” as a calculated distraction. She knows very well that the Islam Act will go aground on its own goal of “dissolution of the organizations,” if only their exponents employ the proper “wording” in reference to their self-understanding. So Kücükgöl formulates confidently and unerringly: “As an accompanying note — the MJÔ is a youth group and not a religious organization. It receives only that support that similar Austrian youth organizations receive. Therefore it is not subject to the planned law.” Kücükgöl is already preparing for the passage of the law.

But the Austrian federal government will not see what Kücükgöl has recognized. The new Islam Act in its present form is unenforceable, will have no effect and is, at best, intended as a sedative for a public that has become extraordinarily insecure.

In conclusion, for the Wiener Akademikerbund, which has long advocated a constructive religious law, the challenge is as follows. A correction of the religious law is necessary, with the goal of restricting the rampant growth of mosques, insuring the responsibility of Islamic religious societies for the beliefs they represent, and preventing the increase of radical influence on the Islamic scene in Austria through foreign financing. From a legal-technical perspective, there would be no problem in accomplishing this, if the necessary political will can be found, and there is still time to bring the capacities of all constructive powers to bear. The Austrian federal government must be challenged not to push such important material through parliament as a prestige project. A good Islam law is one of the absolute last chances to preserve a permanent religious peace in Austria.

— Christian Zeitz of the Wiener Akademikerbund

Source: Gates of Vienna