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Are Muslims in Austria a hazard to society or providing safety?

Wreaths and flowers laid after a deadly shooting spree in Vienna, Austria on 5 November 2020 [HELMUT FOHRINGER/APA/AFP/Getty Images]
Wreaths and flowers laid after a deadly shooting spree in Vienna, Austria on 5 November 2020 [HELMUT FOHRINGER/APA/AFP/Getty Images]

"I am a Muslim and I am proud of what I have done. Islam is not this. The Islam we learned from Prophet Muhammad did not consist of this." These were the words of Osama Joda, a Palestinian immigrant to Austria who was granted the golden police badge for saving the life of an officer days before the country launched a security crackdown that targeted the Muslim community, including raids, arrests, and serious accusations.

In another scene, Austrian security officers were questioning Muslims, whose peaceful lifestyle was disrupted suddenly after being dragged to the police station from their homes without warning or evidence of a crime they had committed. They were interrogated about their religion, sect, and their opinion on applying Islamic law, Israel, Hamas, female circumcision, and the veil in a manner which assumed that they had already committed a crime.

Osama Joda by Austrian artist Jamal Al-Khatib (Courtesy of Osama Joda)

Osama Joda by Austrian artist Jamal Al-Khatib (Courtesy of Osama Joda)

The above-mentioned scenes mirror two widespread paradoxes that reflect a major disparity between the intentions of the Muslim minority and the practices of the security services that are increasingly tilted towards the extreme right. The first scene pridefully celebrates the humanity of a Muslim living in Austria and demonstrates his selfless consideration of the security of others despite the danger he might face and regardless of his religion and identity; while the second indicates how serious and severe the procedures were taken against the Muslim community are, to the point of questioning their loyalty and the sincerity of their sense of belonging and giving to the country.

The recent campaign of arrests affected people who have been living for many years in Austria. They have always been active and positive contributors to their society, and have never been suspected of committing security violations or suspicious conduct. This was until they were targeted by the security forces as if they were extremely dangerous individuals, which aligns with the hate and incitement campaigns adopted by oppressive authoritarian states, especially since the issue of "fighting political Islam" that the Austrian Minister of Interior raised is originally a trademark of oppressive Arab countries that reject democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights, which are core values in Europe.

READ: Austria carries out 'politically-motivated' violations against Muslims

The questions during the investigations regarding the Palestinian cause raise many doubts about the goals of this campaign. It was revealed that a number of activists in the charity sector who were of Palestinian origin were arrested and questioned about their political positions and opinions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The investigation was clearly oriented towards specific outcomes that serve to criminalise opposition to the occupation and criticism of Israel or the normalisation agreements. This may infringe on residents' freedom of expression and their ability to exercise their basic rights in a country that has always protected and defended civil and human rights.

The Austrian authorities' efforts to link the terrorist attack in Vienna that took place in early November to the Muslim community is a dangerous measure which points to the already existing political tendencies to dissolve Islamic associations or institutions, prohibit educational and political activities and programmes, and close mosques in Austria without real legal justifications. Thus, several human rights organisations confirmed that these trends are "a form of collective punishment and political exploitation of terrorist attacks."

People holding banners gather to stage a protest to show solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees at Heldenplatz square in Vienna, Austria on October 03, 2020 [Aşkın Kıyağan/Anadolu Agency]

People holding banners gather to stage a protest to show solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees at Heldenplatz square in Vienna, Austria on October 03, 2020 [Aşkın Kıyağan/Anadolu Agency]

There is no doubt that the perpetrator of the terrorist attack does not represent Muslims or share the same ideology as them. He acted according to an individual motive that he may have drawn from suspicious parties. The Austrian authorities must realise that more than 80 per cent of the victims of terrorism around the world are Muslims and that they are the first to have experienced the brutality of terrorism and to have been burned by its fire. This may be the precise reason they arrive in large numbers as immigrants in Europe.

But authorities must not forget that generations of Muslims have lived in Europe and know no other homeland. They studied in European schools and universities and worshipped in European mosques, which means that they cannot in any way deny the values of these countries and become the enemy. They are the ones who cherish their European homelands the most and work to preserve it. They feel happy when their countries thrive and feel pain in the time of national grievances. They also fight among the first ranks in times of calamities and disasters. The doctors who lost their lives on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic and the scientists working to develop vaccines to save humanity from the epidemic are the best epitome of the Muslim community's sacrifices.

Targeting them constitutes a breach of the values of freedom and democracy and the principle of equal citizenship as a right for everyone adopted by the European countries. Additionally, attacking persons on the basis of religion is a form of discrimination and racism, whether committed by individuals or governments.

OPINION: There's a crisis of extremist ideology in Europe, not a crisis of Islam

Muslims living in Austria and Europe realise the importance of their expected role in presenting the true image of Islam to their societies and governments. We firmly reject any terrorist attacks, declare our full solidarity with the victims, and support the prosecution of the perpetrators in accordance with the law. In return, the authorities are required to exonerate those who have been arrested and guarantee the freedom to practice belief and embrace political opinions of all kinds, including solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

The Austrian Public Prosecutor's recent acknowledgment that the raids "are not part of the investigations related to the Vienna attack, but rather came within the framework of extensive and comprehensive investigations that have been underway for more than a year in the context of combating terrorism" raises concern and indicates that the campaign is linked to being a political stance rather than being related to specific legal violations.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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