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Austria is targeting innocent Muslims for nefarious purposes

Protesters hold a banner reading 'No To Islamophobia' in London, UK on 5 July 2017 [Ray Tan/Anadolu Agency]
Protesters hold a banner reading 'No To Islamophobia' in London, UK on 5 July 2017 [Ray Tan/Anadolu Agency]

Anyone wishing to try to understand the logic and strategy of Western governments and their security agencies in the open-ended and deliberately undefined war against their Muslim communities, will find Operation Luxor: Unraveling the myths behind Austria's largest-ever peacetime police raids essential reading.

The groundbreaking report is authored jointly by CAGE and Vienna-based ACT (Assisting Children Traumatised by Police), two prominent NGOs campaigning on behalf of communities affected by the war on terrorism. It details how the Austrian government used a terror attack in Vienna carried out by Daesh in November last year as a ploy to clamp down on its Muslim community. Police officers raided the homes of 70 innocent Muslim families — often terrorising and traumatising their children in the process — under the false pretext of them being part of a terror-financing ring. Following this, and despite the Graz Higher Regional Court declaring that at least nine of the raids were completely unjustified as there were zero grounds for suspicion, draconian anti-terror legislation was passed, very deliberately, at a time when Austrian society was in shock due to the attack and while its anti-Islamic media was in overdrive.

It is well documented that the passing of this legislation was actually pre-planned, and that the terror attack served as a convenient opportunity to introduce it. To make matters worse, so focused was Interior Minister Karl Nehammer on the raids, that, "In the ensuing weeks and months [post-attack], the Austrian state exploited the tragedy to legitimise its crackdown on Muslims in Austria. A catalogue of failures on the part of the government in relation to the shootings have since come to light, and it has emerged that… Nehammer failed to act on the intelligence provided to him, in order to focus on Operation Luxor."

Ali, a victim of the police raids, related in his testimony to CAGE and ACT that when he asked a police officer why he had been targeted instead of real criminals and terrorists, the officer replied, "We want extremism, because we are going after the moderates, which keeps the moderates weak and mute and gives room to the extremists." It's an answer perfectly in sync with the actions of Nehammer.

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This looks like an insane policy introduced by the Austrian government, but the report lays bare why it has taken this path: the scapegoating of a minority community is a small price to pay to cover fraud, corruption and mismanagement, and when there is an election to be won, of course, nothing wins votes like fear and xenophobia. It's not difficult to conclude that this is a repeat of Austria's policies against another of its minorities a century ago.

An important tool for achieving this aim was the Austrian government's use of specific language and terminology. Defining the enemy as "political Islam" made every Muslim fair game, and everything from the hijab to the Qur'an and the movements a Muslim makes in prayer were all scrutinised and taken as signs of radicalisation and a possible path to terrorism. The report provides details of how beliefs and practices that are universal to all Muslims were selected for such scrutiny. When the Austrian government faced a backlash in the courts due to its lazy definition of "political Islam", it revised it into the more generic "criminal offence" of "religiously motivated extremism", which actually served to widen the net and criminalise even more innocent actions and beliefs.

Muslim men hold banners as an estimated of ten thousand French citizens march from Gare du Nord to Place de la Nation against islamophobia on November 10, 2019 in Paris, France [Pierre Crom/Getty Images]

Muslim men hold banners as an estimated of ten thousand French citizens march from Gare du Nord to Place de la Nation against islamophobia on November 10, 2019 in Paris, France [Pierre Crom/Getty Images]

There is also a foreign connection: much of the anti-terror legislation being introduced was inspired by the notorious Prevent strategy that the British government has used in recent years, while there are also reports of close coordination with the government of Egypt, itself no stranger to brutal crackdowns on citizens.

"Operation Luxor is an extension of actions coming from the Arab region to erase any kind of Islamic identity," explained Bilal, another victim of the police raids. "It is all about targeting active actors and minds that spread a correct Islamic understanding, and to smash them just so that later you can do anything you want to do with Muslims at large." Knowing this, the name that the Austrian government gave to the operation looks like a sick joke.

The report also describes how politicians have manipulated the media and endeavoured to exert undue influence over the justice system, as well as detailing the role of government-funded organisations such as Islam Map. This listed names and addresses of Muslim organisations and individuals and served to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, helping to create the conditions under which the Austrian government's policies would be tolerated and even welcomed by large sections of society.

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Farid Hafez, another victim of the operation and a prominent Austrian Muslim academic, summed up his views on the report by saying: "For the Austrian public, instigated by critical media discourse that had initially reproduced state propaganda and then largely turned into critically covering this investigation, the first-year anniversary of the still ongoing Operation Luxor could be a welcoming opportunity to reflect critically upon the state of the rule of law, human rights and the role of politics vis-à-vis Muslims, especially by the current corruption-tossed political circles."

Anyone interested in living in a harmonious society would be shocked at the findings of this report as it shows how many of the Muslims who were victims of the police raids could not in any way be described as isolationist. These were upstanding members of society – academics, doctors and other professionals — and very much into community action and political participation. In a healthy democracy this should be praised, promoted and protected, whereas the Austrian government labelled it cynically as an attempt to effectively take over the world.

The report contains valuable lessons and recommendations for Muslim organisations, a key one being that there should be no cooperation in or backing for programmes such as Prevent or Operation Luxor, or any acceptance that the state should define who is a good Muslim and who is "problematic". As Operation Luxor shows, all this can lead to is greater misery for the entire community.

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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