Friday, October 13, 2017

The Austrian Election

In Austria's election the topics of immigration, Islamization and refugees are dominating the campaign like never before – it has become a race between the right and the further-to-the-right.   The Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) wants to better protect the country's borders, fight political Islam and limit immigration. The FPÖ is calling for much the same but feels ÖVP has stolen their platform. ÖVP currently leads opinion polls and may well be able to peel off a number of voters from the FPÖ, allowing it, which is part of the country's ruling coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), to remain in power. Both parties are presenting themselves in equally populist terms, says Mohammad Amini, an Iranian social worker in Vienna. He is bothered by the fact that the campaigns link Islamization solely to refugees and those Muslims that have arrived in Austria over the last couple of years. "Populists need a bogeyman, and right now it is Islam," he says. 

The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) posters are emblazoned with slogans pronouncing that Islamization must be stopped. Hakima and her family have been living in Austria for thee years. Hakima says. "We came to Europe because we thought that Austria was a liberal democracy. But when I see these posters it makes me ill...I do ask myself what will come next. I wonder if my family and I will have to move somewhere else, so that we can live our lives without being discriminated against."     

Just last week, a study was published in which it was claimed that one-third of Vienna's mosques were actively engaged in sabotaging immigration efforts. However, the report only looked at 16 of Vienna's 400 mosques. Incidentally, the study was commissioned and presented by none other than ÖVP top candidate Sebastian Kurz. The reaction from the Islamic Religious Community of Austria (IGGiÖ) was swift and uncharacteristically critical. "We must assume that this report was commissioned with a political intent: To publicly denounce Muslim institutions and to question the credibility of their teachings. This political mission has nothing whatsoever to do with scientific ethics." 

Vildana Arnautovic, a vocational school teacher from Bosnia-Herzegovina, finds the blanket accusations being leveled during the campaign disturbing. Years ago, she worked with Sebastian Kurz as a so-called integration ambassador for his "Austria Together" program. In it, Kurz had successfully integrated foreigners tour Vienna's schools in an attempt to present positive role models for immigrant children. Arnautovic has since left the program because, she says, "Sebastian Kurz lacks the legitimacy to represent it. His message used to be: integration through hard work, Islam is part of Austria, no one should face discrimination because of skin color or religious belief, etc., etc. Today his message is very different. He claims Muslims don't want to integrate, and that refugees are invaders. Sure there are problems that have to be dealt with, but you can't just say all of the people coming to Austria are animals that have to be taught how to live like civilized people," she adds.

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