Erdogan slams Austrian decision to close seven mosques and expel imams

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Editorial credit: Siarhei Liudkevich / Shutterstock.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed Austria’s decision to shut down seven mosques and expel imams who it says are foreign-funded from the country.

Erdoğan warned that the steps taken by Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz’s far-right government might “bring the world closer to a crusader-crescent war.”

“You do this and we sit idle? It means we will take some steps too,” he said, adding that the “Western world should get their act together.”

Kurz said that the investigation on several mosques and associations conducted by the Ministry of Interior and Office of Religious Affairs had been concluded and that the activities of seven mosques were found to be forbidden – one of them belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB).

In 2015 when Kurz was Austria’s minister for Europe, integration and foreign affairs he backed Austria’s “law on Islam” (Islamgesetz) – legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria.

The controversial law, which eventually passed through parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of “European character”, according to Kurz.

“We act decisively and actively against undesirable developments and the formation of #parallelsocieties — and will continue to do so if there are violations of the #law on Islam,” Kurz wrote on his Twitter account.

Kurz said the move was a crackdown on political Islam while the Turkish president’s office called Austria’s move “Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory”.

The Austrian government says 60 of the 260 imams in the country are being investigated, of whom 40 belong to ATIB, an Islamic organisation in Austria close to the Turkish government.

The government is dissolving an organisation called the Arab Religious Community. Six of the mosques targeted for closure are run by it: three in Vienna, two in Upper Austria and one in Carinthia.

Mr Kurz’s election campaign last year drew heavily on anxiety about immigration and the integration of Muslims. His conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Mr Kurz wants the EU to break off Turkey’s EU membership negotiations – a stance that has angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In May 2017 that anger led Turkey to veto Nato’s co-operation with Austria. The move disrupted Nato’s partnership activities with 41 countries. Turkey is a key player in Nato operations.

President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has roots in political Islam and espouses traditional Muslim values. He is campaigning for re-election, and both Austria and Germany are wary of his political influence in their Turkish communities.

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