Report: Austria’s police raids on Muslim activists and academics was state Islamophobia

Austrian police [Credit: Rudiecast / Shutterstock]

On the one-year anniversary since the Austrian Government launched “Operation Luxor”, which led to 70 innocent Muslim family homes being violently raided, two prominent rights groups have released a joint report detailing the devastating trauma of the operation.

British Muslim advocacy group CAGE and Vienna-based rights group ‘Assisting Children Traumatised by Police’ (ACT-P) have jointly authored a searing report demanding the appointment of an investigative commission to probe Operation Luxor.

The Austrian Government carried out one of the country’s largest police operations on November 9 2020, where more than 30 Muslim activists and academics were arrested in a supposed witch-hunt of ‘Islamists’.

To date no one affected by the raids has been charged for any offence, despite having their lives turned upside down. The raids were declared unlawful by the Graz Higher Regional Court, and have left a deep impact on the collective psyche of Muslims in the country.

Azfar Shafi of CAGE and the co-author of the report said: “Operation Luxor was the opening shot in an ongoing campaign of campaign of repression by the Austrian state against Muslims, in the name of combating ‘Political Islam’.

“This report documents the way that mainstream Austrian politics under the ÖVP-led government has legitimised far right ideologues, as well as the very human impact of this campaign – captured in shocking testimonies of those targeted in Operation Luxor.

“The mutually reinforcing relationship between ‘official’ and street racism is something all too familiar for those of us in Britain, and it must be robustly resisted in Austria – because it always signals a dangerous political shift to the right.”

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Institutions like the Documentation Centre for Political Islam and its “Islam Map” which lists the names and addresses of Muslim organisations in the country are enabling Islamophobic attacks by the Austrian far-right with tacit approval from the state, the report highlights.

The report says: “The governing ÖVP in Austria has managed successfully to fundamentally reshape the state’s politics towards Muslim communities by introducing the terminology of ‘Political Islam’ into the public discourse.

“The ÖVP has also been using institutions such as the Documentation Centre to produce knowledge that supports their narrative, in order to criminalise Muslimness and Muslim communities, which is seeping into the work of the domestic intelligence agency and subsequently police operations.

“This discursive shift has enabled numerous laws and policies to be introduced, with the only check on government power thus far amounting to interventions by the courts.”

It has also drawn attention towards the media and commentators who tried to legitimise the operation by parroting the state narrative.

Nura Al-Izzedin, an Austrian researcher and ACT-P organiser, said: “While producing our report I conducted interviews with a number of survivors of “Operation Luxor”. The witness testimonies were devastating. A year on after the raids, individuals still find it a difficult and deeply emotional time speaking about their experiences. They have seen the dark side of Austria, and see it as reminiscent of a dictatorship.”

“Operation Luxor will forever be a stain on Austria’s history. The figures which authorised and conducted this unlawful operation of state-sponsored terror against innocent Muslims must be held responsible, as any other citizen would be. This report is the first step in that process of accountability.”

The report has made various recommendations to the Government including psychosocial and financial support for the children and adults impacted by Operation Luxor. It also demands the authorities end all open investigations against victims of the operation.

Farid Hafez, a victim of the operation and a prominent Austrian Muslim academic said: “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.”

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