Bogus terrorism charges dropped against Austrian Muslim academic

Farid Hafez

Terrorism charges against Austrian academic Farid Hafez have been dropped two years after police officers barged into his home and pointed guns at him, his wife and two children.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hafez, who is best known for an annual report on European Islamophobia and is one of the founders of the Austrian Muslim Youth Association, said he was relieved to be no longer living in “limbo.”

“I never knew if the judges would go ahead and really file charges, which I did not believe [they would] at any point in time,” he said. “But I could also not believe that such a raid could happen.”

Hafez’s apartment was one among some 60 homes of Muslim activists and academics raided in November 2020 as part of what Austria’s Interior Minister called “Operation Luxor.”

The search warrant alleged that Hafez wanted to destroy Egypt and Israel and establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital.

In addition to “supporting terrorism,” police accused him of crimes including “hostility to the state” and “money laundering.”

Hafez’s bank account was frozen and he has since relocated to the United States to become a professor at Georgetown University.

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Hafez said his study of Islamophobia was “reframed” and cast as a “form of terrorism.”

“The idea was basically to intimidate and silence any kind of critique vis-a-vis the Austrian discrimination against Muslim people,” Hafez said.

Operation Luxor

On November 11, 2020, more than 930 police officers launched 60 early morning raids against Muslim homes which did not lead to a single person being charged or arrested. No weapons were seized during the raids either.

The raids, which seem to have targeted Egyptians and Palestinians, took place just over a week after a series of shootings in Vienna in which four people were killed and 23 others were injured. The attacker was killed by police and was identified as an ISIS sympathiser.

Austria’s right-wing government subsequently announced a range of anti-terrorism measures and pledged to ban “political Islam.”

But according to the Assisting Children Traumatised by Police organisation, during the November 11 raids 62 children under the age of 18 were traumatised and victimised.

It said 93.8% of children reported suffering from ongoing psychological trauma as a result of the raids, with some even showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Parents have reported that their children continue to have severe nightmare and suffer from insomnia and scream as well as cry at night.

In recent years Austria has taken several anti-Muslim measures. In 2015, the Minister for Europe backed 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 Sebastian Kurz. He also said the move was a crackdown on political Islam.

In 2017, the Austrian government issued a new law banning Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public places. The “Burqa Ban” states that faces must be visible from hairline to chin in public places and also includes off-slope ski masks and surgical masks outside of hospitals. Muslim women wearing the niqab and burqa in public places can be fined 150 Euros on the spot.

And in 2019 the Austrian Parliament approved a law banning girls in primary schools from wearing the hijab.

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