Austrian Debate on Counter-Islamism Measures

February 12, 2021

On 2 February, the Austrian Public Broadcasting service (ÖRF) carried an article reporting criticism of the measures contained in the government’s anti-terror package, which is currently under consultation. The criticism comes from the Association of Judges (Die Richtervereinigung – RV), certain senior lawyers, and the domestic security and intelligence agency (Das Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung – BfVT).

The critics do not dispute the need for action against Islamism – simply the form this action should take. They have welcomed the government’s wish for judicial oversight of all the measures it has proposed. But their criticism focuses on two main issues: the creation of a new criminal offence of “Religious Extremism”; and proposals for the electronic monitoring of alleged extremists.

The critics express doubts about plans to introduce into sentencing policy a new aggravating element of religiously motivated extremist action. They are also sceptical of the electronic tagging of offenders and the use of registers. And they are concerned about moves to establish – through an amendment to the Islamgesetz (the law regulating Islamic institutions within Austria and also guaranteeing their rights) – annual inspections of and a register of all functionaries within these institutions.

Overall, the main thrust of the criticism is that existing law already provides grounds for action against extremists; that electronic tagging is too burdensome; and that intrusive monitoring of Islamic institutions is an unacceptable restriction of human and civic rights and risks stigmatising the Muslim community in general. The critics believe that applying existing law more consistently and improving coordination and intelligence exchange between the various security and police authorities in Austria would be preferable and simpler.

The article also reports criticism by the Faculty of Islamic Theology at the University of Vienna – which has conducted several in-depth studies on the issues over the past few years – of the Austrian Muslim Youth Organisation, a wing of the Islamic Faith Community of Austria (IGGÖ), which has weighed in against the proposals: the faculty asks whether the IGGÖ has the genuine interests of Austrian Muslims at heart.

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