Austria to Expel 60 Imams, Close Mosques, Ban Headscarves in Schools

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Friday his nation plans to expel up to 60 imams and their families and shut down seven mosques.

The move from Austria’s center-right coalition government, which assumed power in December, comes as an effort to crackdown on “political Islam,” and was described as “just the beginning,” reports the Daily Mail. 

The imams in question are all alleged to be funded by Turkey and the announcement triggered a backlash from Ankara.

Kurz’s government plans to target a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna as well as dissolve an organization called the Arab Religious Community which runs six other mosques.

His coalition government, an alliance of conservatives and the far right, came to power soon after Europe’s migration crisis. In his previous role as minister of integration, Kurz passed a law in 2015 that banned foreign funding of religious groups in Austria and created a mandate for Muslim groups to have “a positive fundamental view towards (Austria’s) state and society.”

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkey’s president unleashed fury on Twitter following the news of the crackdown.

“Austria’s decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country,” he wrote. 

In April, Austrians were horrified after photos leaked from a Turkish-backed mosque of children playing dead and re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli, which was the only major victory for the Ottoman Empire against Britain, France, and Russian allies. The photos also depicted young boys marching in camouflage clothing while saluting and waving Turkish flags.  

One of the mosques in Vienna had already been closed on Friday, with Muslims arriving only to be met with signs reading “Closed” on the door. 

Other European populist leaders have praised Austria’s decision. France’s Marine Le Pen posted to Twitter: “Austria is taking things in hand and showing that ‘when you want to, you can!'”

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted: “Those who exploit their faith to endanger a country’s security should be expelled!”

Kurz campaigned last year on tougher immigration controls, speedy deportations of migrants whose requests for asylum are denied, and smoking out radical Islam. His government also has announced plans to ban headscarves in elementary schools and kindergartens. 

Austria has nearly 8.8 million people, with roughly 600,000 Muslim inhabitants, more than half who are of Turkish origin. 

feature image: Sebastian Kurz/Sputnik News

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