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Turkish Rule in Austria

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We post this article suggested by one of our readers, originally published by the Austrian investigation webportal XLarge Magazin.

Austria – The Austrian Green Party’s deputy Peter Pilz is famous for his political performances that are reminiscent of disclosure journalism. Recently, he appeared again with great news in the media. According to Mr Pilz, the associations run by the ATIB, Austria’s Turkish Islamic Union, are being financed by Turkey, and according to him, ATIB is once again spying on Turks living in Austria. It appears, however, that Pilz’s discoveries came a little late, as all the “news” that he produced had already been known for many years, and were actually little more than the tip of an iceberg.

The ATIB (Avusturya Türkiye İslam Birliği), is an established Austrian association and not, as the media usually claim in a cautiously reserved manner, “close to Turkey”. The ATIB, like DITIB (Diyanet İşleri Türk İslam Birliği) in Germany, is a direct division of the Turkish religious authority Diyanet (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı), headed by AKP politician Mehmet Görmez.

It is hardly known in Europe, and in Austria even less, what is going on in Turkey. The European Union had granted Turkey a “democratization aid” of (depending on the source) 9 to 12 billion euros. According to the EU, the focus of the grant should be placed on “democracy, civil society, and the rule of law”. But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan knew how to use this money blessing in his own way. The funds were partly used to buy new weapons for his campaign against the Kurds. Then, Erdoğan staged an alleged coup attempt in order to eliminate his political opponents. Tens of thousands of state officials were dismissed, and a large part of them disappeared behind bars.

Inspired by the European Union’s silent benevolence (and by new financial commitments), Erdoğan took the next steps. Government-critical media were closed down or banned, journalists put into jail. The opposition in parliament was almost completely eliminated, and whole ranks of opposition politicians were arrested. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, through the parliament dominated by his own party AKP, had a change of constitution approved which granted him with a de facto presidential autocracy. With the excuse of blaming his fatal enemy, Fetullah Gülen, living in the United States, as the all-guilty opponent to AKP (that is, to him), Erdoğan ordered Turkish authorities to sniff out critics and take action against them.

An important arm of the AKP is the Diyanet authority. Diyanet not only ensures that formerly laicistic Turkey is now sworn to radical Islam, but also controls the Turkish colonies in Europe through its foreign departments such as the ATIB and DITIB. Diyanet has an annual budget of around 5 billion euros (Ed.: we checked out the official data of Turkey and in 2017 the Diyanet is officially granted 1.746 billion euros). All leading officers of the foreign departments are regular Turkish officials, paid by the Turkish state via Diyanet and bound to Diyanet orders.

Turkey is used to exploiting the subservience and servility of the Europeans. The foreign departments of Diyanet are set up as associations. Their task is to collect personal data of Turks living abroad, as well as to control and indoctrinate them. Whoever is not a member of a Turkish association is particularly suspicious. Turkish officials are sent to the associations as imams in order to bring the requests and orders of the AKP to their members’ attention.

Now let’s return to the ATIB, whose chairman has always been a government official of the Turkish embassy in Austria. This was long known before Pilz. At present, the ATIB is headed by Embassy Councilor Fatih Mehmet Karadas. The ATIB receives its instructions via the Turkish Embassy directly from the Diyanet leader. Why a foreign authority can operate in Austria on the basis of an association has never been asked, not even by Peter Pilz. And a successor of Karadas who is approaching the end of his term in office, will certainly occupy the same position.

“Good” Turks (seen from the AKP’s perspective) receive their Turkish passports again immediately after Austrian citizenship has been granted to them. This is to ensure that they do not need a visa for Turkey and can vote in Turkey. There are at least 90,000 Turks with (illegal) dual citizenship. Austrian authorities say lapidarily that figures are not available, and the ban on dual citizenship is habitually circumvented in a variety of ways, as the electoral potential of the newcomers lets authorities quietly look away.

The ATIB operates a few hundred branch associations, and is setting up more and more of them. Turks are intensively invited to join a Turkish association. Otherwise, they are told that they might be exposed to disadvantages and also risk a restriction of religious freedom. In Austria, this kinds of things are handled behind closed doors and then put into the shape of clientele-serving laws.

A weak point was the Islamic religious community in Austria (IGGÖ). It had never been recognized as a religious society, but represented itself as such and claimed the exclusive representation of Muslims in Austria. Permanent secretary to cults (Ministerialrat) Oliver Henhapel, who used to manage religious affairs at his own discretion, wrote a new Law on Islam (Islamgesetz) in 2011. His co-authors were Fuat Sanac and Mouddar Khouja. The law was then sold to the public purporting that it will stop foreign influences on religious groups in Austria, which mainly referred to the ATIB. But of course this would not work, as Diyanet was way too powerful.

Austrian ministers Josef Ostermayer and Sebastian Kurz denied their competences, refused to accept recommendations, and succumbed to the Turkish charm. Sebastian Kurz even asked Diyanet chief Mehmet Görmez – i.e., a representative of the Turkish government – whether he was in agreement with the (Austrian) law, and whether there were still any open wishes. Görmez instructed the Austrian Minister on what Austria had to do and left a generous donation. Turkish media reported of more than 15 million euros, including a special bonus for Austria’s religious authority.

The imams, being important protagonists of the AKP, are no longer flown in directly from Turkey, but are centrally assigned by a Diyanet department in Belgium. These imams continue to be Turkish officials in the pay of Turkey. Permanent Secretary Henhapel said that as long as Mosque associations are paying their imams from their own pocket, this would be compliant with the self-financing obligation defined by the Law on Islam. He is of course aware that these associations receive their money from Turkey.

The IGGÖ had been recognized by Mr Oliver Henhapel as a religious society immediately after the entry into force of the Law on Islam in 2015, in order to preserve the appearance of lawfulness. Although the IGGÖ did not fulfill any of the prerequisites imposed on other religious societies, this hurdle was elegantly circumvented via the Law on Islam by the simple assumption that IGGÖ had already been a religious society before.

The next part of Diyanet’s agreement with Austria was also adhered to as planned. The ATIB official Ibrahim Olgun, a Turkish official just like all his colleagues in the ATIB’s leadership, became the IGGÖ’s chairman. Olgun’s election was a classic case of cheating, but even this problem was circumvented when Ministerialtrat Henhapel declared the election valid without further examination. It’s that simple if there are the right people in the right place using the right “know-how”.

Active members of the IGGÖ – which had already been approved by Ministerialrat Henhapel in 2009 – can only be Austrian associations. Individual Muslims are not wanted as members and consequently are not allowed to vote. A religious society consisting only of associations? That’s unique. The new Austrian Law on Islam makes it possible to avoid this. According to its § 8, these organizations must be run as religious communities (Kultusgemeinden), with certain prerequisites. Those associations established as religious communities with their own legal personality would then have to be dissolved.

Religious communities are approved by the state. However, ever since 1912, not a single Islamic religious community had been approved, with one notable exception. The approval of a religious community in Vienna, dated 2 May 1979, had been annulled by the Constitutional Court with effect from 31 August 1988 for formal reasons. The responsible authority was actually lucky that the Constitutional Court did not go as far as to examine the facts, as the religious community in question, approved in May 1979, was constituted only in November 1980 with a board that did not comply with the law.

Is the ATIB a member of the IGGÖ even though it is not a religious community? And how come the ATIB can claim the IGGÖ’s chairmanship? Who actually elected Olgun if there are no religious communities? Why is the ATIB allowed to operate mosques without being a religious community? Associations do not have this privilege. But there is hardly any risk that the ATIB’s “private” mosques are going to close…

Another important player of the Turkish colony in Austria is Milli Görüs, an Islamic Federation organized on the basis of an association. Milli Görüs is an ultranationalist, strictly anti-Semitic party in Turkey, the Saadet Partisi which is officially associated with Erdoğan’s AKP. Erdoğan actually grew up with Milli Görüs, hence his fundamentalist Islamic views. In Austria, Milli Görüs representative Fuat Sanac followed Anas Schakfeh, who was a Muslim brother from Syria, as the head of the IGGÖ, before he had to clear the field for Olgun, the Diyanet representative.

How Milli Görüs (but also the ATIB) extorts Turks living in Austria, is lucidly described in a report from Linz that dates back to 2004. Apparently this report also escaped Pilz’s attention. Turks living abroad are not only seen as a herd of voting sheep by Erdoğan, but also as milking cattle. It is evident from the Linz report that 3 million euros that were donated to the local mosque disappeared — just as the 3 million euros that were originally dedicated for the Islamic cemetery in Vienna. Consequently, the Bosnian mosque-builders had to bring up another 1.5 million euros and receive additional subsidies from the province and the city administration. They, too, are not a religious community, but a non-religious association. The ATIB also could put it through that the Milli Görüs boss of Upper Austria had to go.

The so-called Gray Wolves, i.e. the Turkish MHP Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), are another pillar of Erdoğan’s regime and directly linked to Austria’s Turkish colony. They run mosques and provide religious teachers. All this with permission from Austria’s religious authority. It is true that there are frequent demonstrations against the ultranationalist Gray Wolves, but so far no one has been bothered by the fact that representatives of the Gray Wolves are sitting in the IGGÖ’s leadership, cooperate closely with the ATIB and, just like the ATIB, receive their orders from Turkey.

When Peter Pilz now criticized the fact that the ATIB was financed from Turkey, he was acting at a snail’s pace because it had been known for more than 20 years that the ATIB is financed via the Turkish Embassy in Vienna by Diyanet, a state-owned Turkish authority to which the ATIB is directly affiliated. Not only Turkish imams are paid that way, but the entire organization. The AKP runs two important economic associations in Austria, Tümsiad and Müsiad (for SMEs), who are fully controlled by the AKP, and it is little surprising that Tümsiad is located at the headquarters of the ATIB.

Austrian Federal Chancellor Christian Kern and his right hand Muna Duzdar (Secretary of State in the Federal Chancellery) immediately agreed to investigate the alleged financing of the ATIB from abroad. This is likely to encounter difficulties: Kern and Duzdar are not responsible for this. The responsibility for associations lies with the Ministry of the Interior. A financial audit is also likely to be difficult. The ATIB handles cash transactions via the state-owned Turkish VakifBank located in the same building. How is the Federal Chancellor going to examine the flow of money that runs through the embassy of another state?

What‘s more, the financing of the imams and allocations for their activities are operated by the IGGÖ whose finances have never been audited in the past. Otherwise, some very undesirable things would have come to daylight, such as the private foundation of Anas Shakfeh that made regular donations to Hamas, etc. It is likely that even Peter Pilz did not want to burn his fingers by digging into the connections of the IGGÖ and the ATIB.

Because the ATIB and Milli Görüs form an important pool of voters for the SPÖ, no one would seriously assume that Chancellor Kern could instruct his little-loved Minister of the Interior to examine the activities of a foreign authority according to Austria’s law of associations. Or instruct his Education Minister to examine the appointments of radical Islamic teachers by the IGGÖ. All this is certainly no news for Peter Pilz, as he has not been in politics since yesterday. It was striking enough that the IGGÖ, despite its direct responsibility, was carefully excluded from all investigations against Islamic hate preachers in Austria.

Let’s conclude with spying activities. All Turkish authorities in the Erdoğan state are instructed to control and monitor the Turks in their area of responsibility. This is particularly true for Diyanet with its spider network spread across Europe, inseparably linked to the Turkish intelligence service MIT. At present, any unwanted person can be easily eliminated with the accusation that he is close to Gülen. In an authoritarian system, no evidence is necessary. If Austria and the other EU countries were really opposed to this sort of Turkish politics, they would have to ban Diyanet’s entire activity in Europe. Are they going to do that?

Peter Pilz, with his decades of experience in the Marxist totalitarian sphere, surely knows the right answer.

The ATIB countered Peter Pilz with the statement: “We do not allow any interference from abroad, which is also what our members expect. Foreign interference is neither tolerated nor covered by our statutes.” Saying that, the ATIB is not even wrong. There is no foreign interference in the affairs of the ATIB, as the ATIB is a department of a foreign authority, and therefore receives its orders from abroad. But of course this fact was not mentioned in their statement…

The Visegrad Post asked Christian Zeitz, the scientific director of the Vienna Institute for Applied Political Economy, who is known as a critical appraiser of the Austrian Law on Islam, to comment on this article:

Recently, the Austrian government has led a lot of discussions about “headscarf or burqa bans”, the prohibition of Koran distribution campaigns on the street, and the alleged “neutrality” of the state vis-à-vis all religious communities; although the media did not fail to drum up these discussions, and they have noticeably ebbed down these days. The announcement of relevant prohibitions and the presentation of legislative proposals has sufficed to convince public opinion that the government takes sufficiently active action against the radicalization and politicization of the Islamic sector in Austria, tries to clear out the roots for terrorist acts of violence, and promotes the “integration” of Muslims in Austria. In other words, government and population can continue to sleep. None of the measures that have been announced will have the hoped-for effect when it comes to their practical implementation.

In Austria, this practice in dealing with Islam and its institutions has a long and rich tradition. The “new” Law on Islam of 2015, its history and its implementation so far have been and are the culmination of the inability of government and authorities to deal with Islam in a way that would stop, or at least slow down, the systematic abuse of religious freedom for the purpose of a targeted Islamization of our country. The supporters of the new Law on Islam, purporting its usefulness as an instrument of the constitutional state to combat the tendency of the formation of parallel societies and the (partial) shariatisation of Austrian society, had in particular requested the following elements: the legal obligation to disclose the principles of faith of the Islamic religious community, the prohibition of financing the Islamic religious community or individual faith organizations and mosques through foreign institutions, and the ban on collective exercise of faith in uncontrollable (mosque) associations.

However, already during the law-making process for the Austrian Law on Islam it quickly became clear that these elements were formulated in such a way (consciously, or as a legistic “accident”?) that their implementation was doomed to fail. All critics, including the Wiener Akademikerbund (Vienna Academics Association), which I chair, had warned in good time and predicted that this wrongly-designed Law on Islam would only strengthen and solidify the position of Islam in Austria.

The article “Turkish rule in Austria”, published here in English and French translation, describes the implications of this predictable failure of the constitutional state in an equally qualitative and informative manner. It concentrates on the activities of the Turkish institutions ATIB, Milli Görüs and MHP (Gray Wolves), all of whom are clocked and financially controlled by the Turkish state religious authority DIYANET. Based on excellent research, the article shows that Turkey is instrumentalizing freedom of religion in Austria not only for preempting Islamization, but also for the prosecution of a neo-Ottoman power policy. The article also mentions that, in addition to Turkish influence, there is also a strong Arab influence on Islamic affairs in Austria. This was represented, in particular, by Anas Shakfeh, the predecessor of today’s President of the Islamic religious community in Austria (IGGÖ), Ibrahim Olgun, and continues to be ensured today by representatives such as Mr and Mrs Baghayati and Omar Alrawi who operates on an SPÖ (socialist party) ticket. In addition, the wild growth of mosques in Austria (currently around 480 mosques) offers ample opportunities to pursue the special interests of all possible world regions – from Pakistan to Chechnia – via the performance of the Islamic faith.

Thus, the Islamic religious community in Austria (IGGÖ) is no more and no less a kind of corporate holding, under whose broad wings the project of Islamization in our country can be advanced without any allocation of responsibility and accountability. The article “Turkish rule in Austria” accentuates the important and very effective segment of the Turkish “players” who use their own special strategy. It should be read carefully by all decision-makers, specifically those in Austria, who want to deal with this issue.”