Austria – Interview with Amer Albayati, liberal Austrian Muslim living in Vienna: “The Socialists and the Greens even support the Islamists in order to get more votes.”
Ferenc Almássy met Dr. Amer Albayati in Vienna in May, and got the last interview with him before Dr. Albayati had to go underground for security reasons.
Dr. Amer Albayati: I have been living under police protection for seven months, with two people with machine guns at my doors in the morning. I had to wear bulletproof vests most of the time. When I had to go to a lecture or a conference, a bodyguard accompanied me each time. So I said: “Enough, I can’t live like that.” But I’m still cautious.
Nobody knows where I live, as I had to move to a new address because of threats from the Islamic State. I have also to be very careful when I move or travel. But I prefer not to talk more about my safety.
Ferenc Almássy: I understand. Can you explain to me why you received these threats?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Because I’d like to reform Islam. I’d like to change Islam, to modernize it, to make it compatible with European laws.
There is no reform in Islam, such as the reforms of Luther in Christianity and even of the Jews in the second half of the XIXth century. They kept the books – I’d like to do the same as the Jews, keeping the book – but everyone might ask about what is OK or not for the religion, etc.
Islam is more than a thousand years old and clerics such as the Salafists do not intend to do any reform. There are reformists in countries such as Egypt or Sudan, or last year even in Pakistan, but when they talked about reform, they got killed. This is why they’d like to kill me too, I guess. There are people from Austria who fought alongside with jihadists in Syria or Iraq. I’m afraid that they target me because my influence here is strong.
FA: What brought you to Austria?
Dr. Amer Albayati: I studied in Baghdad, then in Germany and Austria. Then I went home and worked as a TV director. But I decided to leave Iraq, since there is no possibility to live in a democratic way, and I came to Austria in 1980. With the beginning of the Iranian war, I thought this was the end of history for Iraq. This is why I came here. I started as a publisher, I published fifty books and magazines and worked, for example, for the German radio Deutsche Welle, but also for the BBC War Service for a long time.
To get back to the reform topic… It is difficult to speak about the reform of Islam. Actually, in a literal sense, Islam cannot be reformed. But we can enlighten people, especially people from non-Arabic cultures such as Turks or Chechens or Bosniaks – there are a lot of them here in Austria. They do not speak or understand the Arabic language like me or my people. For example, we can explain to them what this and that means in the Quran.
However, not reforming Islam is a problem for so many reasons. For example, you cannot separate jihad and Islam historically, but nowadays, we have different times, and there is no place for jihad. Today, jihad means terror, as it urges to kill people. Real Islam does not order to kill people.
I think it is absolutely necessary to reform Islam by convincing the people, especially the Muslims living in Europe. Muslims cannot come to Europe and impose Shariah law upon the Europeans. We are against Shariah in Europe. What we need are secular Muslims.
FA: You think that Islam can be tolerated in Europe only in a secular way?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Maybe. The problem is that Saudi Arabia with its money, and Turkey with its policy and its majority of Muslim people here, are lobbying and influencing the political parties in this country. Many politicians make concessions hoping for the votes of the Muslims, but most of the Muslims are simple workers, and I do not think that they will fulfill the expectations of the political parties and give them their votes. Most of the women, for example, do not go to vote.
Our reform must reach the people, in order to explain to them that the Salafists or the Islamic clerics do not tell them the truth.
FA: Austria has a new Law regarding Islam, the « Islamgesetz ». What is your opinion on this Law?
Dr. Amer Albayati: It is a historical mistake, because it gives power to organizations of political Islam like ATIB, which is linked to Ankara through Diyanet, the Turkish « Presidency of Religious Affairs ». Peter Pilz, the (former) Green politician, was the first Austrian politician to explain to the general public that many people from ATIB are actually Turkish spies. In the same way, Bosniaks (Muslims from Bosnia) are influenced by Sarajevo. This kind of foreign influence is unacceptable and should actually be banned by the new Law on Islam. However, relevant legal provisions haven’t been executed by the Austrian authorities so far.
Not only the nationalist and fundamentalist Turkish organization Millî Görüş is present here in Austria, but also the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafists, and members of the Hamas. Many individual Muslims here in Austria are linked with Jihadists… even people I know or people with whom I used to go to the Mosque.
FA: How comes that Islamic State terrorists can come back to Austria without any problem?
Dr. Amer Albayati: As far as I know, approximately three hundred came back. The police admit a much smaller figure, but in my opinion 300 is not exaggerated. Some of them leave the country saying they go on vacation. But they actually go to join the fighters of the Islamic State.
FA: What should the Austrian authorities do?
Dr. Amer Albayati: They should not listen to the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam. The government and the political parties really do not know how to deal with the dilemmas linked to Islam. We have warned them repeatedly in vain. But I think the next elections will bring some changes.
The Socialists and the Greens even support the Islamists in order to get more votes. The People’s Party (ÖVP), too, was trying to do so, but with their new chairman Sebastian Kurz things may change.
Things definitely have to change. I do not want to change the Christian culture of Austria. Salafists try to convert teenagers, and the Muslim Brotherhood is implanting young smart people into the political parties… they have money and decades of experience.
But I see that the European countries now understand that there is a problem.
FA: You hope that European governments will act against such organizations?
Dr. Amer Albayati: The governments are afraid. And the people are afraid, too, to move for a change. This is wrong. The Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood will try to kill me, but I will till talk to the media and tell them what I think.
And even if they do not yet bring Islamic rule, they do bring their culture and traditions, from Anatolia, from Bosnia or from the Caucasus. And this is wrong.
FA: How many people are part of your reformist movement?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Only very few. Everyone is afraid. It’s the same situation in Germany and Switzerland. There are only very few people who dare to speak out. They have little support, because they do not constitute a strong community. There is only support for the radicals, who also have the money. For example, they also operated businesses like currency exchange stores which have been useful when the refugees came who funneled a lot of money through these networks.
FA: This reformist movement exists only in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland?
Dr. Amer Albayati: There is no movement. You cannot reform Islam, but we need to educate people about Islam. However, any attempt to reform Islam is a danger as I told you, because if you want to change something in Islam they’ll kill you.
We spoke about Islam reform with regard to European ethics and morals, but in fact we mean to reform the people. They need to know that traditions are not religion. They need to get rid of wrong interpretations of Islam.
FA: You are not against immigration itself?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Immigration must be controlled. If you accept people here, they must be integrated and get employment. But it is a sad fact that political parties are divided on the topic of the migrant crisis. When the government tried to stop the Balkan route, there were objections from all political camps. This was not a matter of right or left.
We got even more divided since the presidential elections that brought Van der Bellen to power. He called on Austrian women to wear scarves, in order to support Muslim women. He was really wrong. There is no need to speak about scarves or Islamophobia.
The concept of Islamophobia has been artificially set up during an Islamic conference in 2007 in Istambul by the Muslim Brotherhood and has ever since been supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This concept is used to stop critics against Islamization.
FA: Some people in Europe are very opposed to Islam, and I guess they will not even want to hear about your way of practicing Islam. Maybe they could be called “islamophobes”?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Even I and my friends are called Islamophobes. I do not think that there are people in Europe who are really Islamophobes. I think this word has just the purpose to muzzle critics. There is freedom of thought in Europe, and we should be allowed to criticize Islam, this is our good right.
Islamophobia is a metapolitical tool. Exactly like the scarf, or the burkini. These are tools of the Muslim Brotherhood. What they do here in Europe, such as staging demonstrations against the governments, they couldn’t do it in their countries of origin. When Sebastian Kurz made a comment against the scarf, they protested. But they still want the government subsidies, which demonstrates their true intentions.
No politician, no journalist has ever asked how many people form the so-called Islamic community. In reality, they are only very few. Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Austria, according to their homepage, consists of only 9 members. But they get millions and millions of subsidies.
All the mosques in Austria are held or controlled by ATIB, Millî Görüş or the Muslim Brotherhood. Some also belong to Chechens, Bosniaks, or Albanians. But most of them belong to Islamists.
FA: Since when have you been promoting the concept of reform of Islam?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Since 2000. We started to make analyses of the global situation and then, one year later, 9/11 happened. From that time, I also help the intelligence services and the government’s Office for Combating Terrorism. Before each huge attack – like the ones on Paris, London, Brussels… – I predicted the attacks based on my analysis of the internet networks, and I informed the authorities accordingly.
Some Islamists have a plan to conquer Europe and they are now between the sixth and the seventh step of realizing their plan. Which means open war on Europe. The Islamic State terror organization is now in an open war with Europe.
I do not think they can win against Europe. But Europe has lost its safety and secure way of life. Since the beginning of Europe’s massive acceptance of migrants, I warned the politicians: do not open the doors without control. We know that among the refugees, there are terrorists. This is unacceptable.
We liberal Muslims came here to avoid living in such conditions as in our own countries. We therefore do not want that these conditions repeat here in Europe. Islam should be a matter between human beings and God, but without a mediator such as the church, a priest or a clerical hierarchy. Anyone in a mosque can be an imam, if he is accepted as such. Does this make sense ?
FA: So, you oppose the phenomenon of mass migration?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Yes, and especially so since it is only the very beginning. I warned people that we have to take measures as long as we can still control it. When we have them here, and they don’t work, get a lot of help from the State, and find out that by fathering children they can get more money than indigenous people who have worked for forty years, this will only create social unrest and hate.
If Austria cannot resolve this problem, it might end in a confrontation. It might lead to the uprising of new organizations who organize attacks on migrants and refugees. On the other hand, as the Interior ministry has informed us, there is really a high percentage of criminality among migrants and refugees.
FA: What is your opinion about Viktor Orbán and his migrant policy?
I think Viktor Orbán knows the problem better than the others. And because there isn’t a big Islamic community in Hungary, he felt free to act as he does now. But here in Austria, authorities are afraid of the Islamic community. For this reason, they know that they cannot speak or act as Orbán did.
FA: So basically you think western politicians fear the Muslim community of their countries, and therefore cannot act as they should regarding topics such as migration?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Yes. Look at countries of the former Eastern bloc. They are not afraid to speak out on these topics, as they do not have too many immigrants from Islamic or Arabic countries. Orbán is right to do anything that he can to help his country. He wants to avoid having that Hungary ends up in the same situation as the West.
But I don’t want to appear as a partisan or get involved in politics. I’d like to stay a peaceful and independent activist.
FA: Do you see radicalization among Bosniaks, too? And how do you see the situation in Bosnia?
Dr. Amer Albayati: Yes, among Bosniaks, and among Turks, Arabs, Chechens, Albanians… but we have always to be careful. This situation is created by organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood who claim to represent all Muslims and are registered as cultural organizations in order to get money from the State, And despite the Law on Islam (Islamgesetz) the Austrian authorities allow them to operate Mosques… even if they are registered as cultural organizations. The Law on Islam is a big historical mistake.
In Bosnia there is too much influence by Saudi Arabia, also by Iran, but Saudis put in more money than Iran. They both have too much influence. Turkey is more focused on western countries, and they don’t have a community that is strong enough in Bosnia to do their usual lobbying there.
I wrote an article for a news magazine that many Arabic fighters have settled in Bosnia. I also mentioned this to the mainstream media, but nobody cared. I am really worried about the future. People are afraid to change their habits, even intellectuals. Although we know many things about radicals and terrorists… nobody is willing to change. This is one of the roots of the current problems.
FA: If you could make a new Law on Islam, what would you put in it? What would be a good Islamgesetz for you?
Dr. Amer Albayati: I would not do anything. We do not need such a law. Because, as I told you, Islam does not belong to Austria, nor to Europe. Maybe Sebastian Kurz will change this law. The people we talked about, the radicals, have already organized demonstrations against him. He finally understood that it is wrong to support these groups.
FA: By the way, the relations between Austria and Turkey have become quite bad recently.
Dr. Amer Albayati: This may change things. Kurz is now much more careful than before. He cooperated with the Socialists on this topic, which was wrong. But now it seems we can set certain hopes in him. In any event, he will have to act, not just talk.
FA: Do you think religious conflicts might reappear in Europe due to Islam?
Dr. Amer Albayati: The Christian churches pretend that there is no problem. They always ask for money, claiming 5 million members, but there are no people who go to church. I call them cultural Christians. And since the churches are empty, they give churches to orthodox Christians from Romania, or from Arab countries. The Church is weak in Austria, and in Europe at large. It is maybe different in Poland or Hungary.
I think the Christian churches also likes to work with refugees to get money. And for that reason, they deal with certain political Islamic organizations. This is completely wrong. But it appears that they have no other way in order to survive.
We are facing changes in politics, religion and society. And nobody can tell what the future will be like. But I’m afraid the problems will be conflicts, and that these conflicts will bring confrontations anywhere where they haven’t solved this situation.
FA: What do you do beyond informing?
Dr. Amer Albayati: We have to change the people’s habits. I know many women who force themselves and their daughters to wear the scarf, without which they couldn’t get married. This is wrong, we are in Europe. What’s more, this happens with the support of European authorities. But there are other examples, too: A school director forbids the scarf for children in his school, and many Muslims told us that they think it is good! That means there is a chance for a change.
I had a lecture in the European Parliament last year, where I said that the Muslim Brotherhood and other radicals get money form the EU, and that this is inacceptable. Shariah law is not compatible with laws in Europe.
I come from Iraq. My father is from Iraq, my mother from Istambul. But my origins are not relevant for me as a loyal Austrian citizen. My loyalty to Austria is more important than anything else. I am a secular Muslim, and I don’t want Shariah law. Even Arabic Muslim countries don’t have Shariah law, so why should it be applied here?
FA: Isn’t it an obligation for a Muslim to fight for the Shariah?
Dr. Amer Albayati: In the future, if the Muslim political organizations continue, maybe they will fight for Shariah law and for having a Caliphate State. They will say it is an obligation for Muslims to fight for that. But we are secular Muslims, and we do not accept everything from the religion, we have to think about what is good and what is not.
I’m astonished to see everything in Austria that is done for radicals, even in jail. Austrian President Van der Bellen who invited every woman to wear a headscarf in order to fight discrimination is entirely wrong this is only playing the political card of radicals and of the Muslim Brotherhood, as I have explained it. As to Islamophobia, this is only a metapolitical tool, and we should not allow these people to muzzle everyone who does not fit into their picture.