Austria to shut 7 mosques, could expel 40 imams

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Austria is closing seven mosques and could expel dozens of imams from the country, the government has announced.

At a press conference on Friday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government is shutting down a Turkish mosque and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community, which runs six mosques.

The Austrian government’s actions stem from a 2015 law, which bans foreign funding of religious groups and required Muslim societies to have “a positive fundamental view towards [Austria’s] state and society”.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz said.

Austria is home to an estimated 600,000 Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin.

Culture Minister Gernot Blumel said the Turkish mosque was shut down because of suspected right-wing “extremism” and because the Austrian Islamic Faith Community had not licensed it.

The Arab mosques were accused of preaching Salafi positions and would, therefore, be shuttered, Blumel said. Salafism is a school of theology based on a strict and literal interpretation of Islam.

Anti-Islam move

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of about 40 imams are under review. The scholars are all employed by ATIB, a Turkish organisation overseeing mosques which the government said had circumvented the ban on foreign funding.

Two permits have already been revoked, and five imams were denied first-time permits, Kickl, a member of the far-right Freedom Party, said.

Turkey lashed out at Austria for the policies, calling the moves “anti-Islam” and “racist”.

“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,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter.

Anti-immigrant coalition

Kurz, 31, became chancellor of Austria in December after his conservative People’s Party entered a coalition with the far-right Freedom party.

Both parties campaigned for strengthening border controls, speedy deportations of asylum seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on what they call radical Islam.

In April the government announced it would seek to ban the hijab for girls in kindergarten and primary schools.

In July, Kurz will assume the EU’s presidency. He has said he will aim to shift the focus of the bloc’s immigration policy from redistributing refugees and migrants towards securing external borders.