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Erdogan slams Austria's mosque plan

June 10, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned against a war between "cross" and "crescent" after Austria said it would shut down foreign-funded mosques. Vienna said the move was part of an effort to tackle political Islam.

Erdogan delivers a speech in Istanbul
Image: picture-alliance/AA/ Turkish Presidency/M. Cetinmuhurdar

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to take action against the Austrian government's decision to shut down seven foreign-funded mosques and potentially expel dozens of Turkish Muslim clerics, a move he dubbed as "anti-Islamic."

"These measures taken by the Austrian chancellor are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent," Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Saturday, referring to Christianity and Islam.

"You do this and we sit idle? It means we will take some steps too," he said, adding that the "western world should get their act together."

'Racist and discriminatory'

The Austrian government said on Friday that it would potentially expel dozens of imams and close several mosques in a move to tackle political Islam and stem the foreign financing of mosques.

Reacting to the announcement, a spokesman for Erdogan said that Vienna's move was "a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in the country."

Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin, including 117,000 Turkish nationals live in Austria. Ties between Ankara and Vienna have deteriorated in recent months with Kurz's anti-immigration speeches and opposition to Turkey's EU membership bid.

Read more: Study shows that a large minority of Germans would not accept Jewish or Muslim family members

Kurz had campaigned on a ticket of tougher immigration controls
Kurz had campaigned on a ticket of tougher immigration controls, stricter asylum policy, and a crackdown on political IslamImage: picture-alliance/APA/R. Jäger

'No space for parallel societies'

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Friday his government was shutting down a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in the capital, Vienna, and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community, which runs an additional six mosques.

The chancellor said the initiative followed an investigation into images that emerged in April of young boys wearing Turkish uniforms marching, saluting, playing dead and waving Turkish flags. The pictures were found to have come from the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organization, a branch of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Far-right anti-immigration movements have gained momentum in Europe since 2015
Far-right anti-immigration movements have gained momentum in Europe in recent yearsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Herbert P. Oczeret

"There is no space in our country for parallel societies, political Islam and radical tendencies," said Kurz, whose conservative Austrian People's Party (VPÖ) rules in coalition with the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria (ÖFP).

Kurz became chancellor in December last year. His party, like the ÖFP, had campaigned on a ticket of tougher immigration controls, stricter asylum policy and a crackdown on political Islam.

Read more: Make Austria Great Again — the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz

Far-right regimes in Europe welcomed Austria's "anti-radicalization" announcement.

Right-wing tilt

Erdogan's Saturday speech comes in the run-up to presidential and legislative elections in Turkey set to be held on June 24.

Turkish and international rights activists fiercely criticize Erdogan for "Islamizing" Turkey and targeting liberal opponents.

Since a botched military coup in 2016, Erdogan's government has detained thousands of journalists, rights activists, lawyers, teachers and writers, accusing them of being involved in anti-state activities.

Read more: Banishing the 'extremist' image - A crucial task for British-Pakistanis

shs/amp  (AFP, dpa)