The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Austria’s far-right party wants to ‘ban’ Islam

Migrants walk toward the Austrian border after resting in a makeshift camp in the village of Sentilj, Slovenia. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

The head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party called on Saturday for a total ban on “fascistic Islam.”

Heinz Christian Strache told an audience in Salzburg that he wanted to see a ban of Muslim symbols, something like the Austrian law that bans Nazi symbols. And he warned that Islam posed an existential threat to Europe. “Let us put an end to this policy of Islamization,” he said. “Otherwise we Austrians, we Europeans will come to an abrupt end.”

The Freedom Party is staunchly anti-immigrant. Stache said Saturday that “we need zero and minus immigration.” The country has received 130,000 claims for asylum since the summer of 2015. Most are former residents of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

There are about 600,000 Muslims in Austria, and they're facing a growing chorus of detractors. Recently, an Austrian cardinal (and a top candidate for pope in previous conclaves) asked in a speech: “Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at the end.” In December, a right-leaning Austrian trade union suggested that Muslims should be denied Christmas bonuses because “they are against all Christian traditions.”

This attitude has made it hard for young Muslims to feel accepted. One recent study of Muslim youth in Vienna found that many do not feel recognized as Austrians, which has increased the risk of radicalization. According to the survey, "85 percent of young people who are in contact with a youth worker have an immigration background,” and "27 percent of those teenagers who are Muslim show strong sympathy for jihadism, and violent and anti-Western thinking.”

The Freedom Party's anti-Muslim message has been well-received by a nearly a majority of Austria's electorate. Its presidential candidate Norbert Hofer was defeated in a runoff vote last month, but gained 47 percent support.

In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party is running on a platform of closing mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Koran and Muslim migrants. It also wants to prohibit women from wearing headscarves. The next election is March 2017, and the party is expected to pick up seats to become the most represented party in the Dutch parliament.