The selection of an ethnic Turk to lead the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ), the primary representative of Muslims in the country, is being challenged by Muslim groups opposed to Turkey’s growing influence over the practice of Islam in Austria.
Ibrahim Olgun, a 28-year-old Austrian-born Islamic theologian with ties to the Turkish state, was quietly named on June 19 to replace 62-yer-old Fuat Sanac, who stepped down after serving as IGGiÖ president for five years.
Sanac, also a Turk, was reviled by Turkish authorities for helping the Austrian government draft a new Islam Law (Islamgesetz) that aims to promote an “Islam with an Austrian character.” The law, which was promulgated in February 2015, seeks to reduce outside meddling by prohibiting foreign funding for mosques, imams and Muslim organizations in Austria. It also stresses that Austrian law must take precedence over Islamic Sharia law for Muslims living in the country.
Observers worry that Olgun — a member of the Turkey-financed Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), an influential group that has vowed to challenge the Islam Law at Austria’s Constitutional Court — will use his new position both to undermine the Islam Law and to increase further Turkey’s influence over Muslims in Austria.
Zaytung, a popular online humor magazine (a kind of Turkish “The Onion”) ran a story:
“Government officials in this eastern city are mulling the possibility of airdropping food, beverages and cigarettes onto busy streets, hoping that this may break some fasters’ resistance to hunger, thirst and tobacco needs. The city has been in shock as, already one week into the holy month of Ramadan, no one has been publicly beaten up for eating, drinking or smoking.”
Zaytung’s mocking was not without a reason. “If one tried to eat in a restaurant [in some parts of Turkey] during Ramadan, one may be insulted or even physically harmed. Indeed, each year there is an incident of an unobservant college student being beaten up or even murdered in the southeast for not fasting during Ramadan,” observed Soner Cagaptay in a 2008 article in the Washington Institute.
In 2010, as art lovers drank sangria out of plastic cups and contemplated iconoclastic pieces of art, a group of locals in central Istanbul attacked them with pepper gas and frozen oranges. For an hour, they smashed windows and injured dozens, including visiting foreigners. The attackers justified themselves, saying that drinking alcohol, especially outdoors, violated Islamic rules. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, said, “Such incidents occur everywhere in the world.”
Many Muslims claim that the Islamic month of Ramadan is not simply an exercise in fasting during the day. It is, they say, a chance for “a spiritual boost,” “mental peace” or “a moral awakening.”
During Ramadan, however, it often seems as if hate speech and intolerance are as rampant as ever, possibly even more — especially with the “Ramadan TV programs,” which are popular.
With the advent of Ramadan, Turkey has not opened only the season of fasting; it has also opened the season of “Ramadan Intolerance.”
This frequently consists of statements which threaten or dehumanize those who do not fast. During this season, many national television channels and social media users in Turkey disgorge hatred against those who do not carry out the strictest Islamic requirements.
Turkish professor Mustafa Askar, at Ankara University’s School of Divinity, said on the “Joy of Ramadan” program, aired on the state-funded TRT channel: “Those who do not do Islamic daily prayers are animals.”
1071 is a very special year for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and his Islamist ideologues. Erdogan often speaks about his “2071 targets,” a reference to his vision of “Great Turkey,” on the 1000th anniversary of a battle that paved the Turks’ way into where they still live.
In 1071, the Seljuk Turks did not arrive in Anatolia from their native Central Asian steppes with flowers in their hands. Instead they were in full combat gear, fighting a series of wars against the Christian Byzantine [Eastern Roman] Empire and featuring a newfound Islamic zeal. The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 is widely seen as the moment when the Byzantines lost the war against the Turks: before the end of the century, the Turks were in control of the entire Anatolian peninsula.
Another divine date for Erdogan is May 29, 1453. That day saw the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, after an Ottoman army invaded what is today Istanbul, modern Turkey’s biggest city. The conquest of Constantinople was not a peaceful event either. The city’s siege lasted for 53 days and cost thousands of lives. The Byzantine defeat left the Ottoman armies unchecked, clearing the way for their advance into Christian Europe in the centuries to come. The long and violent Ottoman march into Europe came to a halt in 1683, when the Ottomans were defeated during the siege of Vienna. By then the Ottomans were in control of north Africa, most parts of the Middle East and central and eastern Europe, totaling 5.2 million square kilometers of land.
There is every indication that Turkey and Israel are not far away from normalizing their troubled diplomatic relations. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for instance, the former allies are “one or two meetings” away from normalization.
If, however, Ankara and Jerusalem finally shake hands after six years of cold war, it will be because Turkey feels increasingly isolated internationally, not because it feels any genuine friendship for the Jewish nation.
In all probability, the “peace” between Turkey and Israel will look like the definition of peace in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: “In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting” — despite the backdrop for peace looking incredibly (but mischievously) convenient. On May 29, a Jewish wedding ceremony was held in a historical synagogue in the northwestern province of Edirne for the first time in 41 years. A few months before that, in December, the Jewish year 5776 went down in history possibly as the first time in which a public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony was held in Muslim Turkey in a state-sponsored event. All that is nice — but can be misleading.
There are two major problems that will probably block a genuine normalization. One is Hamas, and the other is the seemingly irreversible anti-Semitism which most Turks devour.
The Assyrian human rights activist Sawo Oshana Ide, accused of “being a member of an armed organization,” has been jailed in Turkey since February 18. The indictment does not mention which “armed organization” Sawo belongs to.
According to Ide’s lawyer, Erkan Metin, “He is abstractly accused of doing research in accordance with the objectives of an organization and forming lists about ammunition.”
According to the Turkish penal code, it is a charge that can bring imprisonment for five to ten years.According to Assyria TV, “the Turkish security forces stormed the apartment of Sawo Oshana Ide in Midyat, Turkey. The police took his computer and other notes. Thereafter, Sawo and his wife were taken into interrogation. Today in the afternoon, the police released Sawo’s wife but he was arrested on charges of collaborating with a terrorist organization.”
The accusations are based on some photos and notes in his computer, Metin said.
Every major government condemned the coup attempt in Turkey, as did all four of the parties with representatives in the Turkish parliament. So did even Fethullah Gülen, the religious figure accused of being behind the would-be take over.
All of which leaves me feeling a little lonely, having tweeted out on Friday, just after the revolt began, “#Erdoğan stole the most recent election in #Turkey and rules despotically. He deserves to be ousted by a military coup. I hope it succeeds.”
Having this nearly-minority-of-one stance suggests that an explanation longer than 140 characters is in order. Three reasons account for my supporting the ouster of the apparently democratically elected and democratically ruling president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by what are apparently the forces of reaction: