Map intended to fight political ideologies, not religion, says the government
Austria's government is facing backlash for launching an "Islam Map" website that shows the locations of more than 600 mosques and Muslim associations across the country.
The map is intended to "to fight political ideologies, not religion," Integration Minister Susanne Raab said Thursday. But critics fear that it could lead to hate crimes and argue that it stigmatizes Muslims.
"Imagine if we had a Judaism map or a Christianity map in Austria," Muslim Austrians Initiative chairman Tarafa Baghajati told broadcaster ORF.
Officials categorize the map as a tool in the fight against "political Islam," a broad term that Austria's government uses to refer to any Islamist movement that strives to restructure society according to religious ideals that contradict democratic principles.
But the organizations listed include cultural centers for Bosnian and Albanian immigrants, youth organizations and sports clubs - often with no evidence of any links to extremism.
"We want to use this information to create transparency and not just look at where laws are being violated," Raab said Thursday, according to Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung. "There is no general suspicion of Muslim organizations."
Critics say that the map will, in fact, lead people to be suspicious of Muslim groups. While most of the institutions could easily be found with a quick Google search, Adis Serifovic, the chairman of Muslim Youth Austria, told ORF that it also includes youth organizations with private addresses and presents an "enormous security risk." The group plans to sue over the potential breach of privacy.
Many Muslims living in Austria are of Turkish descent, and Turkey's foreign ministry on Friday declared the map "xenophobic, racist and anti-Islamic."
Though the project was initially described as a joint effort between the University of Vienna and the Austrian government's Documentation Center for Political Islam, university officials have since distanced themselves and demanded that the school's logo be removed.
Reports of anti-Muslim attacks in Austria have been on the rise since an Islamic State sympathizer killed four people in a November mass shooting in Vienna.
Numerous Austrian politicians and advocacy groups have raised concerns that the map will further endanger Muslims, and the bishop of Germany's Evangelical Lutheran church, Michael Chalupka, has called for it to be taken down.
The controversy has also led to tensions between the governing Austrian People's Party, which was behind the map, and their coalition partners in the Green Party.
"This project is the opposite of what integration policy and dialogue should look like," Green Party spokeswoman Faika El-Nagashi told Der Standard.