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Europe's populist leaders discriminate against Muslims

Islamophobia in Europe, which has been on the rise in recent years, is deepening further with the populist discourses and policies of politicians like French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz, both of whose political experience has come under question.

With the aim of attracting more votes, Macron and Kurz have taken the lead in Europe in putting more pressure on Muslims under the guise of “fighting political Islam,” further fueling divisions in Europe, which is also home to around 35 million Muslims.

The two have adopted the arguments of the far-right and implemented laws that restrict the fundamental rights of Muslims.

The beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on Oct. 16 and an attack in Vienna on Nov. 2 which left four people dead brought Macron and Kurz together, making them the main producers of anti-Islamic rhetoric in Europe.

Sebastian Kurz

Sebastian Kurz won the elections in Austria at the age of 31 and become the youngest chancellor in the country's history.

He had good relations with Turks and Muslims in the country during the first years of his political career when he took office as Austria and Europe’s youngest foreign minister at the age of 27.

He later discovered, however, that he could gain the sympathy of the far-right by adopting an “anti-Turkey” discourse after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

As prime minister of Austria, he decided to change the country’s 1912 Islam Law, which is an official recognition of Islam as a religious denomination.

The controversial changes included a ban on foreign funding for Islamic organizations and the employment of imams from abroad.

In December 2017, Kurz formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and proposed laws that targeted Muslims and immigrants in the country.

He banned the use of veils in public places and headscarves in primary schools. He also plans to raise the age until which girls are banned from wearing headscarves in school to 14 from 10.

He introduced the term “political Islam” to the Austrian public, which has become the “most dangerous” term in the country.

After the Nov. 2 terrorist attacks in Vienna, 30 Muslim activists and academics have been detained in the name of "fighting terrorism."

Kurz further sparked criticism last week by linking Islam with the fight against terrorism. He proposed making "political Islam" a criminal offense to shut down various Muslim organizations in the country.

Austria is home to more than 500,000 Muslims, or about 6% of the population, making up the country’s largest non-Christian religious minority.

Emmanuel Macron

On Oct. 2, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a draft law on "Islamic separatism" which will be submitted to the cabinet on Dec. 9. It aims to place tighter controls on mosque financing and on Muslim associations and also bans countries from sending imams to France.

Following the murder of Samuel Paty, the Macron administration took harsher steps against Muslims and Muslim groups in the country. Muslim associations and civil society groups were subject to illegal practices such as closures.

Attacks against Muslims increased in the country after Paty’s murder as well as the government’s anti-Islam rhetoric.

Many experts believe Macron set out to target Muslims due to fears of losing votes in the next presidential election slated for 2022.

Islamophobia in the country has become violent, as was exhibited in an incident where police treated four Muslim children -- three of them Turkish -- as terrorists, detaining the 12-year-old schoolchildren for 11 hours and opening an investigation into them over suspicions of "terrorist" propaganda.

France has the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe, totaling around 5 million.


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