The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the latest version of the Muslim ban, what U.S. President Donald Trump claims is a victory, is actually a defeat. While politicians can say a lot and not be held accountable, courts are supposed to judge according to the law and not according to a certain political ideology or the anticipated will of the electorate.
In many Western governments, where human rights and freedom of religion is part and parcel of the constitution, right-wing politicians challenge this consensus. It is in these moments that checks and balances should demonstrate the importance of the rule of law.Such is the case with Austria, where a month ago, the new right-wing coalition government demonstrated its will to be tough on what they called “political Islam.” The headlines made it around the world, after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the minister of interior and the state secretary for cultural affairs had gathered to inform the public about their most recent measures to shut down seven mosques. The leader of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria also announced that this was “just the beginning” of a crackdown.
It was a highly questionable move on behalf of the government. The respective mosques said they were not informed by the state and were surprised by the public press conference. The hasty decision gave the Muslim institutions no time to answer the rumors that were being spread. Also, the allegations by the government were based on media reports about hate preachers, which are also highly questionable articles produced by the yellow press.
On the other side, the government was only delivering on its own promise, which can be read in black and white in its program. The new government consistently fulfills what the previous government implemented with the new Islam Act in 2015. According to it, the chancellor is now able to close Muslim religious institutions which are deemed to not “share a positive basic attitude toward state and society.”
Following a harsh Islamophobic election campaign by both the right-wing Freedom Party and the Austrian People’s Party, now-chancellor Kurz argued that Muslim kindergartens should not even exist and the current government is now obliged to act upon its claims.But the problem for the government was that their claim, as well as the way they acted, was without rhyme or reason. One week ago, lawyers appealed to the Viennese Administration Court, who decided in their favor and lifted the immediate closure of six mosques – one was immediately re-opened by the Islamic Religious Community.
While the final decision still has to be made, the first victory in this case stands in a long list of legal successes of Muslim organizations that have challenged defamations and as this case shows, even policies that are based on discriminatory laws such as the Islam Act of 2015.
While these legal battles suck the economically ill-situated Muslim community dry and enormously harm the reputation of those Muslim actors being attacked, they are also signs of a last hope that with the rule of law, racist and discriminatory politics can be fundamentally challenged.
* Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s ‘Bridge Initiative’ and Senior Scholar at Salzburg University, Department of Political Science and Sociology