European countries have attempted to assert more control over their Muslim populations in recent years. After the post-war agreement on “Embassy Islam” which left religious issues to the governments of countries with Muslim citizens migrating to Europe, a new approach emerged in the late 1990s. The approach aimed to create German, French, Dutch, and other forms of “national Islam”. Foundations and think tanks supported these projects, including the Muslim Forum Germany, which was established with support from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Austria also spearheaded anti-Muslim policies, establishing the Documentation Centre Political Islam, which the country’s Islamic community warned could become an “institution of surveillance”.
A new initiative has appeared on the horizon earlier this year, the Muslim Forum of Austria, which plans to create an Austrian Islam Conference similar to the German model. The Muslim Forum of Austria appears to be less of a grassroots group organised by ordinary Muslims and more of a state-led project aiming to create more dialogue opportunities for Muslims with politics, media, churches, and academia. The conference and associated events will be subsidised with a budget of around 250,000 euros ($264,000) in 2023. The forum’s leader is Mouhanad Khorchide, who was active in the similar German forum and also heads the advisory board of the Documentation Centre Political Islam.
Austria’s Muslim community has criticised the new institution, arguing that it has no legitimacy. The forum wants to institutionalise the dialogue about Islam in Austria without including the central actors of Muslim life in the country. The Muslim Forum of Austria highlights the reality that the state stands at its centre, heavily funding institutions that marginalise Muslims, while simultaneously supporting new groups that represent “good Muslims”. Ultimately, this appears to be less about what “good Islam” should stand for, than about how best authorities can control what they perceive as a potentially threatening part of the population.