The trial against Islam critic, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for hate speech is going into its next round [on Tuesday February 15, 2011 — ed.]. A conversation with the spokeswoman for the Islamic religious community in Austria, Amina Baghajati, on the limits of freedom of expression, sharia, and desireable Islam criticism.
Where targeted misinformation or false information is used to arouse a majority against a minority.
She is suffering from selective perception. Only what agrees with her can be allowed into her view. Every positive contribution of Islam in the world could destroy her argument. So it is ignored.
She is abusing this trial as a forum for her hate speech, and to present a false interpretation of Islam as the truth.
I find it disturbing. This incitement is a serious subject. I would hope the court would see it the same way.
We notice above all that a fringe group is spreading dangerously superficial knowledge about Islam which is finding its way noticeably into the mainstream. When Maria Fekter says, tolerance is a “no-go” in Islam, then we know where she got that, even if it is a gaffe. For years an “enemy image” of Islam has been built up in political circles. The constantly repeated word “Islamization” nurtures a fear that Muslims want to force all others to their belief. Unfortunately, in this country, there is glaring ignorance about Islam. That is why those who argue against it have free play with their selective perception and propagandistic misinformation.
Perhaps the contention that genital mutilation of girls is an Islamic tradition. That is just false.
Is the Islamic religious community making moves against female genital mutilation?
Of course. We of the IGGÖ (Islamic Religious Community in Austria) have made great strides in past years, in the area of massively halting it. Not just at home and in Europe, but internationally and above all in the affected areas of Africa.
Islam critics talk of wanting to prevent the establishment of sharia in Europe. What do you say to that?
You see, no one knows what sharia really is. It is not an Islamic law book that you can buy in the bookstore. Translated, sharia means “the way to the water.” So, something that you get, but also have to keep fetching: a collection of answers to questions about the religious way of life in Islam. Which also includes the freedom to follow these statements or not. You must continually renew the dialogue with the questions of Islamic life. Sharia is a dynamic process — not static or written in stone — and above all sharia is not a synonym for “corporal punishment.” I know no one who wants to change the law here in Austria.
A legal system based on religious doctrine is out-of-date in Europe. If an Eastern politician says he wants to introduce sharia, what does he mean by that?
He means the same as Western politicians when they promise to exercise “Law-and-Order Policies.” Order, clear rules, more security for citizens.
How do Muslims in Austria feel?
Unfortunately, there is no official research on that, which we regret, for such data would be important. Naturally, we get a feeling of the ambience from members of the community who talk to us and want to express their frustration. In the labor market, we experience open discrimination against women with head-scarves. We encourage women to tell us things like that, since we often do not know that their human rights are being abused here. And we notice an increasing hysteria and revulsion. Things that were previously handled humanely are now approached more crassly.
Please, an example.
For instance, the hotel management schools. Previously, Muslim students could agree with the teachers on an interpersonal level that they would not have to taste the pork they had just cooked or drink any wine. Now there are forms that students or guardians have to fill out where they state their willingness, in the context of training, to consume pork and wine. Everything is more extreme, more radical. The dialogue is giving way to more and more rigid stances.
Various reports do not help much in coming to an understanding. The German periodical “Bild” reported that a teacher was discharged because she accidentally served pork to Muslim students. The school now has a general ban on pork.
This story was completely different than in the magazine! Actually, the teacher was not discharged and pork was not removed from the menu. The Turkish parents accepted her apology and the case for the school administration was closed. This is just hyping to make people hysterical. Just recently, a woman in Upper Austria started an e-mail campaign because Muslims allegedly wanted to forbid the greeting “Grüß Gott.” There have never been such nonsensical demands from us — as there has never been a demand to remove the crucifixes from classrooms. On the contrary. We have spoken out in support of these symbols in schools. And “Grüß Gott.” is a lovely greeting and completely in conformance with Islam!
It does not further international understanding when Muammar Ghaddafi says: “Islam should become the definitive religion in all of Europe.”
Yes, Mr. Ghaddafi…That is his opinion. In the European area at the imam conferences, we set a common line which emphasizes common goals far removed from this rhetoric. That is what we want to be measured by. Aside from that, as we do not usually interfere in the domestic affairs of other states, we also do not tolerate interference. in ours.
There is the impression that anyone who says something against Islam can expect violence.
Because all you ever see in the TV is a howling mob that is burning national flags, like some kind of cartoon fight. But the very intensive, higher level discourse taking place — those pictures are not shown in the West. Or the business with the canceled opera “Idomeneo” in 2006 in which the cut-off heads of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Poseidon were shown. In her seminar, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff gives the cancellation as an example of fear of Islam. What she did not say is that the Muslim central council in Germany quite clearly said “Perform the opera!” and representatives of the Islamic conference added their agreement, to make a point.
How do you feel about Islam criticism?
I hope to have more courage to practice discussing Islam. I find discussions important, even criticism. These are no soft-ball sessions. Different opinions should encounter one another; otherwise it is vapid and no one learns anything from it. For instance, when we talked about head-scarves, that was productive. Suddenly, people were concerned with the significance of self-determination; more than a piece of cloth was being discussed.
What bothers you most about contemporary Islam criticism?
Europe is at the point of giving up on the Enlightenment’s joy in rationality. No discourse takes place any more. Instead there is the broadcasting of populist slogans. Nobody questions any more. And that means a far worse cultural loss for Europe than a few more headscarves on the street.
Muslim groups in the Islam debate like to make comparisons with the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, which does not always encounter agreement.
But it is true. And if we wish to learn from history, then we need to be attentive to parallels in the construction of enemy stereotypes. We have the same hate rhetoric, the same polemics, the same ridicule of clothing and physical characteristics, the same mode of argumentation — that a certain religious group has instigated a world conspiracy for the takeover of power. We have seen all that before. So I consider the comparison with the anti-Semitism of the 1930s more than justified and vigilance is necessary. Otherwise, “Never again!”, which I support completely, sounds superficial.
Muslims in Austria put up with a lot: The demand for a minaret ban, internet games where you can shoot down clerics from a house of prayer, coarse election slogans. One could almost think that there is a conscious effort to provoke. Until now, the Muslim population has remained peaceful. How much longer?
It has been chiefly the Muslims who have been massively attacked and insulted in Austria. In the general fanning of panic, that is swept under the rug. But there are encouraging signs in the whole discussion which may help to prevent an escalation — for instance when Cardinal Schönborn visits a mosque with his Star Singers. Such signs make us very happy. And then there are many people during an emotionally charged election campaign who come up — shopping, in the subway — people I don’t know — and spontaneously assure me of their solidarity with me.
Critics complain that the Islamic community has not spoken out loudly enough on the terror attacks by fundamentalist groups. After the assassination attempt in Alexandria on January 1, the IGGÖ clearly expressed its revulsion. Is there a learning process among Islamic institutions?
The question is not whether we always condemn such bad and sorrowful events. We do. For many media, however, this is no longer “newsworthy” and is mostly reported only in specialized religious media or on our homepage (www.derisalm.at). Unfortunately, a long list can be read there, on Egypt as early as 2010.
But we must not forget that there are forces financed by millions of sources, which are establishing Islamic states and intend to drive Islam forward worldwide. What is your attitude to the political goals of these groups.
If you mean Al Qaida: I do not share these goals. I am disturbed by the human misery caused by terrorists and extremists for their own purposes. I am disturbed by how we Muslims are increasingly held hostage for that. And I am disturbed that such groups are completely indifferent to the bad image of Islam they are responsible for — it is even convenient for them. Because the Islamophobia directed at us confirms their enemy’s picture of the “evil West.” Here is where the Islam-haters and Islam-misusers shake hands — they seem to need each other. We must stop the mutual extremism.
Do you believe you are getting enough support from the Austrian political establishment?
I wish I could answer yes. But I cannot. My hope is in a broad, civil-social dialogue. “Nathan the Wise” was performed in Salzburg. There was also an invitation to a conversation about religion. Lessing wrote “Nathan” under the influence of the Koran, and I was happy to see that this was noted in the program. Lessing’s Ring Parable in the play is based on sura 5, verse 48: For each of you we have set out a law and a way of life. And if Allah had wished, he would have made you a community. But He wanted to test you in what he gave you. So compete with one another in good works. You will all return to Allah. Then he will tell you about what you are contesting.”
Who are you already getting support from and who would you like more from?
We get support from the churches. That makes us happy. When Strache was flourishing the cross, the Church reacted strongly. Bishop Bünker, a Protestant, defended our position in the minaret debate. Politically, the president supports us by urging measured speech. But otherwise? Hopefully politics today, where there is no election pending, is dealing more clearly with the subject.? Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff describes herself as a “mother and feminist.” Where is the comment from feminists on that? Do you really want to connect a person who spreads hate with feminism? And in Germany, we have Alice Schwarzer who plays the same tune as the right fringe. We still have the tender seedling of “interfeminist” dialogue. We should intensify conversations like that among women’s rights advocates of all backgrounds.
One of the main arguments of the opponents of Islam is the marriage — according to hadiths, one of the sacred writings of Islam — entered into with the six year-old Aisha and consummated when she was nine.
As far as this section about Aisha is concerned, there is new , scientific information. All of the historic references in the Koran and the hadiths were put into context. It came out that Aisha at the time of her marriage could not have been nine years old but was ten years older, that is 19. There was already some doubt about her age.
Why was the age given that way in the scriptures?
Anyone who gets involved in explaining Islam knows that the reports of a type which might supply role models out of the life of the Prophet are divided into categories: “correct.” “reputable” and “weak.” Contributory to that is consideration of the chain of transmission, whether there are many witnesses or one. The passage with Aisha’s marriage was passed on by one person — Hisham Ibn ‘Urwah, when he was in Iraq and already very old and his reports are considered unreliable. We cannot just say, what is there is law for every Muslim. Also, at the time the hadiths were written down, various interests were being pursued by various groups. A critical arrangement. to discover an evaluation with other religious sources in a larger context, is also necessary. Therefore, too, the division just mentioned, through which a revised arrangement in light of new information can be made.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff makes allegations like: “Muslims invoke the Koran, to abuse children” and gives as an example the Yemeni child bride Nujoud Ali.
As a European who claims the values of the Enlightenment, that makes me sick. I maintain: We are against forced marriage in principle — all the more of children! And in the Yemeni case, the (woman) lawyer who started the ball rolling, the judge who liberated Najoud from this dreadful marriage, the reporters who originally reported it — were all Muslims. Sabaditsch-Wolff does not mention that.
New subject: In Iran the age of marriage was raised to 13. However, it is still possible to marry a nine year-old girl with the permission of the father and a Muslim judge. Straight out: Is the Islamic community of Austria for or against the forced marriage of children?
Of course we are against it. Religious marriage arrangements with us in the IGGÖ are always done in conformance with the civil registry — as with the other recognized churches. What an Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff will never tell you is that marriage law was already reformed in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century in the (reform period) tanzimat. Anyone under 17 who wanted to marry needed a special judicial permission. This is supposed to be the case in Yemen too, but obedience to the law was not overseen well enough. Information like that does not enter the world of the Islam haters, so it is ignored.
Islam opponents are gathered in politically influential groups, like the Wiener Akademikerbund (Federation of Viennese Academics) Does that worry you?
Naturally. Especially when you consider the manner of argument there. I was addressed at a meeting of representatives of the Akademikerbund. Pure hate radiated at me during the discussion. I was told: “This and this is in the Koran, so you have to believe exactly that.” I was half ordered what I had to believe! They explained what was in my head! It was incredible. And no matter what I said, it was brushed off, because Islam opponents do not believe us and always cry “taqiyya,” without even knowing what that means.
The concept “taqiyya” is described by Islam opponents as a mandate to lie to unbelievers, especially as concerns the true intentions of a Muslim in a non-Muslim society. Please define the word.
Lying is just as reprehensible in Islam as in any other culture. Only if someone were in mortal danger if revealed as a Muslim would he be allowed to lie and say: No, I am not a Muslim. That is what is called taqiyya. The Prophet Mohammed made this rule in the light of senseless martyr deaths, as they were customary in early Christianity, when people let themselves be executed, in order to gain entrance to heaven. With taqiyya, Mohammed wanted to prevent people senselessly becoming martyrs to the faith.
Again, about the Akademikerbund: the ÖVP expelled some of its members from the party.
Yes, but not until they demanded the removal of the National-Socialist Re-Engagement Clause. When it was only about Islam, they did not lift a finger. I was really frustrated in the most recent Viennese elections. Not one party openly opposed the FPÖ campaign. It was: Don’t touch it.
How does the Islamic religious community define “integration”?
The slogan of the IRGÖ is: “Integration through Participation.” But an Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff would give this slogan no chance and would replace the word “participation” with “infiltration.”
What would a conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff bring?
It would be a good sign as a signal against hate and persecution. But her followers
would inflate her to a martyr. It is scurrilous, but for that very reason so transparent, that it might have no negative results in the general discourse.
Where do you think this conflict will be in 5 years?
That depends on economic development. There are numerous studies that confirm
that discrimination, the search for a scapegoat, hatred for everything different always get worse when people are afraid because of their economic circumstances.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff’s network reaches far beyond Austria. Does that worry you?
These little groups all intertwine and feed each others’ dangerous mindset. It makes you ask: What is the agenda? What is behind the actions?
There are observers who say it comes from fundamentalist Christianity or at least from the rightist conservative Christian circles in the USA.
That is also our suspicion. That goes along with the affectation of calling themselves “saviors of freedom of speech, defenders of women’s rights,” etc. And people who don’t want to see Christianity in power any more than Islam should know that.”
Further comment: In nearly every sentence what is said by this Islamist is untrue flatout, or a distortion. I am particularly amused at that last question immediately above her. Oh my, the great evils of the World Wide Conservative American Christianity!
There is one measure a democracy cannot accept…..institutions whose purpose is to sabotage and destroy DEMOCRACY. This woman should be confined to live the rest of her life in a Islamic kubbutz in the middle of Yemen……a kind of a joke….only sort of.