According to Nehammer, innumerable reports have been received from teachers expressing concern over the welfare of children during Ramadan. “If religious rituals, regardless of religion, endanger the health of children, this is clearly going too far,” Nehammer said. “If religion is placed above the welfare of the child, that must stop.”
Nehammer defended himself against the criticism by “Islam experts” last week on measures clamping down on Islam: “Those who criticise mosque closures, are downplaying political Islam and are on the side of the Turkish president.”
The measures of the Federal Government against political Islam are due to current developments and more than necessary, he argued. The Austrian government is closing down seven mosques due to their “lack a positive mindset” towards Austria.
The government also wants to deport 40 imams employed by ATIB, a group that oversees Turkish mosques in Austria, citing a 2015 law that prevents religious communities from receiving funding from abroad.
Nehammer strongly opposed the notion of “symbol politics”. He said the Austrian leadership was not indulging in symbolic gestures because that would ignore and minimize the potential dangers of parallel societies and the associated fatal effects of political Islam.
The presidential election in Turkey takes place on 24 June and the general secretary of the People’s Party Nehammer pointed out: “The Austrian constitutional state is not based on election dates, neither at home nor abroad.” Turkish domestic policy simply has no place in Austria, he said.
The Islamic Religious Community in Austria [Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ] accused Nehammer of trying to “ban” Ramadan. IGGiÖ spokeswoman Carla Amina Baghajati described Nehammer’s comments as “offensive and humiliating”.
She even claimed that Nehammer was promoting Islamic fundamentalism: “This leads to a dangerous alienation in society. Children and adolescents especially feel this enemy policy. They are in danger of deliberately turning away from local society and becoming even more susceptible to radical ideas.”
But Peter Kusstatscher, director of HTL Villach, the largest school in Austria, warned that Ramadan itself was actually radicalising Muslim youths: “You now notice how they radicalize themselves in the subject matter of Islam and radically live out their beliefs.”
He described an incident where a Muslim student insulted a female classmate because she was wearing make-up during Ramadan. “Of course, we intervened because this was not about showing tolerance towards a religious community,” he said.
Turkey has meanwhile strongly criticised Austria’s measures, calling them “Islamophobic, discriminatory and racist,” Euronews reported.