Austria's decision to shut down foreign-funded mosques and expel their imams has sparked tensions with Turkey, whose leader dramatically warned that Vienna's move risks leading to "a war between the crescent and the cross". Recently elected chancellor Sebastian Kurz made good on his campaign pledge to crack down on "political Islam" by taking action following the results of a probe over scandalous pictures of children dressed up in military uniforms and reenacting World War I battles inside of one of these religious facilities, prompting the Turkish government to lash out at what President Erdogan's spokesman described as "normalizing Islamophobia and racism".
Relevantly, both the Austrian and Turkish leaders are conservatives who emphasize their respective religion's traditional role in society, but the ideological clash between them carries hints of a civilizational dimension that reminds some people in a less dramatic way of the historic 1683 Battle of Vienna when the Austrians defeated the Turks and saved Christian Europe from an Islamic conquest. So as not to be misunderstood, modern-day Turkey has never said that it wants to forcibly convert Europeans like it attempted to do over three centuries ago, but the fear of this silently happening anyhow through the connivance of liberal "fifth columnists" has stoked worry all throughout the continent and contributed to the conservative EuroRealist electoral backlash in recent years.
This highly publicized and emotive dispute over the role of Turkish figures in promoting political Islam in Austria comes at a very sensitive time for President Erdogan because of the upcoming snap elections that are scheduled to be held next Sunday on 24 June. Instead of emboldening the secular Kemalist opposition, however, this controversy might bring more of the ruling party's nationalist and religious base out to the polls in support of the incumbent, inadvertently proving Kurz's point about the potency of political Islam. President Erdogan is after all the world leader most closely affiliated with this religious-political movement, though while it may play to his advantage to be seen this way by the Mideast audience, it's nevertheless the reason why the Europeans are so fearful of him.
Alexander Markovics, spokesperson of the Suworow Institute based in Vienna, and Serap Balaman, Turkish political commentator, joined our discussion.
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