Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is urging fellow European leaders to form a common front against what some leaders call “political Islam.”
“I expect an end to the misconceived tolerance and for all the nations of Europe to finally realize how dangerous the ideology of political Islam is for our freedom and the European way of life,” Kurz told the German newspaper Die Welt. “The EU must focus much more strongly on the problem of political Islam in the future.”
The idea of forming a common European front against political Islam, first broached by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, is being embraced by other European leaders, including Italy’s foreign minister, who said the European Union should adopt a version of the USA Patriot Act, which gives security agencies greater surveillance powers.
Kurz said he will put the issue of political Islam on the agenda of a scheduled EU summit later this month. He said he had talked with Macron and “many other government leaders so that we can coordinate more closely within the EU.”
The Austrian chancellor’s comments came in the wake of Monday’s shooting rampage in Vienna where a gunman killed four people, the first major terrorist attack on Austrian soil since 1985.
Austria’s security services are investigating whether the 20-year-old suspect, an Austrian-North Macedonian dual citizen with a previous terror conviction, had ties to Islamist militants in other countries, including Switzerland, where police arrested two people in connection with the Vienna attack. Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told a local newspaper that the two were “colleagues” of the attacker, and the three men had met face-to-face recently.
The wave of attacks carried out by Islamist militants in Paris, Nice, Dresden and Vienna over the past few weeks is raising alarm, with European security officials saying they fear more violence.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in a statement issued through its Amaq News Agency, along with a video purportedly showing the gunman swearing allegiance to the terror group’s leader.
“The enemy, the Islamist terror, wants to split our society," Kurz said. “But we will give no space to this hatred. Our enemies are not the members of a religious community. These are terrorists. This is not a fight between Christians and Muslims, or Austrians and migrants, but a fight between civilization and barbarity.”
Some leaders and countries warn that the stances taken by Kurz and Macron will be used by militants and others to paint Europe as anti-Islam.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been feuding bitterly with Macron over the French president’s recent remarks that Islam is a religion “in crisis.” The French government’s renewal of its support for the right to show caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has infuriated Ankara. Erdogan has accused Macron of being mentally unstable — an accusation that prompted Paris to recall its ambassador from Turkey.
Macron has repeatedly voiced his support for freedom of expression following the killing of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb last month. Paty was beheaded by a militant after showing cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to his students in a lesson about free speech.
Erdogan has urged a boycott of French products, as a backlash has mounted against Macron in the Muslim world. Retailers in the Gulf and Jordan have announced boycotts of French products.
France on Thursday condemned what it said were “declarations of violence” by Erdogan and raised the possibility of the EU imposing new sanctions on Ankara.
“There are now declarations of violence, even hatred, which are regularly posted by President Erdogan, which are unacceptable,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.
He added, “There are means of pressure. There is an agenda of possible sanctions.”
Macron underlined Wednesday he wants to target “Islamist separatism, never Islam,” and said he is not “stigmatizing French Muslims.”
“I will not allow anybody to claim that France or its government is fostering racism against Muslims,” he said in a letter published in Britain’s Financial Times.
Rallies have taken place in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other Muslim countries against Macron. Around 50,000 protesters took part in a demonstration in Bangladesh Monday, with some burning effigies of the French leader. In Jakarta, 2,000 Indonesians protested outside the French embassy, chanting, “No defamation of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Wednesday that Europe needed to take “measures that can prevent tragedies such as those in Nice and Vienna.” On his Facebook page he added, “In the face of this, Europe and Italy itself cannot continue with just words.”
Di Maio said Europe should implement tighter controls on mosques and take bolder steps to curb illegal immigration.
On Thursday, Italy announced it will step up border checks because of the latest attacks in Europe. Like other European countries, including Britain, authorities in Rome have upgraded their terrorism threat level to high. British security officials say they fear the attacks in Nice and Vienna might encourage other militants.