Susanne Winter, campaigning for the Graz city council, called the Prophet Muhammad a child molester. Election campaigns, it would seem, are uncomfortable times for immigrants to be in Europe. First, it was Ronald Koch, the conservative politician in the German state of Hesse who turned up the rhetoric and began railing against "criminal young foreigners" in his country. Now, an Austrian politician has followed suit.
Susanne Winter, a right-wing politician with the FPÖ party running for a city council seat in the city of Graz, blasted Muslims on Sunday, saying that "in today's system" the Prophet Muhammad would be considered a "child molester," apparently referring to his marriage to a six-year-old child. She also said that it is time for Islam to be "thrown back where it came from, behind the Mediterranean." Not yet finished, she also claimed that Muhammad wrote the Koran in "epileptic fits."
In an interview with the daily Österreich published on Monday, Winter continued the onslaught saying that child abuse is "widespread" among Muslim men and that Graz is facing a "tsunami of Muslim immigration." In 20 or 30 years, she warned, half of Austria's population would be Muslim.
Her comments have resulted in a storm of protest in Austria, with politicians and commentators of all stripes taking Winter and her party to task. Austrian prosecutors are also looking into the possibility of filing charges against the 50-year-old politician for incitement.
Her comments, said Omar Al-Rawi, head of integration for an Austrian association of Muslims, showed "a lack of respect" and they "had no basis in fact." He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that such Islam bashing has reached a point in Austria that "one wants to puke."
But despite the strong reaction generated by Winter, such rhetoric is hardly foreign to political campaigns in Austria. Her party was created by Jörg Haider, the notoriously right-leaning politician who found success in the 1990s and earlier this decade with a mixture of xenophobia and nationalism. He has since moved on, but his rhetoric has remained the same. Campaigning recently for his new group, the Association for Austria's Future (BZÖ), he said, "We are still allowed to say Gruss Gott," -- the traditional Austrian greeting -- "and don't have to praise Allah."
Winter's comments are also reminiscent of controversial remarks made recently by Roland Koch in his campaign to be re-elected as the governor of the western German state of Hesse. Following a brutal pre-Christmas attack by two youths -- one German born with Turkish parents and the other an immigrant from Greece -- against a pensioner in a Munich subway, Koch has turned youth crime, particularly that perpetrated by those with foreign backgrounds, into his No. 1 campaign issue. Among other questionable comments, he said it must be clear that the slaughtering (of animals) in the kitchen ... runs counter to our principles."
Austrian Muslim leaders have taken into their strides offensive anti-Islam remarks made by a member of a right-wing party, saying such "third-class" politicians do not deserve even their jeers.
"We appeal to all Muslims to remain calm and not be provoked by third-class politicians," Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Islamic Community of Austria, told the local tabloid Oesterreich in statements carried Monday, January 14, by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The astute Muslim reaction came after Susanne Winter, an MP for the right-wing Freedom Party (FP?), described Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as a "child molester" who wrote the Qur'an "during epileptic fits."
Baghajati said the FP? politicians are just "are getting ever more provocative and disrespectful."
The FP? is notorious for its repetitive vile attacks on Islam and Muslims in the country.
During last year's parliamentary polls, the party circulated pamphlets that dismissed Islam as a threat to the Christian identity of Austria.
Austrian Muslims are estimated at 400,000, or nearly 4 percent of the European country's 8 million population.
Last year, Austria Muslims have championed a nation-wide campaign to introduce the Prophet and his teachings to their fellow countrymen.
The campaign echoed others launched by Muslims Europe-wide in response to the sacrilegious Danish cartoons that lampooned the Prophet in 2005.
Austrian authorities have opened a probe into Winter's remarks.
"We're investigating the suspicion of incitement to racial hatred," said Manfred Kammerer, spokesman for the public prosecutors' office in Graz.
"Our attention was brought to the case by the media reports."
Kammerer said that Winter would be questioned about her comments "in the next few days", after which it would be decided what steps should be taken.
Winter stood by her provocative remarks Monday and rather warned of a "tsunami of Muslim immigration" that was threatening to engulf Western Europe in an interview with Oesterreich.
Politicians and Christian clerics denounced in unison Winter's comments and called for her resignation.
The deputy head of the Green Party, Eva Glawischnig, said that the remarks were "unprecedented religion-baiting".
Omar Al-Rawi, a Muslim member of the Social Democrat SPOe party, condemned the lack of respect the FP? politician showed for Islam and its prophet.
"The FP?'s Islam-bashing ... is stomach-turning," he told the daily Die Presse.
The head of the Ecumenical Forum of Christian Churches, Hermann Miklas, added his condemnation.
"We as Christians distance ourselves from such remarks, which are contemptuous of other religions," Miklas said.