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Devils from our past: liberal Islamophobia in Austria as historicist racism

Author: Benjamin Opratko 

Affiliation: University of Vienna

Organization/Publisher: Ethnic and Racial Studies

Date/Place: July 08, 2019, U.K.

Type of Literature: Article

Number of Pages:  19      


Keywords: Islamophobia, historicist racism, Muslims, Folk Devil, liberalism, Austria


Benjamin Opratko examines how Islamophobia is constructed by agents who consider themselves as liberal or non-racist, and further states that the Austrian folk devil is portrayed in the Muslim “Other” as a “haunting presence” from the Austrian past. The author identifies historical markers in his 18 conducted interviews with 11 different news media outlets in Austria, who describe themselves as “Austrian and non-Muslim,” to point out liberal variants of Islamophobia in Austria. These markers are the political reforms after 1968, the era of the Austrian president Bruno Kreisky, the European secularization time span, Nazism and Holocaust, and the Muslim Migration to Europe. The journalists were asked their personal views to the topic as well as how they understand their position as professionals while covering Muslim related topics. He applies the conjuncturalist framework of Gramsci in his research, in order to look at how racism becomes part of “popular common sense” that constructs a “cross-class consensus.” The author uses a Gramscian methodology because his approach treats journalists as “organic intellectuals, and their statements as indicative of current hegemonic relations.” He states that the “illiberal” far-right in Austria uses liberal-feminist arguments to portray themselves as the “defender of women against patriarchal Islam.” Even the leftists in Austria’s political landscape have adopted the liberal varieties of Islamophobia. The author names the former Green MP Peter Pilz, who published a book titled “Homeland Austria,” where he expresses the need to defend the “Austrian Homeland,” which is “synonymous” with “our liberal Austrian culture” and “women’s rights.” The book claims that especially in German speaking countries, Muslims represent a “threat of a return of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism,” which makes the Muslim the folk devil from the past, who has not gone through the struggles that Austrians went through in the past. This perception (“enlightened Islamophobia”) leads to the belief that the “immature, illiberal” Muslim “Other,” who has “still not arrived” where the “liberal Europeans” are, might lead Europe back to its dark past. Unresolved “problems” from the past enable these contradictions to be “projected onto the Other.” 

By: Dilek Yücel-Kamadan, CIGA Research Associate



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