It is vital that the world understands the catalogue of injustices and deception that the Austrian state used — and continues to use — to pressure Muslims.
One year ago the Muslim community in Austria — my community — was targeted by the government under the guise of fighting so-called “political Islam” — often conflated with “terrorism.”
On November 9, 2020 key activists in our Muslim community were subjected to the baseless accusation of being “terrorists” by the Austrian state. It was part of what they termed ‘Operation Luxor’ — the largest set of police raids in Austrian peacetime history.
At five in the morning, police raided 70 homes, traumatising Muslim families, taking all of their belongings — including their mobile devices and money — leaving them with nothing. They further terrorised our imams, friends, professors, and even charities.
Yet a year later, not one of the dozen people affected by the violent police raids has been charged with any offence, let alone arrested. And this week, the terror allegations against one of the imams who was targeted have been dropped. Where does that leave us?
Mass night raids exclusively targeting Muslims
This government-led operation singled out the Muslim community and was fraught with controversy, with recent legal cases deeming it unlawful and deciding it was politically motivated.
The raids took place amidst government failings and incompetence — including the preventable attacks in Vienna on November 2, 2020, which saw four people killed.
Afterward, those targeted were subject to lengthy interrogations.
Despite being framed as an ‘anti-terror’ operation, victims were asked questions such as whether their wives wore the hijab, what they thought about the word “Islamophobia,” and whether they thought Muslims are discriminated against in Austria.
The questions revealed how the lines are blurred between faith, Islam and “terrorism” in Austria. After all, what do such personal questions have to do with fighting so-called “terrorism”? Are they relevant in a democratic society?
Traumatised children and families
Perhaps what will prove most damaging about Operation Luxor is how it left indelible marks on the Muslim children who were involved. For many of them, their first experience with Austrian police was being roused from their sleep by heavily-armed men in balaclavas and pointing gun barrels at them while shouting “target person spotted!”
While preparing our report, “Operation Luxor: Unraveling the myths behind Austria's largest ever peacetime police raids,” I conducted interviews with a number of those impacted by the operation. This was the first opportunity to give voice to the victims.
The witness testimonies were devastating.
More than half a year after the raids, those involved were deeply emotional and still found it difficult to speak about it.
One teenage girl, Fatima, told me she heard her mother begging the police to let her go back into the bedroom to “get her baby.” Fatima couldn’t see that police were pointing a gun at her mother and seemed ready to pull the trigger. For the first night after the raid, Fatima could not return to her bedroom. Instead, she tried to sleep in the living room but was haunted by vivid nightmares. She then lied awake for hours in fear of another raid.
One thing has stayed with her from that raid: a sense of panic whenever she sees police. Whenever a policeman approaches her on the street or near her house, she starts crying and can’t breathe. And it doesn’t stop until the policeman leaves.
Another person who was personally impacted is Aisha, a mother who experienced the raids with her husband and children. Her husband recalled how officers referred to their kids derisively as “the breed of them.” Aisha’s 13-year-old son was grabbed by the neck and pushed to the ground by a SWAT officer, then her 12-year-old niece was interrogated without the consent of her parents.
Following the raid, Aisha’s home was declared by the media as the “old terror villa” - this despite Aisha not being charged with any crime. Since then people have photographed the family on the street and in the supermarket.
The family was left deeply confused by the raids. Like many others impacted by Operation Luxor, Aisha’s children are undergoing therapy. Even today they are very sensitive when strangers park in front of their house.
Since the raid, those impacted have told me that they do not have any trust or respect for the police or state. They have experienced the dark side of Austria, and see it as reminiscent of a dictatorship. Families impacted by Operation Luxor are considering whether it is time to leave the country.
Civil society must take action now
As someone who has witnessed firsthand the damage done to my peers and community over the last year - not to mention the children and families still suffering to this day - I feel obliged to extend my solidarity and support to those individuals and organisations unjustly targeted by Operation Luxor in their continued struggle for accountability and justice.
As someone who stands up for human rights, I consider this a bare minimum. Also, one thing we as Muslims in Austria will remember from this ordeal and its aftermath is the silence of supposed “anti-racist” activists and organisations in the face of a clear example of institutionalised anti-Muslim racism.
Any miscarriages of justice emerging from Operation Luxor should be immediately remedied and prevented from recurring. The figures who authorised and conducted this unlawful operation of state-sponsored terror against innocent Muslims must be held responsible.
All affected parties and their families have to be granted adequate compensation — for the injustice they have had to endure and to re-establish the public trust in Austrian authorities, which has been undermined.
Now, with the most recent milestone in our community’s fight for justice — the allegations of one of our imams having been dropped — our fight for justice and accountability for those in power continues.
We should also take some pride in the fact that a government, which is pursuing such a vicious agenda to undermine Austria’s democracy and rule of law, sees those of us standing up for justice as a threat.
In fact, it would be very concerning if the tyrants were applauding us instead.
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