Vienna Muslim Cemetery Vandalized
VIENNA — Austrian Muslims deplored Saturday, December 02, the vandalizing of Vienna's first Muslim cemetery, warning that it signaled a rise in religious intolerance in the European country.
"It is a deliberate provocative act against Muslims," Omar Al-Rawi, the integration commissioner at the Islamic Religious Authority (IRA), told IslamOnline.net.
Vandals painted 23 large black crosses on a wall inside the cemetery. The desecration was discovered Saturday, December 1, by a state television crew filming construction work at the cemetery, due to be opened in mid-2007 in the Austrian capital.
"The act signifies a sense of intolerance towards a community that is part of a larger society and works hard to integrate into it," Rawi said.
IRA spokeswoman Carla Amina Baghajati said it was also not the first time the cemetery project had been vandalized.
Several months ago, arsonists damaged part of the visitors' hall, which delayed construction.
The cemetery's construction dates back to 2001 when the IRA invited bidders after getting the go-ahead from authorities.
The City Municipality had given the IRA 34,000 square meters for free to construct the cemetery, which accommodates 3,000 tombs and can be expanded in the future.
Muslims are estimated at 400,000 in Austria, making up 4% of the country's 8 million population.
Islam, which was officially acknowledged in Austria in 1912 during the reign of Czar Franz Joseph , is considered the second religion in the country after Catholicism.
Rawi said the incident is indicative of the resign xenophobia in Austria, stoked by right-wing parties.
"I'm sorry to say that election racist slogans used by the right-wingers and Islamphobes have found ground in Austrian society and were translated into action. This is very alarming," he added.
Two far-right parties obtained 15 percent of the vote in the October 1 national election campaigning on demands for a halt to immigration and mass expulsions of Muslims.
The mainstream conservative People's Party and Social Democrats accused the rightists of inciting dangerous xenophobia in no way justified by the facts, although both pledged to reduce the rate of immigration in future.
It was the second reported incident of religious intolerance in Vienna in a week. A Jewish community school was smashed up in the pre-dawn hours of last Sunday by a crowbar-wielding man, who was arrested at the scene. No one was hurt.
The Jewish Council in Vienna condemned Friday the desecration of the Muslim cemetery and warned that the racial attacks could turn violent.
The Greens also regretted the growing religious intolerance towards minorities in Austria.
"The Muslim cemeteries are a symbol of Muslim loyalty to this soil, but it seems as if there some people who want to mar Muslim-Christian co-existence in this country," the party's spokeswoman said.