Austria: Controversial Islamophobia researcher should no longer receive state funding

The controversial Salzburg political scientist Farid Hafez was the subject of discussion in the European Parliament this week. A motion for a resolution by German Member of the European Parliament Markus Pieper ( Christian Democratic Union, CDU) laments that “Hafez has repeatedly received funding from the EU budget despite being closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish government, which seek to silence independent journalists and media freedom under the pretext of Islamophobia”.

The motion, adopted by a two-thirds majority, calls on the EU Commission to “amend the eligibility criteria for the ‘Rights, Equality and Citizenship’ programme under the EU budget to prevent individuals and organisations with such alarming views from receiving EU funding”.

Hafez’s EU-sponsored engagement against “Islamophobia” and “anti-Muslim racism” has long divided the political and academic scene, as well as Muslims.

In November, the resident of Upper Austria himself was the target of house searches among suspected Muslim Brothers. After he compared this “Operation Luxor” to the Nazi pogroms in 1938 in an article published in the USA, even the Salzburg university distanced itself from him.

He had “absolutely no understanding for comparing the procedure in a democratic constitutional state like Austria with events in the Nazi era”, said Reinhard Heinisch, Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Salzburg. At the same time, however, Heinisch joined a supporters’ committee that condemns the raid on Hafez as an “intimidation attempt against a recognised academic”.

Hafez denies any connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. “No, I am not a Muslim Brotherhood member and I am not an Islamist,” he said in a press interview. Hafez also denies any proximity to the Turkish government.

The fact is, however, that he has been publishing the annual “Islamophobia Report” on behalf of the Turkish Seta Foundation since 2016. It not only denounces incidents that are actually hostile to Muslims, but also labels liberal Muslims and critics of political Islam as Islamophobes.

In the most recent report, even the Nobel Prize winner for literature Peter Handke, who is not known as a critic of Islam, made it onto the front cover. The judgement is based on Handke’s “glorification of the Serbs during the genocide in Bosnia” in the 1990s.

The Seta Foundation is a “non-partisan think tank” for Hafez, in fact it propagates the policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In 2019, it caused outrage with a list of journalists critical of the government.

The EU funding for the “Islamophobia Report” commissioned by Seta had already prompted Austrian People’s Party MEP Lukas Mandl to sharply criticise the EU Commission’s funding practice two years ago. He feels vindicated by the latest parliamentary decision.

“I hope that the Commission will follow Parliament’s clear mandate to act,” Mandl told the VOLKSBLATT newspaper. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Greens rejected the motion for a resolution.

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