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Muslim Austrian academic shares tale of gunpoint raid


Farid Hafez, a prominent critic and professor, was born and raised in Austria [File: Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Muslim Austrian academic shares tale of gunpoint raid.

On November 9 last year, at 5am, police in Vienna rammed into Farid Hafez’s two-storey apartment and pointed their guns at the social scientist and his family.

After monitoring him for quite 20,000 hours, he was suspected of supporting “terrorism”, a charge he strongly denies.
“It was just unthinkable. I could never have conceived of anything like that taking place to me here,” Hafez, who works at the University of Salzburg, told Al Jazeera via Zoom. “I felt like this was a Hollywood movie with GIs surrounding me.”

The incident happened every week after an Austrian man, who had been jailed before for trying to hitch ISIL (ISIS) but released after attending a deradicalisation programme, killed four people and injured quite 20 others within the Vienna .

On an equivalent day, the raid on Hafez’s home happened . Austria’s interior minister called it “Operation Luxor”, during which some 60 homes of Muslim activists and academics were searched.

Hafez told Al Jazeera that his family remains shaken.

“I are chatting with a psychoanalyst. In fact, we are all being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said, “and we do it especially for the youngsters .”

They have “hardly been sleeping”, he added. “In the primary month, every noise we heard, we wondered if they [police] would come barging in again?”

Aside from supporting terrorism, police have accused him of other crimes including “hostility to the state” and “money laundering”.

To date, he has not been charged.

Police interrogated him over his views on Islam and on his family.

“Do you awaken your wife for prayers within the morning hours? Do your kids need to pray? Do they hear any quite music?” Hafez recalled, listing a couple of of the police questions.

His phone and laptop were among the things seized, and remain in possession of the police.

Hafez’s checking account was also frozen, leaving him unable to pay lawyers or repair the damage caused during the raid.

“There may be a GoFund campaign ongoing to assist me with those expenses,” he said.
This week, the Austria-born and raised lecturer released a brief film, After The Raid, providing details of his life, career and therefore the encounter.

In the slickly produced video, images purport to point out windows that were broken the search, and a bullet that was left behind.

He describes the raid as “surreal” and says his daughter still has nightmares during which she sees Hafez being shot to death by police.

Austrian authorities have three years to research and convey formal charges against him.

The warrant for the raid included his communication with the top of an area party and his support for a faculty project involving a well known Protestant professor and a Muslim woman.

Hafez said there was nothing controversial about his meeting or his support for the project, telling Al Jazeera he would “do it again”.
Islam under scrutiny in Austria
Hafez is that the founding father of the ecu Islamophobia Report, a yearly study that analyses 32 European countries. He has criticised the conservative Austrian government, and has previously said Islamophobia may be a dominant sort of racism in Western democracies.

His case has raised concerns over Islamophobia, and led to a debate on social media after hundreds shared his story on Twitter.

“The Austrian government is attempting to intimidate, punish, and bankrupt one among the foremost prominent and visual Austrian Muslims within the country – and one among the government’s most outspoken critics – despite having nothing to charge him on,” Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at Brookings, tweeted.

Recently, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has taken a tough line on what he calls “political Islam”, proposed to criminalise it – a move which might see a registry of imams created and mosques closed.

In 2017, Kurz played a key role as then-foreign and integration minister in seeing through Austria’s ban on the Muslim veil, or niqab.

After becoming chancellor later that year, his government introduced a headband ban in primary schools in 2019.

Austria’s Constitutional Court overturned the headscarf law, saying it discriminated against Muslims and would hinder “Muslim girls’ access to education”.

In the aftermath of the Vienna attack, Kurz said “Islamic extremism” not only “caused death and destruction”, but it also “wants to divide our society, and that we won’t allow this to happen”.

John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera that he saw Austria as a tolerant society towards all religions, but that perception has declined in recent years with the increase of the present government.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing is analogous to the [Emmanuel] Macron government in France. Their approach to Islam and Muslims is one which seems to work from a priority about extremism that finishes up brushing ordinary and prominent members of the Muslim community [in Austria],” Esposito noted.

Macron came under intense criticism last year for saying Islam was “in crisis” across the planet , as he advocated for a controversial law curbing “Islamist separatism”.

Hafez may be a senior researcher at Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative – a search project on Islamophobia of which Esposito is that the founding director.

“Farid may be a prominent international scholar. I even have seen him in action,” Esposito said, adding that Georgetown had hired him supported his “significant corpus” of labor .

“If something [the raid] like this will happen to him, a successful and mainstream citizen, it raises questions … what’s happening here?

“We will see this issue not only raised by the various academics professionally, but it could mushroom where more people will publicly speak out and inform their respective governments.”

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