Austria’s Integration Ministry Takes Down “Islam Map” Amid Public Outcry

Divisive from the start, the so-called Islam Landkarte (Islam map) website is currently offline after barely a week, following a wave of public indignation. Presented by Austria’s Minister for Women and Integration, Susanne Raab, on May 27, this interactive map marked out 623 Muslim organizations and mosques in Austria, displaying addresses, contacts and an estimation of their ideological position. Created by the national documentation service for political Islam, which was established in 2020 and is funded by the Ministry of Integration, it was an immediate target of fervent criticism – and not only from Austria’s Muslim community.

It didn’t take long for things to come to a head: Seven days after launching, the map was taken down June 2, after the right-wing extremist group posted signs reading near organizations listed on the map in Vienna and other Austrian cities. The signs read: “Danger! Political Islam is close by! More information under” near the locations that were also pictured on the Identitären movement’s public channels. The initiators of the map denounced the campaign, protesting that their project had been exploited. Others suggested there wasn’t much difference between a digital map and targeting Muslim organizations in the analog world. 

The only information currently available on the page is a statement from Ednan Aslan, a professor for Muslim religious education at the University of Vienna who created the map on behalf of the documentation service: Posted on Jun 3, it states his regret that it came to a political exploitation of the project. 

Map of Discord

The Ministry of Integration emphasized at the map’s launch that it doesn’t signify a general suspicion of the Muslims community. Instead, it is intended to show “strengths and weaknesses,” underlining the integration achievements of certain organizations, Aslan said. The map does not target Islam or Muslims but rather those that seek to undermine Austrian values, Minister Raab stressed. 

After the initial announcement, Raab received threats on social media which prompted a police investigation and put Austria’s counter-terrorism unit (BVT) on alert. She later defended the “Islam map” at a joint press conference with the interior minister Karl Nehammer, who expressed his anger about the normalization of these kind of threats. “There is a need of a better societal discourse in order to have reasonable interactions even when handling controversial topics,” he remarked. Adnan and a colleague who also worked on the map, Mouhanad Khorchide, were also threatened shortly after the announcement. The former is currently under police protection

Nehammer and Raab maintain that the map, which contains all known Islamic institutions and not only extremist groups, should be seen as a resource for Austria’s Muslim community. The integration minister found the outcry incomprehensible and downplayed claims that the map is a security risk, citing that all addresses included were already available to the public. 

A Crisis of Faith

In addition to the majority of the Muslim community, several religious leaders have spoken out against the map. On Monday, the superintendent of the Continental Reformed church in Austria, Thomas Hennefeld, and the Lutheran bishop Michael Chalupka advised Raab to quickly take down the map.

In a column for the daily paper Heute, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn questioned the decision to “single out” one faith and suggested an “Atlas of Religion” as an alternative. 

The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, has also voiced his disapproval, saying that the map promotes division within society. 

The ÖVP’s junior partner, the Greens, also distanced themselves from the project, stating that they weren’t informed of the map before it went live. They later suggested on ATV that taking down the site would be the proper course of action. According to the party, this “heavily mishandled Project” has led to the stigmatization of Muslim institutions.  

The map is currently still offline due to a change in the hosting company, but this is seemingly just temporary. “We will neither allow right-wing extremists nor Islamic threats to derail our research,” Aslan told ORF defiantly.