Austria’s Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, addressing a crowd of thousands on Saturday, called for a ban on “Muslim symbols” and “fascistic Islam,” and likened the religion of 1.6 billion people to the Nazi party.
“Let us put an end to this policy of Islamization… otherwise we Austrians, we Europeans will come to an abrupt end,” Strache said, in a potshot at the ruling coalition that defeated his party’s candidate in national elections in December.
Nazi symbols and political affiliation was banned in Austria after World War II. Given that the Freedom Party was founded by Nazis, it might come as a surprise that its leader is citing such a precedent in his call for a ban on “Islamization.” Strache also described Islam as “misogynistic,” “anti-liberal,” and emitting “a fascistic worldview.”
“We need zero and minus immigration,” Strache said at the rally.
Despite their electoral losses, the Freedom Party’s anti-Muslim message has been well received in Austria. The party’s candidate Norbert Hofer received 47 percent of the vote in the most recent presidential election; anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment was intrinsic to the party’s platform.
Strache’s call for a ban on “Islamicization” parallels Trump’s repeated call for a full ban on Muslim entry to the United States. Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, met with Strache at Trump Tower in December. (Trump’s team denied this but Strache posted about it on his Facebook page.)
Strache has attended conferences with ultra-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and Konstantin Malofeev, a hyper-nationalist Russian billionaire who has established links with various right wing figures around Europe.
Strache’s stance on Islam is puts him at the extreme edge of the recent far right surge in Europe. While Le Pen is avowedly anti-Muslim (she was tried for comparing public Muslim prayer to Nazi occupation), even she has refused to go as far as Strache or Trump and call for a ban Muslims from France.
“Have you ever heard me say something like that?” Le Pen said on French television last year when asked about Trump’s call for a Muslim immigration ban. Nigel Farage, a Trump associate and former head of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, also criticized Trump’s Muslim ban as a “political mistake too far.”