Grey wolves show the danger Turkish groups pose in Europe

The Austrian government announced on July 15 the establishment of a specialised centre to research and document the activities of "political Islam".

The announcement followed attacks by groups affiliated to the Grey Wolves - a Turkish ultranationalist movement, officially known as Idealist Hearths, linked to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - on a demonstration in June organised by leftist Austrians, Kurds, and Turks.

Austrian Integration Minister Susanna Raab, a member of the conservative ruling Austrian People’s Party, said in an interview with ZDF channel on July 27 that the Austrian government knows there are groups in Austria that are funded from abroad, specifically from Turkey, Qatar and other countries, and said her government is willing to tackle these organisations.

According to Raab, a team of five to seven experts will be led independently by the director of the new centre. "The Vienna-based fund is also accompanied by a scientific advisory board that will contribute national and international expertise. The centre is founded as a federal institution modelled on the Austrian Integration Fund, with start-up funding coming from the budget of the Ministry of Integration at 500,000 euros ($594,000),” Raab added.

The Austrian government and many researchers consider that what it calls political Islam poses an increasing threat to European countries and hopes that the new centre will present a positive image that can be applied later across Europe to combat extremist groups.

The idea of establishing the centre was inspired by the Foundation of the Documentation Centre for Austrian Resistance, which specialises in documenting Austrians' resistance against the Nazis and the prosecution of people at the hands of fascism at that time.

Nina Schultz, a political researcher on political Islam affairs, said in a press interview with the German (ZDF) channel that she is happy with the Austrian government’s decision to establish the research centre, adding that the increased danger these organisations pose needs such a centre.

Schultz said political Islam in Europe, and Austria in particular, seeks to restructure society and the state according to its religious vision.

On the other side, the President of the General Coordinating Council of Islamic Institutions and Associations in Austria (IGGiÖ), Ümit Vural, said that cooperation with this research centre is "unreasonable".

IGGiÖ presents itself as an independent institution and had some 45,000 registered members in Austria, which comprised 8 percent of the total number of the Muslims in Austria, according to media reports in 2010. An estimation of its current membership now is not available.

Ronald Belek, a professor of philosophy and history, said on Austrian website Humanistic Press Service that Vural is considered to be a representative of the Islamic Union, accused of having a relationship with the Millî Görüş movement, and thus he has a direct association with Turkey’s ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Grey Wolves.

The Centre for Documentation of Political Islam includes Lorenzo G. Vidino, director of the programme on extremism at George Washington University, and Muhannad Khorshid, head of Islamic theology at the University of Munster and a professor of Islamic religious education.

Khorshid, in a interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, said he saw the new centre as an "opportunity for Muslims" and that its establishment is important because political and scientific discourse in Europe has focused in recent years on jihad and Salafism and largely ignores political Islam, which he considered a far greater danger.

“In political Islam, religion serves as a mean to manipulate believers. Political Islam is against all of us and is much more dangerous than any other form such as jihadism and Salafism because it is much subtler. It presents itself under the cloak of democracy and human rights with the aim of controlling and penetrating decision-making circles under the name of religion,” Khorshid told Der Standard.

The decision to establish the centre comes as a consequence of the recent attacks on the two aforementioned demonstrations in Vienna in June which were protesting against Turkish military operations taking place in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as against a series of killings of women in Turkey.

These protests were attacked by Turkish nationalist groups, most of whom are affiliated or sympathetic to the Grey Wolves movement. The police fined some Turks for using hand gestures banned for their association with the Grey Wolves, an organisation that has been being described as the MHP's paramilitary or militant wing.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Vienna following the violence.

In a familiar response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly criticised Austria's handling of the left-wing protests, which it said were groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The ministry said it would summon the Austrian ambassador to Ankara and inform him about Turkey's concerns. The foreign ministry also accused the Austrian security forces of dealing "harshly" with Turkish nationalist protesters.

Turkey has a cluster network of organisations and agents scattered in many Western European countries and it works regularly to monitor opponents and gather their information to send them later to Ankara.

German intelligence reports confirmed that Turkey has about 8,000 agents to spy on dissidents in Germany alone by cooperating with the mosques of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), one of Germany’s largest Islamic organisations.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.