Factsheet: Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration
IMPACT: The Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration was initiated by Austrian Minister of Women and Integration Susanne Raab (ÖVP) to make Vienna “a center in the fight against political Islam.” Eleven European countries are part of the conference. Once a year, the forum brings together ministers and bureaucrats from several European countries alongside hundreds of terrorism and deradicalization experts, some of whom are known to advocate for policies that criminalize Muslim civil society.
On October 28, 2021, Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) invited several countries to participate in the inception of the “Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration,” an annual conference established to intensify cooperation in the fight against “political Islam.” Raab insisted that the forum was needed because “Islamism does not stop at the borders,” and thus “cooperation within Europe must therefore be strengthened.” For Raab, the forum would serve as a central source for countries to share best practices in fighting“radicalization and Islamism.” The Austrian Minister also stated influence from other countries, specifically pointing to Turkey, “on our respective communities” is “poison for integration.”
In an October 2021 interview, she claimed that “representatives of political Islam are infiltrating society and trying to undermine European values.” In a press release, Raab further argued that, “Islamism and terror do not start when they become violent, but much earlier. It is about removing the breeding ground for segregation and radicalism.”
An October 2021 piece in Die Presse reported that Raab invited the Integration Ministers of Denmark (Mattias Tesfaye) and Flanders (Bart Somers), as well as the Deputy Minister for Citizenship in the French Interior Ministry (Marlene Schiappa), to the forum. Additionally, a 100 individuals, whom the government described as “experts,” were invited including Gilles Kepel, Magnus Ranstorp, Lorenzo Vidino, Lene Kühle, and Mouhanad Khorchide. Raab stated her goal was to “make Vienna a center in the fight against political Islam.” Regarding the October 2021 announcement of the forum, the press release stated that participation for journalists was only possible with prior accreditation.
During the October 2021 forum, the French Minister for Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, tweeted that Gilles Kepel stated that “the common threat, atmospheric Jihadism,” is what unites both Austria and France. The French embassy in Vienna wrote about the bilateral talks between Raab and Schiappa, noting that the French minister “stressed the essential role of cooperation within the European Union in the fight against any kind of separatism and thanked Austria for mobilizing alongside France on this issue, which will have a central position in the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2022.”
According to journalist Christoph Matzl from the Kronen Zeitung, a 5-point plan was designed at the 2021 conference, which included strengthening cooperation in the combat against Islamism, sharing best practices, and increasing international cooperation in research.
At the conference, Vidino spoke on the alleged Islamization of Europe via the Muslim Brotherhood. He said “what matters is not the membership of a determined group, but the strength of its influence. And all the men from the Muslim Brotherhood act like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They have two faces. And have only one thing in mind: to build a parallel society in Europe.” He claimed that there were 200 Islamist leaders in Austria and 1000 in Germany and France operating underground with the goal being to destabilize European societies.
The second meeting of the forum occurred on December 5, 2022, and included a number of participants, such as Sofia Voultepsi, Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum in Greece, Bart Somer, Vice Minister-President of the Flemish government, Jean Mafart, Director of European and International Affairs at the French Ministry of the Interior and Ilkka Salmi, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator. In the second iteration of the forum, a total of eleven countries participated including Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Norway and Greece. Around 150 people participated, an increase of 50 from the previous year.
According to a report by the far-right think tank, Security for Freedom Foundation, the 2022 conference focused on supposed foreign influence on Muslims in Europe. The think tank reported that “while several countries can be named among foreign adverse influences on Muslim minorities, one has dominated the debate. Of the fourteen speakers, ten of them mentioned Turkey.”
The US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom mentioned the forum in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2021. In a December 2021 report by the Brussels International Center, commentator Shada Islam critically wrote that the forum makes it so that “even Muslims who present themselves as democrats are in fact using the law to subvert European nation states.
The European Network Against Racism, an anti-racist NGO, observed that France was “forging new ties with far-right-led member states” in the form and its participation at the annual conference would mean that it seeks “to carry its position against Muslims at the EU level.” The NGO also argued that the forum was “built on essentialization of active Muslim communities and aimed at increasing the surveillance and repression of Muslims in Europe.” According to Professor of International Studies, Farid Hafez, “countries supporting more hawkish policies regarding the surveillance of Muslims, such as Austria and France” are working together in the Vienna Forum. Additionally, Hafez states that Austria is trying to export its policies targeting Muslims via initiatives such as the Vienna Forum.