Turkey's Islamic Ambitions Grip Austria

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VIENNA, Austria -- Turkey is today considered a rising power in the Middle East and Europe.

But just a few centuries ago, the Turks ruled large chunks of both regions under the banner of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish-led forces drove deep into Europe, even reaching the gates of Vienna twice before being defeated.

Now they're back.

Thanks to heavy immigration over the past four decades, at least a half a million Turks now live in Austria, with many settling in Vienna.

Here to Dominate

When you think of the cradles of Judeo-Christian, Western civilization, Vienna is certainly at the top of the list. But some residents say this city is changing--and becoming increasingly influenced by Islam.

"They are here to dominate," said Vienna-based counter-jihad acticist Harald Fiegel. "And of course, knowing a little bit about Islam, you can read it there. They are are here to dominate all the world, not just Europe."

Fiegel monitors Islamic growth in Austria. He says Turkish Muslim immigrants are not assimilating.

"What they are trying to do is segregation," he told CBN News. "To maintain Turkish national and religious identity."

There may be a larger hand behind that strategy.

Global Vision? 

The Turkish government is home to a religous affairs office called "Diyanet" that approves imams and mosque-building inside Turkey.

Turkish officials say Diyanet has a "global vision." It's influence on Turkish immigrant communities across Europe is growing.

In Austria, Diyanet has established a Austrian/Turkish cultural organization called ATIB that reports directly to the Turkish government.

"They are the organizations building the mosques inside Austria," said Christian Zeitz of the Association of Vienna Academics think tank. "A lot of mosques are organized by ATIB."

Violating Austrian Law? 

Austrian national law mandates that outside organizations and entities cannot implement Islam in Austria. Yet as CBN News discovered, ATIB financed a multi-million dollar mosque in the tiny Austrian town of Bad Voslau.

It is also behind plans to expand a large mosque in Vienna.

"Therefore, the activities of ATIB are in general not compatible with the Islam law of Austria," said Zeitz.

But some in official circles tell CBN News that ATIB is playing a positive role.

"The municipal authorities work very well together with ATIB," said Andreas Kohl, former president of the Austrian parliament. "It's all legal."

Kohl told CBN News that "the Austrian state appreciates ATIB. And appreciates this good relationship between Austria and Turkey."

Strong Islamic Stance 

Kohl, however, does not deny ATIB's larger goal.

"They are catering for the link between the Turkish community and the mother country," he said. "Their objective is to get religious teaching organized. Which is a funny thing in a secular state."

But what isn't funny is the strong Islamist stance -- and turn away from secularism -- taken by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan has harshly criticized Israel while drawing closer to Iran and Syria, and has made his views clear on Turkish communities overseas.

He has called the assimilation of Turks in Western countries "a crime against humanity." And he has said recently that Turkish-only schools should be opened for immigrants in Germany.

Kohl told CBN News he has met with Erdogan and supports his initiatives.

"I think we have nothing to fear from this mild pro-Islam, pro-religious attitude of Erdogan," he said.

Vienna Muslim Concerns 

But some Muslim leaders in Vienna are concerned about the growing influence of the Turkish government in their communities.

"The question is fair--and I'd like to ask it," said Carla Bahgajati of the Islamic Community of Austria. "Is it possible, on the one hand, to make people feel very much linked to Turkey as a country, and on the other hand, help in integration?"

So far, Austrian officials have yet to comment on the Turkish government's expanded influence.

"They close their eyes because they want to be elected again and the growing Islamic population is for them a target group for the next election," said Zeitz.

Given Turkey's history with Vienna, which included a brutal siege of the city as recently as the 18th century, some find the the current turn of events tough to accept.

"It's hard to believe," said Feigel. "But it's a good explanation for everything: we're just giving in."

*Original broadcast April 6, 2010. 

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Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.