Muslim immigration is clearly changing the face of Europe in places like London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Austria is no exception.
Its largest city, Vienna, has seen a large influx of Turkish Muslims in recent years. But this growing influence isn't limited to big cities.
CBN News recently traveled to one small town in Austria where residents are up in arms over the newest local attraction: a multi-million dollar Islamic center.
Big Changes for a Small Town
Bad Voslau is a very traditional Austrian town of about 11,000 people, located just outside Vienna. It is probably the last place you'd expect a state-of-the-art Islamic center to pop up.
But that's exactly what happened recently. The Islamic Cultural Center of Bad Voslau opened in October 2009 in the middle of a heavily Turkish neighborhood.
Now, tiny Bad Voslau has become an unlikely flashpoint for the larger culture clash of Islam in Europe.
"There was a prayer room here in Bad Voslau," Mayor Christoph Prinz said. "It was old and didn't meet their needs, so they planned a new building."
Prinz told CBN News that Turkish community leaders first approached him about building the center in 2006. About 900 Turkish Muslims live in Bad Voslau -- close to 10 percent of the total population.
"We had a process, a mediation for about two years," Prinz explained. "And in this process we tried to bring in all the opinions and different aspects of such a building."
One local politician told CBN News the mediation process was flawed from the beginning and lacked transparency.
"At first, there were efforts to keep the public in the dark about the mosque plans," said Peter Gerstner, a member of the Freedom Party of Austria. "But a Freedom Party local councilman exposed the plans and within two weeks we were able to collect 1,600 signatures opposing the mosque project."
"But the mayor made this a non-issue, implying that everything is in order and the mosque will be built because we need it for integration," he continued.
There were some ground rules laid down during the mediation process:
- The mosque was to have only a very small dome to go with its minarets.
- The mosque was to be hidden from street view.
- There was also supposed to be a wall built around the complex. That never happened -- there is a small fence instead.
"There are also many people who see a minaret and the domes as a sign for Islamic domination," Mayor Prinz said.
Inside the Islamic Center
CBN News was recently given an exclusive tour of the Islamic Center by its director Selfet Yilmaz. The mosque is the centerpiece. There are also classrooms, meeting rooms, and space for after school activities.
"This building is open 24 hours a day and we have lots of visitors," Yilmaz said. "We have approximately 50 visitors per day from all over Austria, even sometimes from outside of Austria, who want to see this project and want to see how this project is open and transparent. It was important for us to find common ground with the local population here."
CBN News learned that requirements were set down before the center could be built due to concerns that the Turkish community is not assimilating into Austrian culture.
"I and other politicians from the Freedom Party are frequently approached and informed about girls who are unable to pass through the Turkish area without being harassed and called 'whores' and worse," Gerstner told CBN. "This also happens in other places, like nightclubs, and the situation is worsening for young Austrian girls."
"Because of the new mosque, Turkish boys feel even stronger and bolder in such a way that Austrian boys are unable to walk through the park without harassment by a group of adolescent Turks who say, 'What are you doing here? All this belongs to us. Go away,'" he added.
'Open House' or Muslim Takeover?
Yilmaz and the mayor say the complex is easing tensions -- that it is "an open house" where non-Muslims are free to enter and observe.
"This mosque and cultural center project has furthered integration," Yilmaz said.
Gerstner strongly disagrees.
"The Turks here stay amongst themselves," he said. "And as a result have no reason, or even less reason or need to integrate or to go somewhere to meet the local and indigenous population."
"This is definitely very bad for integration, which in turn leads to misunderstandings, also because of language problems," Gerstner continued. "Why should they learn German if they do not mingle with the local population, speaking Turkish amongst each other?"
Another issue is how the mosque was funded. The project was originally supposed to cost 1 million Euros, which is around $1.4 million. Local sources told CBN News the project cost much more.
Mayor Prinz said that no taxpayer dollars were used and that all of the money for the project was raised by a local Turkish cultural organization called ATIB Bad Voslau. ATIB answers directly to Turkish government officials.
"The Turkish Deputy Head of Mission is in charge of ATIB Austria," Gerstner explained. "The Head of Mission, in turn, reports directly to the Turkish Prime Minister. This means we have a direct influence of the Turkish government on Austria and our Austrian culture."
In 2008, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan told Turkish immigrants in neighboring Germany that "assimilation is a crime against humanity."
Despite Erdogan's comments, Mayor Prinz believes Bad Voslau can set an example for countries like Switzerland, where citizens recently voted to ban minarets.
But many Bad Voslau residents CBN News spoke to weren't so optimistic. They fear that Erdogan's anti-assimilation stance will win out among local Turkish Muslims and change their small town forever.
*Originally aired on March 23, 2010.