Charlotte Bronte cautioned that "prejudices … are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks." But sometimes educators are the ones planting those prejudices.
The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IRCA) — the sole legally recognized body that represents Muslim interests before the government and in which all Muslims automatically receive membership — has been providing Islamic education in public schools since 1982. Mouhanad Khorchide, a professor of sociology, recently published the first major study of this program, which has processed more than thirty thousand pupils. The disturbing results offer yet another warning to states about the groups they empower to speak on behalf of Muslims:
Khorchide, himself a Muslim, said 22.6 percent of the 210 Muslim teachers he had surveyed had "fanatical attitudes" and 21.9 percent rejected democracy as incompatible with Islam.
The older the teacher, Khorchide said, the more likely he was to reject the principle of the rule of law.
According to Vienna weekly Falter, the study shows 8.5 percent of the Muslim teachers said it was understandable for violence to be used to spread Islam, 28.4 percent said there was a contradiction in being both a Muslim and a European, and 44 percent said they had to make their students understand they were better than non-Muslims.
In addition, more than a third of the instructors lack pedagogical training and "most teachers of Islam before 1998 had been recruited in Arab countries or among Muslims living in Austria and many of them had been members of radical groups." As for the predictable consequences of welcoming Islamists into the classroom, an example reminiscent of the Anschluss era emerged just one week later:
Social Democrat (SPÖ) Education Minister Claudia Schmied has banned a Muslim man from teaching his religion at a Vienna secondary school after he distributed anti-Semitic leaflets to pupils.
The leaflets contained a list of allegedly "Jewish" firms from which, the man told the students, they should not buy anything.
His removal — called an "overreaction" by the Muslim Teachers Association — is good news; so too is the announced agreement between the IRCA and the government to revamp Islamic education. But how many weeds already have taken root in young Muslim hearts?