Austrian authorities have banned a far-right online game where players eliminate animated mosques and Muslims, the political party behind the game said on Friday. The “Bye Bye Mosque” game, which has had over 200,000 visitors since it was launched on Monday, has drawn sharp criticism from Austria's Social Democrats and Green Party, as well as the Islamic and Roman Catholic communities. Set up by the provincial branch of the far-right Freedom Party ahead of an election in Styria later this month, the game encouraged players to collect points by putting a target over mosques and minarets emerging from the countryside and clicking a “Stop” sign. They also had the chance to eliminate a bearded muezzin calling Muslims to prayer. “Due to the political pressure from our opponents this game has been banned by Austrian justice authorities,” a statement on the party's website said.
The local prosecutors' office, which was not immediately available for comment, said earlier this week it was investigating the Freedom Party for incitement over the game. The party has said it wanted to start a debate about mosque-building. The Austrian dispute is symptomatic of a wider trend in the United States and in Europe where Islam is becoming a more prominent political issue. Geert Wilder's anti-Islam party doubled its seats in the Dutch parliament in June elections and Swiss voters backed a ban on building minarets in a referendum last November.
The debate in Austria reignited last month after the head of its Islamic community said it would be normal to see a mosque with a visible minaret in each of the country's nine provinces. There are four such buildings in Austria and none of them is in Styria, where 1.6 percent of the population is Muslim according to the Austria Press Agency. There are around half a million Muslims in Austria, a predominantly Catholic country of 8 million people ruled by a centrist coalition. At a national level, the Freedom Party has been calling for a special vote on banning mosques with minarets and Islamic face veils before another provincial election in Vienna.