Mus­lim anger ig­nites vi­o­lent re­sponse from Greeks

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY IASON ATHANASIADIS

Far-right-wing vig­i­lantes burned a makeshift mosque in Athens over the May 23-24 week­end af­ter Mus­lim im­mi­grants in Athens at­tacked po­lice with rocks and bot­tles over an in­ci­dent in which a po­lice­man re­port­edly de­faced a Ko­ran.

Al­though Greece has a his­tory of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence from rad­i­cal left­ists and an­ar­chists, sec­tar­ian blood­let­ting rep­re­sents an en­tirely mod­ern phe­nom­e­non.

The lat­est in­ci­dent be­gan with a po­lice­man who made an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion spot check on an im­mi­grant from Iraq. When word spread that the po­lice­man had ripped and stomped on the sus­pect’s Ko­ran, things got ugly.

Chant­ing “God is great” and wav­ing leather-bound copies of Is­lam’s holy book, about 1,000 Mus­lim im­mi­grants demon­strated with a march on Par­lia­ment on May 22.

When the crowd dwin­dled to about 300, re­main­ing pro­test­ers be­gan throw­ing rocks and bot­tles at po­lice and smash­ing win­dows at a lux­ury ho­tel in cen­tral Syn­tagma Square, ac­cord­ing to an ac­count by the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Far-right-wing vig­i­lantes replied over the week­end by set- ting fire to a Mus­lim prayer hall. Taken to­gether, the in­ci­dents rep­re­sent some of the worst sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence wit­nessed in mod­ern Greece.

A spokesman for the Greek po­lice claimed that the po­lice­man did not rip up a Ko­ran, but a folded and glued sheet of pa­per con­tain­ing uniden­ti­fi­able writ­ing in Ara­bic.

“The iso­lated and un­der-in­quiry in­ci­dent does not ex­cuse ri- ot­ing by in­di­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to dam­ag­ing cit­i­zens’ prop­erty and se­ri­ously dis­turb­ing the city’s so­cial and eco­nomic life,” said Chris­tos Marko­gian­nakis, the deputy in­te­rior min­is­ter. “The state will not per­mit such rad­i­cal be­hav­ior.”

Suc­ces­sive scan­dals have rocked the coun­try’s be­lea­guered po­lice force since a po­lice­man fa­tally shot a teenage school­boy in De­cem­ber, spark­ing two weeks of na­tion­wide ri­ots. Those ri­ots, how­ever, were not sec­tar­ian-based.

Un­rest in Greece’s com­mu­nity of Mus­lim im­mi­grants is some­thing new, an­a­lysts say.

“For so many years, they’ve been scared and de­fen­sive,” said Takis Geros, a lec­turer of an­thro­pol­ogy of the Mid­dle East at Pan­teion Uni­ver­sity. “To sud­denly come out in broad day­light with their faces ex­posed and trash 75 cars in­di­cates a mas­sive change in at­ti­tude.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants from Mus­lim Africa, the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asia cross into Greece il­le­gally ev­ery year from neigh­bor­ing Turkey or by sea.

So­cial ten­sions have risen in re­cent years as the racial and re­li­gious makeup of this for­merly ho­mo­ge­neous Greek Or­tho­dox Chr is­tian countr y shifted to a mul­ti­eth­nic, mul­tire­li­gious so­ci­ety.

“Some­times the hu­mil­i­a­tion is such that we’re made to feel by Greeks as if we’re not hu­man be­ings,” said Ejazul­haq Syed, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Pak­istani com­mu­nity in Athens who has lived in Greece for 35 years. “But the vi­o­lence [against us] had noth­ing to do with re­li­gion but with the bad eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion and hav­ing too many for­eign­ers in Greece.”

To­day, an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion of Greece’s 11 mil­lion peo­ple are for­eign, and sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant chil­dren are ex­posed to ex­clu­sion­ary prac­tices by the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and la­bor mar­ket.

At­tacks on for­eign­ers by vig­i­lante groups were on the rise be­fore the May 23 in­ci­dent, in which sus­pected right­ists set the makeshift mosque on fire in the St. Pan­telei­mon district of Athens, which is heav­ily pop­u­lated by im­mi­grants.

Five Bangladeshi na­tion­als were re­port­edly in­jured.

Though leg­is­la­tion has been passed through the Greek Par­lia­ment to al­low for the build­ing of a mosque for Athens’ es­ti­mated 400,000 Mus­lim res­i­dents, construction has yet to be­gin.

Mus­lims wor­ship in un­of­fi­cial prayer spa­ces in rented apart­ments and stores.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE / GETTY IM­AGES

An imam stands by a burned makeshift mosque and a plac­ard read­ing in Greek “end to the il­le­gal mi­grants who are drown­ing us” af­ter un­known as­sailants broke the win­dows of the base­ment flat that was be­ing used as a mosque and threw gaso­line in­side be­fore lighting it on May 23.

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