Monday, May 27, 2013

Athens new Mosque amid protests!

A new day of protests in Athens today, but this time they do not come as part of a massive anti-austerity movement. The Greeks are protesting against the Government's decision to go ahead with the construction of a new Mosque, in a poor central Athenian neighborhood.

The protests are organized by the conservative group, the National Front. They represent an ultra conservative side of the Greek mentality, that found fertile ground to spread with the economic crisis. Personally I think these protests are ridiculous and shameful for the Greek people.

Athens is the only European capital that does not have a mosque yet. Not that it is "progressive" to build one, rather an obligation for every country that has immigrant citizens of any religious background, to provide for their religious practices.

The fact that the majority of the Greek citizens are Greek Orthodox, does not mean that other religious groups should not be openly accepted and flourish in a secular society.

This conservative Greek reaction reveals a complex of our nation. Some Greek nationals have never recovered from the Ottoman oppressor inferiority complex and see anything Islamic as a threat. It also has to do with an outdated agreement between the newly formed Greek and Turkish states and their arrangements to manage religious minorities.

The two countries signed an agreement that made compulsory for Greece to built mosques, but only in the Thrace region where around 100 thousand Muslims live.The agreement made clear that no mosque would ever be built in Athens or any other major Greek city. The same agreement provided with some protection to the Greek Orthodox minority in Istanbul and the existence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Decades have passed since that agreement and both countries have changed a lot. Well apparently. Greece is an EU member state and Turkey an aspiring one. Both countries are secular, multiracial and multicultural. How can anyone justify such narrow minded mentality at this day and age?

As long as there are legal Muslim immigrants in Greece, that reside, work and contribute their taxes legally in the country, then the state is obliged to provide them with a mosque.

I understand that there is a general fear and mistrust among the Greeks for an "Islamic invasion," as it is currently exist in all European countries. It is also true that Greece has an extra reason to fear, as it has a large and powerful Islamic country as neighbor, contrary its most European  counterparts.

As long as the relations between the two states remain unstable, the Greeks can never really be comfortable with the expansion of Islam in their country. They have also have very bad memories in their recent history, from atrocities that the Turks committed on them during the Asia Minor disaster and the Greco-Turkish wars.

But these immigrants are not Turkish and they have clearly tried to distance themselves from Turkey. In a recent bid to interfere with the situation, the Turkish PM Mr. Erdogan offered to pay for the construction of the Mosque in Athens. The Pakistani community themselves rejected the move, as they clearly wanted to distance themselves from Turkey and disassociate the construction of the mosque as a Turkish initiative.

It is also true that not all Muslim immigrants in Athens are illegal and criminals or radicals. There have been many Muslim immigrants in Greece for many decades now, mainly from Arabic countries. My family is friends with a man from Sudan, married to a Greek woman. He has been working as a doctor in an Athens hospital for decades, but he is forced to practice his religion in private.

The Greeks also fear the radicalization of its Muslim migrants in the new mosque, like it has happened in other European countries like Britain. But there are already around 100 makeshift mosques throughout Athens, hiding from the public. Aren't these secret mosques a better ground for radicalization, rather an open Islamic institution financed by the state?

When the Greeks see the failures of other countries in integrating their Muslim immigrants, can they be willing to follow their path? In Britain we see how many terror attacks were actually committed by British-born Muslims. That is not a reason to fear a new mosque, but a reason to form better immigration policies, to attract and integrate the number and the kind of immigrants we need. Something that not just Greece, but Europe as a whole failed in doing so.

In Switzerland they banned the minarets for example, just so they do not remind them that they have Muslims in their country. While they do not mind them when they serve them their food in the restaurants they work, or clean after them in hospitals. Europe is still a conservative continent and we witness that even in countries like France, in their recent deep divisions on gay marriage.

The mosque will be built in Votanikos, a poor Greek working class area of Athens. It has no touristic importance and it won't alter the "Greek" heart and spirit of the city. Isn't it always that workers live in these poorer regions? Now that some of our workers are Muslims, shouldn't we show them that we accept them and prevent their radicalization because of our rejection and marginalization? We should learn from other countries' mistakes, not repeat them.

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