Conflict in the Cradle of the West
(Alternative Right) -- by Demetris Demopoulos --
The University of Athens, in the heart of the city, is a building of great emotional significance to Greeks. It was built in 1837 during the reign of King Otto (1815-1867), to celebrate Greece’s liberation from almost four centuries (1453-1821) of Turkish occupation and oppression.
Designed by the Danish architect Christian Hansen, it has an imposing Ionic portico of great beauty and simplicity. The Austrian painter Carl Rahl (1812-1865) executed a large patriotic composition inside the portico representing the regeneration of arts and sciences under Otto. In front of the gateway are statues of two national heroes—the Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V, hanged by the Turks on Easter Day in 1821, and the poet-martyr Rigas Ferraios, strangled in Belgrade in 1798 on the orders of the Ottomans. At the top of the external staircase is a statue of the Greek-French scholar Adamantios Korais (1746-1833, whose linguistic work bolstered Greek self-awareness), in the garden a statue of the British statesman William Gladstone and nearby a pillar in memory of the young students who died during the liberation struggles.
But on 16 November, this iconic setting was marred by a strikingly incongruous sight, as over 1,000 Muslims held public prayers inside the portico on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid.
The prayer was organized by the Muslim Union of Greece, and had to be held under the protection of no fewer than 7,000 police officers. In other parts of the city, such as Attica Square, there were counter-demonstrations by outraged local residents, who threw eggs and yoghurt and shouted anti-Islamic slogans, while far-right groups waved Greek flags and played heavy metal and underground Greek songs at high volume in an attempt to drown out the imams.
It was the second time in recent months that the Muslim Union of Greece had organized a public prayer in central Athens to highlight their campaign to build a mosque. Athens may be the only capital in Europe without an official mosque, although there are many unofficial mosques in private apartments. The PASOK (Socialist) government has now promised to build a mosque in a former naval base in the western suburbs, at an estimated cost of 10-16 million Euros—at a time when the financial austerity programme has reduced the average family income by 20-30%.
The strong public antipathy towards Islam is based largely on bitter folk-memories of Ottoman rule. The Ottomans prohibited the teaching of Greek and Greek history and forcibly converted churches to mosques—which meant that the Orthodox Church was the only institution capable of being a focus for Greek national identity, through the use of Greek in the liturgy and its small-scale schooling efforts. Many clergymen were executed in Turkish reprisals whenever Greeks disobeyed orders or revolted. But the most serious disability was the janissary levy—whereby Christian families in the Balkans were required to deliver to the Ottoman authorities a proportion of their most intelligent and handsome male children to serve as elite troops, after forcible conversion to Islam. On top of these painful memories, hostility to Islamic immigration is driven by the knowledge that many Muslims now in Greece are illegal immigrants...MORE...LINK
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