On the 8th June, an Egyptian cultural centre and mosque on the outskirts of Athens was attacked by a gang of neo-nazi thugs, who chanted threats at the occupants, and defaced the front wall, while Greek police observed silently. I visited the centre tonight and heard from some of the occupants about the frustration they feel in trying to cope with the ongoing fear of the fascist threat and the indifference of the police to their situation.
At 11am on Saturday, 8th June, members of the Egyptian cultural centre in the Kaminya area of Athens, hearing a disturbance outside, looked out of the window to be confronted with approximately 80 fascists, half of them on motorbikes approaching the centre – accompanied by eight Greek policemen.
Dressed in the fascist uniform of black t-shirts with Chrysti Avgi emblazened on the back, they stood opposite, threatening to burn it, and telling the occupants to get out of Greece. The police who accompanied them made no effort to disperse them, or intervene in any way. Not even when they daubed the walls with “Φωτια στα τζαμια. Εξω οι ξενοι (Fire in the Mosques. Get out strangers)” on the front of the building and threw down Chrysti Avgi leaflets on the road outside. After approximately 15 minutes of terrorising the occupants, the fascists moved on, with the Greek police bringing up the rear.
When the centre contacted the police once the immediate threat of violence was over, the indifference was obvious as they questioned whether they had taken note of any of the motorbike registration plates, or had any photographs to prove this had happened, despite the very obvious and visible graffiti on the wall, suggesting that perhaps they could contact neighbours in the area to see if they could confirm the story. The fact that police had accompanied the gang, and were indeed in a far better position to both confirm the happenings and to have taken the relevant details of the attackers seemed inconsequential.
I spoke tonight with one of the custodians of the centre. A middle aged man, his frustration at the situation in the country which he now regarded home was obvious. He showed me round the centre – pointing out that it wasn’t just a religious place, but a cultural centre for the Egyptian community of the area; that they encouraged people who came to the centre to learn about both the culture of Egypt and the culture of Greece, the ties between them and how to integrate and practice their faith without imposing on others. He was at pains to point out that Greeks and Christians co-exist happily in Egypt, and that there was a long history of co-operation between the two countries, but felt that these attacks were souring relations.
He explained that many of the people who used the centre had been in Greece for a number of years. They wanted to build Greece, not destroy it, and that building links with people who had an affiliation with other countries could build trade and restore Greece. They felt isolated and unsupported by the actions of the police, who neither intervened at the time, nor who made any serious attempt to investigate the incident. He explained that people in the centre who observed the attack were too shocked at what was happening to take note of the bike registration plates, and they did not want to approach neighbours and risk putting them in a difficult position. When asked if he was worried if they may return to cause further trouble, he told me that everyone was worried here, while they tried not to worry, this was the second time that the centre had been attacked in the last few months and the threats were growing.
He said that people always talked about Muslims being terrorists, but it was Muslim countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan that had been invaded, and in any case if they were really terrorists they would have money and funding. As it was, they couldn’t even afford to keep the air conditioning on all the time, and had to be very careful with electricity so that they didn’t run up too high a bill. People chip in a few euros here and there to keep the centre running, because it is important that they have somewhere where they can meet other people and practice their faith, he told me as he showed me the illuminated “Prayer Watch” which gave instructions of prayer times, and the collections of books and Korans that had been donated to the centre.
“What are we to do”, he said, “when they tell us that our blood will run and that we will be killed like chickens?”, a reference to the letter(reproduced below) that the Golden Dawn sent to Muslim Association of Greece last month. “They say they don’t like strangers, but there are lots of “strangers” in Greece. Just up the street is a Catholic Church, and on the other side a Coptic one, but it is always the Muslims that are targeted We don’t encourage any kind of extremism here, we just want to be able to practice our faith quietly, but everywhere that Muslims go we are scapegoated. We want peace, but they hound us.”
This is certainly not the first time that the Greek Police have watched while fascists have attacked members of ethnic minorities, and with the ongoing debacle over the unconstitutional shutdown of ERT and the withdrawal of the Democratic Left from the Coalition Government, the much debated anti-racism bill appears to have been a casualty of the chaos, with so far only the Golden Dawn submitting a bill, which imposes additional penalties on migrants who commit any crimes against Greeks.
Proper protection for minorities, who find themselves increasingly scapegoated, harassed and attacked is urgently needed. This isn’t just an issue which is limited to Greece as the recent racist attacks on mosques in England, has shown, but in Greece the stakes are high, the protection low, and the consequences of not addressing these issues with the urgency required may be dire. In the meantime, the mosque has now installed a security camera and fitted wire mesh grills on the windows, as a small step towards protecting themselves from any further incidents or escalation.