In 1881 after the liberation of Thessaly, Greece got for the first time a numerically important Muslim minority. The Parliament voted three laws immediately, absolutely guaranteeing the religious freedom of Muslim people, the power of the holy Islamic law (Saria) and the Muslim schools. It did not attempt any violent modernisation/westernization of the Muslim society; this is why the scarf did never become a symbol in Greece with the same importance as in Turkey.
In 1920 Muslims were more than 15% of the population of the “Great Greece”. In fact, they were the big majority in a lot of regions.
Greece, in contrast with the Neo-Turks, did not follow a policy of systematic ethnic cleansing but an impressive policy of support of the moderate Muslims whose the peak was the law 2345/1920 “About the temporary Great Mufti and the Muftis of the Greek Muslims”. Eleftherios Venizelos himself, nominated a Muslim as the first prefect of liberated Adrianople while in a series of documents of the Greek Government, the Muslims are characterized as “peaceful and easy to be administrated people”.
All the Greek governments have given the same answer to the essential question “which is the best way to treat the Muslims” for 132 years: a) full support to the emergence of the moderate Muslims as privileged allies of the Greek State, b) support of their religious freedom and identity and c) maintenance of the Saria. This policy is more promoted even compared to what is done by the Muslim countries like Turkey.
The only exception in this general policy were the periods that Greece was trying to ensure the support of Turkey against Italy and Bulgaria. It was then when the Muslims of Thrace were left in the hands of the “Grey Wolves” (Turkish nationalist movement) with the known results.
Even when Turkey completed the policies of the extermination of the Greeks, Greece did not turn against the Muslims of Thrace. It did not turn the genocide into a confrontation between “Christians – Muslims”.
On the contrary, it invested seriously, in a long term period and effectively in the development of special relations with the Arabic world but also with Iran. The peak of this policy were the decisions of Andreas Papandreou for the support of the Palestinians and especially of the PLO when all the others had turned their backs against them. 184 countries and 1,8 billions of people must not follow the Turks.
The role of our Orthodox Religion has been especially crucial throughout this course. Greece has got an invaluable position and importance, thanks to the most ancient Patriarchates, which doesn’t seem to fully understand and this is a sample of our fundamental weakness to manage successfully the heritage of the glorious Byzantium.
What has Greece won out of this policy?
A) in 1920/1923 the Muslims of Thrace asked by themselves to be incorporated in the Greek state, b) despite the restless efforts of Kemal Ataturk and the Bulgarians, the Muslims of Thrace did not form partisan groups behind the lines of the Greek army in 1920-1922, c) Greece holds the unique example in the whole Europe of a native Muslim minority settled in its borders which has not only caused problems but during the war of 1940-41 against Italy and Germany it did in full its patriotic duty (how many people know that there are war memorials for killed in action Muslims or that Muslims have been awarded medals for their bravery in the battle?), d) Greece has a very good image in the Muslim and in particular in the Arabic world despite the permanent efforts of Turkey to destroy it, e) it did never enter the map of the “enemies of Islam”.
What does Greece jeopardise today
The way in which the Nazis of the Golden Dawn are moving has already created important cracks in the big success of Greece and threatens to lead to devastation the most successful policy of management of the Islam in the whole Europe.
Our essential difference with the Westerners is that the State played a fundamental role for the organisation and the support of Islam not leaving thus any vital space for its radicalisation, in contrast with the western tactics of “laissez faire”. It is completely incomprehensible for which reason, especially since 2000 and afterwards, we have been doing everything we can to imitate the fundamental errors of the Westerners.
At the same time, incredible lies are disseminated in the internet starting from mentioning completely unrealistic numbers of Muslim immigrants in Athens and reaching the invocation of statements of Arabic Islam distinguished figures who even if they died in 1949, are mentioned to have said in the year 2013, that they want to see “the Islamic flag on the Greek islands” again!
The Greek extreme right and especially the two dictators Metaxas (1936-1941) and Papadopoulos (1967-1974), was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Islamic. They both followed the permanent Greek policy of supporting the moderate Muslims and did never allow the development of anti-semitic ideas. During the Papadopoulos governance a special agreement of immigration with Pakistan was signed, having as a result the fact that the Pakistan community in Athens be one of the oldest. The Greek extreme right should not be unwisely and hastily identical to the Nazis of the Golden Dawn.
The policy of the Golden Dawn about the Islam (from its identification with the problem of immigration and the construction of the Mosque to the motorised marches in Muslim villages of Thrace) serves the Turkish strategy to present our country as an anti – islamic state, it jeopardizes the position of the Orthodox Patriarchates in the Arabic world, undermines the peace and the social cohesion in Thrace, weakens the position of Cyprus and opens the way to a provocation against the Muslim people in a Greek territory.
The potential victimiser or perpetrator, in order to be able to take a human life, firstly dehumanises himself and afterwards the “opponent”. This ideological procedure progresses intensively (“the immigrants are deplorable and subhumans who carry every kind of illnesses”, E. Zaroulia member of the parliamentary group of the Golden Dawn 18/10/2012). Many people think that the racist texts dominating especially the internet are just words without danger. They make a fatal mistake. In 1999, in a period of big prosperity and with the racist sermons having a much smaller audience than today, Greece experienced an unprecedented racist crime when a 23-year-old Greek man with a permanent job shot people in cold blood just for one reason: the colour of their skin. One man died, two were left paraplegic and four were heavily wounded. That was the result of this action. One insane man inspired by sermons, as those of the Golden Dawn, is enough in a period of crisis to immerse a country in a cycle of racist or religious violence.
We have already very serious problems; let us not commit suicide humiliating the history and our culture.
Dr. George Kalantzis is General Secretary of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Education.