Saturday, April 30, 2011


Xριστός Ανέστη! Or at least it is thus for most of us, save the directors of the Grecian radio station "Athens 9.84." According to reports by parliamentarian Ioannis Mihelakis, these ultra-sensitive, new age directors, imbued to overflowing with sentiments of tolerance and mutual respect, issued a directive to their employees not to broadcast any of the church services of Holy Week, or even, the Resurrection Service, over their airwaves. This is a most revolutionary act, breaking a tradition of decades.
What is even more revolutionary, iconoclastic and thoroughly ground-breaking, is the reason cited for such a brave statement. According to the perspicacious directors of "Athens 9.84," to broadcast such material would invariably inflame the sentiments of the million or so Muslim inhabitants of Greece and of course there is not enough balm even in Gilead that could be applied to soothe such inflammations.
In this post-modern, deconstructed world, dispossessed of absolute truths, the New Age directors of "Athens 9.84" are to be applauded for divesting themselves of their narrow Hellenocentricity and nationalism, in order to take into account the attitudes and opinions of minorities. Indeed, their act is of historical importance. For as one is to understand from a cursory retrospective glance at Greek history, the last time the manifestation of Orthodox church services was curtailed in such away so as not to offend Muslim sentiment, was during the Ottoman occupation. At that time, the building of new churches was banned and the ringing of church bells was forbidden. Further, Christian testimony did not bear the same weight as Muslim testimony in law courts, Christians had to wear distinctive clothing so as to be distinguished from Muslims, they were forbidden from riding horses, or from possessing homes with windows that looked out onto the street. Funnily enough, though these measures were designed to assuage Muslim feelings against Christians, they seemed to have the opposite effect, if the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is anything to go by.
Perhaps the directors of "Athens 9.84" can obtain lessons in how not to inflame Islamic sentiment, by seeking advice from the Coptic Christians of Egypt, where some of the Ottoman laws still apply. There, Christians are not permitted to build new churches or renovate new ones without going through an impossible bureaucratic process, must take their shoes off before entering church and cannot, in most places, openly practise their faith, for fear of offending Muslims. That offence, caused by their mere existence, is displayed through their rape, kidnapping and murder, along with the bombing of their churches.
It is trite to point out that Modern Greece owes its existence as a response to religious intolerance from the Muslim world, or that Modern Greece still is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country, the rituals and services of which culminate at Easter and are almost universally enjoyed and considered of great significance the Greek people, forming a significant part of their national identity. To seek to curtail or abrogate the rights of people to participate in these appears ridiculous. Nonetheless, Greece is also a part of the European Union, and it is under its aegis that Christmas decorations and celebrations have been discontinued in neighbourhoods inhabited by Muslims in some towns in the Netherlands. As a result, regular listeners of "Athens 9.84" and conspiracy theorists may fear that more than just stupidity and the desire to cause some controversy in the hope that this will translate into publicity, is at play here.
In this light, the directors of "Athens 9.84" motives appear disingenuous and could indeed inspire ethnic and religious strife. Which sectors of the Muslim community have been offended by the liturgy and voiced their concerns to the directors? It is doubtful whether there have been any. If there have not been any such protests made, the directors must apologize to the Muslim community for making them appear intolerant, ungrateful and disrespectful towards the vast majority of the members of the community in which they have been permitted to join. Further, the directors need to produce and name those possibly illusory persons who have voiced the protests that have caused them to take such drastic action. There are people alive today who still remember the Ottoman Occupation and the intolerance that it fostered. To raise the spectre of such intolerance again, is to reawaken dormant fears and inherited traumas within sectors of Greek society. In a country beset with financial and social problems, the last thing that is needed is the isolation and vilification of a sector of the community which is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a threat.
If, on the other hand, protests and representations have truly been made, then the directors of "Athens 9.84" are to be equally condemned for their precipitous and short-sighted action. While everyone deserves to live with dignity and to enjoy freedom of religious and cultural expression, if the free exercise of such religious expression, such as broadcasting a religious service that means so much to the vast majority of the population offends others, then they have no place within society and their bigotry and intolerance should be condemned, not pandered to. They should be reminded that in the country in which they have been permitted to reside, at their request, and sometimes, in violation of Greek laws, they have been enjoying privileges and freedoms that are not afforded to Christians, in their homelands and that it is impolite and disrespectful for a guest in one's home to dictate to one's host, how the household will be run. As a corollary, latent prejudices that may be endemic to their communities should not be exaggerated or created into a scapegoat to cynically fuel the fears of other parties.
It is worthwhile to remember that Greece is a democracy and as such, it allows for such freedoms as that of religion and expression. In this respect, surely people of all walks of life who are offended, annoyed, bored or just don't want to listen to the Pascal liturgy on the radio can merely switch to another station. Social cohesion is arrived at through the convergence of points of mutual understand and respect, not fear of reaction and pandering to prejudice. The anencephalic directors of "Athens 9.84" should think more responsibly, the next time they decide to indulge in religious or ethnic politics. What this sordid little state of affairs should teach us, is that tolerance, along with our most hallowed traditions, is not something to be taken for granted. It is up to all of us, to ensure their survival.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 April 2011