Traversing ideological boundaries: Islamophobia in Greece

Traversing ideological boundaries: Islamophobia in Greece – Dr Matilda Chatzipanagiotou and Iason Zarikos

The first workstream of the CIK Project resulted in the identification of the most dominant narratives of Islamophobia in Greece and their ideological origins. Print and social media, as well as scholarly discourse, were analyzed in an effort to define Islamophobia in the Greek context and to assess which narratives are most dominant, and which manifestations of the phenomenon are particularly alarming. The concept of Islamophobia, as redefined in the Greek society, refers to the fear that the presence of Muslims and Muslim identity poses an eminent threat to society at large. What was also deduced from the sources and public opinion surveys is that Greeks do not regard Muslims as an eminent threat, but maintain a negative stance towards Islam as a belief system.

Since 2015, the term Islamophobia has and continues to attracts attention and surfaces in heated debates between policy makers, political parties and individuals. ISIS, terrorist attacks and their association to the refugee crisis are fueling the discussion with argumentation that arises from and, at the same time, generates fear and hatred. Stereotypes about Muslims are found in narratives revolving around the Muslim minority in Thrace, relations with the neighboring Turkey, the European tradition, and the more recent refugee influxes; furthermore, these narratives are intertwined. In Greece, Islamophobic narratives include perceiving Muslim refugees as potential terrorists, as tools of the Turkish government that seeks to dismantle Greece, as a means for the Islamization of Greece, corruptors of the Greek identity, violent groups that disrespect human rights, oppressive patriarchs and difficult, or even impossible, to assimilate.

The pinpointing of anti-Muslim narratives in the Greek social matrix begged for an association of the actors/narrators and the content with ideological strands: the far-right, conservative and liberal voices.

The most dominant far-right narratives are those communicated through the far-right political party of Golden Dawn. Apart from violence towards migrant, non-Greek populations, Golden Dawn promoted the idea that there is a greater conspiracy aiming at the Islamization of Greece. This narrative existed long before 2015 and the upheavals that are attributed to the refugee crisis and the large migrant influxes and was grounded in Greece-Turkey relationships and was manifested, for instance, in the insistence on identifying the Thrace minority as “Muslim” rather than “Turkish”.

Golden Dawn representatives and followers view terrorism and violence as inherent features of Muslim identity. Rhetorical momenta include the opposition to the creation of a mosque in Athens, the capital of Greece, and to admitting refugee minors into Greek schools; as both are perceived as threats to Greek identity.

Far-right narratives are supported by certain newspapers and electronic magazines. In these sources we find express inciting violent behaviors against refugees as a response to an eminent and identified threat.

Conservative voices are found within the Greek Orthodox Church, the newspaper “Democracy” and, occasionally, the ΑΝ.ΕΛΛ (Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες / Independent Greeks), a conservative political party and part of the joint Greek government. These are the key actors producing conservative narratives of Islamophobia focused on the national threat posed by the presence of Muslims in Greece due to the relations with Turkey and the perception of refugees as means to an end, namely as undercover envoy of the Turkish government with the mission to dismantle the Greek State and its institutions. Terrorism remains cross-cutting theme in all ideological strands. According to conservative voices, terrorist attacks are bound to happen if more Muslims enter the country, since conservative voices purport that Muslims are soldiers of ISIS in disguise.

Liberal voices condemn Islamophobia and any act of violence against Muslims. Not surprisingly, Islamophobia is absent in left and far-left political discourse that advocates in favor of helping and integrating refugees. However, predominantly after the ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe, an alarming surfacing of liberal voices that perceive of Islam as a threat and stress the non-assimilation and non-integration of Muslims in Greece and Europe is observed in the discourse. Islam specifically poses a threat, not just for the Greek society, but, more importantly, for the common European ideals of open societies, human rights and the tradition of the Enlightenment in a wider sense. Liberal Islamophobia is not targeting the refugee waves or Turkey and does make the distinction between Islam and Radical Islam.

Islamophobia is evident in Greece and is not monopolized by a single, far-right, ideological family. Often, Islamophobia appears to be equivalent to xenophobia within the wider Greek context. The common denominator across ideological categories seems to be the association of Islam with extremism and violence and non-assimilation/non-integration; this points to the need for counter-narratives addressing effectively those manifestations of anti-Muslim fear and hatred.