A recent attack on a Muslim cemetery in Greece shows the rise of anti-Muslim tendencies and racism both there and throughout the continent, according to an expert on the region.
A Muslim cemetery in the city of Alexandroupolis was found on Tuesday to have suffered an attack by unknown assailants, who left behind damaged tombstones scrawled with racist slogans. The city lies in Western Thrace, a region of Greece with a substantial ethnic Turkish population of about 150,000. Nazi symbols and the logo of the Greek far-right political party Golden Dawn were spray-painted on the Muslim tombstones and leaflets of the party littered the cemetery. The Golden Dawn leaflets bore the slogan, "Greece belongs to the Greeks."
"This kind of attack in Greece is not happening for the first time, and it will not be the last," Ali Hüseyinoğlu of Trakya University's Balkan Research Institute, who hails from Western Thrace, told Anadolu Agency (AA). "This attack is a very good indicator and part of the rising Islamophobia and racism in Europe and Greece in recent years," he explained.
Hüseyinoğlu said that through such racist anti-Muslim attacks, people who hate Islam and Turks send the message that as they do not respect the remains of Muslims past, they do not respect Muslims at all.
Targeting Muslim Turks and Islam
"This attack targeted Muslim Turks and Islam in Western Thrace," said Hüseyinoğlu.
"This attack demonstrates the presence of those who are disturbed by the Muslim Turkish identity in Western Thrace," he added.
It took place in Alexandroupolis, a part of western Thrace "where pluralism and the culture of coexistence prevails is very significant," he explained.
"That people from different religions and ethnicities have been living side-by-side for centuries has been an important feature of Western Thrace." Hüseyinoğlu stressed that such attacks do not help the integration of the minority into the majority of society.
Hüseyinoğlu stressed that this attack was not an isolated event and it was probably organized.
Although when exactly the attack took place is not yet known, Hüseyinoğlu said its timing was deliberate and meaningful.
The attack was reported just after the last Sunday's European Parliament (EP) elections in Greece, according to Hüseyinoğlu.
"It is important that the attack was carried out after the [European] election," he said.
Noting that in that election Greece's Friendship, Equality and Peace Party (FEP) won the support of ethnic Turks living in the country, Hüseyinoğlu said this attack might have been carried out in response to the party's success. The party got a plurality of support in Rhodopi and Xanthi, two provinces in the Western Thrace region with a sizeable Turkish minority, thus making the party win first place in both Rhodopi and Xanthi prefectures.
No effective sanctions
Hüseyinoğlu noted that senior Greek officials issued condemnations of such attacks rather than taking effective counter-measures to prevent such hate-motivated attacks. The Golden Dawn Party condemned the attack as well.
"To date, about 90% of Islamophobic and other hate-motivated attacks suspects have not been identified or arrested, while a large part of the arrested attackers have not been punished," he said. According to data from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), of 128 hate crime incidents recorded by Greek police in 2017, only 46 resulted in prosecutions and a mere six resulted in sentences.
Decrying the lack of deterrents against anti-Muslim attacks, Hüseyinoğlu said: "Such Islamophobic attacks are likely to continue because there are no effective sanctions or effective judicial mechanisms."
Hüseyinoğlu also stressed that it is normal to have such attacks in a country like Greece, where even some of the top politicians and clergy do not hesitate to use anti rhetoric.
Noting that last Sunday the Golden Dawn Party won two seats in the European Parliament, Hüseyinoğlu said: "The success of the far-right party in elections shows that ethnic nationalism, racism and Islamophobia are prevalent in Greece." "The Golden Dawn Party is on the rise, just as other Islamophobic, racist and anti-Turkish parties are on the rise across Europe."