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Ahmet Merabet Words cannot adequately express how shocked and sad I was when I read the news about the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo. I still can’t believe that Wolinski, whose irreverent strips graced the pages of the favourite comic magazines of my student years, lies dead together with 11 other people. Simply because he unwittingly became a sacrificed pawn in a dirty geopolitical game.

Make no mistake. Apart from the human tragedy caused by the senseless loss of life and talent, this attack is every bit as ripe for political exploitation as the attacks of 9/11 and the Boston marathon were. This time, however, the attack took place outside the US, thus presenting a golden opportunity or the US government to bring the stray sheep among its European allies back into the fold. With the spreading threat of Muslim terror strikes, it is easy to forget that the NSA spied on the leadership of the “trusted” US allies (and probably still does so).

Let us focus on the event of the attack for now. The show of support, both in France and abroad, was heartwarming, even if some were not entirely honest when expressing it. For example, the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras and his extreme right wing sidekick, Adonis Georgiadis during recent speeches mentioned the need to enforce our borders with walls in order to stop Syrian refugees (and any illegal immigrants) from entering the country. They went so far as to tie the attack with the illegal immigrant issue in Greece, claiming that their political opponents, SYRIZA, want to open the borders to potential terrorists.

Never mind that the terrorist suspects were French citizens. Never mind that, if Charlie Hebdo had a Greek edition, Mr. Samaras, who claims to have an open line with God (and His support, no less) would be amongst the first to ban the sacrilegious magazine. In 21st century Greece, the owner of a Facebook page mocking an Orthodox monk (now a saint) and his alleged prophecies was recently sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy. But otherwise we’re all Charlie Hebdo here, thank you.

The Prime Minister is trying to woo the voters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party to gain a few precious percent points in view of the upcoming elections and he is playing the immigrant issue card by fanning the fear of Islam, since the majority of illegal immigrants in Greece come from Pakistan, Syria and other Muslim countries. To these people, all Muslims are filthy barbarians.

Let us talk, then, about another one of these filthy barbarians: his name was Ahmed Merabet. Ahmed was a police officer, amongst the first who responded to the call following the attack on Charlie Hebdo. That morning he had the misfortune to be patrolling the area together with a female colleague. Apparently, he somehow kept resisting the urge to force her to wear a burka and take the gun away from her. Shortly after arriving at the scene, he was shot to death by another filthy Muslim barbarian.

Somehow, the terrorist did not recognize the characteristic stench, which all Muslim barbarians share. Even the brown skin did not deter him. He just casually shot the already wounded Ahmed in the head.

Ahmed died defending one of the most fundamental (and challenging) democratic principles: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” It is the famous quote that Voltaire, also a resident of Paris, actually never said.

Life has an uncanny way to tear down the ideological sand castles, which we build so meticulously in our own minds. It casually blows away the lines, which we consider to be carved in stone. The arbitrary borders between what is “acceptable” and what is not. That separate “right” from “wrong”. The “good” Christian from the “evil” Muslim. Even the “progressive” atheist from the “obscurantist” advocate of religion.

The rhetoric of terror is already gaining momentum. The media are all hopping on the train, which is quickly running over any discordant voice. Who cares if Islamic religious organizations are condemning the attack? We all know that Islam calls on its faithful to butcher all infidels in the name of the Prophet, right? Their place in heaven is guaranteed if they sacrifice their lives fighting for Allah.

One has to wonder, then, why the 1.5 billion Muslims living on this planet have not yet taken up arms against us infidels, starting World War III in the process.

On the other hand, if Christians had taken the’ teachings of “love one another” and “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” to heart, then the world would be very different right now. On the contrary, once Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, it carved a long and deep path of brutality in the name of the God of love and forgiveness, putting any Muslim Jihad to shame: Crusades, genocides, systematic enslavement of entire “pagan” populations, mass purging of “heretics” and witch hunts conducted by the Holy Inquisition, and more. All in the name of Jesus Christ.

These things belong in our dark past, you might say. And yet, it was a few years ago when Sarah Palin, once nominated for Vice President of the United States, claimed that the war on Iraq was “God’s will”. And this is not just about the US throwing its weight around. Even the Greek Prime Minister seems all too willing to do the “Christian” thing and close our borders to war refugees from Syria, going as far as to deny them medical care.

Mahatma Gandi once said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” But this goes even beyond the tenets of our religion. Denying medical care to anyone in need goes against the very idea of humanity and breaks conventions, which apply even in time of war.

Need I remind anyone that the Islamist rebels fighting against Assad’s totalitarian regime were funded and armed by western governments? Or that ISIL is a terrible monstrosity created by decades of destabilization in the Middle East courtesy of Western powers (and the USSR, back in the day)? The sole purpose behind all this has always been geopolitical interests and nothing more.

Or perhaps it’s just that these people are just filthy Muslim barbarians. Like Ahmed. Or Lassana Bathily who selflessly hid a dozen people in the basement fridge of the kosher shop, where the terrorists held hostages, and escaped in order to notify the police.

Perhaps it is not just Islam, but religions in general. Perhaps if we were to do away with them, everything would be right about the world. I am sorry to disappoint you, my dear atheist and agnostic friends, but this is not the case. Because people kill for money, power, religion, skin colour, ideologies, a flag, even a sports team scarf. While doing away with money would solve a great many problems in the world, we cannot ban everything. We certainly can’t simply ban religion. We need to change our perception of things instead. Theists and atheists alike.

If the progressive atheist thinkers of the world claim that everyone who believes in their “imaginary friend” is a potential terrorist, they are simply attacking people for their beliefs. Just like terrorists, but without the guns.

Actions count. Words count too, to a much lesser degree, and beliefs to a bare minimum. What must we do, really, to apply greater force than fanatic terrorists? How can we do it without becoming a source of terror ourselves? We might all claim to be Charlie, but what does that mean, in the end?

We need to ask these questions seriously and answer them, to ourselves. In the meantime, I’d rather state my support towards a man who lost his life while doing his duty, protecting people with whom he would most likely disagree. A man whose death was marginalized, because it is hard to accept that a Muslim police officer can protect Democracy, against his supposed beliefs and the attributes which we assign him.

I am Ahmed.

 

Intermission #21

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This is a world steeped in lies. Lies permeate every aspect of human life, from the moment they become self-aware (what a lovely child!) to the moment of their death. Even then, if they could, they would still hear lies uttered above their coffin (he was such a good man…).

There are lies and then there are lies. Some are spoken out of courtesy, some out of selfishness. And some, the worst kind, are used with malicious intent. These lies are like pests thriving on the soil prepared by the other, more “innocent” kinds.

Small, white lies are the ones that cannot be realistically avoided, at least if we care to live as harmoniously as possible in the company of others. Selfish lies stem out of our inability to admit the truth, especially to ourselves, and are very hard to avoid. Even though they harm us and everyone around us much more than we realize.

Those selfish lies are the ones which better condition us, so that we can accept the big lies, the ones that become an art and a profession in their own right.

The greatest liars of all, without doubt, are the politicians. They do not simply lie the most, but also speak the worst and most dangerous lies. Lies that start wars, that convince the people to vote for them, even against their own interests. Lies which grant them power.

The grandest liar of all time was the one whose most important contribution to modern civilization was the use of misinformation on a massive scale: propaganda. Adolf Hitler managed to lead an entire people, well-known for being level-headed and practical, into believing the most outrageous things.

He persuaded the Germans that they were racially superior to the rest of humanity, that the ones responsible for Germany’s inevitable deterioration after their defeat in WWI were in fact the Jews and that the destiny of the German people was to dominate the world.

All this with the help of the full resources of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, at the head of which was the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Today, this role is played by the mass media.

The media achieve this goal not only by what is said by anchormen and written by journalists, but also what is implied and by what is never mentioned at all. Gradually, methodically they can convince people about almost anything. If it were not for the effect of the media, the masks of the politicians would crumble in an instant.

Let us take Greece in particular. I am often asked by foreign friends (and thinking Greeks wonder themselves) how it is possible for our politicians to lie so outrageously to our faces and yet manage to still be taken seriously? It is all a trick of the media. For years they’ve been going back and forth between the two major parties, gauging public opinion in order to strike at the most unpopular of the two at any given time.

The less unpopular party is given a reprieve, while the scandals of the other (usually the ruling one) were given plenty of air time, without ever leading to real investigations. Eventually the older scandals would be overshadowed by the new, and the previous party would slowly be promoted by denouncing the corruption of their opponents.

Even before the media reigned, however, the Greek people seemed eager to trust in a “saviour”. Thus, the “socialist” PASOK party won the 1981 elections by a great margin, using “EU and NATO are the same syndicate” as its central slogan. And also “out with the bases of death” referring to the US military bases in Greek territory.

31 years later, our politicians speak of the possibility of Greece outside of the EU as a terrible eventuality and leaving NATO was never even remotely considered. Any reduction of the number of US military bases in Greece came solely as a result of the need of the Pentagon to cut its costs.

Whether leaving these international organizations would actually benefit Greece is beside the point here. The point is that these claims were proven false, but this did not stop PASOK from being reelected in 1985. In other words, Greeks swallowed the lie without thinking. And that was not the end of it. Lies form a chain, one link at a time, with each lie supporting the next one in line. And we bound ourselves tightly with this chain until any hope of escape seemed impossible.

This chain of lies led us to the execution of one of the greatest international cons of all time. Greece, with the “kind” help of Goldman-Sachs, managed to fool the entire European Union into accepting us into the Euro zone in 2001.

This gargantuan lie could have been turned to the benefit of Greece; it could have become a white lie.  If our governments truly strove to restructure our economy gradually and put European funds and subsidies to good use by promoting growth. If they truly had the better interests of our country in mind.

Any such illusions had been dispelled two years earlier, when the Greek Stock Exchange bubble burst violently, marking the end of the false prosperity of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The total lack of state control as to the actual assets of companies entering the market, combined with the shameless advertizing of the Greek Stock Exchange by government officials, including the Prime Minister himself, led to a catastrophic free fall.

Market analysts looking at the big picture would tell you that the financial disaster was not so serious, however this event initiated a great redistribution of wealth in Greece, which continues to this day. Those Greeks who didn’t lose their life savings in the Stock Exchange certainly know someone who did.

The chain of lies continued with the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Besides the obvious fact that the modern Games have become an impressive show for the benefit of multinational corporations and TV consumption, the Greek government used them as an excuse to indulge in an orgy of overspending. It is painfully obvious today that the billions of Euros which went into the Olympic Games of 2004 (and into various bank accounts) were money we could not afford to spend.

Most of the public infrastructure which was marketed as the legacy of the Olympic Games for the Greek people (such as freeways and the Athens Metro) was planned years before our bid for the Olympics was accepted. The lucrative delays were cut short so that everything would be ready in the nick of time and at several times the normal cost.

The two major parties alternated in the government, but their promises were never kept. Perhaps the low-point in these 30 years of history was the infamous slogan “Lefta iparhoun” (there are enough money) of our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, together with his firm declaration that we did not need the help of the IMF.

By blindly accepting their lies at face value for an entire generation, we have nurtured our politicians’ arrogance to the point that some have openly admitted the obvious: that their promises before the elections should not be taken seriously. And despite everything, we keep on voting for them, ensuring that the chain of lies which binds us will eventually strangle us and keep our children bound for ever.

The shadow play has become so obvious that not even the pretenses are kept anymore. Lies which would be forgotten in the span of a full 4-year government term are now exposed within months, weeks or even days!

The new leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos declared on June 2011 that the electric utility bills could not possibly be used as a means of tax collection, because electricity is a “social good”. A mere three months later, it ceased being so.

The leader of the “opposition” (now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one!) a few weeks before forcing all the members of Parliament of his party to approve the new memorandum agreement, had accused it of being “catastrophic”. One of his party’s newest acquisitions from the extreme right party of LAOS, Adonis Georgiadis, just one day before the CDS were triggered claimed that this would not happen “if the PSI was successful”. Which it was. Or so they tell us.

The lies of our politicians have now a minimal “half-life”, like unstable nuclear isotopes which vanish within minutes and are forgotten. But the damage that they cause remains. And there is very little time left to undo it. Perhaps none at all.

A Greek woman during an interview to BBC a few months ago described the Greek debt crisis using a very simple, yet extremely lucid metaphor. She likened our politicians to an abusive husband, who cheated on his wife and abandoned her with a huge debt to her name.

I partly agree. Our “husband” has not abandoned us, but keeps on lying to us incessantly, he abuses us and forces us on his creditors to pay his debts. And he keeps us “in line” by persuading us that only he can keep the banks from taking our house and that we are also to blame for not keeping our home’s finances in order.

Indeed, we are to blame because we kept believing him for 30 years and didn’t kick him out of our home, as we should have done. We are even more to blame now, because even though we’ve finally realized the truth, we are still too afraid and ashamed to kick him out. Much like an abused woman.

How can we blame women like that for being weak and not taking control of their lives, while we as a nation react in pretty much the same manner?

Isn’t it time to put an end to the lies?

Intermission #7

Cover versions which are equal to or even better than the original version of a song are rare. Especially so for translated songs. Greek composer and singer Dionysis Savvopoulos translated and covered Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” in his album “Vromiko psomi” (Dirty bread) in 1972 under the title “Angelos Exangelos”.  In my opinion, his translation added a lot to the original and the arrangement is also remarkable. This is an attempt at re-translation of his lyrics:

A messenger, a crier, he came from afar,

leaning on a crutch so battered,

he did not know how to speak at all,

for his tongue it could not speak, but only flatter.

 _

The news that he brought us, they were all a lie,

yet sounded pleasing to our ears,

for his every falsehood sounded like a truth

and so freed our souls from all our fears.

 _

He made his bed behind the agora,

and spent his time jesting in the tavern,

he wandered jovially in barbeshops and baths,

and idly gazed at fish inside the cistern.

 _

The winter passed, and summer came

and then again came another winter,

until one night, what came over him,

he started yelling in a wild temper.

 _

The soles of my feet, I feel their burns,

in this wilderness where night alternates with night,

the news I brought may have pleased your ears,

but are a far cry from being right.

 _

We knew at once what he was saying,

and numbly bid him go away.

If ye have no good news to give

then don’t give any.


A recent comment made by a (real) friend in Facebook got me thinking. She said that this situation we’re living in reminded her of a well-crafted videogame. I partly agree with that. It so happens that videogames are my favourite means of escapism. However, in most of them, the hero acts, strives, fights for a cause. It might be something silly, but it’s still a cause and, in most cases, it’s a noble one such as saving the world.

It does not matter if the action is split in levels, as in more classic-style videogames or is spread out in a vast, realistic looking world, such as in more modern iterations. Enemies are obvious. Goals are clear. The hero is (usually) rewarded in the end. The player, if he is fast, skillful or has an analytic enough mind (depending on the game genre) will eventually triumph. Evil will be vanquished.

This well-crafted videogame in which we live is completely backward. Our worst enemies are the ones professing to represent law and order. Goals are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Players are punished for being capable, honest and conscientious. Evil is triumphant.

This virtual reality, steadily forming around us day by day, is starting to resemble the dystopian scenarios of Orwell’s “1984” and Moore’s “V for Vendetta”.

The greatest paradox is that, while technology advances and the actual virtual “worlds” of the Internet and videogames are becoming increasingly familiar and realistic, at the same time the real world becomes increasingly false and irrational.

Experts are expressing their concerns every day regarding the terrible dangers hiding in virtual worlds, while the subtle erosion of everything that is real seems to escape everyone’s notice.

People always talk about the (very real) dangers lurking in Internet use and abuse, particularly for children. Yet, no one talks earnestly about how the moral values and ideals which we are supposed to be teaching to our children are systematically being destroyed.

Yesterday, riot police used tear gas against a gathering of pupils. Last Sunday they used all their tear gas reserves on the living history of Greece, as well as citizens of all ages who gathered for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. No one addresses this violence, nor the psychological violence to which every one of us is submitted on a daily basis.

Our virtual reality does not acknowledge that what took place on February 12th in Athens might very well be the most massive protest of our generation. The only thing it registered is that a handful of agent provocateurs, mindless hooligans, opportunists or plain angry people torched several buildings in Athens.

In our virtual reality world, TV and the mainstream media bring to public attention only those stories which are convenient for media moguls and their current allies of necessity or opportunity. And this is called “news”.

Now, the riots are being used as an excuse to form legislation putting serious limitations to public protests. Legislation which is dangerously close to dictatorial.

Meanwhile the police, according to the dean of the Law School of Athens, ignored his reports of the occupation of the University’s grounds and the mass production of Molotov cocktails taking place there.

Those reports were submitted in writing from Thursday, February 9th, to Saturday, February 11th. There was absolutely no response.

In our virtual reality, the police do not protect citizens practicing their constitutional right of peaceful protest. They spray us with tear gas and let rioters burn the city unhindered. Thus they uphold neither the law, nor protect public order.

And all this happens just so our Parliament would vote a new batch of measures which will only serve to plunge our country deeper into recession, as set in a document which was so hastily drafted as to be full of mistakes and inaccuracies.

At the same time, one of the MPs of the formerly ruling PASOK party, who had voted on the first memorandum, presented documents proving that our economy currently boasts a primary surplus (if we stopped paying loan interests). That means, Greece could very well survive bankruptcy.

Of course, as is customary in the recent parliamentary history of Greece, the MPs of the ruling parties were ordered to vote “aye”. Those who declined were ousted from their parties. The irony is that in Greek, the Parliament is called “Vouli” which means literally “will, decision”. A member of Parliament is called “vouleftis” deriving from the ancient Greek verb “voulevo”, meaning “to think, to decide”.

In our virtual Democracy, our “vouleutes” do not think or decide for themselves, but it is acceptable for them to follow the party leader’s orders. In other words, they are followers.

The second party of the government coalition, according to the election polls, is now also the dominant party. Its leader, Antonis Samaras, has stated that they are not actually governing the country, but merely supporting the government in its task to approve the new memorandum.

A memorandum which up to a few weeks earlier had been denounced by him.

He also took in two acting ministers and former members of the third ruling party, an extreme right nationalist party called LAOS, one of whom had vehemently denied rumours of his defection to Samaras’ “New Democracy” just two years ago.

He reasoned then that if he left LAOS he would be bowing to the “immigrants and the Turks”. Apparently, he would wait two years to become a deputy minister and bow down to the IMF/ECB/EC troika instead.

This ridiculous mockery of a government has succeeded the government of PASOK, which won the elections by promising not to tax the middle to low incomes any further and to secure the money which the state needed to support itself without going to the IMF for help. By combating corruption and tax evasion, among other things.

A mere two months after the elections, our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, secretly commenced negotiations with the IMF, a fact which Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself revealed much later during an interview.

The same government proceeded to do the exact opposite of everything it had promised in order to win the elections, with the culmination of signing the first memorandum agreement. An agreement which, as former Ministers and economists from the EU admitted, was both ineffectual and unfair.

Even so, none of the measures agreed upon were actually realized, putting Greece in the international spotlight as a lazy and corrupt country that does not honour its commitments. The only thing that Papandreou’s government did was enforce even more taxes and public sector wage reductions, without doing anything to reduce wasteful spending or to increase foreign investor interest in Greece.

When summarizing these “accomplishments”, a couple of weeks ago, George Papandreou stated that “mistakes were made, but much was achieved”. The current coalition government continued pretty much the same policy of inaction where crucial changes are concerned, and signing whatever outrageous measures the troika sees fit to demand.

None of these two governments were empowered by the Greek people to take such decisions on their behalf. Unless we have come to believe that Democracy in the 21st century means lying through your teeth about everything to the voters, getting elected and do exactly the opposite of what you promised.

Is this the only hope of Greece? Is this circus of clowns, spineless and corrupt to the very core really going to save the same country which they’ve been systematically dismantling for decades?

Is there anyone out there who still believes that this is a democratic country where the Constitution is nothing but an empty book?

Is there anyone who doubts that we are living in a virtual reality nightmare?

Intermission #4

Life is not a videogame, nor should it become one. However, there are surprising truths about life to be found in many of them. One of my favourite quotes from the unforgettable John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) is the following: “As long as there are guns and money, there will never be freedom”. I leave you with this sad and beautiful song by Lana del Ray. She is something of a mystery to me. While her looks are obviously made up and she appears overly stylized, her voice is unique and her songs have hidden layers. She could fool you into thinking that she’s a mass-market product (and maybe she is), yet there is something more than that. Just like a videogame.