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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

A good friend of mine told me the other day about his intention to immigrate. He is not the first of my friends to consider a future abroad and I fear that he won’t be the last. He is thinking about going to New Zealand.

There are more sheep than people there, you know,” he told me excitedly. “Same as here,” I answered.

Sheep are afraid of the wolf and thus follow the shepherd blindly, under the watchful gaze of the herding dog. It does not matter that they have never seen a wolf with their own eyes. It is in their nature to follow without thought. The shepherd knows best. They cannot stand up to the herding dog. So, they go from pen to pasture and back, all their lives, until they are either butchered or just die.

There are no wolves any more. Our civilization has rendered them extinct long ago. However, since fear is necessary to keep the sheep in line, the system resorted to creating “wolves” of its own.

This is not something new. On the contrary, it has been tested throughout history. The most striking example is the “balance of terror” kept up between the two superpowers of the second half of the previous century. The nuclear arms race permitted them to effectively rule the world. The Americans protected the West from “evil communists” and the Soviets protected their own Eastern bloc from “corrupt capitalists”.

It is basically what Orwell described in “1984”. There is always a threat and the media propagate this idea until it becomes the commonly acceptable truth. When the threat disappears, then a former ally can turn into an enemy in the blink of an eye. There must always be an enemy. There must always be fear.

So it was that the Soviets after the end of WWII turned immediately from allies to enemies of the West. The system worked well for four decades. However, after the Soviet Union disbanded, the West was left without an opposing force.

Therefore, a new enemy had to appear, one which could strike anytime, anywhere, even at the heart of the USA. The new enemy is terrorism: invisible, unpredictable and omnipresent. The fear of the unknown is greater that the fear of a known enemy. A terrorist could hide anywhere, they could be anyone, their motives are obscure and undecipherable. In other words, terrorism is the perfect tool for the propagation of fear.

Fear is the best weapon in the arsenal of governments wishing to impose measures, which in every other case would push citizens to the brink of unrest. Such as limiting their freedom, all for the sake of their security, and of course sending troops thousands of miles away, in order to liberate oil fields, opium plantations, gold and uranium deposits, and so on.

Fear is the best weapon at the disposal of a state attempting to restrict the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of its citizens, in the example of any totalitarian regime, without actually being branded as one.

Freedom is not having the potential of taking consumer loans to buy SUVs and expensive vacations. It is having the right to protest when the state enforces taxes on you, yet fails consistently to provide basic social benefits.

When Justice turns a blind eye to an unending series of scandals and crimes by politicians and their sponsors/partners, while it punishes its citizens mercilessly for even the slightest oversight.

When Ministers profess ignorance about the laws they have approved, while citizens must be aware of any trap on the laws governing employment, social security, real estate and any other aspect of their lives.

Laws which mutate constantly like viruses, insidiously and without warning, instead of developing in accord with the requirements of a healthy state, whose purpose it to serve its citizens. Of course, if we trust the words of the great Noam Chomsky, such a state does not exist.

Many Greeks are well aware by now that our state dreams of passive citizens who stand as sheep while they are milked dry and left to die once their usefulness wears out. “Sheepizens” who, unlike other Europeans, have no right to a referendum about matters which will determine their future. Sheepizens who depend on a non-elected government to determine the proper date for the next elections!

All of the above cannot in any way fit under the definition of Democracy.

Democracy is the form of government which holds the freedom and opinion of its citizens as its most sacred ideals. If a state doubts the ability of its own citizens to decide on their own future, then it is no longer democratic. Especially so when it suppresses and subverts the peaceful protest of the people.

And this is achieved by using  so-called “anarchists”, which for some reason seem unwilling to burn ministries, the properties of politicians or the Parliament itself. Instead they torch banks, loot department stores and wreck cars. Not even cinemas are spared from their “righteous cause”.

I truly cannot fathom what kind of anarchist fails so consistently to strike  targets owned by their natural enemy, the state. As I cannot fathom what kind of anarchist terrorist would place an incendiary device, without warning, in a train car with the sole purpose of causing human casualties.

This might not strike someone who is not living in Greece as something out of the ordinary, however it is unheard of in our country. All terrorist groups in recent memory placed anonymous calls to warn before a strike in a public place. There is no instance of fundamentalist or nationalist terrorist activity in Greece, which would explain attacks on innocent civilians. On the contrary, terrorist groups in our country belonged to the radical left or the anarchists, targeting political figures, businessmen, state buildings or media outlets.

Another tragic first was the arson of a bank during working hours, which marked the last time Athens knew widespread riots, two years ago.

That incident resulted in the death by suffocation of three employees, one of them a pregnant woman. The perpetrators were never found. Testimonies which claimed that the bank management allegedly threatened to fire any employee who departed early to avoid the riots were never investigated.

Even more tellingly, the findings by government officials and the police concerning the almost complete lack of any kind of safety precaution in the bank building itself never led to any legal action. In short, the tragic event and the protests which were cut short by it were buried together with the four victims.

It is all but certain that any investigations about this last terrorist attempt will also prove fruitless.

Given the facts, the only way to reach any reasonable conclusion is to determine who is harmed and who benefits from these actions. Who felt guilty when innocent lives were lost because of their attempt to protest? Who felt responsible when several buildings in Athens burned during what was the most massive demonstration in recent memory?

Who is terrorized now that the Athens Metro is threatened? It is the most widely used means of public transportation in the capital and also happens to be the best way to reach the city centre during protests in front of the Parliament.

Do you think that this bomb would scare our politicians who never set foot in the Metro after the inauguration ceremonies of new stations?

Or is it us who are terrorized, scared little people who should be grateful for our jobs granting us less and less money, as we pray for the bad wolves to go away?

Sheep do not protest, nor do they vote. They do not have, nor claim any rights. They do not think, they just survive. If this is the future we want, then all we have to do is follow the same “shepherds” which we know and trust.

We should let them shear us to clothe themselves, milk us to eat, we should hand our children to them so that they can refresh the herd when we will no longer be here.

I just hope that the butcher’s knife won’t hurt too much.

Intermission #6

Constantine P. Cavafy, one of the most important Greek poets of the previous century, devoted one of his most famous poems to the seemingly paradoxical relationship between a state and its enemies, real or imagined. The very meaning of the “civilized” society is put in question and the barbarians are even thought of as a possible solution.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard