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Greece: Athens mosque blocked again by politics

Parthenon Temple in Athens

Greece: Athens mosque blocked again by politics

Appeal presented against the project, referendum proposed

by Furio Morroni) (ANSAmed) – ATHENS –

The saga of the Athens mosque, the realization of which has been delayed for years and seemed a settled issue last November, continues. Work for the construction of the Muslim temple has been blocked again, this time by political maneuvers and an appeal presented by a university teacher, two navy officials, a cultural association and the ultra-conservative bishop of the Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, all of whom are against the presence of the worshipping place in the Greek capital, the only one in Europe still without a temple for its more than 200,000 residents of Muslim faith. Precisely because of the legal recourse – and the fear that a judge may rule for the complainants – the infrastructure ministry has made it known that it has not yet signed the contract to carry out the 946,000 euro project on which the tender was won five months ago by the consortium composed of four of the largest Hellenic businesses: Aktor, Terna, JP & Avax and Intrakat. The preceding four tenders for assigning construction were not successfully completed since the participating companies withdrew after threats and intimidation received from extremist right-wing groups, like the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgì (Golden Dawn) party and residents of the Votanikos neighborhood, where the place of worship is supposed to be built, all of whom are contrary to the presence of Muslims in their zone in fear that it could become a gathering place for Islamic extremists or even a “den of terrorists”.

In the meantime, in view of the next local elections, the story of the controversial mosque has also become the subject of political fighting between various Athens mayoral candidates, further complicating the issue. The latest obstacle, if it were necessary, was raised by the Nea Dimokratia (centre-right) candidate Aris Spiliotopoulos, ex-minister of public education, who proposed holding a local referendum on the construction of the Muslim temple, even though he himself voted “yes” (together with another 197 MPs) when parliament approved the project on September 7, 2011. Yesterday morning, on screens of the private television broadcaster Skai, Spiliotopoulos reiterated his position against the construction of the mosque because it could, among other things, attract illegal immigrants “for which there is no more room in Athens”, and its presence “could cause a third world tented city on the sacred hill of the Acropolis”.

He then added that the people of Athens know better than the education ministry – which is responsible for religious affairs – or the mayor where the mosque should be built, and thus it is the capital’s residents who should decide if it can exist in the city. Finally, after having reiterated that his opposition is not based on religious motives, but rather on the opportunity for choosing where to build the structure, he called once more for a referendum. Various observers have interpreted the position taken by the Nea Dimokratia candidate as a wink toward extreme right candidates. Meanwhile, for his own part, the incumbent mayor who is also running again, independent Giorgos Kaminis, emphasized the inconsistency of his adversary, and observed that the behavior of Spiliotopoulos is “contradictory” and not befitting a politician. To reduce costs to a minimum in times of serious crisis, the Greek government has decided that the mosque will not be built from scratch, but made from the renovation of a pre-existing structure. Gardens and prayer areas will be made outside the mosque, which will not have a minaret but will have the capacity to hold 350 worshippers. Four adjacent buildings will be demolished. In their place, nine new structures will be built destined for administrative offices and hygienic services.

The decision to not authorize construction of a minaret did not, however, satisfy those who oppose the project, who do not want the government to spend public money for the creation of a Muslim place of prayer in a country where 96% of the population is Greek-Orthodox. In any case, given developments in the case and renewed opposition to the project, the Muslims of Athens almost certainly will still have to wait a long time before being able to pray in their mosque. (ANSAmed).

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  • Omar_the_Egyptian

    Laila is correct they restrict mosques b/c they perceive churches to be restricted. if they want to use toxic globalization logic then lets give them something to really howl about.

  • Laila Muhammad

    muslim countries that allow churches should delay any new chuch permits..morroco tunisia egypt palestine syria malaysia indonesia..etc

  • GreenMonster

    Firstly, the ad hominem attacks by calling me “idiot” and “moron” kind of dilute your point.

    Secondly, again my comment was the Greeks should be able to decide. I pointed out Saudi as an example of a country that decided not to allow other places of worship. It’s their wish. Similarly, it’s the Greeks people’s choice as well. What’s wrong with them deciding for themselves?

    I’m just going to let sit your rant against Europeans and churches (which is humorously contradictory btw)

  • Iman

    What about what Christianity has done to other parts of the middle east ? Should we curtail Christianity or blame it for the actions of its followers?

  • Chameleon_X

    Great. How about we keep and honor the U.S. Constitution, and us “locals” here get to vote on whether we want to deport anti-American elements such as yourself off of our island? You reject the Constitution, so we would be happy to honor your preference, as well as your desire for a “local” vote.

  • sasboy

    The basic rights of individuals to worship and express themselves are not subject to the will of the majority. This controversy reflects extremely poorly on Greece. It is hypocritical how many Greeks never lose an opportunity to criticize their former arch enemy Turkey for supposedly treating its Christian communities badly even though Istanbul and other large Turkish cities have many churches at a time when in Athens Muslim residents have their basic religious freedoms trampled on.

    This controversy, as well as the violent tactics of the Golden Dawn do not suggest Greeks are in any position to give homilies to other countries on religious and other human rights.

  • Ali

    There’s 60 muslim countries. Almost all have churches.
    And no, Pakistan does not “demolish as many churches and temples as they can”. Tribal people and their rioting is not related to the 200 million people who live there nor is there any relation to the government.

  • Rizwan

    “Even as pressure grows on Greece to shrink its bloated civil service, public tax money continues to pay the salaries of the some 9,000 priests and other church officials.

    “A “tax the church” campaign on Facebook claims that amounts to more than $300 million per year. And that doesn’t include the cost of church buildings.”

    http://www.pri.org/stories/2012-08-10/greek-politicians-eye-orthodox-churchs-income-expenses-target-budget-cuts

  • Rizwan

    What if local citizens of Dearborn, MI decide that they don’t want a church?

  • Rizwan

    Over to human rights activist Pamela Geller for her scholarly opinion.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    So, you believe that people’s rights should be dependent on the laws and actions of other countries?

    If only the Greeks had ever thought of having citizens each get an equal vote in deciding laws for their own country. Now that would be an idea!

  • Nikos Dandoulakis

    If muslims want a mosque, they should build it and support it with their own money.

  • mindy1

    Not sure what they are so afraid of, surely there is more than one way to talk to God

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