‘Terrorism has no nationality’

HANIA, Crete – He is a Muslim born and raised in the coastal city of Sidon in the highly volatile republic of Lebanon, at the heart of the largely Muslim and war-torn Middle East. His name is M. Rustem and for the last four years he has been living in Greece, after deciding to leave his country and start a family of his own in a place away from the fear of war. But the dramatic events of September 11 and the response to them have shocked him and his Greek wife, who now fear that they could take place anywhere, even in Greece. When I saw those images right before my eyes, I couldn’t believe that it was a terrorist attack. I said to myself that it had to be an accident, he said, describing his reaction to the live images that he and his wife had seen on television that Tuesday, his day off work. But we kept on watching the news and we discovered that it was a terrorist attack. We were both sad – irrespective of the nationality of the victims – and we couldn’t imagine what reason there could be behind such an attack. We thought about the people, and how they were to get out of the towers of the World Trade Center. We saw images of people waving from the windows up on the 100th floor, calling for help, and how some of them – over 30 people – fell to their deaths. It was tragic. The reaction of the Muslim members of Parliament from Thrace was to condemn the attacks and repudiate the call by Osama bin Laden for jihad – a holy war. I don’t see a reason for jihad here, said Galip Galip, an MP for Rhodope, in an interview with the Macedonia Press Agency. What we have here is a case of terrorism. I personally and the (Muslim) minority in Thrace are against terrorism, irrespective of where it comes from. Mehmet Ahmet, another representative for Rhodope, reiterated this view, saying, We condemn the call from bin Laden for jihad, we are against terrorism and we side with this fight against terrorism. In search of security Rustem, a pharmacist aged 29, left his country at 19 to attend college in Romania, where he met Eleni, his future wife who was a medical student there. In the summer of 1997, with only a few months left before the completion of their studies, the two traveled to his hometown Sidon at the request of his parents, who had met Eleni a few months earlier in Romania. But her visit to his homeland was marked by a series of military attacks. The first 10 days while she was there, the Israelis bombarded my hometown, he remarked. We were to get married that very same summer, but after the bombardment we decided to move to my wife’s country, Greece, where there is no conflict and problems with war. Rustem was referring to two fierce raids that were carried out against Lebanon that August. The first, on August 18, when militiamen of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a key ally of Israel, shelled the port of Sidon, killing at least six people and injuring over three dozen. Two days later, on August 20, Israeli jets struck deep in Lebanon and bombed a guerrilla base and a power plant supplying electricity to Sidon. It was these events that encouraged him to leave his country for a second time, this time, though, not for his studies but rather in order to find a place of refuge. After returning to Romania and completing their studies, they both briefly went back to their countries. We stayed in touch over the telephone and we decided that I would take the first step and come to Greece for vacation – as she had done in the past – and if we saw that we could start a life here, then I would move here permanently, he said. He first arrived in Greece in March 1998, and a month later he and Eleni had a civil marriage. For the next two years, and while he was not eligible to work by law, they lived in Piraeus. Last year, they decided to move to Hania, Eleni’s hometown, where he found a job at a local pharmacy. She works at the local hospital. It was very difficult for me as a foreigner to start here, to learn the language, to take the DIKATSA (Inter-university Center for the Recognition of Foreign Academic Titles) exams, to find a job, to settle down and to have a family. But I wanted to come to a stable country which is at peace with all countries, to be safe, he declared during an interview that was conducted in Greek. But this sense of security and safety that Rustem wanted for his family are now threatened after the September 11 suicide terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. I felt awful because if this can happen in the United States, that means that it can happen anywhere. So, I started fearing that this could happen here as well, he remarked. Rustem echoes the concerns of many Greeks and other Europeans, who fear that the US-led air strikes in Afghanistan could trigger reprisals in their homeland. But he also echoes the concerns of millions of Muslims who live in Europe, the United States and other countries in the West, who fear discrimination and being singled out in those societies on the basis of the color of their skin and their beliefs. The problem is not Islam. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. This is what I want people to understand, and not to say, ‘He is a Muslim, so he is a terrorist,’ he said. My personal view, as a Lebanese man who is married to a Greek woman and who lives in this country, is that terrorism doesn’t have a nationality, doesn’t have a country, but rather it is generated by what one feels, one’s upbringing, and the environment one grew up in. He underscored that the events of September 11 have roots that date as far back as 1948, when the tension in the Middle East begun. When an Arab grows up – let’s say in Palestine – watching his father and his entire family being killed and his home being torn down, he may be young but although the action may have taken place 20 years ago, the reaction may come 30 to 40 years later. And this is what is happening right now, Rustem said. The problems in the Middle East date back to 1948, and hatred grew from there. A young child may take a rock in his hand and throw it, but the real danger is the educated Palestinian who grew up knowing that he is stateless, because he has nothing to lose, especially if he has lost his father or he is an orphan. According to Rustem, these events sent a clear signal that there is an urgent need for a change in policy by the United States and other key countries engaged in diplomatic efforts in the region. It cannot rain on only half of the rooftop, he remarked. This means that there is a need for a change in policy.

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