In his monumental book “Life and Culture of the Byzantines,” Phaidon Koukoules describes a terrible incident that occurred in the 12th century. It was during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos, who welcomed the sultan of Iconium (Konya) to Constantinople with a horse race. One of the spectators who also hailed from Iconium wanted to pay homage to the sultan by performing a daring feat – flying the length of the track. He donned a long gown with a hoop sewn into the hem and climbed onto a tall obelisk waiting for a strong wind that would allow him to jump, fill his gown and transport him the required distance. The wind never came. The crowd grew restless, weary of waiting. It started to shout “Fly! Fly!” The poor wretch decided to make the fatal leap and crashed to the ground.
The Byzantine spectators were not bloodthirsty cannibals; after all, several centuries had already passed since the complete barbarity of the Roman arena. Nor were they cannibals. However, a mixture of anticipation and boredom, the need for entertainment, prompted them to cause a death. Perhaps they were encouraged by the fact that the acrobat was a foreigner.
There are no cannibals in the east German town of Schmoelln either; just regular folk, typical Europeans, the majority Christians. Yet one group of these people looked on with ghoulish delight at a refugee boy perched on the fifth-floor window sill of an apartment block, seeming ready to jump to his death. Then they got bored, at least the more impatient among them or those less concerned about the fate of a foreigner – the average European, one may say. They decided to speed up the drama, hoping to catch the action on their cell phone cameras. So they started shouting “Jump! Jump!” and other such charitable incantations. The 17-year-old Somalian boy jumped – either because he had already decided to do so, or because the murderous cruelty of the crowd made him despair – and he died.
After the fact, experts ruled that the boy suffered from depression, freeing some of those who prompted his death – even if it appeared predetermined – of their culpability. The town’s mayor was not so forgiving, however, and also sought to save some of the town’s face by saying: “Nobody can defend such a thing. If someone takes it as an experience like a movie and then thinks they have to shout encouragement, too, that’s an unbelievable act.”
The Somalian teenager’s suicide technically cost humanity just one member, but, in essence, it also cost humanity those spectators who gave in to hatefulness. Europe can remain proudly committed to the delusion of its superiority.