The banality of violence

The peaceful prayer services held by Muslims in Athens as part of Eid al-Adha celebrations earlier this week were followed by protests and sporadic violence against Muslims, clashes between locals and foreigners, as well as skirmishes among Muslims. The neighborhood around Acharnon Street has recently witnessed attacks on makeshift mosques and the faithful who visit those sites to pray. In Kotzia Square, an illegal street vendor from Egypt who was stopped by municipal police officers for an ID check, began to yell that they were desecrating the holy scripture of Islam that they found on him. Some 300 Muslims from nearby streets immediately gathered on the spot, angry at the insult to the Quran. But the affront never really took place, as the confiscated items were not sacred – a fact acknowledged by the street seller’s fellow Muslims. Both cases demonstrate the failure of the state to implement the law and protect the civic and human rights of Greeks as well as foreigners. In both cases, the failure was interpreted as the lack of legal order, as the absence of the rule of law – and that vacuum was filled by crowds which sought to take the law in their own hands. Seeing the state withdraw from the civic realm as the people begin to take the law in their own hands with increasing frequency is one of the most worrying signs of this difficult period in history in which politics, society and the democratic state are coming under great duress. It is becoming an uneasy coexistence: In the gray neighborhoods, poor Greeks live next to thousands of impoverished immigrants – most of these without legal documents. The recession is deepening, fueling mistrust and intolerance. Everyone is threatening to take the law into their own hands. Violence is gradually becoming the rule in our daily existence. This threat against the moral and legal foundations of society is, in many ways, more frightening than the threat of financial bankruptcy.