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Greece’s struggle against Turkish expansion: non-binding half measures

The Greek parliamentarians have taken the bait of their leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose bill to “de-Islamize” one of Greece’s regions had just one true objective – to free the country from the EU’s criticism.

In the face of Erdogan’s active imperial-revanchist policy, Tsipras has convinced the Greek parliament to approve a bill restricting Sharia law in Western Thrace. Before that, he had said that the use of a Muslim law instead of a secular law in the territory of a Greek province did no credit to Greece as an EU member.

The Greek MPs were almost unanimous in their support for the law. The only force that was contra was the Golden Dawn party but not because they supported the use of Muslim laws in Greece. Quite the opposite, they said that Tsipras’s initiative was too liberal as the use of Islamic rules in orthodox Greece was a shame for the country. The leader of the party Panagiotis Iliopoulos insisted on a total ban on the Sharia law in Greece, but his colleagues proved to be less radical.

Unlike Iliopoulos, Tsipras’s comrade from the Syriza coalition, representative of Greece’s Muslim community Mustafa Mustafa welcomed the initiative and that was a good PR move for the Greek prime minister – even though everybody knows that for leftists the concepts of nation and religion are not top priorities.

As a result, the law has been passed. But will it change the life of the Greek society? It will hardly do. The Sharia law was used only by the Muslim community of Western Thrace – in line with the Treaty of Lausanne, a Greek-Turkish peace treaty adopted in 1923 and obliging the sides to protect the traditions of ethnic minorities in the divided territory of historical Thrace (Turkey is obliged to respect the traditions of Greeks living in Eastern Thrace, while Greece is obliged to respect the traditions of Turks living in Western Thrace). In Eastern Thrace, there are almost no Greeks left as the Turkish authorities have applied a policy of genocide against them. In Western Thrace, there has been no genocide but Muslims (Turks, Pomaks, Muslim Gypsies and Greeks) account for just 30% of the region’s population or 2% of Greece’s population. Today more and more Muslim people prefer to emigrate from Greece to Turkey or some other places. So, the Sharia law had no effect on the Greek majority.

Sometimes, it just caused some amusing incidents. In 2013, the Supreme Court of Greece annulled the last will of Muslim Greek Demeter Simeonidou. That man inherited all his property to his wife in line with Greek civil law but his sister disputed the will on the principle that as a Muslim, the deceased had to make the will according to the Sharia law.

Today that incident would not happen as now in Western Thrace, civil courts enjoy supremacy over religious courts. The law does not affect religion but concerns only the daily life of Greek Muslims (marriages, divorces, wills). Today a Muslim in Western Thrace can ignore a mufti and is not obliged to do as he says.

But if he decides to appeal to a mufti nobody has the right to prevent him from doing it. De jure, Tsipras’s initiative is flawless - and the Greek leader has already expressed his joy that the Greek legislation has finally been harmonized with European standards. But, de facto, this may cause lots of disputes. For example, a married couple wants to divorce, the husband decides to appeal to a Sharia court, while the wife prefers a civil Greek court. Naturally, the winner here will be bureaucracy rather than justice. Muslim courts had no influence on the lives of the Greek majority. So, why do they need this change?

The answer is clear: to whack Erdogan on his forehead. Erdogan’s emissaries have been very active in Western Thrace of late. While visiting the region last summer, Western Thrace-born Turkish Labor and Social Security Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said that in Greece, an EU state, Thracians are regarded as a second-rate nation in many spheres (in education, judiciary, economy). “But you (Thracians – edit.) should not forget that you are supported by a 80,000,000-strong Turkish nation and a powerful Turkish state,” Muezzinoglu said.

Erdogan visited the region in late 2017. In one of the local Muslim centers, Komotini, he met with the leaders of the local community and attended a service at the local mosque. And he used that pretext for criticizing Tsipras’s bill and the fact that the local Ummah had no right to appoint muftis.

As they say, the devil is in the detail. Likewise, Erdogan’s statement had a double bottom. De jure, in Turkey the Orthodox Church is autonomous and has the right to elect its Patriarch on its own. But, de facto, Ankara has controlled this process since the fall of Constantinople.

In Greece, the church is not separated from the state and clergymen – be they Orthodox priests or Muslim imams - have the status of public servants. That is, in Greece orthodox and Muslim clergymen are equal. But in Western Thrace, there are also imams who enjoy patronage from Turkey and act as Erdogan’s pro-Turkish emissaries in the region. Tsipras’s law has made those people outlaws.

Logically, Tsipras should be happy, but the problem is that he did that not so much to protect Greece’s national security but to promote his liberal leftists’ ideas. And the key concern of the European Commission, when it criticized Sharia courts in Western Thrace in 2011, was not Greece’s national security but the rights of women.

Now Muslim women in Greece can be happy - their rights are protected – in contrast to the Orthodox church, which continues to suffer from the leftists’ pressures. Being liberal in all aspects, Tsipras is not keeping his doors closed to Muslim immigrants and is accepting all immigrant quotas imposed by the EU. He is even giving shelter to people deported from Germany. This makes Greece extremely vulnerable to the threats of Islamism.

In this light, the detention of a Sharia patrol in Athens and the deportation of its organizer, a Muslim imam, to his native Bangladesh, looked more like a gesture of despair. While leftist Tsipras is focused on gay parades and the rights of transgender people and is fighting against crosses and prayers in schools, his country is being overrun by ideologically aware guests, who no longer want to be guests there.

Had Tsipras been more ideologically aware, he would have satisfied the demand of the Golden Dawn party and would have put a total ban on the Sharia law in Greece. But he prefers half measures and this can make a reality Erdogan’s dreams to restore Turkish rule over the Balkans.

Aleksey Toporov

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