Greece was dying in the summer of 2013, and the drama around the event was as poignant as anything Sophocles has written. I was in Athens to deliver some lectures, but I was witnessing, if press reports were to be believed, what appeared to be the imminent downfall of the cradle of Western civilization and the disturbing inertia toward its plight displayed by the rest of the European family of nations. The pillars of a functioning state were shaking: inflation, unemployment, and the national debt were out of control, and law and order on the verge of collapse. The dying process was confirmed when one day state TV was abruptly and indefinitely suspended as employees could no longer receive their salaries.
The last straw was the steady trickle of desperate refugees arriving from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia swelling the ranks of those impoverished migrants already present. Squeezed by the economic crisis, the traditionally hospitable Greeks vented their frustrations at the unending numbers of refugees and immigrants as they sought aid and refuge; and the greater the economic woes, the greater the popularity of the Far Right parties and the more extreme their rhetoric of hate. Groups like the Golden Dawn, with their swastika-like emblem, were parading about dressed up as faux-Nazis, giving Nazi salutes, and even displaying pictures of Adolf Hitler. Their target this time around was the mainly Muslim refugee and immigrant community. Their message was simple and effective, and it was influencing how people thought about the subject: Muslims were not part of European identity, nor had they contributed anything to Western civilization. In short, Muslims had no right to be in Europe. Clearly, the cherished European ideals of humanism and multiculturalism that allowed for the accommodation and integration of immigrant communities were being challenged.
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