September 11 and the War against Terrorism: The Greek Reaction

Article excerpt

THE events of last September caught the world unprepared, as the images of the collapsing twin towers travelled through the media around the globe. Initially all countries -- except Iraq -- condemned the attacks and offered condolences to the families of the victims and the American government. Public opinion, however, varied dramatically from country to country especially when the US initiated its attack on Afghanistan. The first indications that Islamic fundamentalists were responsible for the atrocities generated paradoxical scenes where Arafat condemned the attacks and gave blood for the victims, while in the streets some Palestinians celebrated openly. There were also those who quickly pointed out that America had brought the attacks upon itself after decades of manipulative, short-sighted and ruthless foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Furthermore, they indicated, Osama bin Laden -- the emerging prime suspect -- was recruited and trained by the Americans in the first place, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. It is perhaps surprising that these voices were not only coming from countries hostile to American interests but from the publics of several European allies as well. Greece is one of the countries where these arguments were heard quite early after the attacks. Hardly surprising, any analyst would say, as Greece has often been characterised as the usual 'odd' voice in both NATO and the EU. This is misleading, however, as the reaction of the Greek public demonstrated more cynicism and confusion, even some hypocrisy, rather than sheer anti-Americanism.

Opinions, Controversy and Greek Passions

The reaction of the Greek government was to condemn the attacks and offer help for the rescue operations undergoing at 'ground zero', as well as condolences to the American government and the families of the victims, which included a few Greeks. The Greek public was struck with shock by the loss of so many innocent lives, but also with fear for the inevitable American response. The Greek media and also public opinion at first expressed sympathy for the victims but also questioned the American claims and responsibility. Furthermore the possibility of a new war made Greeks nervous as modem Greece has been involved, since its establishment, in several wars which resulted in immense loss of life, human misery and underdevelopment. Additionally there is a persistent fear that US involvement in the Middle East automatically upgrades the role of Turkey and consequently its interests in the region. Finally there is the natural fear and insecurity of a small nation towards the historical events that take place and the ir possible global effects.

According to a representative opinion poll, published in the Greek daily centre-left Eleftherotypia on 7 October, 80.1 per cent of Greeks disagreed with the war in Afghanistan, because they doubted that this was the most appropriate way to fight terrorism. 71.4 per cent did not believe that it was a 'just war' and 80.6 per cent declared that the war was happening not to fight terrorism but to promote Western interests. To the question as to who carried out this attack 29.6 per cent believed that Bin Laden's organisation was responsible. 28.2 per cent, however, believed that American secret services were responsible, while 7.7 per cent blamed the Israeli secret services. In the same poll 85.6 per cent believed that the appropriate way to fight terrorism was to minimise the injustices and poverty that foster terrorism. These poll results, together with some incidences which ranged from the controversial to the despicable, prompted the Greek writer Takis Michas in an article in The Wall Street Journal to pose th e question 'Is Greece a Western Nation?' Michas concluded that 'such views seem to have more in common with public opinion in Cairo or Damascus than in Berlin or Rome'. Although Michas has some valid points, especially concerning the source of the Anti-American sentiments, his article is rather misleading and simplistic. …