Greece: Play tackles social taboos

By , Correspondent

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    A scene from ‘Hijab Frappe,’ a play that explores religious tensions in Greek society.
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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

As head-scarfed Muslim women proliferate on the streets of fiercely Orthodox Christian Greece, a daring play staged in Athens is breaking some deep-rooted social taboos about Islam.

“Can you be a Greek Muslim or a Greek Bahai? Are you Greek if you’re atheist? Should there be a mosque in Athens? What to do with Muslim kids during religion class? [These] are some questions the play raises,” said Cassie Moghan, a British multimedia artist involved in the show.

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An all-female cast of Greek and expatriate women perform “Hijab Frappe,” a play irreverently examining the issues stirred up when a homogeneous, immigrant-exporting country becomes Europe’s southeastern gateway.

Characters such as a conservative Athenian housewife, a recent immigrant from Iran, and a Greek convert to Islam struggle with their prejudices in a range of battlegrounds in their daily lives: bus stops, schools, and fashion shows.

The convert embraces her new religion’s strictures on eating pork and drinking alcohol but without sacrificing late-night music gigs; the housewife can relate to “foreigners” as long as they accept her patronizing them, and sputters “isn’t our Jesus good enough for you?” to the “traitorous” Greek convert to Islam; and the Iranian woman (who wears her hijab only because her husband demands it) is dazzled by the freedom, color, and vivacity saturating her new surroundings.

But how tortuous must this process be? Race crimes have risen as the credit crunch sweeps Greece and unemployment soars. Greek society is increasingly riven with ethnic and religious tensions. Last month, far-right groups attacked immigrants and fought pitched street battles with leftists after an anti-immigrant rally in central Athens spiraled into confrontation.

“I walk through areas of Athens that are total ghettos,” said Shirin Youssefian Maanian, an Iranian actress and director who coscripted the play. She points to what she views as a sense of cultural superiority among some Greeks, a feeling of “why should they bother being open to different ways?”

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