Editorial – Lesbos is a perfect example of what happens when extremists go unchallenged

A photo of riots on the island of Lesbos in response to the increased presence of refugees on the island.

The Greek border with Turkey has become the latest flashpoint for far-right violence. Turkey, in an attempt to put pressure on the EU, has opened its border to Greece. As a result, refugees have sought to gain entry to the EU via the Greek island of Lesbos. The reaction of the EU and Greece has been swift and violent. 

Attacking refugees

Footage emerged of the Greek coastguard apparently trying to sink a dinghy carrying dozens of refugees. In the same footage the coastguard can also be seen firing on the dinghy. For its part the EU has increased military funding to Greece in order to secure the border. 

At the same time, extremists have begun targeting aid workers and journalists. Photojournalist Michael Trammer related how he had been attacked by a group of fascists while documenting locals attempting to stop a boat with refugees from landing. He said he was “beaten and kicked heavily” and had his cameras thrown in the water. 

Other journalist have also told stories of being attacked by extremists. The situation has become so fraught that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has issued a statement calling on Greek authorities to “ensure the safety of journalists”. But journalists are not the only people to have been targeted. Aid workers have also related how they have been attacked by extremists in Lesbos. 

An Irish doctor described to the Irish Times how the cars her and her colleagues were travelling in were attacked by a group of men and teenagers. Andrew Foley spoke to RTÉ on the condition that they not name the NGO he works for on Lesbos for fear of reprisals. He revealed that “he and his colleagues feel that local extremist groups who’ve attacked NGOs are emboldened by their decision to scale down their work”. 

And on Saturday a shelter for refugees on Lesbos was destroyed by a fire. Although the cause has yet to be determined, a reporter on the ground for Al Jazeera said that the timing of the fire was suspicious given the recent attacks by extremists.

Targeting activists

While this has been taking place those aligned with anti-fascist activism and ideas in Ireland have found themselves targeted by a far-right-leaning conservative publication. In what they’ve termed an “investigation” into “Irish antifa”, the publication secretly recorded conversations with prominent student activists. The students in question voiced their support for anti-fascism activism. 

In one of its pieces the publication wrote:

Antifascist activity should and must carry a degree of social stigma matching its maliciousness, and henceforth, in Ireland it will.

Considering the fact that the default position of any person with a semblance of ethics is one in opposition to fascism, the above quote isn’t the clarion call they believe it is. 

Twisting the narrative 

In Ireland we’ve seen fascists on the streets and online. These same people protest the opening of direct provision centres. They promote the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. As discovered in the leaks of the Iron March forum, they openly describe themselves as Hitlerists and call for Jewish people to be gassed. Opposition to this should carry no social stigma. In fact, opposition to it should be encouraged. 

Yet the same publication which in the past has promoted outdated and xenophobic race science and eugenics, and considers anti-fascist activism “malicious”, believes that it is people opposed to these ideas that are the problem.

Meanwhile, extremists here are regrouping and reassessing their situation after a disastrous general election. They haven’t disappeared. And it’s hard to predict their next move. But targeting anti-fascist and anti-racism activists is sure to be one of their top priorities. 

It’s these violent extremists that are the real problem and not student activists who happen to have a dislike for fascism and racism. If that can’t be seen then one has to be wilfully ignorant. And being wilfully ignorant at a time when the far right is alive and well in Ireland, and killing people in the UK and Europe, cannot be excused.

Featured image via YouTube – Screenshot