Between the Politics of Difference and the Poetics of Similarity

Performing Ashura in Piraeus

in Journal of Muslims in Europe
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Abstract

This paper studies the ritual of Ashura as performed by a group of Shia Pakistani migrants in Piraeus, Greece, inscribed in the context of the financial crisis that is currently shaking the country and its socio-political implications, notably the rise of the far-right. Based on participant observation, we start by unfolding the discourses through which our interlocutors attempt to legitimise their religious practices, by connecting the Karbala narrative with the current political oppression of Shiite minorities, but also by articulating a poetics of similarity with equivalent acts of faith from the Greek cultural context, rather than arguments on multiculturalist difference. We then turn our attention to the way Ashura is portrayed by Greek art and media, and we unpack how the poetics of similarity and the politics of difference are presented from different viewpoints. Finally, we study how the interrelations between this migrant Shiite community and ideas regarding the “national self” are manifested in symbolic uses of blood—from murderous threats received by Neo-Nazi groups, to their rejected proposal for a blood-donation campaign parallel to the Ashura.

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