Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Europe, the Arithmetic of Otherness and Sovereignty

The Other is not only the person who speaks a different language and owes allegiance to a different nation. He is any person we cannot bring ourselves to admit is right - especially if he criticizes us. 

Europe was the driver of much that happened in the world for five hundred years. Without Europe’s kings eternally squabbling among themselves, the New World would have continued to be ruled by Indian tribes, Asia would have come into its own much sooner, the war in the Pacific averted, as imagined by Kim Anderson in The Year of Rice and Wine.  As for Africa, who knows where it would be today, had it not been carved up among Europe’s competing powers in the last century? 

Aside from pre-Enlightenment religious differences, Europe’s internal conflicts can be partly ascribed to the fact that more than thirty peoples, with different languages and histories, share the Eurasian Peninsula’s ten million square kilometers. (The only other comparable region is West Africa, with eighteen states in an area of six million kilometer however this region is home to a relatively homogeneous population.) Even if we consider only those language families that correspond to political entities, there are the Romance languages: French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; the Scandinavian: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch; the Slavic: Serbian, Slovak, Croat, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech. German and English, and outliers like Romanian (that harks back to Latin), Greek, Albanian and Hungarian, that comes from somewhere in the Ural Mountains together with Finnish.

After World War II, France made heroic efforts to ensure that French would remain the language of diplomacy, confirming France’s ever-Gaullian rayonnement, however English easily became the undisputed continent’s - and world’s - ‘lingua franca’. Unfortunately, a common language has not significantly improved intra-European relations, its millennial tradition of disunion now characterized by the separation between a more relaxed but poor south, and a North that prides itself on efficiency. The conditions grudgingly accepted by Greek’s creditors have enraged the plurality that put the Syriza Party in power to end austerity, raising the specter of Greece’s exit from the Euro. Should this happen, it is likely to be followed by other countries suffering from World Bank imposed hardship, namely Spain, Portugal and Italy, whose left parties actively supported Syriza’s campaign, prefiguring a Europe united along class lines facing an American-inspired bureaucracy (in which however the dominant language is French….).

However crucial this issue may seem today, it is dwarfed by the problem of Muslim immigration. Over the last century, Europe transformed traditional African cultures, in which everyone had a roof and could grow food, into suppliers of the superfluous, and now it is powerless to stop large numbers of those living in the poverty of semi-development from migrating to the place where the superfluous beckons. France and Germany each count 10% of Muslims, and even in the Nordic countries, Muslims account for about 5%.  America’s failure to take into account the histories of other countries is equalled only by its inability to acknowledge challenges that America does not share: with a Muslim population that represents only 1%, although it calls for a global effort to ‘defeat terrorism’, it cannot accept that it is more important for Europe to deal with its Muslim problem than to wrestle Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit. 

Since the end of World War II, when ‘the Allies’ defeated Hitler’s Reich, America has literally taken over Europe with a combination of soft power (starting with Coca-Cola), and relentless warnings of an imminent Soviet, then Russian, invasion. Hitler had laid out his plan for world domination in a book he wrote while briefly in prison, Mein Kampf, or My Struggle.  (After being banned for seventy years in Germany, a heavily annotated version is now going on sale, while the original version has always been available in the U.S…). The Europeans failed to take Hitler’s plan seriously, and the lesson they learned from  World War II subsequently made them all the more attentive to American warnings of a Soviet, then Russian invasion of their territory. (The fact that the Soviet Union lost 26.6 million in that war, making it viscerally war-averse, has consistently been swept under the West’s carpet.) 

Today the European welfare state represents the highest level of human civilization, and while energetic individuals may still see America as ‘the land of the free’, developing world governments seek to emulate the European system, and this does not sit well with a United States determined to impose its competitive model. Most recently, seeing its quest for “full spectrum dominance” threatened by a Russia/China condominium, Washington has not thought twice about throwing its European ‘partners’ under the bus, fomenting a war in Ukraine that could lead to nuclear war with Russia with Europe in the front lines. During the Cold War, the US was content to maintain Europe in a state of constant alert, and Europe’s leaders paid lip service to America’s playbook, knowing deep down that Soviet tanks were not about to roll across the European plain. Now however Washington demands that Europe actually join a conflict with its Eastern neighbor, and Europe’s leaders are refusing, partly because the presence of Muslims has impacted the daily lives of their citizens.

Germany’s population grew by 300,000 during 2014, largely due to immigration, and the leaders of the German Party Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) appear to believe, as does those of the National Front in France, that sheer determination can prevent the Muslim minority from growing. In what is clearly a right-wing response to the European left’s successful backing of Greece’s Syriza Party in recent elections, yesterday Pegida held a rally beyond the borders of Germany, in Great Britain, in effect bolstering that country’s UKIP Party.

Left-wing leaders may realize that the math does not support this platform, but they cannot say so, anymore than American politicians can appear to approve socialism. The math is as follows: Not counting Russia, Europe has a population of half a billion which is declining, while the number of Africans, currently one billion, is expected to reach four billion by 2100. And while Europe is steeped in a two thousand year old Christian tradition, Christians having largely supplanted animists, 60% of Africans are Muslims.

France in particular is experiencing increasing tension not only between its Christian majority and its Muslim minority, but between Muslims and its Jewish community (the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, while still only accounting for 1% of the country’s total population). With both anti-Jewish and anti-Islamic incidents on the rise, the number of French Jews emigrating to Israel doubled over the last year, swayed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that they are safer there (which contradicts his claims of devastating Palestinian attacks). President Francois Hollande tried this week to broker a reconciliation between the leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities at a public event, but was largely unsuccessful. http://www.france24.com/en/20150223-france-jewish-crif-dinner-muslim-boycott-hollande/ 

What element could possibly intervene, over time, to prevent Europe from gradually becoming Muslim, as African populations migrate northward? Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide, attracting a significant number of lapsed Christians and Jews, not to mention young people in search of meaning, who unfortunately often end up joining ISIS. Mainstream Christianity, Islam and Judaism worship the same God, diverging in the identity of his prophet, rituals, customs, holidays, and especially, different attitudes toward sex, with Islam still following doctrines prevalent in Christianity not that long ago. 

Although the math tells us that Europe will gradually cease to be Christian, and co-existence between two religions that have different attitudes toward daily life will take decades to achieve, it does not have to involve a knock-down drag-out continent-wide war, similar to the Thirty Years war that pitted Catholics against Protestants between 1618 and 1648. In fact, it is beginning to dawn on some observers that Islam is going through a process similar to that of the Christian Reformation.

Here are excerpts from a piece I published in June, 2012, on my website ‘Otherjones’:

With the election of the Muslim’s Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt, the broader meaning of the Arab Spring can now be perceived. It makes Islam a crucial player in the worldwide jockeying for power between religion, liberalism and social democracy.  

Tunisia, the country that launched the uprisings that are shaking the Arab world, elected a President who ran on a human rights platform, and rules under a coalition with a left-leaning Islamist party and a social democratic party;

After Muammar Ghaddafi, a maverick who evolved his own version of socialism, was ousted, a National Transition Council was supposed to lead the country to a Western type democracy. It is opposed by both youth and religious groups, the former demanding greater transparency, the latter vying for a greater role for religion.

In Kuwait, divisions between an increasingly Islamist parliament and the Western-allied ruling family have worsened in recent years. In February’s parliamentary elections two-thirds of the seats were filled by opposition leaders vowing to expose high level corruption. After two ministers resigned in the face of scrutiny, the constitutional court dissolved parliament.

In all the Arab countries undergoing revolutions or regime change, the public is no longer a relatively illiterate mass. Muslim populations are increasingly educated, they watch TV, go on-line and use cell-phones. In the twentieth century, when the United States and the Soviet Union were vying for influence, the Arab countries largely chose non-alignment, but they also had a socially oriented Arab unity movement, which faced off against fundamentalist tendencies such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt this latter seemed to want to be all things to all people, promising Sharia law, bikinis, democracy and human rights, resulting in a return to Mubarak-stye outright military rule. 

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups which led to the rise of a Muslim Socialist Party, the Ba'ath. In 1963, a group of disgruntled Alawite officers, including Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, helped the Ba'ath Party seize power. Under the Alawites, Syria has been under secular socialist rule, a fact never mentioned in the mainstream media. That is why it is supported both by Russia  and Iran.

All this is a reflection of the jockeying between religion, socialism, liberalism and various combinations thereof. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Islam is undergoing a crisis similar to that which began for Christianity in the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther publicly rejected Catholicism, and Protestantism was born in an effort to ‘reform’ it. The subsequent European wars of religion lasted for over a hundred years, but had few repercussions on the outside world. Today, the failure of the Western media to provide information about Islamic history results in a severely limited view of an upheaval that affects the entire globe. In a region that has been almost monolithically religious for fourteen hundred years, secular, socialist and liberal ideologies have paved the way for a reformation - or modernization of Islam, as emphasized in an RT interview of Tunisia’s foreign Minister on June 30 rt.com/programs/interview/tunisia-political-change-abdessalem/. The West needs to recognize this trend instead of fixating on the terrorist behaviors - comparable to the European Religious Wars - that accompany it.

For the first time since the end of the Second World War, faced with America’s demands that they commit their military to the battle for Ukraine when their home fronts are increasingly the theatre of both terrorist attacks and anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish violence, Europe’s leaders are tempted to exchange their junior partnership with the US for a Eurasian future among equals. Although Russia has been at war off and on with Chechen insurgents since the early nineteenth century, the leaders of Europe know that it is a multi-ethnic nation that has successfully integrated the 14% of Muslims that make up its population. In a post-Charlie world, Hollande and Merkel cannot be indifferent to the fact that Vladimir Putin has supported moderate Islam by aiding modernization among Russia’s Muslim neighbors, the countries on its southern border, known as the Stans (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan,  Tajikistan, and Kazakstan) as well as in the Caucasus region that includes Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Azerbaijan.  

Nor is it any coincidence that it should be Angela Merkel to lead Europe away from the American fold toward a Eurasian Commonwealth. According to a recent portrait in The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/quiet-german this drab little woman ended the careers of more than one veteran male politician in the course of her rise, and Washington was ill-advised to bug her cell-phone. It is often noted that Merkel speaks Russian; overlooked is the fact that for several decades, Russian was the lingua franca of the satellite nations of Eastern Europe that have traditionally been in Germany’s sphere of influence. While Merkel epitomizes these nations’ pro-American penchant, like everything irrational, that penchant is subject to bitter disappointment. Older readers will remember the disenchantment of American supporters of Stalin’s Soviet Union; that of European Fulbright beneficiaries vis a vis their American benefactor will have a much greater impact.

Notwithstanding its conquests and achievements, seventy years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Europe of carefully tended landscapes, cathedrals and museums, is scarcely less fragmented than during the nineteen-thirties. While right-wing parties rise alarmingly in the polls, an official left mesmerized by the United States confronts a base that increasingly rebels against World Bank/IMF-imposed austerity and supports Palestine against America’s ally, Israel. While for the United States, Otherness requires regime chance, a Europe in which the divide between Christianity and Islam is becoming increasingly violent preaches acceptance of Otherness. And while the United States ‘war on terrorism’ takes place outside its territory (or ‘homeland’), Washington’s fabricated crisis in Ukraine prevents them from dealing with a situation that threatens their own ‘homelands’.

Amidst the fragile truce on Europe’s marches between a Ukrainian regime that is beholden to Neo-Nazi militias and civilians who identify with Russia, Vladimir Putin was in Budapest recently, signing an agreement for two nuclear power stations and another that will enable Hungary to use leftover gas from a previous contract. Disregarding this confirmation of Russia’s impeccable record as a supplier, and undoubtedly following a Washington-inspired script, a German commentator on RT, mindful of Prime Minister Orban’s refusal to endorse sanctions against Russia, accused him of putting Hungarians ahead of Europe. But it is likely to take more than one generation for Europeans to put Europe first.  As I write in A Taoist Politics from which the quote at the beginning of this article is taken: 

There is one more thing that needs to be said with respect to sovereignty: it must not be confused with allegiance. On one side are national decision makers, who are sovereign vis à vis their counterparts in other nations, and on the other are subjects, who owe them allegiance. When states join together, as in the European Union, there arises a question of sovereignty of last resort, which refers not only to the power of governments to make decisions vis à vis other governments, but also to the citizen's obligation to obey them. 

It is precisely in questions of last resort that the citizen's allegiance is crucial: without it, there can be no state. Hence, when a group of states decides to unite, allegiance must pass from each individual state to the mega-state. For how can a state which no longer mints money, commands its own army or raises taxes constitute the principal seat of sovereignty, that of relations with other sovereignties that commands last resort allegiance? In the event of war between the European Union and a country outside it, citizens would have to obey the Union, otherwise it would cease to exist.

The otherness that evolved from chief, to prince, to king, to nation, is today ever more abstract - and ever greater. As nations have become weaker, their power challenged by other entities, whether multi-nationals or terrorists, the threat posed by otherness has become as acute as in the most primitive of times - or the most authoritarian. The North clings to the illusion of the absolute sovereignty of its Nation-states, with the United States, the most powerful, distant other playing a role similar to that of kings in the past vis a vis princes. 

At a time when otherness and sovereignty are its supreme challenges, the question is whether Europe’s leaders will emancipate themselves from American vassalage in order to deal successfully with otherness.


  1. Very interesting. This analysis helps to make sense of what is going on.

  2. Thank you for your comment John. I'm glad you find it useful and think it will be ever more so as time goes on. :)