Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Hazem Saghieh

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Europe and Us: Forms of Mutual Influence

If we are to believe the press reports and opinion polls, we should expect a dark day for Europe; that day is today. The continent’s elections, according to these reports and polls, could grant the far right more power than the centrist forces, whether on the right or left.

This is not good news for refugees and migrants, as these parties are opposed to their asylum and immigration, but it is not good news for the European project itself, which these parties are also against, either. Thus, the new parliament will have an impact on four fronts over the next five years:

- On climate change, with the far-right freezing Europe’s environmental agenda and its modest achievements, as well as pitting it against agriculture and what it considers to be farmers’ interests.

- On asylum and immigration, which are seen as threats to Europe’s “identity,” with Islamophobia central to this perception.

- On integration initiatives, which the far-right seeks to slow down, if not prevent altogether, to bolster nationalism within EU countries.

- On the Russian-Ukrainian war, with most of the far-right parties refusing to support Ukraine. Some parties in this camp are accused of having ties with Vladimir Putin, and the latter is charged with providing them with various forms of support.

Accordingly, these elements are blamed for Europe’s economic decline since the COVID-19 pandemic and Europe’s diminishing role on the global stage.

The fears are compounded by the fact that the far right has already won elections in Italy, the Netherlands, and Hungary, and comes in first place in French, Austrian, and Belgian public opinion polls, and it is part of coalition governments in Finland and Slovakia.

Just two days ago, however, the continent, along with the entire progressive world, was celebrating an event of a different nature: the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landing, when tens of thousands of Allied soldiers landed on those French shores and drove the final nail into the coffin of German Nazism.

Europe then witnessed over three decades of economic prosperity whose way was paved by the American “Marshall Plan” to rebuild it. This period also saw the emergence of the “welfare state”, which presented an excellent and unprecedented model for combining democracy and socialism.

Therefore, history does not call on anyone to be assured of inevitability. Indeed, its bright pages do not guarantee that darkness and deterioration will not return, just as its dark moments do not have keys that close the door to the future. There is no linear progress in history, as those described as optimistic claim, nor is linear decline, as those described as pessimistic claim. There is no dawn that ends every night, as poems preach, nor is there, as elegies forewarn, a night that prevents every dawn.

The only certainty is that only when they begin in Europe do either of these two trajectories become global. As fascism rose in the 1930s, a climate of fanaticism, tension, and militarism prevailed across the globe. With the defeat of fascism in the 1940s, the gates to independence movements and the spread of new, more open and liberal ideas and values, were unlocked.

As we wait for the non-European world to launch trajectories that become universal, drawing the peoples of Europe and the rest of the world, a massive question that spurns even greater concern will loom following the elections of this unhappy day: does Europe feel like it has rushed towards a universalism whose repercussions and hardships it can no longer bear?

When it began leaving religion, Europe embarked on this mission alone. No one also followed suit; rather, they became more committed to it. When nationalism began to wane in Europe, it only grew stronger and more robust elsewhere. When Europe embarked on adopting more liberal values and ideas about morals and sexuality, with even its churches not lagging behind, others became increasingly mired in reactionary ideas that hasty optimists thought had disappeared.

As an increasing number of former colonies became independent states, success stories plummeted to a minimum. Lampoons of colonialism, which had become a thing of the past, and threats of bringing it to an end after it had ended, remained the most prominent indication of independence. And as soon as a blemish or shortcoming appears in the trajectories of the non-European world, intellectuals rush to accuse modernity and enlightenment of being behind it.

The source of the justifiable fears that discontent with universal values will ravage Europe is based on an assessment that we often tend to ignore.

We tend to assume that Europe, and with it the United States, are two entities that influence us but are not influenced by us, and that they change us but are not changed by us. Influence and change, in this narrative, go to mythical and conspiratorial lengths to present us as oppressed and persecuted peoples, and the influence and impact of what happens in our regions on Europe and the US as non-existent or practically so.

This is not accurate, and it does not provide solid ground for betting on our playing an opposite role, one that serves both our interests and Europe’s, as well as affirming our agency in this universe.