Google+ dirittotributario.eu: The Mediterranean and its metaphors

domenica 5 aprile 2009

The Mediterranean and its metaphors

Così il Prof. Olivier Roy ha aperto i Mediterranean research meetings del 2009 all'Istituto europeo di Firenze




When the period of direct colonialism ended some fifty years ago, with the fiasco of the Suez expedition and with the independence of Cyprus and the Maghreb countries, the Mediterranean lost its importance for Europe to become a secondary front in the Cold war: the Israelo-Arab conflict was then seen both as a regional conflict and as part of a global confrontation between the West and the Soviet empire, but not as a real concern for Europe. European countries concentrated into building a mostly inward looking European Union, while importing a largely Muslim labour force which was not supposed to stay.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Mediterranean made a come-back as a strategic issue for the European Union. The Madrid conference and the Oslo agreements brought the EU as a benevolent although largely impotent actor in the peace-process. The Barcelona process inaugurated a search for a global cooperation between the EU and the other Mediterranean neighbours, which, former Yugoslavia and Israel apart, happened to be all Muslim and/ or Arab countries. The polemic on the Turkish candidacy for EU membership was exacerbated by the debate on the religious roots of the European culture, as illustrated by the controversy surrounding the preamble of the European constitution. The sudden recognition that the labour immigration of the sixties and seventies had led to a permanent settlement of a Muslim population in Europe contributed to kick off a debate on integration, on the compatibility of Islam and European values and on the strategic long-term impact of demographic shifts. These tensions were exacerbated by the terrorist attack of 9/11 which triggered an on-going debate on the clash/ dialogue of civilizations.
What is the underlying rational of the European interest for the other side of the Mediterranean? Essentially a defensive and reactive one. The “other side”, despite all the official rhetoric, is seen more as a liability than as an asset, and, more precisely, as a reservoir of negative fluxes: illegal immigration, terrorism, virtual spill-over of the Middle Eastern conflicts leading to an intensification of sectarian and ethnic communal identities among large segments of the European population, among them second generation Muslims and a part of the Jewish population.
I.
The Mediterranean is now at the center of the debate on European identity. How does the political sphere express this debate?
Two attitudes are possible: a confrontational or an integrative approach.
The confrontational approach is rejected by all European governments, but more for pragmatic reasons than because of conviction (many conservative Catholics as well as many staunch secularists do consider that Islam is not compatible as such with European values, even if they sharply disagree between themselves on the definition of these values). The integrative approach became, by conviction or pragmatism, the official policy: there should be a process of dialogue, cooperation and agreements, eventually culminating in the building of institutions to fix the framework of cooperation with the Mediterranean neighbours of Europe, while European governments should adopt a more assertive policy for integrating their Muslim population, to avoid urban riots and Islamic radicalization.
But as we shall see the two approaches share the same premise: that the Mediterranean is divided between two different cultures both based on a specific religion (Christianity and Islam), a specific historical narrative and a specific territory, which extends or shrinks at the detriment of the other. Religion, History and Geography are the nemesis of the Mediterranean dialogue.
In these conditions, the issue is how to promote a positive approach of integration, while sharing in the meantime most of the premises of the confrontation theory? As often rhetoric is called to hide contradictions, unsaid prejudices and inconsistencies. But the problem is that the use of metaphors and rhetorical figures of speech does not seem to be any more consistent, while fostering the very prejudices they were supposed to dismiss.
Official speeches, academic conferences, newspaper articles carry a flood of expressions and metaphors, dotted with historical references recast as universal paradigms. How to make the Mediterranean something more than a large surface of water? Cradle, bridge, rift: metaphors start to flourish, and rhetoric replaces or hides analysis. History provides also metaphoric paradigms which are cut from their real environment, as for instance Al-Andalus.
The Mediterranean is called a cradle of civilizations, and more precisely of the monotheist Abrahamic religion. The cradle can thus turn into a bridge that crosses the water (well maybe crossing is here an unsaid statement of value, but “mooning” or “starring” will not help). But the Mediterranean lake may turn also into a rift; opposing two different worlds. We should thus bridge the rift to avoid confrontation. But the metaphor of the peaceful bridge can take a military turn: bridges are connections, bridgeheads are threats (immigration, Turkey in Europe, Israel for the Arab world, etc.). How to build a bridge without bridgeheads?
History also provides a lot of paradigms that are used metaphorically. These historical metaphors are cut from their context, are often based on distortion and ignorance of real History, and are transformed into universal and anachronistic models to describe the present situation or provide wishful-thinking solutions. This has not necessarily to do with bad faith, because here again metaphors can be used to foster confrontation as well as cohabitation. But, bad or good, Faith is a real issue.
Historical paradigms may substantiate the narrative of the confrontation: Roma versus Carthago, Islam versus Christianity, Europe versus the Ottoman Empire, and more recently, in the intellectual debate, crusades and Jihad, dhimmi and the “colonial subject”, Mont Saint Michel versus Cordoba etc. It is a story of conquest, crusades, battles (Poitiers, Granada, Lepanto, siege of Vienna), controversies (disputatio as the one mentioned by the Pope in his famous discourse of Regensburg in September 2006), piracy, slavery, and colonial expeditions from Egypt to Algeria. Borders are mobile but always oppose a “we” and an “other”: the moving line of castles in Castile, the coastal cities from the Maghreb versus the Hinterland and the “bled”, modern enclaves (Ceuta, West Bank settlements), the various walls and fences (from Melilla and Cyprus to the Israeli green line), not to speak of the destitute neighbourhoods in French suburbs or British inner cities. In this perspective whole populations change of status according some variations of borders and regimes: they may leave more or less voluntarily and experience the demotion of becoming refugees (Muslims leaving Andalusia for Morocco or the Balkans for Turkey, “Pieds-Noirs” leaving Algeria for France, Palestinians), they may be expelled (Moriscos and Jews, even when converted, from Catholic Spain), or be subjugated (either by forced conversion or by being turned into a lower status minority), or ends as part of the new modern underclass.
But another set of historical paradigms is called more and more often to substantiate the narrative of the peaceful cohabitation and fruitful dialogue between civilizations. Al Andalus is certainly the favourite paradigm, where the “three religions” were not only cohabiting at times but enriching each other. In this category we find also the kingdom of Sicilia under the German emperor Frederic II (12 th century), or the Ottoman empire after the reforms of the XIX th century. “Towards a new Andalusia” is a frequent motto to advocate new forms of cohabitation, including multi-culturalism among others. And here and there in Europe we see the burgeoning of associations called Avicenna or Averroes, exhibitions extolling the Islamic legacy in the European culture, books praising figures who crossed the cultural divide (Leo Africanus, the Emir Abdel Qader, Louis Massignon). As if the two models were Castile versus Andalusia, fences versus bridges, dialogue versus battle. Constantinople, Tangier, Alexandria, Thessaloniki, today Marseille and sometimes Haïfa (all being sea-ports) are often praised as successful cosmopolitan cities embodying the spirit of the perennial Mediterranean. “Métissage”, which badly translates into English, is celebrated by music festivals, fashion events, cooking books, movies, novels…
Due to the fact that few lasting political entities did embody such a co-habitation, culture is called upon to illustrate the richness of the civil societies versus the narrow-minded political and religious leaders. It is fashionable nowadays to praise the flexibility of the empires by opposition of the narrow-mindedness of the nation-states. The underlying idea is that the societies around the Mediterranean were more open and tolerant than their rulers, which may be true but says little about what should be the policies of our present governments.
The Mediterranean is thus presented as a civilization in itself, which imposes its perennial identity on local populations and fluctuant political entities. The Mediterranean becomes a pole, a hub, an organic entity. It is a metaphor in itself, embodied in the concept of “The Mediterranean according to Braudel”. Such a metaphor is making an interesting come-back with the concept of the Union for the Mediterranean. But what is this Mediterranean entity?
Etymology provides useful figures of speech. The Mediterranean is in the middle of something: Medium, Middle, Mittel, motawasset. This something is a “we”: it is our sea, “mare nostrum”. We are all Mediterranean people because we inhabit more or less close to the sea. But who are the “we” beyond a purely geographical dimension? In fact the “we” has almost always been defined first by a political power, even if it survived the decline and fall of this power. The “we” doesn’t share: the Roman Empire subjected or destroyed its rivals (Carthago). By the way, the destruction of Carthago is certainly not a good omen for the synthesis between East and West, between the Semitic and Hellenic legacies.
But civilizations appeared in turn to be more sustainable than empires: when empires collapsed, the civilization they have fostered survived and prospered. Empires became some sort of fathering ghosts. That’s true for both the Roman Empire and the Umayad Arab Caliphate. When Fernand Braudel wrote about the unity of the Mediterranean, he clearly conceived it as a Latin entity: Islam belongs to the Hinterland, the desert, the bled, and the Muslims who came to settle into Southern Mediterranean coastal cities joined, according to Braudel, a de facto Latin civilization. “We”, for Braudel, are clearly Christians and not Muslims: the model is assimilationnist, not multi-culturalist.
“Mare nostrum” was not just a European view. For many Arab scholars of the past, the “mare nostrum” is the dar ul islam, and an early debate arose among scholars concerning the fate of the Muslim minorities left behind after the reflux of Muslim political control (from Sicily in the XI century to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1907).
In both cases, the “others” were defined as a minority which should either be expelled (Spain after the reconquista) or granted a specific status, but more as a tolerated minority that as full citizens (that was the case with the Arab caliphates and the Ottoman empire, but also for the western colonial powers when they defined a dual status system for the residents of their colonies: the “Europeans” and assimilated on one hand, and the “indigenous people” on the other hand). Inclusion meant toleration, not full integration. The “others” were seen as an extension or a bridgehead of the “other” civilization: the capitulations agreements between France and the Sublime Gate put the Middle Eastern Christians under the patronage of the Christian states, and thus transformed them, more or less willingly, to some sort of an extension of the West. And similarly, Muslims in Europe are often seen as a physical extension of Muslim countries (which for instance may turn back the “capitulations” system, by maintaining close ties, if not control, on Muslim communities in the West through consulates, religious institutions and migrants’ associations). In a word, “we” refers always to a political and territorial domination, even if other groups could be tolerated and even protected. This territorial vision entails of course a specific geo-strategic conception. To be more precise, the problem of geo-strategy as a discipline is that it is linked with a purely territorial perception of the world, as a mere set of flat maps. Geo-strategy is a science of the past, the science of “flatitude” and has little to say about dynamics and mobilities.
The status of minorities around the Mediterranean, after the XVI th century, became more an issue of foreign policy resulting in bilateral treaties, than a purely domestic one: minorities were protected precisely to the extend that they were seen as “foreign”; their fate was defined by international treaties (for instance in France the protestants that were protected by the treaties of Munster, 1624, and Westphalia, 1648, were not forced to convert or flee after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685; similarly the Treaty of Lausanne, 1923, protects the religious minorities of the former Ottoman empire). The link between freedom of religion and international law may have been a progress for tolerance, but has a lingering unattended consequence: religious minorities are perceived as foreign-sponsored groups.
The debate on the Mediterranean is obviously a way to define Europe, but more negatively than positively. If the Mediterranean is a border or a rift, then Europe is whatever is on the Northern tier of this frontier, and its center of gravity is more on the Rhine/ Po axis, corresponding to the former kingdom of Lotharingia. Conversely if the Mediterranean is at the center, then Northern Europe is rejected at the fringe. This is precisely what was at stake in the project of the “Union for the Mediterranean”, which was first expressed as “Union of the Mediterranean”. In fact instead of coming suddenly out of the blue this project is rooted on a far less known historical paradigm: that of an alliance between the Catholic and Latin countries on one hand with the Muslim Arabs on the other hand, in order to counterbalance a protestant anglo-saxon hegemony. Such a “Mare nostrum” concept was reactivated in the XIX th century mainly by French officials of the Second Empire: the European settlements in Algeria and the institution of a Catholic church in North Africa (later followed by the carving out of Christian Lebanon from Syria by the French) went along with the declaration of Napoleon III that he was heading both the French empire and an Arab kingdom. Catholic Christianity, allied with a declining Arab and Muslim civilization, was seen as a bulwark against the coming hegemony of a dynamic Anglo-Saxon protestant world: let us not forget that at the same time when Napoleon III re-activated the concept of a Christian “mare nostrum”, he launched the fateful campaign of Mexico, dreaming of a world catholic Latin coalition that could thwart the US expansion. But, even if some advisers of Napoleon III dreamt of a Franco-Arab axis, it was nothing more than an extension of western civilization to new populations: during the XIX th century, Islam was no more seen as a threat by the West but as a declining and decaying civilization: inter-European competition was one of the keys of the colonial expeditions. Should we consider that the same idea is back? The famous “politique arabe de la France” bears something of that dream, although De Gaulle granted independence to Algeria precisely because he did not believe in a “franco-arab” synthesis, which would have been the inevitable consequence of opening full citizenship to the “indigènes”.
The divide between Europe and Middle East may hide other fault-lines… It is not very far-fetched to see in the project of the Union for the Mediterranean an avatar of this anti-anglo-saxon alignment, and it has obviously been understood as such by Germany. Henri Guaino, a close adviser of president Sarkozy, is well known for his “souverainist”, anti-Brussels, neo-gaullist positions. This is a good example of an historical fantasy turned into a political driver by the power of speech, but doomed to remain little more than a rhetorical ghost, genuinely produced by a ghost-writer.
II.
As I said, all these historical paradigms do not refer to an accurate description of what the Mediterranean is or has been. They are called to dispel the anxiety generated by new trends and tectonic changes and to provide some wishful thinking options. These historical paradigms look familiar, but they have been reconstructed and isolated from their broader context.
In fact the two paradigms of integration and confrontation are poor tools of explanation: they could be deconstructed to show how the past was more complex. On one hand, tolerance and dialogue have never been the driving force in history. When cohabitation did happen, it was not based on brotherhood and equality, but framed along hierarchical models: the dominant paradigm was that of cujus regio ejus religio, that is the adequation between territory, power and religion. Minorities could possibly exist, more easily in Muslim territories, but they were more tolerated than recognized as a permanent and legitimate presence.
On the other hand, there has almost never been such a thing as a popular and massive mobilization of two civilizations rallying under their religious banners to fight each other. The Muslim conquest did not meet a “Christian” resistance (many Christians did welcome it), and the Crusades did not meet an Islamic counter-Jihad. And, whatever the discourse of confrontation, there have always been accommodations, negotiation and reverse alliances, which are called in retrospect treason, cowardice and defeatism, because they are constructed from the point of view of the clash of civilization. During the crusades, when the Holy Seat had undoubtedly a confrontational approach, the concrete attitudes of many crusaders as well as Muslim rulers were far more ambiguous. Ibn Taymiyya, perceived in retrospect as the harbinger of modern radical Islam, castigated the local Muslim rulers for not having been concerned by the fall of Jerusalem in the hands of the crusaders: as he noted, the famous Muslim theologian, Ghazali, who was at that time commuting from Baghdad to Damascus, never mentioned jihad or even the Crusaders in his works.
In a symmetrical way, the kingdom of France, although dubbed “Church’s elder daughter” maintained a privileged relationship with the Ottoman Empire, while many other catholic countries were fighting it. I remember, in a conference in 2002, hearing Professor Bernard Lewis explaining the French refusal to join the US led coalition against Saddam Hussein by a historical paradigm: from François 1st to De Gaulle the French have always chosen a Muslim reverse alliance against their Western Christian cousins: the proof is their conspicuous absence from the battle of Lepanto (1571), as well as from the battle of Baghdad (2003). But what if compromise were the norm and confrontation the exception? After all the European countries fought far more wars against each others than against Muslims countries (the symmetric is true). And when general Lyautey said “a war between France and Germany is a civil war”, he was not a man of his time.
It is clear that the reading of these events as a proof of a clash of civilizations is largely a construction. Were Ghazali and François 1st cowards and traitors, or on the contrary more “modern” than the way they are presented by the partisans of the clash of civilizations? In the battle of Lepanto, the French monarch, castigated for not joining the Christian coalition, had probably a more modern view than the old narrative of the crusades: that of state-interest; he viewed the Ottoman Empire as a political power, not as an alternative civilisational or religious model. The modernity of the Nation-State made crusades obsolete.
But “modernity” in this sense is not necessarily more “tolerant”. The same French monarch that ignored the call for the crusade of Lepanto did preside over the Saint Bartholomew massacre of the Protestants one year after (1572). Suppressing the Protestants inside France and allying with Protestant or Muslim forces against fellow Latin Catholics indicates the emergence of a new model: the Nation/State, but not the emergence of a paradigm of “multi-culturalism” or tolerance for religious minorities.
The irenic “Andalus” model is of little use to establish a new set of rules for trans-Mediterranean cooperation: it was more the result of a balance of power than of the rise of a new paradigm of inter-religious relationships.
In fact the strict connection between a religion and a territory was certainly a major component in the emergence of the modern state, but not a characteristic for “empires” which have ruled huge territories around the Mediterranean. In a word, one of two main concepts at the basis of the theory of the clash/ dialogue of civilizations (the correspondence between a religion and a territory; -the other being the bind between religion and culture) is more a consequence of the emergence of the modern nation-state that a legacy of the last fifteen centuries. And it would not be very difficult to show that the growing autonomy of the secular power from the influence of the church led often to a more restrictive policy in favour of religious homogeneity (from Gallicanism to “laïcité”, from Suleiman to Ataturk). For instance Philippe 4th of France attacked the Pope in Italy and expelled the Jews from France in the same time, and I would add, in the same move (primacy of the State); while the Papacy had usually showed a more tolerant attitude towards Jewish communities settled in its territory.
Cujus regio, ejus religio (the people should have the religion of the ruler) was a tool of homogenization of the nation/ state. Of course these nation-states had to deal with the fact that they were not homogenous. But when religious minorities were accepted it has been for a long period under the concept of “tolerance” not full citizenship (see for instance the “toleration edicts” towards the other Christian minorities: France 1787, GB 1829, Spain in 1968). It took a long time for the European states to shift from toleration to citizenship as far as religious minorities were concerned. But the association between religious minorities and a “foreign” influence remains strong in the political imaginary (and it is not confined to Muslim minorities in Europe, or Christian minorities in the Middle East: evangelical Protestantism is often decried as a tool of US influence). We saw how this association has been re-enforced by the use of international law to protect religious and national minorities.
The endeavour to territorialize religion has more to do here with the history of the modern State, than with the birth and extension of different civilisational models. But this territorialisation has become now one of the main premises of the paradigm of the clash/dialogue of civilizations. It has been cast as a myth of origin, when civilizations, in a typical XIX th century view, grow and develop as some sort of organic entities, but such an interpretation misses the legal and political dynamics of state constructions.
III.
In fact the success of metaphors and historical paradigms comes not from their geographical or historical accuracy but from their ability to express a continuity of perception, which is nevertheless put into question by the construction of Europe. This perception is that the close connection between territory, religion and culture is still at work. Europe is using, to understand itself, intellectual tools that have nothing to do with its own construction.
These tools took the forms of two models of policy, both officially aiming at insuring the integration of the second generation of Muslim migrants: the mostly French assimilationnist model, and the Northern European “multi-culturalist” model. Although apparently in total contradiction, they in fact share the same premise: there is a permanent connection between religion and culture. In the assimilationist model, new citizens should join a new national secular political culture, and thus had to give up their faith or to keep it in the private: to join a new culture is to join a new definition of religion and to embrace a secularism that has explicitly been constructed against religion (laïcité). In the multiculturalist model, “religion” is perceived as being permanently linked with a pristine culture and thus both terms (religion and culture) are used as almost synonymous: “Muslim” tend to be used as a neo-ethnic term and not as a reference to an individual faith (hence the head-lines on the “Muslim riots” in France suburbs). I will argue that both models are in fact modern transcription of the old principle “cujus regio-ejus religio”.
For the French model, assimilation is conditioned by a prerequisite: secularization. In a word there could be integration only if religion is restricted to the private sphere. Laïcité is more or less expressed as the official “religion”: instead of being cast merely in terms of neutrality (which is both the letter and the spirit of the Law) it is too often presented as a system of positive values which supersedes the religions. Assimilation here has something to do with the process of conversion, and the State may have the right to check the conformity with the model (see for instance the decision of the Conseil d’Etat to confirm the denial of citizenship to a burqa-wearing Moroccan woman). Hence laïcité appears more as a state ideology, or at least as a national political culture, than as just a set of the rules of the game. It is implicitly cast as some sort of an “official” religion. I don’t want to make a too far-fetched comparison, but it has something to with the forced conversions imposed on new subjects (Spain after Granada).
Conversely for the multi-culturalist model, the second generations of immigrants should be allowed, and even encouraged, to stick with their pristine culture: that of the country of origin. But the group is defined as a “minority”, where religious and ethnic patterns are lumped together. Multi-culturalism is not “métissage” because it does not suppose a synthesis, a quest for a higher identity that could subsume the pristine identities, beyond the purely legal definition of citizenship. The model which makes a come-back here is the ottoman model of the millet: it is quite logical to hear proposals to integrate some part of the sharia into a personal status code that could be managed through religious courts of arbitration (as the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed last year). Moreover, to use a religious criterion to define the minority means that symmetrically the dominant group is also defined by its religion, even if it is a secularized form of that religion. We still are in the “cujus regio ejus religio”. It is not by chance that Prime Minister Tony Blair waited to leave Downing Street before announcing his conversion to Catholicism.
In this sense the policy of the European states is a policy of re-territorialisation, instead of acknowledging the contemporary forms of mobilities (religious, ethnic, geographic or even occupational mobilities): territorializing the second generation of migrants, either by assimilation or by granting them a status of minority, and re-territorializing the populations of the Southern shores of the Mediterranean to prevent them to move towards the north. This has been the thread-line since the launching of the Barcelona process. To sum up:
-preventing new migrations by developing the southern Mediterranean tier.
-integrating Muslims settled in Europe through a policy of some sort of affirmative action.
-defusing political radicalism by fostering peace between Israel and the Palestinians (which means that European Muslims are still perceived as constructing their political identity as foreign Middle Eastern actors).
-preventing religious radicalization through a “dialogue with Islam”. And that too often means negotiating with the ruling regimes from the Middle East. This is tantamount to put in place a policy of reciprocal capitulations: the Europeans are supposed to protect the Christian Middle Eastern minorities (they failed, but feel guilty, see for instance the debate on the Armenian genocide), while Muslim states speak in the name of a supposedly Muslim diaspora in Europe (as some Arab countries tried to do during the Danish cartoons affair). The model of the late ottoman “millet” paradigm is back or most exactly never ceased to be at the core of the definition of a trans-Mediterranean peaceful co-existence.
The whole approach of the Mediterranean is still based on geo-strategic consideration of security, more than in the acknowledgement of an in-depth tectonic change.
IV.
What is the problem with these models ? My point is not to advocate an idealist new model. The problem is that these paradigms just don’t work. The main trends that are at work around the Mediterranean need new models of understanding.
I will sum-up the main reasons why the old paradigms don’t work:
1) Religions are more and more disconnected from the cultures in which they were embedded. Immigration and secularization have separated cultural and religious markers. Many Muslims consider nowadays that religious norms (for instance hallal food) could be applied in a western cultural context (hallal fast-food). Veil wearing is expressed more in terms of personal choice and freedom than as a wish to perpetuate a traditional culture. Fundamentalisms are both a consequence and a factor of deculturation: they shun and even fight the surrounding traditional cultures seen more as pagan than profane.
2) To identify a religion with an ethnic culture is to ascribe to each believer a culture and/or an ethnic identity that he or she does not necessarily feel comfortable with. Conversely it supposes that any member of an ethnic community belongs to a faith, while he or she may in fact reject or just ignore it. To identify religion and culture runs against true religious freedom, which supposes also the right not to believe, and the right to change religion. Multi-culturalism has a problem to understand conversions, at a time when the issue of apostasy is becoming the cornerstone of the Europeanization of Islam.
Religions express themselves more and more as “faith communities” instead of established churches or ethno-national groups (with the exception of the Christian Eastern orthodoxies). It is not by chance that traditional middle-eastern Christian churches, embedded in centuries old cultures, are slowly disappearing, while protestant evangelicalism is making a breakthrough among Muslim societies, in North Africa as well as in the immigration. Conversely, Islamic fundamentalist movements in Europe (including radical ones) are full of converts. The culturally embedded religions are in crisis: the Catholic Church, the traditional forms of Islam, liberal Lutheran Protestantism, Christian orthodoxies, eastern Christian churches. They are challenged by evangelicalism, salafisme, and neo-Sufism.
3) To identify religion and culture means also to identify European Muslim citizens as a “middle eastern diaspora », and thus to import the Middle Eastern conflicts into the European space, precisely at a time when this importation is defined as a source of potential tensions. I have no time to deal with that, but clearly the identification of second generation Muslims to the Palestinians through watching Al-Jazeera in Arabic has been largely exaggerated (no youngster who participated in the 2005 riots in France did wave a Palestinian flag, and if AJ decided to create a channel in English, it is precisely because few European Muslims are able to watch it in Arabic; -by the way the English channel is for more moderate precisely because it aims at a non Middle eastern audience).
Instead of trying to pursue an elusive multi-culturalism or to impose an assimilation based on a wrong perception of its “common values”, Europe should stick to its principles:
* To deal with religions as « mere » religions, not as the expression of cultures or ethnic group. To recognize the faith communities on the basis of an individual and free choice, to promote freedom of religion by treating equally all religions, but only as religions.
* Ethno-linguistic minorities should not be confused with faith communities. Both exist in the EU, but each kind of group should be dealt with different legal paradigms: freedom of religion is not the same thing as minority rights; although it could of course overlap (it is why for instance I am not happy with the term “islamophobia”). A faith is a choice, a racial or ethnic identity is, at least at the beginning, a given fact or an appellation bestowed from outside. The confusion between both does jeopardize the way citizenship and personal freedom have been constructed as the basic principles of political life.
Another last point is that the paradigms I am criticizing don’t reflect the new patterns of mobility and settlements around the Mediterranean. The bulk of migrations are coming from beyond the Mediterranean. We are no more at a time of a massive labour migration stemming from the Mediterranean countries. Fluxes are more fluid, circulation goes also in both directions: elderly Europeans are settling in Tunisia and Turkey for retirement, the jet-set has its fashionable quarters in Morocco. Many second generation graduates or entrepreneurs are looking for job opportunity or are investing in business and companies which precisely found an opportunity in playing on trans-Mediterranean joint-ventures (real-estate, travel agencies, import-export, medical activities, education, holydays resorts etc.). The increasing number of people with dual citizenship makes easier these new patterns of circulation. The informal or grey economy is also by definition playing on transnational networks which go far beyond family ties and “ethnic business”
Migrations from the Mediterranean areas are more flexible, temporary and reversible (I am not referring here to the new migrations coming from China, Iraq, Afghanistan or sub-sahelian Africa). In fact we should speak more of labour mobility or even of professional mobility than of labour migration: educated young Moroccans could have a French passport, take a job in London, then go back to Morocco to open a business, or fly to Abu-Dhabi. Instead, governments try to fix the population: restrictions on visa push people to move less, but also to stay when they are in the West, illegally or legally, while they could move in an easier way if they felt more secure on their administrative status. The social status of many from the second generations has improved and is slowly changing the matrimonial patterns. The old pattern (marrying a cousin from the bled in order to bring new family members into Europe) is not dead but increasingly replaced by a mobility of young graduates or young entrepreneurs. But students and relatives are treated too often as potential immigrants. The fact that a country like Turkey is almost no more exporting labour power is not taken into consideration. The process of territorialisation has been unable to stop illegal migrations while thwarting many positive dynamics for a mutual development. But once again this endeavour to territorialize the populations is a legacy of the territorial statist nation-state.
The process of the European construction runs against the paradigm of the nation state and is more in tune with contemporary forms of mobility. Often mocked and despised, the evolutive and elusive European Union, where flexibility and bureaucracy make strange but already mature bed-fellows, could perfectly deal with our Mediterranean complexity. Instead of aping the nation-state or dreaming of past empires, Europe could look positively as its own incompletion, a better tool to manage fluxes, de-territorialization and globalization. Europe has inaugurated a new relationship with territorialisation: there are different levels (the 27’s, Schengen, euro-zone) and a virtual permanent expansion, because of its inability to define a real border. As we saw this does not mean an open-space: borders have too many often been replaced by internal fences, walls and ghettos, but at least there is a juxtaposition of different spaces.
Europe is a self defining process with no ideological, cultural or religious pre-requisite: and this is good news! The debate on the European values is vitiated from the beginning: there could be no definition of European values except in terms of a formal legal system (freedom, democracy, state of law). If we try to define positive values and a European culture, we have three choices: a Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church (joined by some others), a come back to a “Christian Europe” with norms in place of spirituality, or resettling the Vatican somewhere between Jerusalem and Mecca (but that’s still the Mediterranean !). We have no choice than to accept pluralism.
In conclusion, we should not try too much to define what the Mediterranean is, means or should be. It is not a lake; it is open sea, just to prove that we cannot get rid of metaphors. But if it is open, then we have to be careful with the notion of “Middle”, because it supposes a circumference, a closed circle. Let’s open the circle.

Turkish has another way to call the Mediterranean: Ak Deniz, white sea, by opposition to Kara Deniz, black sea, -white for the white sands, and black for the black sands. But in fact, in Turkic languages, the opposition white and black is more classificatory than descriptive. And I remember that, when travelling in Central Asia, every time I left the remnants of a walled old town to confront the open space, I found a sign-post with the inscription “Ak Yol!”, “white road!” It means in fact “have a safe trip!” So let’s speak of Ak Deniz, the White Sea, for “have a safe sail!” And too bad for the Black Sea!
Posta un commento