In a world that has gone insane, especially in the past few months, Europe stands out as a voice of moderation and realism. With the first day of the new year, over 300 million Europeans in 12 countries have gracefully embraced a single currency, the euro, demonstrating a kind of vibrancy and political and economic cohesion that are unrivalled by any region of the world today.
The transition to a single currency is the astounding fulfillment of a bold objective adopted by the leaders of European nations in the aftermath of World War II to create a united continent that seeks to enhance peace and mutual coexistence through political and economic integration.
The road to European unity has been fraught with challenges and setbacks. But the people of Europe, through their elected representatives and leaders, have painstakingly overcome these challenges. Today united Europe is a bloc of nations that share the same political, social and economic ideals and as an outcome provide for the prosperity of their citizens. It is a triumph to democratic ideals, human values and reason.
As the people of Europe celebrate this exciting and historic feat, the Arabs, in contrast, languish in a state of limbo, having failed to make the transition to democracy, political and economic fusion, in spite of their declared goals that date back to the middle of the 1940s when the Arab League was established. The reasons are complex and numerous. But the reality is grim. The Arabs, about 280 million of them, have more in common in terms of a common language, history, geography and culture, than the nations of Europe. The uniting factors are stronger than those enjoyed by any regional grouping around the world. And yet unity as a concept that is still cherished by millions of Arabs remains a distant and elusive if not an impossible reality. Even the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is considered the only successful form of an intra-regional Arab body, admits its many shortcomings and limitations.
The successful European experience should inspire many regions. Already we see evidence of buoyant economic integration among the nations of South Asia, South America and others. But Europe stands out because of its sheer economic weight and political influence. For the Arabs, it is a region with which we share history, culture and sacred values. Europe’s independent political stands on the Palestinian problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict and its economic initiatives to develop the Mediterranean basin and extend aid and assistance to the countries of our region have left a positive view of Europe compared to that of the United States, for example.
As Europe gets stronger we would hope that its voice on the complicated issues of Palestine, international terrorism and dialogue between cultures and civilizations would become louder and more influential. But there are worrying signs, which we hope would not jeopardize Europe’s integrity and belief in its own values and principles.
American hegemony over world affairs, amplified since the sad events of September 11, have muffled many voices of moderation and reason, especially in Europe. In recent weeks European leaders have opted to tag along the US official policy line especially with regard to the events in Palestinian occupied territories and Israel’s ignominious acts against its defenseless people. Some of these policies and statements are perplexing and contradict long-standing European position on Israel’s responsibilities towards the Palestinian people and their right to resist occupation to attain independence.
It is our hope that Europe will continue to be a source of inspiration to the rest of the world. This could only come if the Europeans stand together in rejecting injustice and championing the rights of oppressed people to self-determination. Europe’s responsibilities extend far beyond its political borders and it is today in a position to temper the extreme and often egregious policies of its allies and partners.
Mr. Osama El-Sherif is the Editor-in-Chief of arabia.com.