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May 26, 2005

Desperately Searching for Eurabia

In a September 2004 interview at Front Page Magazine, Bat Ye'or defines Eurabia as follows.

Eurabia represents a geo-political reality envisaged in 1973 through a system of informal alliances between, on the one hand, the nine countries of the European Community (EC) which, enlarged, became the European Union (EU) in 1992 and on the other hand, the Mediterranean Arab countries. The alliances and agreements were elaborated at the top political level of each EC country with the representative of the European Commission, and their Arab homologues with the Arab League's delegate. This system was synchronised under the roof of an association called the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD) created in July 1974 in Paris. A working body composed of committees and always presided jointly by a European and an Arab delegate planned the agendas, and organized and monitored the application of the decisions.

There are many problems with Bat Ye'or's thesis. Most immediately, quite apart from assuming unrealistic motivations for everything from European foreign policy to immigrant demographics, she severely overestimates the functionality of the international organizations that she cites.

For instance, searching on Google for the keywords "Euro-Arab Dialogue" returns a bit over four thousand, up from under a thousand the last time I checked, back in 2002. There's even a two references to the Euro-Arab Dialogue in the top 10 hits returned by Google which aren't Ye'or's endlessly copied articles. This compares to 33.5 million hits for "European Union," 439 thousand for "Commonwealth of Independent States," a bit over three million for "ASEAN," 3.7 million for NAFTA, and almost 1.4 million hits for "Mercosur" or "Mercosul." I'd have expected that such an important group as the Euro-Arab Dialogue--the central body behind Eurabia, after all--would have a bit of a higher presence outside of Ye'or's literature than it does. Surely more people would have noticed by now?

Then again, reading the various non-Ye'or descriptions of what the Euro-Arab Dialogue is supposed to do and what it has actually done, I begin to suspect that accepting Ye'or's thesis about the Euro-Arab Dialogue is something like believing that the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group is actually a mechanism intended to ensure Canadian military participation in Taiwan's upcoming war of independence against China. As for the Arab League, I fear that it has lost whatever tenuous coherence it once had once Egypt decided to break with the League and sign the Camp David Accords. It isn't as if the Arab League has ever been as capable a body as the European Union, mind, as the failure to unify the Arab states in any meaningful way demonstrates.

This thesis also misreads the balance of power between the European Union on the one hand and the Arab states on the other. Yes, (some) Arab states have oil. The European Union is the $US 12 trillion First World economy that is a preferred destination for immigrants from the Arab world and a necessary source of much of the civilian and military technology used in the Arab world. The European Union is a global economic power with significant cultural and political influence worldwide, hence, numerous partners apart from the Arab world: Russia, South America, China, India. If any side is the hegemon in this relationship, it's the European Union.

While other policies--those relating to the Middle East peace process, those relating to the Persian Gulf--play a role, the European Union's relationship with the Arab world is dominated by the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership's stated goals are threefold: establishing "a common area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of political and security dialogue"; building "a zone of shared prosperity through an economic and financial partnership and the gradual establishment of a free-trade area" by 2010; and, encouraging a "rapprochement between peoples through a social, cultural and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies." Unfortunately, the Partnership's lofty hopes, as Hüseyin Isiksal notes in his paper ("Security, Globalisation, and Problems within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in the post Cold War Era") (PDF format) may go unfulfilled. The implementation of the Partnership has gone slowly, with declining foreign investment in the Arab world and a rather fraught relationship generally between Europe and the Muslim world generally boding ill. The goal of establishing a free-trade zone by 2010 seems to be as realizable as the European Union's Lisbon strategy to become the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

Central Europe has easily beaten the Middle East and North Africa into the ranks of the European Union. More, it's quite possible that the former Soviet Union will follow the central European trajectory, with countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia hoping to become member-states. The Eurabia thesis would seem to predict that the Middle East and North Africa would do rather better than either of these two regions. Even Turkey, a country with a long history of participation in European institutions, might well not get in. Although it is
as developed economically (PDF format) as the poorest entrants and has a fairly vibrant civil society, its effort could still fail given ungrounded fears of mass immigration, skepticism about the durability of Turkish democracy, and the fact that Turkey is homogeneously Muslim.

Such potential candidates as Morocco and Tunisia can expect to be eternally outside of the Union's gates, to say nothing of such implausible candidates as Algeria, Libya, Syria, and Egypt. Quite apart from the fact of not being geographically European (and, it must be added in this era of civilizational clashes, culturally European). none of these states as yet meets any of the political, economic, or social preconditions for European Union membership. Arguably, radical republican dictatorships, conservative republican dictatorships, and conservative traditional monarchies are incapable of participating in structures like those of the European Union, lacking the flexibility and the transparency and the functionality of democratic regimes. Free-trade regimes are a different thing--China has notably achieved economic success in the past-quarter century despite its dictatorship--but as the various Arab Human Development Reports suggest, most of the non-oil economies of the Arab world are at best able to keep pace with population growth.

So. The European Union, contrary to the arguments of the Eurabia hypothesis, isn't rushing into an ill-thought subordination under Arab rule. If anything, it's decidedly reluctant to involve itself with the Arab world at all, favouring trade with China and immigration restrictions against the Third World and mandatory government assimilation programs. The most readily testable plank of the Eurabia argument is unsound.

I wrote back in January that one major failing of the Eurabia argument is its sheer danger. If it's impossible for Europeans to agree with Arabs (or Muslims; there's always some semantic slippage) on certain principles of foreign policy, or for Europeans and Arabs to enjoy mutually beneficial trade or to enter into grand political projects or to engage in a "dialogue of civilizations" (whatever that is), or for Arabs (and other Muslims) to be loyal citizens or honest partners, then the implications are both vast and obvious. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are two methods which have been used to control inconvenient or threatening populations within a state's frontiers; aggressive war and colonization are two methods which have been used to control inconvenient or threatening populations outside of a state's frontiers. If ever the peoples of the European Union bought the Eurabia thesis--if any nation-state did--we could expect bad times ahead.

Granted that Eurabia is a concept that lends itself easily to racism, people who accept it are not automatically racist. Myself, I admit that before I completed my post last year on the demographics of French Muslims, demonstrating that, in fact, they are assimilating, I thought it at least possible that Europe might become substantially Muslim and that some parts of Europe could become Muslim-majority. Fortunately, I think that there's a litmus test that can be applied.

In the mid-2010s, a series of peaceful democratic revolutions and negotiated transitions establishes fairly secure and generally secular regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Things are shaky, but no more shaky than they were in Argentina or Brazil in the mid-1980s, or in Poland and South Africa in the first half of the 1990s. The new governments respect human rights reasonably well, religious pluralism is put on a strong footing, and the rights of women are acknowledged as realities. In an environment where the fears of a threat to Europe from its southern neighbours are no longer remotely plausible in the presence of peaceful regimes, would it be a good idea for the European Union to relaunch the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership or not?

The idea behind the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership makes sense. The ideal of balanced and reciprocal relations between the two sides of the Mediterranean is a good one. Fernand Braudel was right: There really is a Mediterranean community, having transcended barriers of nationality and language and religion to form a single whole for at least a millennium. This community isn't going to do well when everyone's girding themselves for Huntington's clashes of civilizations. When people aren't afraid that their neighbours are going to descend on them and murder them, why stop this community from forming? Rules-based systems tend to produce better results than anarchical systems, after all.

Fearing and hating the idea of a takeover of Europe by Muslims is one thing. Fearing and hating all Muslims indiscriminately is quite another. Sometimes, reading Bat Ye'or and the other die-hard proponents of the Eurabia thesis say about the 21st century, I worry that they think that Europeans and Arabs should have anything to do with each other at all. Bigotry is never a good foundation for scholarship, or for policy.

Posted by randymac at 11:12 AM