The Elusive International Order

On his recent visit to Cairo, Danilo Türk headed for the famed Egyptian Museum in between official meetings and public appearances. Among the objects that held his fascination was the mummy of Ramses II, whose 1259 bc accord with the Hittite kingdom, Türk knew well, is the oldest known peace treaty. Türk had lectured his students about the accord as an international law professor, but on this occasion his interest in diplomatic history carried a little symbolism: a few weeks earlier, the Slovenian government had nominated Türk to be a candidate for secretary-general of the United Nations.

If he wins the election later this year, Türk, 64, won’t need a guide to show him around United Nations Headquarters, where a bronze replica of the Egyptian-Hittite treaty is displayed. After a distinguished academic career at the University of Ljubljana, he became newly independent Slovenia’s first ambassador to the United Nations in 1992. During his tenure, he served as his country’s representative on the UN Security Council. From 2000 to 2005, he served as assistant UN secretary-general for political affairs, under then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In 2007, he won election as the Republic of Slovenia’s third president, serving a five-year term.

Türk has a long involvement in human rights, starting in the mid-1970s when he collaborated with Amnesty International on rights violations in the former Yugoslavia. In 1987, he initiated the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Slovenia, and would go on to draft the human rights section of the country’s first constitution. Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod interviewed Türk in Cairo on March 8, 2016.

CAIRO REVIEW: What are the failings of the United Nations? How would you critique its performance
DANILO TÜRK: The UN did not fulfill all expectations regarding, for example, prevention of armed conflicts, prevention of violence. This, of course, is a difficult task, but it is central in the system established by the Charter of the United Nations. It pertains to the work of the secretary-general, the Security Council, and also the General Assembly. And each of these bodies could do more in order to manage international relations in a way which would prevent armed conflict. Prevention is one of the deficiencies—well, it’s one of the areas where the level of achievement is not adequate.

I think that the UN has not adjusted to the needs in the field of development sufficiently quickly. We have seen some progress but certainly there is more to be done. Let’s take for example the communicable diseases and the epidemics that we have seen in recent years. Now the threat of epidemics has been known for several decades, and scientists have told us about this. The UN has not adjusted to these new needs, and clearly, as the Ebola crisis showed, the system is not well prepared to address this sort of situation quickly in a crisis management mode. Then, in the field of human rights we have had a kind of a haphazard development of various treaty regimes and institutions to address human rights, and over time this has made the system complicated—complicated and remaining weak. Now here, of course, the Charter didn’t provide much guidance. But the seven decades of development have shown the importance of human rights, and I think the system has to be reformed in order to address these questions more effectively.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are these shortcomings that can actually be addressed? Let’s take the prevention of conflict.
DANILO TÜRK: They can be addressed. And the question is, in what combination? Take for example the situation in Burundi these days. There are fears that the situation may deteriorate into violent conflict within the country and then of course that could lead to tensions, to further destabilization, in the Great Lakes region. And the discussion is, who ought to do more, and when? Now the Security Council and secretary-general have moved recently. There was a mission to Burundi. They have worked with the leaders of Africa, and this perhaps would be sufficient. But certainly the UN could have moved earlier than this into a higher gear, so to speak, sending missions and also figuring out with regional leaders on what to do to prevent that situation from deteriorating. So that’s one example. The diagnostics work can be done in all situations, but moving from diagnosis to meaningful action requires a different mode than is being used at present.

CAIRO REVIEW: Speaking of conflict resolution, you were assistant UN secretary-general for political affairs at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, which was carried out without a UN mandate. In hindsight, what could the UN have done that could have prevented the invasion?
DANILO TÜRK: I’m afraid that this is a situation which the UN could not prevent, because there was a political decision to go for war—a decision that is regretted nowadays. I don’t know anybody who would continue to believe that this was a wise decision, but it was a very powerful decision made in a very powerful place, and the UN has been against that. As you know, the idea of seeking Security Council authorization was there. That effort to obtain the authorization of the Security Council for military action in Iraq in 2003 did not succeed, and that was a very important signal from the United Nations that there is something essentially wrong with this policy. But of course that signal, that advice, was not heeded. In situations like this, it is very difficult for the United Nations to do something very effective. Now, the United Nations cannot be blamed for the war in Iraq. It was involved in post-conflict stabilization to the extent it was possible, but of course a lot of damage was done. Iraq is in a separate category altogether, I would say.

CAIRO REVIEW: What other cases would you point to where the UN could have done more to prevent a conflict
DANILO TÜRK: Clearly Rwanda is such a case. In 1994, the UN was warned about the danger of genocide. There were specific reports to that effect coming from the human rights segment of the United Nations, and also from the peacekeeping operation which was deployed in Rwanda. But those warning signals were not properly understood by the Security Council that already had the situation in Rwanda on its agenda, and had regularly discussed the situation. The Security Council decided even to reduce the number of peacekeepers, instead of augmenting the mission or making it robust. And that was probably a big mistake on the part of the Security Council. Of course, it’s always easy to be wise in hindsight. I don’t want to suggest that this was an easy situation. Rwanda was happening at the same time when other situations were really very bad also, like the war in Bosnia, and so forth.

CAIRO REVIEW: There’s always going to be a political decision by some nations, especially superpowers, that will be a game changer in many situations. So what role can the UN or the secretary-general play—in the case of Iraq, to have saved America’s decision makers from themselves?
DANILO TÜRK: Probably it’s very difficult to save the decision makers of the main powers from themselves. I’m not sure whether the United Nations can be expected to achieve this in all situations. The United Nations can be a wise advisor but cannot force a major power to change its policy. That’s probably beyond the reach of the United Nations. One has to be realistic about that. We live in a world where there are great powers, and the great powers have their ways of resisting or ignoring the will of the United Nations. That we have to be aware of, and I think the way to deal with these things is to work through the United Nations in a timely fashion.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you see the role of the secretary-general as a moral force in the world, to make a difference?
DANILO TÜRK: This is a matter of a combination of techniques. Sometimes the main emphasis should be on quiet diplomacy, sometimes on telephone diplomacy, very quick work. Sometimes problems do not happen because they were prevented. This happens very often in the context of quiet diplomacy, quiet communication with the relevant states. The secretary-general also has to listen to the countries that are affected by problems. Sometimes more has to be done in that direction, in other words to understand the nature of the problem better and to have a more sophisticated approach to its solution. And sometimes it is necessary to speak publicly, to make a public case, to point out that there is something that has to be addressed.

Let’s take a successful example from a recent time. There was violence after elections in Kenya in 2007–08. All the relevant leaders including the then-new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the leaders of the African Union, the leaders of the region, thought that it would be useful to send Kofi Annan, the previous secretary-general, to Kenya; to mediate an effort for reform of the country, to stop violence, and provide for constitutional changes which would put Kenya on the path of peaceful development. And that has worked, because essentially, as Kofi Annan later explained, the whole world was behind him, the whole world was supporting him, there was no forum-shopping, there was no way of saying, “Okay, this mission should not be successful, let’s try something else.” And that’s a good example, which says how important it is for the secretary-general to help orchestrate a kind of a generalized support, which is then a very important political asset in a mediation effort. I think that this example should be really given proper thought because in a variety of ways it is relevant to other problems in the world as well.

CAIRO REVIEW: What does that imply about the style of a secretary-general? Should the secretary-general be largely a servant of the Security Council and the membership, or really take the lead and be an activist, a politician, if you will, in pursuit of global peace and development?
DANILO TÜRK: Sometimes the latter, but not always, because one has to understand that the UN system gives primary responsibility for international peace and security to the Security Council. So the secretary-general always works in the framework of the Security Council. Now sometimes that work requires public statements, also pointing out the moral aspects of a particular problem, the moral dimension or the need for a moral approach to a certain problem, and therefore public statements can be helpful. But this is not a general rule. Very often quiet diplomacy would be a better option. So moral voice, yes, and that has to always be on the mind of the secretary-general. But it cannot change the secretary-general into a kind of moralistic figure. I mean, moralizing and moral commitment are two different things. It’s important to take a deeply moral approach to all problems, and then think what helps. Sometimes quiet diplomacy helps better than public statements. Public statements can also erode the authority of the secretary-general if they are not sufficiently thought through, if there are too many, and so forth. So one has to have a good sense of the measure with which one approaches this problem.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are we entering a new phase in international governance?
DANILO TÜRK: This is a question of what kind of global order we are likely to expect. Following the ending of the Cold War, the world entered into a long period of rather a fluctuating type of international relations. There is no firm international order established since the ending of the Cold War. The world has been changing constantly since the early 1990s, and it is quite possible that this type of situation will remain for a longer period of time. I remember a lecture given by George Kennan back in the mid-1990s. He was of course a very senior statesman and thinker. He was asked, “When can one expect a crystallization of a new order after the kind of seemingly orderly time of Cold War?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know. We can expect a very long period of instability and changes because the kind of stable basis of the order which emerged after World War II is gone, and the new situation will take time.” So I think that this was really a profound wisdom and a good understanding of the course of history. We should not eagerly expect a new crystallization quickly. I’m not sure whether quick crystallization would be a good thing for international relations.

So the question is, what is the basis of an international order that we can try to build, and then use for creating a good international system? I would say the basis is sovereignty of states. Again, we come back to the Charter. Sovereign equality of states remains the basis of international order for the future. Secondly, international norms. There is good reason to work for strengthening of international norms. We have seen unfortunately some regression in the past, especially in the norms relating to the use of force and law in armed conflicts. This is very unfortunate. We have seen certain situations when creation of norms was too slow, for example in the area of global warming. We had a Kyoto Protocol which did not fully succeed, and now we have the new Paris Agreement which hopefully will succeed. That shows that international norms are necessary and that this is accepted, but their creation is not always progressing with the right pace. The third element would be new forms of cooperation. If you take, for example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they are very ambitious and they have universal applicability to developed and developing countries. Now how does one design international cooperation around those objectives, which are agreed to by everybody by consensus?

Let us take the very specific example of China. China is discussing their thirteenth Five-Year Plan right now. Obviously it would be very important if the plan incorporated the objectives set in the Sustainable Development Goals. China was very serious about the predecessor goals, the Millennium Development Goals, and was very proud of their success in lifting six hundred million people out of poverty. The question then for the United Nations is how to design its activity, its policy, to help? In what ways can the UN more effectively advise governments? Where could the UN more effectively organize official development assistance to the least-developed countries? How does the UN work in times of natural disasters which devastate some of the countries? These are the questions which cannot be defined by legal norms but have to be a matter of policy. And for policy to be established, you need policy instruments. For the future, the UN will have to design policies which are statistically and otherwise better informed, and advice which is more authoritative in the sense of substantive developmental authority. How does one mobilize financial resources? These are going to be big questions of international cooperation.

CAIRO REVIEW: You have major powers like India and Brazil seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council. Is expanding the permanent membership essential, if the UN is to maintain a kind of moral leadership and effective governance?
DANILO TÜRK: I think that adjustment of the UN structure is desirable. The question is how far are the current permanent members prepared to agree, because it depends essentially on them. If you want to change the Charter, you have to have agreement of the five permanent members. So this is really a question for the existing permanent members. Secondly, all candidates for additional permanent seats are facing a degree of opposition in their own regions, which is a political factor. It has to be recognized very directly. There is no way of denying it because we have seen this being expressed many times in the United Nations and elsewhere. So the political situation does not look very promising for expansion of the group of permanent members. The question is, do we have credible alternatives? I think that it would be desirable to change the composition so as to allow the Security Council to reflect, to be more representative. But we also have to understand that being more representative does not necessarily mean that it would be more effective. I know people who are saying: well we actually have to reduce the number of Security Council members in order to make the Council more effective. There is also an argument suggesting that if you go too much beyond the number of fifteen [total council members], let’s say mid-twenties, then you are likely to have a less effective organ, more representative but less effective, because the agreements will be more difficult to reach. So one has to understand all these aspects of the proposal for reform.

CAIRO REVIEW: If you were living in the Middle East region, you wouldn’t have a very favorable view of the UN. About seventy years of UN resolutions that have not been effective in settling the Palestine issue. The Iraq war. The current Syria crisis.
DANILO TÜRK: The endemic problems of this region are really very serious and the UN has had limited progress in that regard. But there was some progress. There were some solutions, if you think about the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon in the year 2000. That was largely organized through the United Nations. For Syria, the only way forward is peace talks in Geneva organized by the United Nations, conducted by the United Nations. What we really need to do is to strengthen the resolve in the region itself for peace, because eventually peace has to be concluded by those who are at war or who are involved one way or another. And they have to be prepared to agree. The UN can help, but the UN cannot substitute for them and their will to make peace. Peace would require really very strong cooperation of a large number of countries from this region. And it seems to be possible that we shall have not only progress but also peace agreement in some time in the near future. And that I think is a good example which shows how much the UN can do. The UN is the convening power that can bring all these actors together, and can help them to find an agreement.

You take another example, Afghanistan has been at war since 1979 and the most important part of making peace in Afghanistan was a conference organized by the United Nations, the Bonn Conference, in the year 2001, which provided the framework for peace and the constitutional basis. Now that has not produced definitive peace in Afghanistan, but it certainly has created conditions through which the parties in Afghanistan and in the neighborhood can work for peace. I think that the talks the Taliban and the government are now starting are the key to future progress, and again, the platform created by the UN is the only platform that can help them. Now peace has to be made by those who are at war, not by the United Nations. The United Nations does produce a basis, a framework, a guidance, a mediation, and other instruments.

I think that the same applies to Libya. The UN is there, the UN has a political mission. It is doing everything humanly possible at this point and the only way to peace is through the political process that was established last December based on the effort of the United Nations. So, I understand frustrations, I understand criticism, and it is clearly true that the UN could do more, especially on the Palestinian issue in the past years, where not much effort was visible from the United Nations. More should have been done, but where additional efforts are needed, they can take place. I’m sure that in the coming years we can revive the peace process.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is it dead?
DANILO TÜRK: I don’t think that it is dead. It is, how should I say, it is dormant, but it is not dead. And of course, in one way or another it can be revived, either directly or through an international conference which would then have to have some follow-up again with the kind of partners that were brought together in the Quartet formed in the past. So I think that there are good reasons to revive this activity and I understand the criticism for lack of effort in the past years.

CAIRO REVIEW: You don’t think what has happened in Palestine is an irreversible process of the settlement of the West Bank?
DANILO TÜRK: Some people would conclude that this has become irreversible already. I don’t agree with that. I think that the need for settlement freeze is still not only there but the way to a two-state solution.

CAIRO REVIEW: To follow up on Syria, what would you see as the core of a peace agreement?
DANILO TÜRK: There has to be a political agreement, and the basic ingredients for that have been defined by the Security Council, which has spoken about a representative, inclusive, and non-sectarian political system in Syria. Now how exactly that should be constructed again is for negotiators. The UN can guide them but cannot replace them. That kind of system has to be established in Syria. Whether that would require some kind of a territorially defined reorganization within the borders of Syria, that’s for the parties to decide. Syria has not been a federal state but may become a federal state. Maybe that’s the way forward. Again, the guidance that is provided through the UN resolutions and Geneva and Vienna communiqués does not prescribe what exactly should that system be. It speaks about general contours of it, and leaves the necessary scope to negotiators to define what that system should be. And of course one can visualize a possibility of some sort of territorial definition within the borders of Syria that would answer this question.

CAIRO REVIEW: How does the UN deal with non-state actors, particularly in this crisis? You have a very important non-state actor in the Islamic State group that is a major factor on the ground.
DANILO TÜRK: There are two types of non-state actors. There are those non-state actors who are necessary partners for peace, and they will be at the negotiating table in Geneva. And there are some who will not be there because they cannot be seen as a part of the solution and the current cease-fire does not include them. I think that that shows the direction which the international community will go in the future. It will be necessary to continue to fight Daesh, and fight probably to the end. Now those non-state actors certainly are not going to be invited to the negotiating table.

CAIRO REVIEW: Do you see a UN peacekeeping role in Syria?
DANILO TÜRK: I would not exclude that. Some kind of peacekeeping role could be a possibility. It’s too early to speak about it now. It all depends on the type of political solution.

CAIRO REVIEW: Should the UN be fairly expected to manage and handle all these crises?
DANILO TÜRK: On the humanitarian side, the UN has been in the past decades fairly effective, I would say. Now of course the needs have grown exponentially in the past few years. There has been an independent panel which has produced several very good recommendations regarding the prevention of conflicts to start with—because of course humanitarian problems can be addressed effectively only if the political things are settled. But in the more narrow area of humanitarian assistance, there is a need for greater resources and there are proposals of how to obtain them. You should also remember that in the recent conference in London for Syria, the pledges reached the level of, I think, $8 billion, which is unprecedented. So the international community can mobilize serious resources. There are additional ideas for additional resources that would come either from better mobilization of the private sector, and from certain financial centers that have not been sufficiently active so far—including some in the Middle East. The third element in the picture would be a better organization and better management of humanitarian work itself. Now that work is not done only by UN agencies, like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the World Food Programme. This is also done by a whole industry, if I may put it this way, of non-governmental organizations. There is a need to better coordinate their work, to streamline their work. Of course it cannot be done directly by the UN because many of these organizations are completely independent and they would have to define their roles in the new situation, and improve their own coordination mechanisms. In short, activities which are aiming at a more effective international humanitarian assistance are taking place. We have to be realistic, we have to know that humanitarian assistance will be necessary in the foreseeable future. For example, in Libya, it is estimated that 2.6 million people need humanitarian assistance out of the population of six million, in a country which used to be among the richest oil exporting countries.

CAIRO REVIEW: As a European yourself, what is your understanding about Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis?
DANILO TÜRK: I am concerned and disappointed like many other people in Europe. I think that the European institutions did not respond adequately. We’ve seen over the past years an erosion of what could be explained as the community method. Community method of course was the way in which decisions are made in the European Union, and that matter requires a central role for the European Commission to come with proposals, to make sure that those proposals are accepted by the Council, by the member states, or implemented directly by the Commission depending on the powers involved. Now we have seen a movement of decision-making capacity from the Commission to the Council; more and more questions are discussed directly at the Council and the Commission has taken the back seat. This is not good. Of course, one can ask oneself, why has that happened? Certainly not only because of the Commission; I mean there was the whole situation which member states wish to handle directly through the European Council. But the side effect of that process, which started much before the current humanitarian crisis, has been the weakening of European institutions, including in particular the Commission and European Parliament. Now what we have seen in the humanitarian crisis in the last year, 2015, was a kind of culmination of this problem. States have resorted to individual measures, to domestic measures, restrictions of different kinds, restrictions relating to the status of asylum seekers, support to asylum seekers, admission of asylum seekers, and that has accumulated over time. I think that the awareness of the problem has grown and the Council now understands that the crisis is really very deep and it has become a crisis of the European Union. It’s no longer the crisis of refugees. It’s a crisis of the European Union. So I think in these circumstances it is possible to expect that the European Union will become aware of the threat to its own structures, and that the Union decision-making bodies will start building a common policy which does not exist at present.

CAIRO REVIEW: Why have Europeans reacted the way they have?
DANILO TÜRK: I think that European countries were not prepared for the numbers of refugees. I mean the systems that the EU has had in place, the Dublin arrangements and the Schengen, they were simply not designed to deal with this kind of numbers of asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees. Of course there are different categories of people involved in this large movement, so the system was simply not designed to deal with that, the system which required the country where asylum seekers arrive to take the decision on their status.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is this a sign that Europe as a project is really not viable?
DANILO TÜRK: No, I think that Europe as a project is viable. The EU would have to simply redesign its system. We have to find the solution to the current problem and that’s doable, with the centers for reception of asylum seekers in countries where they first arrive, in reducing the flows because there is much smuggling of migrants going on, and in creating a new system that would deal with this sort of situation in the future. And I think this is doable. We are not yet beyond the point of no return.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the human rights dimension of this crisis in Europe?
DANILO TÜRK: When you talk about human rights in this kind of situation, you have to understand that the right to freedom of movement constitutes the right to move within a country in which a person finds himself legally, or the right to leave one’s own country or any country, and the right to return to one’s own country. No element of the right to freedom of movement allows an individual to enter another country. That’s not part of the right to freedom of movement. So when one talks about human rights one has to understand that aspect of human rights as well. Freedom of movement is not an absolute right, and if you look at the literature, the documents, the treaties of human rights, you will not see a provision saying that there is no derogation of freedom of movement. There are non-derogable rights like the right to life, the right not to be tortured, the right to have freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and so forth. There are non-derogable rights but freedom of movement is not among them. Now I’m mentioning this because in the current discussion about human rights, this is kind of neglected. The European rules which give the asylum seekers the right to enjoy certain protection during the time when waiting for the decision of the host country goes beyond the universal standard of human rights. Now of course all that doesn’t mean that people who find themselves in the situation of refugees should not be treated humanely and with the utmost care. Obviously there are big problems nowadays in Europe because the countries were not prepared for the numbers and therefore the kind of care which is offered to refugees is not adequate. But this can be remedied. When one talks about human rights, one has to be really precise about which rights one wishes to be discussed.

CAIRO REVIEW: Don’t they have a moral right to protection and asylum if in their own country they’re under imminent threat of death and destruction?
DANILO TÜRK: They have the right to seek asylum, not to obtain asylum. The asylum is given by the host country depending on its own decision. And of course Europe has been rather consistent in granting asylum to people who are fleeing from wars. But in the current flows, there are many who do not come from countries at war. We have seen people coming from North Africa or from countries which are not at war. You cannot say that every individual who finds himself among the flows of migrants is fleeing from war, from a situation where the life of people is directly threatened.

CAIRO REVIEW: But many are.
DANILO TÜRK: Many are, certainly. But you have to figure out who is who. You know there is a need for procedure at the entry. And that has to be done but has not been done sufficiently.

CAIRO REVIEW: You have Europe as a political project, and you have a refugee crisis on the border of Europe, and you have Europe resisting to assist those refugees. A couple of individual countries have been supportive but Europe as a whole has refused to step up.
DANILO TÜRK: What did Europe not do that should be done?

CAIRO REVIEW: Many countries in Europe are not providing anything for the refugees.
DANILO TÜRK: But providing haven for the refugees is not a general obligation.

CAIRO REVIEW: Morally it’s not? If I’m in Europe and I have a European project, and Europe faces this demand from people who are seeking asylum from torture and death in their own countries, doesn’t Europe have that responsibility?
DANILO TÜRK: That’s a good question. Europe has responsibility to assist people who are actually fleeing from death and destruction, but as I explained before, not all of them are. There is a fair amount of smuggling of migrants going on. Criminal networks are fully engaged. Human trafficking is going on, and all this has to be really looked at very seriously. Of course, one has to provide asylum to those who are fleeing from war, no doubt about it. But many of them are not in that category.

And then of course we have learned certain things at the time of war in Yugoslavia. Slovenia for example at that time hosted seventy thousand refugees. It was at that time much easier to determine who is fleeing from war, because the war was close. And secondly, at that time, we discovered that the countries in the immediate neighborhood are much better placed to have these people, for two reasons. First of all, the cultural distance is much less, and secondly, the idea of return stays much more alive. People who move far away are much less likely to return after the war. People who stay closer are more likely to return after the war is over. So in that period of time, we have hosted many refugees, most of whom have returned, and we received very little international assistance for that. Now our lesson from that experience, from twenty and more years ago, is that of course the international community has to do its utmost to help refugees in the neighboring countries, much better than was the case in the Syrian crisis. There was too little assistance to Jordan, to Lebanon, to Turkey. Much assistance was pledged but not really carried out. And that was the first problem. That helped the flows of refugees to grow. So one has to see that as a matter of policy. We are not talking about human rights primarily here. We are talking about sound refugee policies and they were not fully in place in the case of Syria.

CAIRO REVIEW: Considering the rise of the right in Europe now, is human rights going to become a vulnerable point in Europe?
DANILO TÜRK: Human rights is something that can never be taken for granted. One has to work for human rights. And it is possible that the situation of human rights will deteriorate. That’s quite possible in Europe as it is anywhere else. You can imagine more people in jails with worse conditions. That’s happening in some European countries.

CAIRO REVIEW: Even in France we saw the huge reaction in the security sphere after the November 13 attacks.
DANILO TÜRK: I don’t think that has affected human rights, any of the human rights, too directly. I mean it may have had an effect on freedom of movement, but I don’t think that that has affected human rights directly. One has to be quite precise which rights were affected and how. I don’t think that much has really happened in France.

CAIRO REVIEW: The move to strip citizenship from some French citizens who were involved in terrorism would be …
DANILO TÜRK: But is this prohibited by human rights law?

CAIRO REVIEW: Would you be in favor of that?
DANILO TÜRK: Not necessarily. But I wouldn’t say that this is a core human rights obligation of states to maintain citizenship. I mean citizenship is after all a relationship between the state and an individual, and taking citizenship away may be a violation of human rights but not necessarily.

CAIRO REVIEW: What would you identify as the most critical challenges facing global security in the coming phase of history?
DANILO TÜRK: There are of course regional dangers, especially in this [Middle East] region. One has to be very careful about how to construct peace in Syria and Libya in order to prevent the possible disintegrations—social disintegration of states, and further security threats resulting from social disintegration. This is one type of threat which one has to take very seriously and work through development mechanisms and everything else to make sure that this does not happen. And then secondly I would say communicable diseases and other threats to peace which have no passports, which cannot be located territorially but can produce instability in various parts of the world. These are the two things which I would consider the most dangerous threats to international peace at this time.

CAIRO REVIEW: What about nuclear proliferation, economic inequality?
DANILO TÜRK: You asked me to identify those that can be considered as the first priority the most dangerous. I would say that obviously nuclear proliferation is a danger, but we have instruments and the question is how do we use them and how do we develop them further. The non-proliferation treaty has been a successful instrument, and I’m sure that it can be built upon and the non-proliferation regime strengthened. We haven’t had enough success and there would have to be more work in the future.

CAIRO REVIEW: Do you consider the Iran nuclear agreement to be a success?
DANILO TÜRK: Yes, I consider that the Iran agreement is a success. It’s not necessarily politically accepted everywhere but I think that with passage of time, the test can be passed positively and the world will see that this works well. So I’m optimistic as far as the Iran agreement is concerned. I’m aware that there continues to be a degree of uncertainty in the region. But that, I think, is temporary. I think that will gradually diminish with appropriate political follow-up. Of course, I didn’t mention terrorism because I think terrorism is an obvious problem. It has many faces and many different manifestations and has to be addressed in different ways. Now the UN, as you know, has a whole set of instruments in that regard, including a very detailed system for the prevention of financing of terrorism. This is a fairly recent instrument adopted in December last year. The international community is moving toward more effective instruments for the prevention of terrorism, so I didn’t list it among the most important threats.

CAIRO REVIEW: You’ve been very active in your political career on the issue of economic inequality. How do you see that as a global security issue?
DANILO TÜRK: It is a serious question, one which does not produce an immediate security threat. You cannot say that, because people are poor, and unequal, that directly creates a security problem. There is no direct causal link. But of course in those places where poverty is leading to prolonged sense of injustice, where poverty is combined not only with lack of means but also with a lack of justice, that then creates dangers. Social disintegration, which happens as a result of such situations, can be very dangerous. Of course, the world has different areas where the levels of social integration or disintegration are different. So the security effects are not the same everywhere where one sees the levels of inequality. In some areas the levels of inequality have been retained for a long time, they have been marginally diminished but they have remained relatively stable. In other places, exclusion has produced serious security threats, as we have seen. So it’s not automatic. I would not say that the income inequalities create an automatic threat to international peace and security.

The Problem with Secularism

Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report. By Saba Mahmood. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2015. 242 pp.

Is religious inequality and friction in Egypt and the wider Middle East a result of inadequate secular governance? Anthropologist Saba Mahmood challenges this common refrain.

In Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, Mahmood argues that by solidifying religious divisions and emphasizing differences, modern secularism itself has heightened tensions in countries like Egypt. The modern state and the secular political rationality that animates it, she argues, has paradoxically made religion a more, rather than less, significant part of the lives and subjectivities of those who belong to both minority and majority communities.

In Mahmood’s view, while political secularism extricates religion from politics and relegates it to the private sphere, it positions religion as an essential aspect of individual and collective identity, thereby emphasizing rather than de-emphasizing religion, increasing rather than decreasing its importance. As it promises to free the state from religion and religion from the state, secularism, by defining and limiting religion’s appropriate place in society as private, personal belief, restricts and polices the practice of religion. Secularism thus reserves itself the right to adjudicate on what constitutes an integral aspect of a “belief system” and is therefore entitled to protection under the state’s commitment to religious freedom and equality.

Mahmood’s book traces the institutionalization of political secularism in Egypt. It examines, as she puts it, how “the regulation of religion under secularism has not simply tamed its power but also transformed it.” Rather than eliminate religious tension, discrimination, and injustice, Mahmood writes, regulation has intensified interreligious inequality and conflict, the valuation of certain aspects of religious life over others, and the precarious position of the country’s religious minorities. She sees historical developments, both international and regional, as crucial factors in how religious differences came to be conceived and embodied in modern Egypt. She looks, for example, at the formidable impact that especially British and American missionaries had on the way the category of religion was reimagined, and the role they played in determining what forms of religiosity are considered deserving of legal protection in the modern period. This is a definition enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, seen by many as a “secular accomplishment” though significantly shaped by Protestant ideas about religion. During the nineteenth century, Mahmood points out, religious liberty came to be associated with the individual, rather than the collective; it is a formulation, she notes, that would be enshrined not only in human rights protocols but in the national laws and constitutions of the Middle East.

Taking her case further, Mahmood outlines the development of the concept of “national minority,” which she believes is grounded in a fundamental tension. While it attempts to include a minority within the nation, it also constructs that group as an obstacle to national cohesion as a result of its “deviance” from the majority. “Recognizing a group as a minority,” she writes, “transforms its self-understanding, its relationship to other religious communities and the state, and its standing in the eyes of the law.” Religious liberty and minority rights emerge as techniques through which secular liberal governance manages differences by, for example, circumscribing religion within the sphere of family or personal status law.

A prime example is the labeling of Coptic Christians as an Egyptian minority, a practice that began in the 1920s. What was once seen as a dangerous and divisive category that could obstruct the development of a unifying national sensibility—an Egyptian identity that transcended religion—later came to be regarded as a necessary means of protecting Copts’ religious and cultural customs as well as their civil rights. Significantly, as successive Egyptian regimes neglected the welfare of citizens, Islamist groups and the Coptic Church became increasingly important in serving and representing the interests of religious communities.

Mahmood challenges the common assumption that family law is a carryover from premodern times, arguing that it is the juridical manifestation of the privatization of religion under secularism. By thus making the family, and by extension sexuality and gender, the locus of faith, Mahmood says, family law exacerbated the contentious nature of conversion and interreligious marriage. Secular governance effectively transformed both religion and kinship relations, amplifying certain doctrinal edicts and muting others, accentuating religion’s jurisprudential dimensions over other moral and ethical concerns.

Another example of circumscribing religion in the name of secular regulation is the case of Egypt’s Bahai community. Egyptian courts have drawn on the concept of public order to deny Bahais the right to practice their religion in public (by, for example, listing their faith on government-issued documents), using the concept of religion as personal belief to claim that by permitting Bahais their private faith, the government is performing its duty towards them as citizens. By preventing Bahais from expressing and engaging their religion through publicly perceptible practices, Egyptian courts claim to be safeguarding the values and sensibilities of the country’s Muslim majority, which might be offended by demonstrations of an unrecognized faith. Mahmood uses the example of the Bahais to show that “key secular concepts, when adopted into different religious and legal traditions, produce very similar kinds of effects.” They allow the state, for example, to make claims on the substance of a religion, to define what is and what is not an essential aspect of a given belief system, and therefore in need of protection. Mahmood compares this with European legal judgments on the Islamic veil, which has been repeatedly declared a “symbol of gender inequality rather than a religious duty” by the European Court of Human Rights. In such instances, the court takes it upon itself to engage in theological interpretation to support European states seeking to prohibit, for example, public school teachers from donning the headscarf, seen as a potential means of “influencing” students’ religious proclivities.

Religious Difference in a Secular Age persuasively highlights the ways in which the modern secular state cultivates religious difference, reinscribes religious inequality, and prioritizes majoritarian values and sensibilities over those of its minorities while claiming to be a neutral arbiter between communities. The author acknowledges that secularism is not something that can be done away with, any more than modernity can be. Though Mahmood declines or fails to envision an alternative, she argues that depriving secularism of its “innocence and neutrality” can help craft a different future.

Sophie Chamas is a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. She was the co-recipient of the 2012 Anna Lindh Mediterranean Journalist Award in the category of new media. She has contributed to Al Jazeera English, Al-Monitor, VICE, Arab Review, and Jadaliyya. On Twitter: SophsC87.

Crisis of Identity

Over the past half-century, across the entire world, the identity question has replaced social issues in the public debate. The nation, cultural differences, ethnicity, even race and religion—and especially Islam—have stoked passions and terrible tensions within numerous countries, between nation-states, and on a global scale. Meanwhile, we talk far less about the social exploitation of workers or the class struggle.

In Europe, and particularly in France, this change, as the anthropologist Marcel Mauss would say, is a total social fact. It lays the parameters for public debate and constrains the way we think about almost any social, political, or even economic issue today. In order to understand how this total social fact dominates society, in an almost coercive fashion, we have to understand the background factors first.

The social and economic order fundamentally changed from the beginning of the 1970s. The industrial era ended, as did its forms of management and methods of organizing workers—beginning with Taylorism—and the structural conflict opposing the workers’ movement and owners of labor from the workshop to the factory.

A major consequence of these changes was the declining need in Europe’s heavy industries for non-qualified labor, many of whom at the time were migrant workers originally from Arab and often Muslim countries living in France, Belgium, and Germany (where they were called Gastarbeiter, “guest workers”). As a result, many of these workers, who were called upon to stay in Europe along with their wives and children and integrate into society, were confronted by major difficulties: unemployment, diverse forms of social insecurity and exclusion, racism, discrimination, family destabilization, and the poor education of their children. Within these populations there developed a new emphasis on religion, most often Islam, but also sometimes variants of Protestantism.

The growth of Islam in Europe is, essentially, the result of excluded peoples looking for a place in their new countries. They wish to have a decent life, educate their children, and obtain a degree of social mobility. But this form of religious identity can take on radical, and sectarian, aspects. In addition, the option of religion—resuscitated by an Islam in Christian lands—has been able to seduce, and will continue to seduce, young people looking for meaning, even if they are not from immigrant or Muslim-origin backgrounds. This is how terrorism linked with radical Islamism has obtained currency in Europe, and why it includes both those who come from immigrant backgrounds and have not been able to find their place in society, and others who want to give some sense to their life. These people are ready to join the fight against dictatorial regimes in foreign countries and serve a cause that, at the outset, they perceive as humanitarian.

The reference to a collective identity is the result of the journey, and a process of individual subjectification, de-subjectification, and re-subjectification. That identity is not necessarily there to begin with. Actors do not join a living and pre-existing community to which they belong, but refer to an imagined community, the nature of which becomes clear, for them, along the way. Radicalization, as the political scientist Olivier Roy has shown, can come before Islamization. And contrary to popular perception, the phenomenon owes more to modern individualism than belonging to a collectivity. Actors make the choice, at one time or another, to join the community, and this choice is personal, singular, and that of an individual.

Yet the growth of identity issues in Europe, and especially in France, does not only concern young people of immigrant backgrounds. It concerns many kinds of minority groups that have evolved or solidified over the past fifty years within Western societies. From the late 1960s, regionalist movements—sometimes secessionist—developed within countries like Spain (in the Basque region and Catalonia), Northern Ireland, Italy (in Sardinia, and later the country’s Northern League), Belgium (the far-right nationalist party Vlaams Blok in Flanders, which became Vlaams Belang in 2004), and France (the Breton, Occitan, and Corsican movements, among others). These minority movements connected, and in some cases still connect, their identity with a territory that they wish to emancipate or liberate.

Other actors, operating in the same historical context, have put forward claims arising out of a collective past, and demanded recognition of their identity, independent of any territorial issues. In France, Jewish and Armenian populations with painful memories have demanded, since the 1970s, recognition of their historical sufferings, including the French state’s role in the deportation of Jews, or the fact that Armenians were victims of genocide (and not just mass killings, as Turkish authorities claim). Later, a diversity of movements among people of black African origin put forward a post-colonial identity highlighting the injustices of the colonial era: slavery, racism, and exploitation of the colonized.

Consequently, different minority groups—new and old immigrant communities, and other minority populations claiming a long past in Europe, whether real or mythical—opened up a process in the late 1960s and early 1970s which has thrown into doubt the capacity of European nation-states for integration and assimilation.

At the time, these political challenges happened in a context of strong economic growth, almost full employment, and confidence in progress and science. They occurred at a domestic level, and were not international or “global,” even if they emerged at roughly the same time in relatively similar fashion, and sometimes had connections with other (especially diaspora) movements.

Beginning mostly in the 1980s, a third kind of identity politics reemerged on the scene: nationalist parties, which though they did not completely disappear after the Second World War had hitherto been extremely marginal.

The historical idea of the nation begins, in modern times, in the seventeenth century, if not earlier. At moments it has accompanied progressive, emancipatory movements—notably during the “springtime of peoples” in 1848, the nationalist revolts which spread hope across Europe. But, in the last decades of the twentieth century, the nationalist idea became the quasi-monopoly of political forces swinging between the extreme right and populism. Some researchers label these political formations “nationalist populism,” which calls for the self-isolation of societies and develops an image of national homogeneity that is, more or less, racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Identity is the basis for their political action, which in some cases is openly violent, as with Golden Dawn in Greece.

Other actors prefer to develop a strategy bringing them democratic access to power via elections. In these cases—such as France’s National Front—violence comes from an extreme right that the National Front is unable to control and is dominated by neo-Nazis and skinheads, for example, who merely by existing in the public space gain a certain legitimacy to act.

Failure of Multiculturalism?
An important consequence of the rising power of the radical right—nationalist and nationalist-populist—is the change it imposes on the broader political landscape. On the one hand, large segments of the traditional and conservative right are moving into line with the radicals, at least ideologically, if not politically. That is how national identity has become a central element in the public debate. The traditional right, and even the left, proposes or undertakes policies to promote national identity, usually in a way targeting, openly or implicitly, immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, and on occasion Gypsies or blacks. Alongside cultural, even religious and racial, fragmentation, social and political tensions have moved the identity question to the forefront in France, as across Europe.

These tensions influence many different aspects of the public debate. To some extent, the debate opposes two sides: on the one hand, those supporting an open society who are not afraid of otherness and the broader world, and favor the European project (what the sociologist Ulrich Beck calls “methodological cosmopolitanism”). On the other, partisans of a closed nation, anti-European, “sovereignist,” generally hostile towards cultural and religious diversity, and more or less racist—what Beck calls “methodological nationalists.”

But the debate cannot be reduced entirely to such an elementary juxtaposition. It also takes the form of a conflict between supporters of multiculturalism—institutional arrangements that recognize, to some extent, different cultural identities—and opponents who only wish to recognize “individuals” within the public space. The multiculturalist camp encountered limited success in the 1990s, but has become more and more weak since the early 2000s, especially following the terrorist attacks in London (July 2005) and in Paris (January and November 2015). Multiculturalism is now accused of having “favored” Muslim communities and, therefore, having allowed for the spread of a radical Islam that produces, or seems to come with, terrorism.

Within the space of a few weeks in 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy used almost the same words to announce the failure of the multicultural model. For the most part, they were referring to Muslims and immigrants, which betrayed a terrible semantic imprecision on their part. Islam is a religion—and not a culture—and most immigrants define themselves foremost as individuals who have left their country to live in another. For them, cultural and religious questions come second. Without those two issues—the role of Muslim religion and migrant policies—the famous discourse around “multiculturalism” falls flat. There would be nothing left to discuss, besides issues around sexual (and homosexual) identities.

Today, the deepest anxieties about identity center on Islam, which is itself an identity, and migrants, which does not count as one. The debate pits those who envision a respectable place for Muslims in European society alongside the dominant Christian religion, against those who wish to weaken Islam, stop it from flourishing, and keep it in “its place.”

What is the nature of Islam and Muslim identity? The debate here opposes, above all, those believing in the replication of an existing and unchanging identity, and those seeing that identity as an invention, as an ongoing process through which religion renews itself. In our globalized world dominated by a few large religions, Islam in Europe is constantly suspected of being dependent on foreigners, and owing too much to the political support of states like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, and their role in training imams or paying for the construction of new mosques. As a result, the religious identity of Muslims is perceived to be a threat for the majority identity group and its culture, language, traditions, and religion—even the totality of its cultural and historical being.

At a time of grave difficulties in Europe—when the continent is suffering from a financial and economic crisis, anti-European Union movements in countries like Greece and the United Kingdom, and the migrant crisis—there is an enormous risk that countries will begin closing in on themselves, calling upon the “nation” and, simultaneously, denouncing or casting suspicion on other identities as subverting their “national” identities and cultures. It is no longer clear, in such a stormy context, whether religious and cultural questions arise independent of social ones, or whether they are pushed to the forefront when no one knows anymore how to solve social inequality, unemployment, and the breakdown in economic growth.

The identity debates are a sign of a new era where these issues have become, again, unavoidable. Europe has not forgotten its wars of religion, or the major military and nationalist clashes of past centuries; the resurgence of identity issues expresses the continent’s impotence in the face of its social and economic ills.

Translated from the French by Amir-Hussein Radjy.

Michel Wieviorka is a professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales and CEO of the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme. He was president of the International Sociological Association from 2006 to 2010 and director of the Centre d’analyse et d’intervention sociologiques between 1993 and 2009. He is the founder and editor of the journal SOCIO and was co-director of the journal Cahiers internationaux de sociologie from 1991 to 2011. He is the author of numerous books including Le Séisme; Retour au sens: Pour en finir avec le déclinisme; L’antisémitisme expliqué aux jeunes; and La violence. On Twitter: @michelwieviorka.

Our Great Migration Challenge

Migration is the morally, politically, and economically defining issue of the twenty-first century. How we respond to it reveals a great deal about the state of our society, the integrity of our communities, and the prospects for our collective future.

It is a challenge that will only grow in the coming decades. Today, there are more migrants than at any time in history—over one billion globally. This constitutes one-seventh of the world’s population, of which about a quarter live outside their country of origin. And the pace of migration is increasing. People are on the move everywhere and in greater numbers than ever before. This is part of the process of globalization, but it is also driven by other events as well, such as wars, catastrophes, and poverty. In addition, television and other visual media have shown those in developing countries how much better life is elsewhere. Naturally they want to share in this better life.

Migration is not, of course, a concern merely in Europe or North America. In fact, the movement of people is greatest between developing countries, where just over half of all migrants live. For example, Ethiopia hosts seven hundred thousand migrants, and Kenya five hundred thousand.

Within much of Europe, the right of free movement of people has long been a sacrosanct principle. It was augmented in 1985 by the Schengen Agreement, signed by five of the early members of the European Community. Schengen abolished border controls and the use of passports among them. Today, twenty-two of the twenty-eight European Union (EU) member states are part of the Schengen Zone, and they are joined by several non-EU countries.

In the midst of the current refugee crisis in Europe, the Schengen Zone is gravely at risk of collapse as a result of the reintroduction of temporary border controls in many countries. This is indicative of a severe breakdown of trust among European states, which could endanger the union itself, and which must be reversed.

Crises in regard to large-scale movements of people, and particularly of refugees, are evident in many parts of the world and on every continent. Today in fact, we are living the worst crisis of forced displacement since the Second World War. Almost sixty million people have been compelled to flee their homes due to conflict or other dangers. The rising pace of this displacement is startling. Just five years ago, ten thousand people, on average, were forced from their homes every single day. In 2015, that number exceeded forty thousand people. There is something dreadfully wrong with our world.

Europe faces unique problems in dealing with an influx of refugees—one that is admittedly large, but the influx should not have become unmanageable. A union of more than 500 million citizens should never have felt so threatened by the arrival of a million or so desperate souls. Yet, the impact of this crisis has come to threaten the process of European integration. And it is not just a matter of controlling the chaos at our borders, stemming the flows of refugees, or providing them the care that they desperately need—especially in winter when the turbulent Aegean Sea claims dozens of victims every week. This is, in many ways, the easiest challenge we face.

The hardest problem involves building successful, diverse communities that serve not only natives, but also the thirty-five million residents of the European Union who were not born there. We cannot afford to live alienated from each other. In other words, the greatest challenge we face over the next generation is also our oldest one: how to live well together.

Legally, there are different types of migrants. Although all international refugees are migrants, not all international migrants are refugees. Indeed those who can legally claim to be refugees and claim asylum in a country are a much more confined category than the normal use of the term “refugee” might imply. Legally, refugees are defined by a convention or international agreement that most nations accepted following the Second World War. The 1951 Refugee Convention was largely the consequence of an acknowledgment of the terrible failures in protection that gave rise to the dreadful suffering and death that took place during the Holocaust.

A searing example of these failures is the history of the MS St. Louis. In 1939, she sailed from Hamburg, Germany, carrying more than nine hundred Jewish refugees, elated by the prospect of liberty. One young boy on that journey, Lothar Molton, wrote in his journal that he was on “a vacation cruise to freedom.” But in what history recorded as the “Voyage of the Damned,” the ship was denied entry to Cuba, the United States, and Canada—despite cabinet-level deliberations in all three countries. Forced to sail back to Europe, the vessel’s captain, a non-Jewish German, refused to return the ship to Germany until all aboard had been given entry to some other country. While his heroism saved hundreds of his passengers, 254 would eventually perish in the Nazi death camps.

The definition of a protected refugee under the Refugee Convention was essentially someone fleeing persecution by their government. This definition was extended later. In particular, in 2004 the European Union included those fleeing serious harm, such as execution or torture, or a serious threat to a civilian’s life through armed conflict. But obviously this definition does not include many other desperate people who deserve support and sanctuary from other circumstances, but who have no right to sanctuary.

Michael Dummett of Oxford University has explained this in the following way: “It needs only a moment’s thought to realize that flight for economic reasons may be as justified and as worthy of sympathy and help as flight from political persecution.” Such refugees might be, for example, escaping famine or environmental disaster. They do not, however, enjoy the right of non-refoulement (non-return) enjoyed by legally defined refugees.

Today, more than 85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Most of these hosting countries are, not surprisingly, ones that are closest to those areas from which the refugees are fleeing.

So the experience of Europe this year, while unusual here in the north, is unfortunately commonplace in the global south. Poor countries like Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Uganda, and Ethiopia bear the brunt of the burden of providing protection to the world’s most desperate people.

Last year, we were offered literally a million reminders that the system of refugee protection was failing. Each asylum-seeker bravely crossing the Mediterranean was telling us that something was wrong in countries of first asylum.

How could we have allowed Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to bear the burden of hosting almost five million refugees with negligible backing from the rest of the world? It costs at least $3,000 a year to provide a refugee with a decent level of support; the international community provided just a small fraction of this. When the cracks in the protection system became gaping holes, refugees voted with their feet.

Then, in a panicked effort to deter arrivals, the European Union—the birthplace of the international protection system—jeopardized its tradition of human rights and the basic standards of asylum law. The signal this sends to frontline countries—that they need not fully respect the rules of protection—could be devastating.

In the misguided belief that safeguarding sovereignty means acting unilaterally, governments have resisted an international approach to migration. But as events in the Mediterranean have starkly demonstrated, this approach is self-defeating. It leads to paper-tiger sovereignty, undermines the credibility of democratic governments and the multilateral system, and empowers smugglers and authoritarian populists. We must bring this downward spiral to a halt.

As if all of this were not confusing enough, there are other complications to understanding the chaos unfolding in Europe today. One of these is the EU law known as the Dublin Regulation. This law regulates which country is responsible for processing an asylum seeker’s application and, if they are determined to be refugees, for hosting them. Under the Dublin Regulation, it is the state where the asylum applicant first enters the EU that is responsible for all this. With the huge numbers that have been arriving by boat in recent years in Greece and Italy—and then rapidly moving north—this system has broken down. Confusion reigns in its place. As a result, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to process Syrian asylum applications in Germany rather than returning the asylum seekers to their country of entry, as required by the Dublin Regulation.

Refugees and Barbed Wire Fences
The Mediterranean Sea was crossed by almost one million migrants in 2015. Most are refugees escaping from Syria, Afghanistan, or Eritrea. Some thirty-five hundred are known to have drowned in the attempt, many of them children. The majority of the successful landed in Greece—about eight hundred fifty thousand—with Italy second as an initial country of destination. These often impoverished people generally have paid smugglers to transport them at an average cost of around two to three thousand euros, even though very often the transportation has been on vessels that are grossly unsafe. Most will then spend hundreds or thousands more to reach Germany or Sweden. Apart from smugglers, traffickers in women and children are also active in their insidious trade, and the criminal gangs now operating in both smuggling and trafficking are making large sums of money off the backs of the world’s most vulnerable human beings. The essential point to be made here is that it is a measure of the desperation of these unfortunate people that they are so prepared to risk their lives and treasure on such a journey by land or by sea.

With a total population of 508 million, the European Union should have had absolutely no trouble at all in welcoming and hosting even a million refugees, had it wanted to do so and had the effort been properly organized. But instead, ruinously selfish behavior by some member states has brought the European Union to its knees. There are several honorable exceptions to such behavior, most notably Chancellor Merkel and the German people. They have been extraordinarily generous, not only in welcoming with such compassion a million refugees last year, but also in standing up for the very foundational principles of the European Union. While others proclaimed against Muslim refugees, or otherwise shirked their responsibilities, Chancellor Merkel stood firm in defense of a Europe that does not discriminate, a Europe that recognizes its responsibilities as part of the international system, and a Europe that knows the future belongs to those who best manage diversity.

Yet, despite her heroic efforts, there remains little sign of convergence among Europe’s key leaders and institutions. While praised for her humanitarianism, Chancellor Merkel is seen by most of her counterparts as having made a grave error that exposed Europe to an immeasurable burden. The European Commission, its credibility often unfairly seriously damaged, is at odds with some member states and even with European Council President Donald Tusk, who has taken a hard line on refugees.

One consequence of this paralysis in Europe is the rise and rise of parties in many member states that are not merely anti-immigrant but often xenophobic and racist. Poland in October elected a hard right party to lead it; regional elections in France in December saw the far-right National Front initially gain great success, though this trend was thankfully reversed in the second round on December 13. Even some of the traditionally most liberal states are electing, or are poised to elect, politicians who stand at the extreme right of the political spectrum. The rise of anti-immigrant parties in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands has been particularly remarkable and to many deeply disturbing. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are now major political figures. All these parties are stimulating anti-immigrant feeling, appealing to the worst instincts of voters, and subverting the very principles on which the European Union was founded. Fences or controlled borders are rapidly being put in place in the Balkans and elsewhere. Public opinion more generally is increasingly apprehensive about the numbers of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. After the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, 70 percent of the Dutch said they favored border closure.

This negative public opinion about refugees is also inflamed by apprehension, often stirred up by histrionic and distorted media accounts, about the number of refugees and immigrants—even while the numbers broadcast are often exaggerated. In fact, in most countries in Europe, citizens believe that there are a great many more foreigners in their countries than there actually are. In the United States, a portion of the public estimates 40 percent of the population is composed of immigrants. In fact it is 13 percent; the numbers in the United Kingdom are not too different.

The razor and barbed wire fences being erected on the Hungarian border to keep out migrants and refugees are particularly ironic, as Hungarians were for so long confined by the Iron Curtain. In 1956, after their failed revolution, some two hundred thousand Hungarian refugees were given protection within a short time throughout Europe and in countries around the world. Yet now, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is the most intransigent and vociferous opponent of refugees in the European Union. It is worth noting that Hungary hosts just seven refugees for every thousand Hungarians; little Lebanon by contrast hosts 232 refugees for every thousand Lebanese—and it does so with a great deal more generosity than does Hungary. But, apart from central and eastern European countries, France, Austria, and even the most generous of hosts—Germany and Sweden—have reimposed temporary border controls.

But it is not only physical walls and fences that are being erected, in a dramatic reversal of their removal in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. In addition, barriers in the minds of the indigenous populations to the integration of different peoples seem to be taking on new dimensions. Orbán is stoking up prejudice by speaking of barring Muslim migrants and “keeping Europe Christian.” Other central and eastern European leaders have said the same in similarly trenchant and offensive terms. Now, border controls and fences stretch across parts of the Balkans, reinforced with soldiers lobbing tear gas. They have been recently erected by Macedonia, for example, on its border with Greece.

In the most recent Eurobarometer poll, when people were asked to name the most positive result achieved by the European Union, the most popular answer (from 57 percent of respondents) was “free movement of people, goods, and services within the EU.” But this achievement, so important for the future of the whole integration process, is being placed in dire jeopardy. Leaving aside all the more fundamental moral and humanitarian concerns about the rights of refugees, this should deeply worry those who believe, as I do, that European integration is vital for all of Europe.

Another aspect of public opinion established by Eurobarometer polls that runs contrary to developments is that European citizens apparently see both foreign affairs and migration policy as matters that demand European solutions. But the European migration policy to deal with the current situation with humanity and reason—proposed by the European Commission last May—has been rejected by many. These proposals suggested that the refugee burden should be shared more equally across all EU member states, rather than simply leaving most refugees in bankrupt Greece or in Italy. The proposal to redistribute some refugees from those two countries to other member states was based on objective data, including population size and the relative wealth of EU countries. Initially, the necessary majority to pass this binding measure was found within the countries that are part of the Justice and Home Affairs remit of EU competences. However, in December European Council President Tusk declared that there was now no majority among EU governments for a binding quota system. This has to be placed in the context in which, quite correctly, Chancellor Merkel recently told the Bundestag that the survival of the EU’s free-travel Schengen Area hinged on whether national governments could in fact agree on a permanent new regime of sharing refugees.

As such agreement is not forthcoming, a Europe of internal borders (and one showing growing hostility to harboring refugees) is increasingly likely to become an even greater reality than it is today. This is a tragedy. Tension between member states is inevitably going to grow because of the great differences among them in their attitudes towards refugees. It is hardly surprising that Germans, who took in about a million refugees in 2015, and who have promised to take a half million annually for the next few years, should be outraged by, for example, the United Kingdom’s paltry offer of twenty thousand places over five years—and this by a country that has only resettled around five thousand five hundred Syrian refugees since the conflict in that country began.

But it is not just the sharing of refugees that divides Europe. So too does the variable performance of the member states in strengthening their external border controls and the use or non-use in this context of the EU rapid intervention team and common tools for border control that are available. The European Union, for instance, was forced to threaten Greece with suspension from Schengen unless it overhauled its response to the migration crisis. There is a better way, however. In December, the European Commission proposed the creation of a truly united European border guard; rather than retreat into their own national shells, EU member states would be wise to take a bold step forward towards a single European border agency, and, eventually, a single European asylum agency.

This disarray in Europe about refugees from Syria as a result of the antipathy of the population is shared in some respects by the United States. There, 53 percent of adults (in a survey conducted by Bloomberg following the Paris attacks) say that their nation should not continue a program to resettle a mere ten thousand Syrian refugees. Indeed, 11 percent say that they would only favor a limited program to accept Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims totally—a view that President Barack Obama dismissed as being shameful (as indeed it is). These views were largely driven by unfounded fears. The United States has resettled 780,000 refugees since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, and in the fourteen years since then, a mere three of them were implicated in terrorist activity (which did not lead to any attacks).

Clash of Civilizations?
The unfolding refugee drama is an increasingly dreadful one and must be contested. The resulting prospect of larger and larger numbers of refugees being deposited in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan—and indeed in Greece—and living in squalor in a state of virtual imprisonment is unacceptable. Resources, too, for camps in Lebanon and Jordan are already stretched thin, with the World Food Programme (to feed refugees) and indeed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees under severe financial pressure. It is, meanwhile, immoral that the only pathway we offer to desperate refugees to access our protection is to cross the perilous Mediterranean, at great cost and risk of loss of life. We must establish safer passage for those we ultimately will accept.

At another level, relations between the large Muslim population already resident in Europe and the native populations are also coming under stress. This can have implications for societal division of a serious kind. Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilizations, in 1996. His apocalyptic vision was of a clash between Western society and the Islamic World. As we have seen, part of that Islamic World is not merely in Europe but is now European. Many see the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with its barbarism and proposed caliphate, as the evidence that Huntington was right—that coexistence will lead to division. This type of thinking sees retiring behind borders of one kind or another as the answer.

We must surely not—through the way migration is debated domestically, or in our response to the cry for help from refugees internationally—reject coexistence and multiculturalism. How can we, for example, reject Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS and leave them to die on beaches, in camps, or in frozen rivers in the Balkans? It is worth recalling that ISIS considers refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq as the worst kinds of traitors to their cause of building a modern-day caliphate.

We must now demonstrate not merely our humanity but our belief in the equality and dignity of man and seek in our own society to integrate with the strangers in our midst. Our societies, as Pope Francis underscored recently, “revolve not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person.” Speaking of migrants specifically, he added: “There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”

Refugees must be required to play their part in accepting our values. Our responses are of course influenced by our strong sense of identity. I think, without any real evidence to support the conclusion, that we Irish have a particularly strong sense of being distinctive and homogenous. George Orwell once defined nationalism in terms of the sense that one is better than others. If the truth is admitted, most of us think that we are lucky to be Irish. Perhaps everyone else more or less feels the same way about their own nationality. We may say that our identity is formed by history and religious conflict, but this often is simplistic because the history of our families or religious affiliations are anything but homogenous.

Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel laureate, put it this way: “The notion of ‘collective identity’ is an ideological fiction.” He pointed out that the “collective denominator” (or being of a certain nationality) can never fully define each one and the “concept of identity when not employed on an exclusively individual scale is inherently reductionist and dehumanizing … of all that has not been imposed by inheritance, geography, or social pressure … true identity springs from the capacity of human beings to resist these influences… .” In the context of maintaining an openness to migrants and refugees, what he is saying here is that we must force ourselves to resist the tendency we all have to reject the unfamiliar and different. We should seek a society and identity that is defined by its values and not by a sense of its nationality.

The evidence of ghettoization of Muslim communities in some countries should act as an incentive to put real effort and resources in particular into integration education. We must avoid the creation of societal communities at all costs. To put this another way, at the heart of our response to the influx of refugees across Europe must be the idea of reinventing the “we” in our societies, of building inclusive communities. We need to commit to a future that recognizes our permanent diversity. And we need to see this as a positive evolution, not as a threat.

This will involve reshaping our labor markets and our public institutions, and will require massive investments in immigrant integration. We are far from doing this. What we have today in Europe is a helter-skelter jumble of systems and policies that not only lead to the deaths of thousands of migrants, but that also fail to meet our labor market needs, while inflaming all the wrong populist political passions and stoking the worst possible instincts in our politicians. This is not inevitable, far from it.

Open, liberal, progressive, democratic societies—let me be clear—are not the norm in most of the world. They are what have distinguished Europe for the past sixty-plus years. Building these societies took a herculean effort—to create a sense of unity and common purpose bound by a set of common ideals. Let’s not sacrifice them on a pyre fueled by fear and neglect. If our democracies and the European project are to thrive, or even survive, over the coming decades, they will have to evolve in concert with the idea of diversity.

It is an idea that frightens many, but it should not. The alternative—the failure of diversity—is the real threat, since it will spawn divided communities, alienation, insecurity. Instead, we must see the strength and opportunity in diversity. It offers us the chance to reimagine and rebuild our communities. To do so, we need to reinvent the common space in our societies so that we can once again pursue common projects, show solidarity with one another, and restore faith in a shared future. Investments in the integration of immigrants, especially at a time when national tills are lean, might not be popular. But they are more essential than ever.

Integration is mostly discussed now as a burden that immigrants are meant to bear. They must learn the language, adopt our traditions, respect our laws. There is, of course, truth to this, but there is a different way to think about the issue. Integration should be about enabling those people who come to our country to reach their full potential—through education, through work, and by participating in our political and social institutions. In this way, they become part of us, and inherently then understand the strength of our values. And in doing so, they reinforce these values. This is, after all, the essence of our contemporary liberal democracies. Our openness is also at the heart of our ability to compete in the twenty-first century. If we are recognized as a society in which people can realize their ambitions, then we will stand apart from most of the world and attract the best and brightest and, at the same time, practically proclaim the values in which we believe.

If we think about integration in this light, then the burden of responsibility becomes more evenly distributed. Yes, immigrants must make real efforts—as almost all do—to work hard and respect our laws. But we, too, must change, as individuals and as a society. We have to ensure that the playing field is level, that access to our schools, to public services, to employment, and to political representation is fair and equal for all members of our communities.

This demands of us to rethink our institutions, as well as our own attitudes about what it means to be Irish, British, French, German, or Dutch. And if we want to establish a litmus test for whether we are succeeding or failing in integrating immigrants, it could be this: Will a young boy or girl born in Dublin today to an immigrant from Syria or Afghanistan or Eritrea have an equal chance as a native son or daughter to become prime minister? This is the standard that we must set and meet. If we can accomplish this, then social cohesion will grow.

In thinking about our future, we need to know what is not attainable. Cultural homogeneity is not possible—we should not be tilting at that windmill. This is not because of immigration alone but also because of the revolutions in communications, transportation, and commerce. Nor does it mean that our individual cultures will weaken—in fact, the Internet and globalization are tools that can strengthen and spread cultures. But it does mean that, in our local communities, we cannot expect any longer to live in splendid cultural isolation.

Pillars of Cohesion
If I were to underline only one unifying thought on integration, it would be this: In thinking about our future, we should pour our energy into creating shared experiences. Simply put, we cannot expect people to integrate into our societies if we are all strangers to one another.

We have had a breakdown in the institutions that once brought citizens in the West together—church attendance has plummeted, labor union rolls have dwindled, military conscription is no longer the norm in countries where it existed previously. Our media, meanwhile, have fragmented to the point where we inhabit our own individual media worlds—symbolized by the sight of people walking down streets imprisoned in their iPhones. One neighbor watches Al Jazeera, the other the BBC—and they develop two very different, often dueling, views of the world. New technologies might unite people globally, but they risk dividing us locally.

In thinking about creating shared experiences, we must start by looking at our schools (including denominational ones)—at their make-up, at their quality, and at their curriculum. All of these dimensions must be suited to a diverse society. Europe has schools in which minorities make up the majority of students—in parts of Berlin, minority representation exceeds 80 percent. In all of Germany, meanwhile, one-fourth of all children and adolescents under eighteen are born into families of immigrant origin; individuals of immigrant origin will make up more than one-fourth of Germany’s population by 2050. Solving this might be the most vexing riddle we face, since it is tied to segregation in housing and to economic inequality.

But there are parts of the school experience that we can shape more easily. Allow me to offer a few examples. We should ensure access to schooling for all children as early as age 3. Research tells us that perhaps the single most important factor in leveling the playing field for the children of newcomers is to provide language tuition at a very early age. Second, we need to make sure the curriculum, especially in social studies, reflects the diversity of our societies. Unless everyone has the same level of understanding about everyone else’s lives, we will not be able to get along. Third, we need to rethink how we teach civics and citizenship in our schools. We have to train children not only in how their societies are run, but also in how to think freely. Democrats are made, not born. Finally, we must eliminate any and all forms of bias in entry to higher education. Throughout much of the West, ethnic minorities are under-represented, and this underrepresentation is not the result of ability.

While schooling is the sine qua non of creating a cohesive society, politics is a second pillar of almost equal importance. It is through politics that a society’s laws, norms, and traditions evolve. Unless newcomers are drawn with relative speed into the political arena, our norms and traditions will not evolve to reflect today’s society—and newcomers will feel increasingly alienated. So it is vital that we find ways to give immigrants a political voice. Already, nine EU countries offer the vote in local elections to non-citizens. There also are more immediate ways as well to bring immigrants into the political process—political parties could, for instance, actively seek members from different ethnic communities. But we should not underestimate how difficult this will be. Even in cities considered to be immigration success stories, political hurdles are hard to clear. Political incorporation will take a conscious effort on the part of immigrants as well. They will have to make a proactive choice to become Irish or Italian or French. In particular they will have to respect the basic values embodied in our conception of human rights.

The third pillar of cohesion is the job market. There is nothing more subversive to a person’s sense of self-worth than long-term unemployment. Having too many newcomers on social security, meanwhile, is one of the main drivers of anti-immigrant sentiment. And, outside of school, the workplace is where social relationships across racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries are most likely to be formed. So we must invest heavily in ensuring fair and equal access to employment for immigrants and their families as soon after they arrive as possible.

Fourth, we must strive to ensure that, once we decide to welcome newcomers on a permanent basis, we give them a clear path to citizenship. We should certainly expect them to meet a reasonable set of responsibilities in common with all other citizens before they are naturalized. But we should not ask them to clear hurdles that are either too subjective or biased.

There is much else we must consider as we move forward. One vexing issue is to be able to gauge the capacity of our societies to integrate immigrants, and if we are exceeding it with the current rate of migration flows. We must be smart in calibrating the two; otherwise, the speed of change will sow discontent throughout society. Also, we must not budge on the question of our laws—religious and cultural practices that infringe on our laws have no place in a liberal democracy. At the same time, we must continue to be relentless in enforcing anti-discrimination legislation.

As we move forward, we must make sure that we are thinking about all of society, not just about immigrants. We must emphasize—and invest in—what unites us. And while we must insist that all newcomers respect our laws and civic norms, we also must fiercely defend their right to express themselves.

Immigration can be a disruptive force. It accentuates winners and losers. It generates unease over the unequal distribution of resources and places strains on communities, especially those with little experience in integrating newcomers. Worst of all, immigration is a political orphan—it has almost no champions among the political classes, whose members see it only as a losing issue. And so what we often get is a dialogue of the deaf between populists and migrant rights advocates. The moderate center is silent.

Our ultimate goal is to establish a national, social, and communal narrative in which all members of our societies can see themselves reflected. We need, in other words, to create a collective sense of “we” to unite our divided societies.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene composed in his old age a philosophical treatise, of which only a few fragments remain. I would like to share one that is particularly relevant to our debate. “The author,” Eratosthenes writes, “rejects the principle of a twofold division of the human race between Greeks and Barbarians, and disapproves of the advice given to Alexander, that he treat all Greeks as friends and all Barbarians as enemies. It is better to employ as a division criteria the qualities of virtue and dishonesty. Many Greeks are dishonest and many Barbarians enjoy a refined civilization, such as the people of India or the Aryans, or the Romans and the Carthaginians.”

Likewise Christianity at its core rejects discrimination and inequality among different peoples. As recent popes have repeatedly emphasized, we should look at those with whom we differ with tolerance and respect. For far too long, we have looked at migration with too much demagoguery and too little nuance. In this time of shocking suffering in Europe, with the far right on the rise, this is more evident—and more dangerous—than at any point since the Second World War.

Rather than be accomplices to failure, we must strive to be partners in success. After all, the vast majority of citizens do not want to see their worst selves reflected in the actions of their government. They prefer to see their leaders strike a balance between asserting control and being generous towards those in need.

Adapted from The Littleton Memorial Lecture, presented by the author in Dublin on December 17, 2015.

Peter D. Sutherland has served as special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for international migration since 2006. He is a professor in practice at the Institute of Global Affairs of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and president of the International Catholic Migration Commission. He is a member of the Migration Advisory Board of the International Organization for Migration. He served as chair of the LSE Council from 2008 to 2015. Previously, he was the attorney-general of Ireland (1981–1984), founding director-general of the World Trade Organization (1993–1995), and chairman of Goldman Sachs International (1995–2015) and BP plc (1997–2009). On Twitter: @PDSutherlandUN.

Closing the Gates

Europe today is experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees. The member states of the European Union (EU) are surrounded by countries suffering from internal as well as, in some cases, external conflicts. Those fleeing the conflicts are more often asylum seekers rather than labor migrants, but both count as forced migrations. In 2014, more than seven hundred thousand asylum seekers reached Europe, and another one million arrived in 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Those figures compare with an annual average of around two hundred thousand in the preceding years.

After a period of procrastination on the part of European leaders, a turning point in confronting the refugee flows came in September. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would welcome eight hundred thousand asylum seekers in 2015. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also proposed in September that a total of one hundred and sixty thousand be received by other European countries. These important steps, however, have proved insufficient for addressing the refugee crisis and the EU political crisis it exacerbated.

We should remember that, from the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 into the early 1990s, Europe was confronted by some five hundred thousand asylum seekers every year, many coming from eastern European countries including the ex-Yugoslavia. That number doesn’t include ethnic disentanglements, the largest of which was the movement of some three million Aussiedler, or ethnic Germans, from the former Soviet Union and eastern European countries to Germany, where citizenship was at the time based on the right of blood. The current wave of migrants comes from Syria (where 4.8 million people have fled abroad, and 2.7 million of those have remained in Turkey), Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Somalia), and Libya (itself a longstanding transit point for sub-Saharan migrations toward the European Union).

European Union values—solidarity among its member states, respect for human rights, and the right to asylum—are now being tested by reality. The photo of a 3-year-old Syrian boy dead on a Turkish beach, who perished when the boat carrying him and his family to Greece capsized in September 2015, spread across the world. It was a powerful image that helped throw into doubt the security approach then dominating Europe’s immigrant and asylum policies, which had been marked by discouraging, repressing, and criminalizing alien residents. Since the 1990s, some forty thousand migrants have died at Europe’s gates attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea; 3,371 of those died trying to navigate the waters in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Over these past twenty-five years, the EU has been put to the test many times by the migration question. It has been confronted with various types of migratory movements: qualified labor, migrants searching for menial work, family reunification, asylum seekers, students, unaccompanied minors. The pace of labor migration has actually slowed in comparison with other categories. The European Union remains the world’s top migratory destination in terms of flow, ahead of the United States (second), the Gulf countries (third), and Russia (fourth). While migratory flows from the global south to the north take up most of the public (and usually heated) debate, flows toward the planet’s southern regions (around 120 million in total, including south-south and north-south migrations) have risen to the level of those toward the north (again, around 120 million, including south-north and north-north).

As of 2015, the United Nations counted 244 million people, or 3.5 percent of the world population, as international migrants—people living in a country other than the one where they were born. In addition, there are 740 million internal migrants who move within their home countries. Currently, therefore, one out of seven billion inhabitants worldwide is a migrant. The rise in relatively new categories explains the redistribution of migrants across the world: women (51 percent of international migrants), environmental migrants (60 million), unaccompanied minors, sun-chasing seniors, and north-north migrations linked to Europe’s economic crisis.

Basic statistics hide the diversity of migrants and reasons for migrating. The discourse focusing on “good” and “bad” migrants is misleading, because refugees and asylum seekers are both migrants falling under the definition put forth by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division: any person born in one country and living in another for a duration equal to or more than one year. The discourse, moreover, presents the risk of treating differently sub-Saharans from Near Easterners, not to mention creating an ethnic classification between Africans and Arabs.

Migrations in recent years have in fact included a mix of people searching for work and fleeing countries in crisis that no longer offer them a future. The harragas, the “frontier burners” of the Maghreb, as well as the trans-Saharan migrants, have been willing to give up everything for a new life in Europe and turn to smugglers to help them get there. The lack of hope, regardless of its cause, is often the reason behind the decision to leave badly governed and unstable countries, which are rife with corruption and offer their citizens little security. In these countries, governments are crippled by clientelism, resources are distributed unequally, and the labor market is unable to meet the needs of a largely young population.

The main causes of the most recent departures, of course, are war, political instability, and violence—in Eritrea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Libya. While in the south generally the dominating migratory trend has been young men fleeing debilitating economic and political conditions at home, most new arrivals from the Middle East are families seeking asylum. Not all of these people meet the definition of persecuted individuals laid out in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention on asylum. And many are unable to acquire refugee status: France rejects 35 percent of asylum applicants, Germany 45 percent, and so on.

A catalyst driving migration is the availability of information. Many migrants have access to new technologies (the Internet, mobile telephones) and television, which inspire migratory fantasies. Most of them are qualified labor, well-educated, and cosmopolitan; they don’t accept the fatalism of the older generation. The pattern of sending remittances back to countries of origin, which have become dependent on foreign currency flows, further encourages these fantasies; in 2013, asylum seekers sent $400 million to their home countries, the equivalent of three times the amount of public development aid spent by their governments.

Migrants, both voluntary and forced, willingly define themselves as entrepreneurs. Migration is simply one of their life options. The modern odyssey of crossing and defying national frontiers can even be a source of pride. They are supported in their efforts by smugglers offering passage, which has become a flourishing industry at points of transit and departure in proportion to the difficulty of crossing frontiers without a visa. Smugglers often use small fishing boats (pateras or cayucos in Spain), while the harragas use inflatable rubber dinghies and the sub-Saharans wooden canoes. Bigger smugglers even charter large cargo ships, holding as many as seven hundred people, to cross the Mediterranean from east to west. The smugglers themselves often abandon the crossing en route.

The right to immigrate is already one of the world’s greatest inequalities, because a person’s ability to travel with or without a visa entirely depends on his or her nationality. Those youth who embark on irregular migrations following the trans-Saharan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Greek, or Balkans routes are another select group. Migrants must be in good health, resolute, and capable of enduring all kinds of difficulties, as well as having accumulated savings of as much as thirty thousand euros. They must also expect and be able to live abroad for a period long enough to regularize their situation. Their experience is vastly different from the guest workers who came to Europe in the 1960s, easily obtaining regularized status and driven by the expectation of returning to their home country one day.

Some of today’s migrants were already working in their countries of transit, like sub-Saharans in Libya, and lost their work because of the chaos there. Others are the victims of wars ravaging their home countries (such as in Syria and Libya), and still others have failed to find any work opportunities in countries recovering from war (such as Afghanistan) and suffer from joblessness in countries where youth unemployment rates reach 40 percent. All of them see Europe as a refuge of peace, security, respect for human rights, and a place offering a future to their children.

Sharing the Burden
Europe has never thought of itself as a continent of immigrants, and many continue to deny the new reality. Europe has long been the point of departure: of great discoverers, colonizers, international traders, foreign missionaries, and settlers leaving for “empty” lands. A century ago, 5 percent of the world’s population counted as international migrants (compared with 3.5 percent today). At the time, the majority of migrants were Europeans, as Europe was highly populated compared to other continents. Later, the first migrants came to Europe during a period of high growth, when many European countries lacked sufficient workers for their mining, manufacturing, and agricultural industries, and also needed more hands to help with rebuilding after two world wars. All countries in the European Union are signatories of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and share the basic values of human rights at the heart of the European project.

Since the 1990s, the European Union has continuously increased efforts to discourage new arrivals. Politically, the far right is experiencing an upsurge in these countries, placing at the top of its agenda the “fight” against immigration. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam put immigration and asylum issues at the top of the EU’s agenda and made immigration foremost a security issue. The EU has also undertaken to hold smugglers more accountable, privatize some frontier checkpoints, install an integrated border surveillance system (Sistema de Vigilancia Exterior, or SIVE) along the Mediterranean coast, and restrict asylum rights.

The Dublin Regulation of 1990 was an attempt to “Europeanize” asylum law. Dublin II, adopted in 2003, established the principle of “one stop, one shop,” which requires an asylum seeker to have his or her application processed in the first European country in which he or she sets foot. Dublin III, adopted in 2014, provided enhanced protections for asylum seekers. In 2000, European Dactyloscopy, or Eurodac, computerized digital fingerprints in order to identify fraudulent asylum claims. In 2004, EU states created the Frontex agency, which further militarized the EU’s borders and put into place common police forces to protect them. An arsenal of nearly three hundred bilateral and multilateral agreements between European and non-European countries beyond the EU’s frontiers has put an end to the ability of asylum seekers and illegal migrants to renew rejected asylum applications.

The control of Europe’s external frontiers has become the primary objective, pushing back into second place the goal of freedom of movement established in 1985 by the Schengen Agreement. At the time of Schengen’s signing, most European political leaders believed that the era of mass migrations was over; they assumed that development policies in countries of departure would produce homegrown alternatives to emigration, and that non-Europeans would eventually return to their native countries. They also believed that the internal mobility of Europeans would rise significantly and that nationals and fellow Europeans would replace the non-Europeans in the job market. In hindsight, almost all of these assumptions proved false: Europeans did not move in large numbers within Europe in search of work until 2004, when the EU took in ten new member countries; no such substitution in the job market took place; and few immigrants to Europe returned to their countries of origin. Development policies, too, failed to create an alternative to emigration in the countries bordering Europe. The few initiatives targeting the Mediterranean’s southern shores (the Barcelona agreements in 1995 and 2005, and the Mediterranean Union in 2007) did not match the efforts that were undertaken in eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Political crises such as those in the Great Lakes countries in Africa, in ex-Yugoslavia, and in Algeria produced asylum seekers of a very different profile from the kind provided for under the UN Refugee Convention: claimants of a collective category who for ethnic, religious, or other reasons are victims not of their states but of their societies of origin. This profile poses the greatest technical difficulty in processing asylum cases.

Overall, Europe’s response to the recent surge of refugees has been a cowardly turn in immigration and asylum policies, bending to a security mindset and xenophobic feelings. This has seen a return toward national control over migration—sovereignty over which European countries tend to jealously guard. There have been increasing calls to close national borders (like that between France and Italy at Ventimiglia in 2011 and 2015, and between Bulgaria and Greece, and Germany and Austria in 2015) and growing hostility especially among eastern Europeans toward the policy of “sharing the burden” among EU members. Europe still finds it painful to think of immigration as an important part of its identity, and is endangering the values upon which it was founded in its treatment of asylum claimants.

The European Union has responded to the refugee influx by reinforcing border controls, upgrading the fight against immigration, and attempting to harmonize “from below” asylum laws. One area receiving special attention is in defining the Safe Country concept, which determines whether asylum seekers are truly at risk in their home countries or in the nations of passage to the country where they formally request asylum. These restrictive policies have increased the influence of smugglers and led to the deaths of thousands, turning the Mediterranean Sea into a vast cemetery.

The unequal exposure of different European countries to the massive flow of migrants and asylum seekers is the foremost obstacle to a joint response. By far, Germany is the top destination for immigrants in Europe, having registered more than seven million. It has welcomed more than three-quarters of all asylum claims in Europe in the past twenty-five years. Germany, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have attracted the most asylum seekers over the past five years. In the ranking of countries with immigrants, France has fallen from second to fifth place with 3.7 million; Spain has 5.5. million, and Italy and the UK about 4.5 million each.

Italy has taken in the most Maghrebis and sub-Saharans, concentrated on the Lampedusa islands. Malta, Cyprus, and the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos, and Samos, have also had to accommodate tourists and asylum seekers within severely restrained spaces. By land, Greece has seen arrive the largest number of Syrians and other Middle Easterners affected by war, including Afghans and Iraqis. The Thracian land route going by the Turkey-Greece crossing has generally proven to be less dangerous than the maritime one. It has led to the closure of the border between Hungary and Serbia, as well as between Bulgaria and Turkey.

A second obstacle is the difficulty of bringing into line different asylum practices in the absence of a common foreign policy among EU countries. The harmonization of granting refugee status is often complicated by different interpretations of conflict: in Europe, each country has its own diplomacy, history, neighbors, political and commercial protocols, and will not necessarily give the same response to applicants in similar situations, especially when the case would risk setting a precedent for other European countries.

A final reason governments are reluctant to unify asylum policies is politics at home, where rising far-right movements attach heavy importance to borders. The response of European countries has been marked by a lack of solidarity. When Italy decided in November 2013 to launch the operation Mare Nostrum, following the death of 366 refugees and another four hundred in a second shipwreck off Lampedusa, the government did so in the face of general indifference towards the massive refugee influx on the part of northern and eastern European countries. When in May 2015 the European Commission proposed sharing forty thousand asylum seekers between countries according to their population and wealth, member states responded with a categorical “no,” arguing enforced quotas would impinge on national sovereignty.

Only after Merkel’s speech on September 7, 2015 did the trend swing in the opposite direction. Following Juncker’s initial proposal in May to settle forty thousand refugees, a new East-West split developed between countries supporting and opposing the obligatory and permanent sharing of Syrian asylum seekers between European countries. The long-term nature of imposed sharing was avoided by the fifteen most reluctant governments (including the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania). France completely flipped its position on imposed quotas, and accepted Juncker’s proposed figure of twenty-four thousand. Germany has sought not only to set an example, but enforce it, such as when it closed the border with Austria, signaling the necessity for solidarity between all European countries.

By 2015, when the EU received more than one million asylum seekers, a split had arisen between western Europe, where the 1951 Refugee Convention is largely applied, and the countries of the so-called Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia) refusing to share the “burden” of taking in the newcomers. The Balkans route is a symbol of this missing solidarity: borders, covered with barbed wire, are closing there one after the other.

The EU attempted to find a way out of the policy morass by reinforcing its external borders. It constructed “hot spots” (local reception and holding centers for new arrivals) in the two main countries for arrivals, Greece and Italy, having also undertaken diplomatic initiatives with Turkey and the countries on the Mediterranean’s southern shore. Another means of border control was also created at the Euro-African Valletta Summit on Migration in November 2015, launching a new political partnership with southern shore countries offering them development aid, easing visa access for seasonal migrants and qualified labor, and a repatriation fund financing “returning” migrants.

A new accord between Turkey and the European Union took effect on April 4, 2016. In exchange for accepting Syrian refugees, Turkey has obtained three demands: the reopening of negotiations for its EU candidacy; the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe (justified by the fact that there are today more Turks returning from Europe than Turks leaving their homeland for Europe); and the payment of six billion euros over the course of two years to help towards the cost of hosting refugees. The conditions of this agreement aroused controversy, partly because they recalled similar accords reached between the EU and Libya. That country has long been banished from the international community, but regained a veneer of respectability in the eyes of European leaders (Italy and France notably) when it accepted to screen sub-Saharan asylum seekers headed for Europe. In exchange, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi received various “gifts,” including payments of monies, development programs, and investment in infrastructure.

The current agreement with Turkey centers on a one-for-one bartering mechanism: For every Syrian sent back to Turkey (those claimants not meeting the EU’s definition of a refugee), another Syrian will be accepted by the union (up to 72,000). As of April, European countries began implementing this strange bartering of humans, with assistance from Frontex, the European agency charged with coordinating between different national border guards, while NATO prepared to assist with intercepting refugee movements across the Mediterranean.

Legal scholars have expressed reservations with respect to a potentially “illegal” agreement, the efficacy of which is not guaranteed, as refugees will likely try new routes circumventing the Turkey-to-Greece passage. Human rights organizations, moreover, have criticized Turkey’s classification as a “safe third country,” which allows Greece and European countries to send “back” inadmissible refugees. The agreement only concerns Syrian claimants, even though roughly half of entrants into Greece are Afghans and Iraqis.

Once again, it appears that the European Union has put together an agreement externalizing a refugee problem to a non-member country, which, for reasons of political expediency, is considered “safe.” This policy violates the Geneva Convention principle of non-refoulement—not pushing people back into danger—and clearly does not honor the principles of human rights on which the union is founded.

Right to Migrate
Despite the obstacles, there are some viable approaches to the refugee crisis. First, there is the possibility of granting “temporary protections,” a status provided for under a European directive issued in 2001 for Kosovars. This could be applied to Syrian and other refugees in the present situation, though it seems to have been largely forgotten in the policy debate. Discussions across the continent have also focused increasingly on the “hot spots” that European agencies have begun to organize in Italy and Greece. The Dublin II system, also, should be re-evaluated, as it requires sending asylum seekers back to the European country where they, quite literally, first stepped foot. This system has had the perverse effect of creating, for example, a camp of some sixty thousand migrants at Calais waiting to cross the English Channel for Britain.

Another solution would be to broaden the categories of migrants allowed to cross borders, in order to avoid overwhelming the few existing paths for obtaining asylum. Instead of claiming asylum, many migrants would also choose the route of “economic immigration,” if it were more open than at present. These “mixed cause” migrants, who are both looking for economic opportunities and fleeing unstable countries, could find, therefore, an outlet without applying for asylum. In the recent past, this was the opportunity offered to many Portuguese immigrants in France, who did not arrive as asylum claimants but as illegal aliens whose status was regularized by employers.

A more diversified and flexible visa policy, targeting especially young migrants (students, tourists, job seekers, entrepreneurs), would constitute an effective response to both the hopelessness facing migrants today and the need for both unqualified and qualified labor in an aging Europe. Another part of a solution would be to lift the European employment preference dating from 1994, which has led to the shortage of labor in some sectors, such as construction and maintenance, the care industry, and medicine in rural areas. Lastly, granting refugee status on a slightly more flexible basis would allow for the legalization of many asylum seekers who entered Europe before the Syrian crisis, lifting them out of legal limbo and opening up the labor market to them. In such a past case, almost 80 percent of Vietnamese refugees in Europe were eventually granted their asylum requests.

The ongoing policy conflicts between European countries will take time to resolve, but waging a war against migrants and refugees will not solve anything. More than ever, we should be open to the possibility of turning on its head the prevailing logic, and recognize that the right to migrate is a universal one. We should also recognize the exceptional nature of the current situation and that, if there is indeed a crisis, it is a crisis of responsibility on the part of Europe.

Translated from the French by Amir-Hussein Radjy.

Catherine Wihtol de Wenden is a senior research fellow at the Centre de recherches internationales at Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). She has served as chair of the Research Committee on Migrations of the International Society of Sociology since 2002. She is a member of the editorial boards of Hommes et Migrations, Migrations Société, and Esprit. She was a member of the Commission nationale de déontologie de la sécurité from 2003 to 2011. She is the author of Atlas mondial des migrations; La question migratoire au XXIe siècle: Migrants, réfugiés et relations internationals; and La globalisation humaine.

The Paradox of Arab France

The history of France is deeply marked by the influence and intervention of different cultures and peoples. For almost thirteen centuries, the Arab and Near Eastern presence has been especially important. In contemporary history, this presence became acutely visible following Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798 and the conquest of Algeria in 1830, followed by the presence on French soil of Turcos—battalions of Algerian infantrymen—during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. By the end of the nineteenth century, an elaborate colonial imaginary had emerged. The universal expositions held in Paris at the time featured ethnographic exhibitions and colonial folklore reflecting the construction of anthropological discourses and a hierarchy of races.

Far away from the imagery of the universal expositions, France became a fertile crossroad of cultures for intellectuals coming from all over the Arab and Near Eastern world—from Morocco to Syria, from the Ottoman Empire to Egypt. Paris was home to diverse Arab, Levantine, Ottoman, and Egyptian newspapers, like Le Lien Indissoluble, founded by two leading Islamist reformers in 1884, and political and reformist movements, including the Arab Congress of 1913, a watershed moment in pan-Arab nationalism.

In Paris and the provinces, the “Orient” was omnipresent in the arts and architecture. There existed a deep fascination for distant lands that were the focus of imagining the “beyond” and the “other.” In parallel, and paradoxically, the image of “the Arab” grew more negative in public discourse, as racist terms and caricatures gained common currency. The colonial project was extremely influential, as France occupied Algeria, and acquired protectorates over Tunisia (1881) and Morocco (1912). With the arrival of the twentieth century, the era of mass immigration to France began, and increased rapidly with the arrival of thousands of colonial soldiers and laborers during the First World War.

During the years of conflict, colonial authorities mobilized a vast military force in North Africa for the front in France. They also mobilized thousands of laborers to work in armament factories and agriculture, replacing those Frenchmen who had left for the army. If the war marked the first large-scale and personal encounter between French and Arab peoples, it also marked the beginning of modern xenophobia and marginalization. Yet paradoxically the popular imagination seized upon these colonial and new “modern heroes” as emblems of France’s possible triumph. At the same time, military authorities were careful to respect religious differences, and even favored Islam, helping to organize its practice and sending imams to the front. France, fighting Germany and its ally the Ottoman Empire, aspired to present itself as a guardian of Islam.

The Great War was a major turning point in the history of North African immigration not only because of the numbers, but because the encounter occurred in metropolitan France. As a result of the postwar settlement, France’s empire within the Arab World continued to grow. The Arab kingdom imagined by Napoleon III became a reality under the Third Republic’s acquisition of postwar mandates over Syria and Lebanon.

Yet within the Hexagon—metropolitan France—colonial attitudes and inequalities eventually won over any lingering sense of fraternity arising from the war or among the working class. The majority of laborers coming from Arab and Muslim lands had moved to the north’s industrial regions, where working and living conditions were often poor. They had to deal with growing hostility towards their presence. Popular language began developing offensive and racist terms like “bicot,” “naze,” “bougnoule,” “gourbi,” and “Sidis.” 

Grandeur and Humiliation
During the interwar period, there emerged across France an entire network of immigrants and immigrant communities coming from across the Arab World, and especially Algeria. Among them were new populations coming from the Near East fleeing ethnic conflict and genocide, such as the Armenians. France was unique in the West for the number and diversity of its immigrants. Overwhelmingly these remained manual laborers who worked at the lowest levels of the pay scale without much hope of promotion and whose allowed period of stay in France was reduced by the authorities. “Bourgeois” immigrants likewise began arriving in France. Some were artists or political refugees, others came to study, work, or enrich their intellectual and athletic life. The decades of the twenties and thirties were heavily marked by xenophobia. In response, North African immigrants became politically active and began organizing their own nationalist movements.

The majority of immigrants disembarked at Marseille, where they worked at the docks or as laborers. Some continued on to the Rhône Valley, where they were employed by textile factories; Clermont-Ferrand, where Michelin headquarters sat; or farther north and east to work in the mining and steel industries. Most immigrants ended up in the capital and its surrounding areas working in heavy industries.

While some mosques had already been built, often funded by private individuals but with the support and cooperation of local and national authorities, the inauguration of the Great Mosque in Paris in 1926 marked a watershed moment. The building was presented as a tribute to World War I veterans. Despite such occasional shows of official support, the myth of the “undesirable” immigrant took root. It became conflated with stereotypes about the “Sidi” and the anti-colonialist “fanatic,” who were blindly driven by an unlikely combination of Islamism and Bolshevik Moscow’s revolutionary ideology. While the Rif War between Spanish colonial forces and Berber inhabitants of the Rif Mountains raged in Morocco, and military operations secured French control in Syria and Lebanon, Parisian municipal authorities created surveillance services specifically for monitoring the city’s Maghrebi populations and their political activism. The participation of North Africans in politics—within the French left and the French Communist Party, as well as within early nationalist organizations like the Étoile Nord-Africaine, founded by the Algerian revolutionary leader Ahmed Messali Hadj—rose alongside their participation in labor movements and unions.

The cultural life of these communities centered on France’s major cities and especially the capital, influencing Paris’s famous literary and arts scene. Arab artists and writers encountered avant-garde movements in the city, and began to make a name for themselves, like the Egyptian painter George Hanna Sabbagh.

Colonialism persisted, and even grew in its implications. The pomp of colonial expositions—Marseille in 1922, Strasbourg in 1924, Paris in 1931 and 1937—alongside the commemorations of Algeria’s conquest in 1930 reassured the French of their power and fed the illusion of control over docile colonial subjects. An entire colonial imaginary arose around the expositions showcasing France’s imperial power, the subjugation of “natives,” and the centrality of North Africa in the empire’s structure. The 1930 centenary celebrations in Algeria deeply marked French opinion. The festivities were conceived as modern propaganda depicting Arab colonized peoples as “loyal servers” of France. Humiliation became a prop for French grandeur. The following year, the 1931 Paris exposition brought to a culmination this wave of propaganda. Appealing to widespread exoticism, North Africa was idealized. Shows featuring “pacified Arabs” were organized for visitors—a far cry from the realities of colonial conquest and the Rif War that had ended only six years before.

On the eve of the Second World War, the first rumblings of independence movements arose. Relations between France and the Arab World became more complicated, especially after the failure of the Blum-Viollette project, which aimed to give citizenship rights to several million Algerians. The proposed law, which never made it through France’s parliament, would have made a select minority of native Algerians full citizens—primarily the educated classes and veterans from the First World War. By 1939, metropolitan France had some one hundred thousand Algerian immigrants living within its borders, the majority of Kabyle origin, a Berber population from the north of Algeria.

In this same period, France began mobilizing military forces across its empire, as well as developing a plan to bring colonial laborers to work within its own borders, a program brought to a stop by the country’s capitulation to Nazi Germany in June 1940. In reality, the number of colonial soldiers sent to France was far less than expected. After the defeat, these fighters were conscripted as agricultural laborers, while others were held in German-run prison camps (Frontstalag) established on French soil, which were later put under Vichy control.

During the war, some Algerian nationalists joined the collaboration. The Germans worked with networks of nationalist militants—who had begun organizing before the war—and exploited the disappointed hopes of Muslims. In North Africa, Germany supported anti-French and ultranationalist movements. Other North Africans and Near Easterners joined the resistance in France—notably the Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée, a group composed mostly of foreigners that was a wing of the communist-founded resistance group, Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, which was the best organized armed group within the resistance. Among them was Missak Manouchian, an Armenian poet who had spent much of his youth in Beirut, and Mohamed Lakhdar Toumi, an Algerian who later was interned by colonial authorities during the War of Independence. Tens of thousands of North African soldiers participated in France’s liberation by Allied forces. A moment of bitter irony, the parade on July 14, 1945 in Paris honored North African troops only months after the massacres on May 8 in the Algerian province of Constantine, where demonstrators had explicitly demanded independence following tentative hints of France’s withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon.

In the postwar years, immigration to France continued steadily, under the supervision of the National Office of Immigration. The flow of immigrants from the Arab World doubled, with the increase in students and workers needed for the country’s reconstruction. During the Trente Glorieuses, the thirty years of rapid economic growth following the war’s end, demand for workers from the Maghreb continued to rise. The law of September 20, 1947 granted partial political citizenship to all Algerians, opening the way towards massive new arrivals. French immigration policy remained contradictory: though never officially acknowledged, there was a desire to privilege migration from the Maghreb, without allowing for true political equality.

While North African workers were marginalized or invisible to the larger public—they often lived in bidonvilles, shantytowns lying at the city’s outskirts—the Armenian community acquired a degree of social acceptance and successfully integrated with French society. The experience of Arab and other immigrants coming from the Near East deeply diverged in this period, and was clearly linked with the situation in the colonies, which began to rapidly deteriorate following the start of the conflict in Algeria in 1954, then the independence process in Tunisia and Morocco (1956). The context of the Algerian War influenced public opinion for almost eight years. In 1958, Algerian soccer players quit France’s national team, returning to Algeria to form the soccer team for the National Liberation Front. Violence from the war affected French society, with a series of attacks within the Hexagon, and the mobilization of several hundred thousand conscripts sent to fight in Algeria.

Even as the conflict in Algeria drew to a close, protests against the imposition of a curfew uniquely for French Muslims on October 17, 1961 marked another grim moment in these dark years. Acting on the orders of Paris prefect Maurice Papon, police violently suppressed demonstrations across the city. Over ten thousand Algerians were arrested, and an unknown number shot by policemen—estimates range from 50 to 300 deaths. Colonial violence had now reached across to the other side of the Mediterranean. This date—along with the bloody anniversaries of May 1 and July 14, 1953—definitively marked North African populations in France.

Despite these events, Arab culture in France continued to thrive, in poetry, art, theater, literature, and even the music of oriental cabarets. Sport was also an important space where those coming from the Maghreb could earn recognition, such as Marcel Cerdan, a world boxing champion of Algerian origin, and Larbi Ben Barek, a Moroccan footballer who played for the French national team.

March of Racism
Independence prompted the return of thousands of North Africans and political opponents, without stopping the flow of Maghrebi workers throughout the fifties. Diplomatic initiatives followed one after the other, attempting to control the surge in immigrants and organize the repatriation of populations displaced by decolonization. In France, the pieds-noirs (French settler populations in Algeria) and the Harkis (loyalist Muslim Algerians who served in the French army) symbolized the end of the colonial epoch. Their rejection by French society, the political elite’s disdain, and their treatment by public authorities deepened a feeling among these so-called repatriated populations of abandonment and marginalization, whatever their ethnic origin, culture, or social status.

During the wars of independence and decolonization, popular culture and the press stigmatized the figure of “the Arab.” Violent racism took hold in France during the 1960s. Yet there continued a vibrant intellectual, artistic, and cultural life that was enhanced by the emergence of new intellectuals coming from the Maghreb and Near East, such as the writers Albert Cossery, from Egypt, and Kateb Yacine, from Algeria.

The problem of bidonvilles also became worse from the 1950s to 1970s. The lack of housing was at the heart of the “immigrant question.” In 1966, the Nungesser law attempted to overcome the problem of informal housing and get rid of the bidonvilles. In reality, it would take more than a decade for the last shantytowns to be dismantled. At the same time, after the student and labor uprisings of May 1968, the debate around marginalization became more important and made room for the “immigrant’s voice” in the public discourse. Immigrant workers became active within social movements, and more visible in the country’s labor unions and economic life.

The Arab presence was increasingly diverse and noticeable in French society, which was still heavily overshadowed by the colonial legacy. Anti-Arab racism exploded during the 1970s. The ratonnades (physical attacks targeting North Africans) in Marseille between August and December 1973 were especially violent. Public policy, reacting to public opinion, the creation of the National Front, and the sudden hike in oil prices in 1974, turned towards both favoring family reunifications and the repatriation of Arab and Kabyle immigrants, while simultaneously stressing the importance of integrating these communities and their children. The Islamic Revolution in Iran and the rise of Islamism across the Arab World in the late 1970s changed the image of Islam in French society, which began to associate North Africans with the emergence of terrorism in Europe. Henceforth anxieties about Islamization of the country were a recurrent subject among rightwing groups, which grew rapidly in the following decade.

While racism spread across French society—becoming visible in literature and cinema—different minority communities struggled to preserve and control the memory of their own histories, such as the pieds-noir, the Harkis, Armenians, and, though far more marginalized than the others, North Africans and their children. The cultural expression of these communities was ever more important, and often even took on a tone of protest, like the Kabyle singer Ferhat Mehenni, or the far more widely known Dalida, who was born in Egypt. These social tensions and the rise in crimes of racism, despite the election of a leftist government in 1981, politically formed second-generation immigrants.

The social failure of the cités, public housing projects built in the suburbs of the country’s main cities, concentrated the new national obsessions of insecurity, violence, criminality, unemployment, and the refusal of immigrants to “integrate.” The March for Equality and Against Racism in 1983, often called the Marche des Beurs, reflected the determination of a new generation of youth to draw attention to social exclusion and claim their rights, and reclaim the word “beur,” a slang term for people of Arab and North African descent often used in a derogatory manner. The march, which began in Marseille and ended in Paris, was peaceful, and marked a new period in relations between France and the Arab communities living within its borders. It also succeeded in drawing media and political attention, including that of President François Mitterrand. As a result, a new residency permit system, the “ten-year card,” was established. In 1984, other political and cause-oriented movements emerged, among which SOS Racisme was the most prominent. Yet the new generation’s demands remained largely unheeded, both by the political elite and media, and were not integrated into French politics. They remained on the margins. The result, twenty years later in 2005, was that their children undertook a new, more violent form of protest, spreading revolt throughout France’s poorer neighborhoods.

At the same time, immigrant communities became more fragmented on the ground, with each person living in a seemingly isolated social unit. The new generation and its desire for the recognition of its own history and identity, as well as religious pressures and urban decay, redefined immigrant society. Stereotypes about Islam further fed public fears, mistrust, and a discriminatory discourse. Arab populations were the “interior enemies” and henceforth grouped collectively as “Muslims.”

Colonial Fracture
Throughout the 1990s, the problem of the banlieues, the poor suburbs where many immigrants lived, obsessed public opinion. A new cultural wave grew out of the banlieues, famously captured in the 1995 film La Haine. New forms of dance, music, and theater emerged that expressed this hybrid urban culture, which was popularly represented by hip-hop. Professional sport singled itself out as a viable path towards integration; France’s hosting of and victory in the 1998 FIFA World Cup fed the myth of a “black-white-beur” nation. Sport was a uniquely welcoming space for youth of North African background. Nevertheless, very few beur icons emerged in the public space and media.

During this period, despite more restrictive policies, immigration from the Maghreb continued apace. By now, second- and third-generation immigrants lived in the country. Their permanent presence changed the situation: their children are French and will remain so. The violence of xenophobic discourses now targets them.

The economic and social crisis continued for these communities, which encouraged the stigmatization of North Africans, especially by far right groups like the National Front. Communities pushed to the edge of society, unemployment two and half times higher than the national average, as well as insecurity and prejudice caused by fear of the “other” and Islam, created a “colonial fracture” within French society at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The early 2000s witnessed a shift in the language around Arab and Near Eastern France: Armenians asserted themselves in the political arena, especially regarding commemoration of the genocide; Turks and Kurds guarded their cultural specificity while living at the margins of society; the pieds-noirs and North African Jews created a space for themselves in the national memory. Syrian and Lebanese as well as Harki communities remained invisible, neither contentious nor incorporated into the national discourse. By contrast, North Africans were still the targets of racism in a country that is itself a prisoner to its own colonial past, even as personalities from immigrant backgrounds became national emblems, like Jamel Debbouze, an actor born in France to Moroccan parents; Dany Boon, a French comedian and actor whose father is Kabyle; Gad Elmaleh, a Morrocan-French standup comedian; Zinedine Zidane, a renowned French football player of Algerian Berber descent; Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a socialist politician born in Morocco’s Rif Mountains who currently serves as French minister of education, higher education, and research; or Rachida Dati, a member of the European parliament and justice minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Over the past decades, a “threatening” East has fixated the popular imagination, influenced by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the rise in jihadism. The September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and clashes around the France-Algeria football match in the following month resuscitated the myth of the “interior enemy,” and focused it on Muslim Arabs living in the banlieues. That rhetoric has continued to the present day and worsened following a wave of terrorist attacks in France in 2015. However, Arabs are more present in culture, literature, and the arts, as well as the economy and politics, than ever before. The paradox deeply reflects the contradictions of contemporary French society. The anxiety behind the myth of the “interior enemy,” the “culture of rejection,” and stigmatization fed into the urban revolts of 2005. But the reaction of French society was to deny the reasons behind the rebel movement.

Caught between acceptance and rejection, Arab France has two faces: a France which embraces its shared histories, and another France which persists in rejecting a part of its population and a centuries-old heritage that has made Arabs and Near Easterners “native foreigners” in the Hexagon. Today, Islamophobia continues to rise, while the social exclusion of certain communities within France is leading towards worrying social isolation. The attacks in January and November 2015 deeply changed for the worse perceptions of a population that accounts for between 6 and 8 percent of all French citizens.

A century after the Great War, during which the colonies answered France’s call for help, seventy years after the liberation of national territory by soldiers originally from North Africa, sixty years after decolonization, the condition of Arab and Near Eastern communities in France is surprising. They are a part of French society and deeply tied up with its national history, yet permanently at the nation’s margins. It is the paradox of thirteen centuries of Arab France.

Translated from the French by Amir-Hussein Radjy.

Pascal Blanchard is a historian and researcher in the Laboratoire Communication et Politique at the Université Paris-Dauphine and co-director of the Groupe de recherche Achac (Paris). He is the co-author of Le grand repli; La fracture coloniale: La société française au prisme de l’héritage colonial; and, most recently, Vers la guerre des identités? He is co-editor of La France arabo-orientale: Treize siècles de présences and La France noire.

Je Suis Charlie?

We can now say, with the benefit of hindsight, that in January 2015 France succumbed to an attack of hysteria. The massacre of the editorial board of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as well as of several police officers and the customers of a Jewish shop, triggered a collective reaction unprecedented in our country’s history. It would have been impossible to discuss it in the heat of the moment. The media joined hands to denounce terrorism, to celebrate the admirable character of the French people, and to sacralize liberty and the French Republic. Charlie Hebdo and its caricatures of Mohammed were enshrined. The government announced that it was giving a grant to the weekly so that it could get back on its feet. Crowds of people followed the government’s appeal to march in protest throughout the land: they held pencils to symbolize press freedom and applauded the state security police and the marksmen posted on the rooftops. The logo “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”), written in white letters against a black background, could be seen everywhere: on our screens, in the streets, on restaurant menus. Children came home from school with a letter C written on their hands. Kids aged 7 and 8 were interviewed at the school gates and asked for their thoughts on the horror of the events and the importance of one’s freedom to draw caricatures. The government decreed that anyone who failed to toe the line would be punished. Any secondary school pupil who refused to observe the minute’s silence imposed by the government was seen as implicitly supporting terrorism and refusing to stand in solidarity with the national community. At the end of January, we learned that some adults had started to behave in the most incredibly repressive ways: children of 8 or 9 years of age were being questioned by the police. It was a sudden glimpse of totalitarianism.

The TV channels and the press told us over and over again that we were living through a “historic” moment of communion: “We are one people, France is united in adversity, born anew by and for liberty.” The obsession with Islam was of course ubiquitous. Not only did political journalists listen to imams and ordinary French Muslims telling them, as did everybody else, that violence was unacceptable, that the terrorists were odious and had betrayed their religion. Journalists demanded of these Muslims, as they demanded of all of us, the incantation of the ritual formula “I am Charlie,” which became a synonym for “I am French.” If they were to be fully accepted as part of the French community, they needed to admit that blasphemy, in the form of caricatures of Mohammed, was an integral element of French identity. It was their duty to blaspheme. On our TV screens, journalists wagged a professorial finger as they explained the difference between an act inciting racial hatred (bad), on the one hand, and religious blasphemy (good), on the other. I found it really hard to have to listen to Jamel Debbouze, the French-Moroccan actor who is a central figure in French culture, being forced to undergo this ordeal when he was interviewed on the TF1 TV channel. He wanted to state that he was a Muslim, that he felt a sense of loyalty to the young people in the suburbs, that he loved France, that he had a non-Muslim wife, that his children had been born from a mixed marriage and that they were the France of tomorrow. He tried to explain to his inquisitor, courteously and painfully, that blasphemy was difficult for a Muslim, that it was not part of his tradition. This was not enough: to be French meant not that you had the right to blaspheme, but that it was your duty. Thus spake Voltaire. I could not fail to remember what I had read about the Inquisition, which interrogated Jews who had converted to Christianity in an attempt to make sure they really did eat pork, like all true Christians.

Xenophobia on the Rise
The relaunch of Charlie Hebdo with a state subsidy marked the zenith of the national reaction to the drama. Its cover yet again allowed us to admire Mohammed, with a face as long as a penis, wearing a turban from which hung two round shapes like testicles. This elegant figure had been drawn on a green background—the color of Islam—but it was a dull, insipid green, far from the extraordinarily beautiful and subtle greens that adorn Muslim places of worship.

Any historian who studies long-term trends (la longue durée) and is familiar with religious crises, when iconophiles and iconoclasts fought it out, cannot fail to observe that when the French state turns an image of Mohammed depicted as a prick into a sacred image, this constitutes a historic turning-point. France really is going through a religious crisis, one that follows all the religious crises that have given shape to its history, and to European history as a whole, ever since the last days of the Roman Empire. So we can, for once, follow the media in describing the January 11 street demonstrations as “historic”—a description that was intense, repetitive, obsessive, incantatory; in short: religious.

At that time, I refused to take part in any interviews and debates on the crisis.

And yet I had not hesitated to express my opinion in 2005, when the suburbs erupted into rebellion: I stated that the young people setting cars on fire all over the place were absolutely French. Their acts were strictly speaking criminal, but in my view merely expressed a demand for equality, one of the two fundamental French values. I also emphasized the admirable restraint of the French police, who did not open fire on these kids from the suburbs any more than they had started shooting at the middle-class youngsters in May 1968. In 2005, France was tolerant and free, in spite of the reactions that were naturally and deservedly hostile to the disorder. It was useful to say what one felt. Neither the government, nor journalists, nor society as a whole had succumbed to panic. There was no trace of hysteria to be seen. In 2005, we, the French people, were admirable. We kept our emotions to ourselves. The fear felt by elderly people was silent and led, without any immediate threat to the freedom of expression, to Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as president in 2007. The average age of his electorate was higher than for all the rightwing presidents who had preceded him.

But in January 2015, a critical analysis would not have gained a hearing. How could anyone have claimed that this mass mobilization, far from being “admirable,” showed a lack of sangfroid and, in a word, a lack of dignity under pressure? Or that condemning the terrorist act in no way implied that you were divinizing Charlie Hebdo? Or that the right to blaspheme against your own religion should not be confused with the right to blaspheme against someone else’s religion, especially in the fraught socioeconomic context of contemporary French society: repetitive and systematic blasphemy against Mohammed, the central character in the religion of a group that is weak and discriminated against, should—whatever the law courts have to say—be treated as an incitement to religious, ethnic, or racial hatred.

How could anyone oppose virtuous ignorance on the march, or dare to state that these demonstrators, with their pencils as symbols of liberty, were insulting history, since, in the anti-Semitic and Nazi sequence of events, caricatures of dark-skinned, hook-nosed Jews had led to physical violence? How could anyone explain calmly, taking their time to argue their case, that the most urgent thing for French society in 2015 was not an investigation of Islam but an analysis of how it had become paralyzed? How could anyone show that the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly were indeed French, the products of French society, and that the use of Islamic symbols does not inevitably turn those who resort to them into real Muslims? Or that these men were merely the mirror image, a pathological reflection, of the moral mediocrity of our elected leaders, more intent on ensuring they get their maximum pension than on freeing young people from the exploitation inherent in the low wages they are paid or the way they are marginalized by unemployment?

How was it possible, in the heat of the moment, to suggest that François Hollande, by deciding to call for a mass demonstration, risked glorifying the Kouachi brothers, conferring an ideological meaning on an act that should have been given its true and lesser worth by a psychiatric-style interpretation? After all, madness, as a loss of contact with reality, needs the ordinary forms of social symbolism: schizophrenics imagine they are Napoleon or Jesus, paranoiacs think they are being penetrated by the sun or persecuted by the state. It would have been possible to view the action of the Kouachi brothers with a certain disdain, thereby weakening its meaning. This kind of approach did not, of course, rule out a sociology of the psychosis of Islamism in France. But such an approach was rejected. Instead, we had the dubious privilege of seeing the authorities endow the problem with a negative sacred aura, and this entailed an aggravation of the religious tensions in our society and in our relations with the rest of the world. This had been Bush’s choice in 2001, albeit on the basis of much more serious events. Were the seventeen people who died on January 7 really the equivalent of the 2,977 who died in the World Trade Center? Even more than an America so often mocked for its emotional excesses, France overreacted. What had happened on January 11, 2015 to the rational, ironic, witty cast of mind associated with France?

How can people be persuaded to admit that France, as a whole, in its middle classes and not just on its margins, is going through a crisis that is no longer just economic but also religious, or quasi-religious, because the country no longer knows where it is going? The problem of French society cannot be reduced to the suburbs ravaged by the rise of Islamic terrorism: it is much more far-reaching. The focus on Islam actually reveals a pathological need among the middle and upper strata to hate something or someone, and not just the fear of a threat arising from the lower depths of society, even if the number of young jihadists heading off to Syria or Iraq also deserves sociological analysis. Xenophobia used to be confined to the poorer sections of society, but these days it is moving up to the top of the social structure. The middle and upper classes are seeking their scapegoat.

A Component of the Nation
Envisaging assimilation as the sole solution should not lead to any dogmatic and counterproductive application of principles. The dream needs to face up to the reality of the world, the rhythms of life, the social and economic difficulties of the time. The ideology of the universal human being should, from this point of view, lead neither the citizen of the host country nor the immigrant to cease being a human being. We need to give time to time—accept that we have to live through imperfect transitional moments, to be gentle with each other’s weaknesses. Not just because such an attitude is good in itself—and it really is—but also because kindliness is in the long term more effective than confrontation, which always generates hatred and polarization.

The assimilation of the children of Muslim origin is already well advanced, but is currently being slowed down by economic difficulties, by uncertainty in French society itself about its own goals. The atomization and emptiness that accompany or, more precisely, characterize the crisis in the developed world mean that everywhere mechanisms of sheltering, of communitarianism, are being set in motion: they are probably stronger in the France of zombie Catholicism and certain fractions of the Jewish population than in the population of Muslim origin, where family structures are disintegrating. In a context like this, France cannot forbid its Muslim citizens to practice their religion freely and to say, if they believe it to be so, that the caricatures of Mohammed are obscene. This is just a very small part of the problem. Islam needs finally to be generally accepted, legitimated as a component of the nation, just as the Church was. We need to accept a free building of mosques—indeed, we need to make up for our backwardness in this area.

What has just been described is no utopia. It is the demand for a return to the true past of the Republic. We need to grant Islam what was granted to Catholicism, in the era of triumphant secularism. The modest size and the fragmentation of the population of Muslim origin in the suburbs mean we cannot draw too close a parallel with the provinces of the Catholic periphery. The Islam of the future will be, in terms of power, between a third and a twentieth part of what the Church represented in the Republic. We need, out of realism and necessity, to admit fully and joyfully that there is now, in French culture, in our national being, a Muslim province. We also need to avoid a new Vendée war, that confrontation which contributed to solidifying Catholicism. It was an accepted Catholicism that spontaneously dissolved in the wake of the Second World War. Our new province, Islam, believes in equality, unlike the Church, which is based on the principle of hierarchy that flies in face of the republican ideal in every point. Thus, a positive integration of Islam would help to reinforce republican culture rather than subverting it.

Extracted from Who is Charlie? by Emmanuel Todd. Copyright © 2015 by Emmanuel Todd. With permission of the publisher, Polity.

Emmanuel Todd is an anthropologist, sociologist, and historian at the Institut national d’études démographiques. He is the author of Après l’Empire: Essai sur la décomposition du système américain; L’origine des systèmes familiaux, Tome 1: L’Eurasie; and, most recently, Qui est Charlie?: Sociologie d’une crise religieuse (published in English as Who is Charlie?: Xenophobia and the New Middle Class); and co-author of Le mystère français and Le rendez-vous des civilisations. On Twitter: @todd_emmanuel.

A Call for Arab Diplomacy

The Arab World is rife with regional, bilateral, and domestic conflicts, from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf. Moroccan-Algerian tensions concerning the dispute over Western Sahara and the role of the Polisario Front remain unresolved. Libya has become a failed state, a fertile ground for extremists and terrorism, with sub-regional ramifications. Syria is a bloody battlefield, in spite of intensive diplomatic efforts sponsored by the United Nations. Iraq is still unsettled, with terrorists able to operate across the border between Iraq and Syria. Civil conflict continues to consume Yemen; as with the war in Syria, the fighting there is exacerbating tensions between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Arab-Israeli conflict, nearly seven decades old, continues to make life unbearable for the Palestinians living under occupation. Egypt and Tunisia, the countries that ignited the Arab awakenings, are going through fundamental domestic transformations.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Arab diplomacy has been strangely absent. Some Arab countries have been providing military support for different protagonists in different conflicts, notably in Libya, Yemen, and in the war against terrorism in Syria and Iraq. Where, however, is Arab diplomacy? What diplomatic efforts are being made in every one of these cases are being led by non-Arabs or non-Arab organizations.

Throughout the second half of the last century, Arab leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Faisal and Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and Houari Boumediene of Algeria led conflict resolution efforts in various inter-Arab and regional problems, such as the Arab-Israeli dispute, the civil war in Lebanon, and the Iran hostage crisis. Today, Arab leaders are preoccupied with military conflicts in which they are directly engaged, and/or with their own domestic upheavals. True, but there are other deeply rooted reasons that explain the absence of urgently needed Arab diplomacy: The Arab World is suffering from what I call a National Security Capability Deficit and a Managing Change Deficit. Together, these deficits have severely curtailed the capability of Arab states to pursue serious institution-led diplomacy. A revival of active Arab diplomacy is critical to the future stability of the Middle East.

Five years have passed since the beginning of the Arab awakenings, the drivers of which had been percolating for some time. It is imperative that we ask ourselves: Why did they happen? What are the outcomes? Where are we going from here? Will the next few years see more chaos in the Middle East, or a new order? And, given the intensive linkage between the domestic, regional, and global levels that have defined the dynamics of the Middle East over the last few years, it is also relevant to address the larger question of what place the region will occupy in world politics as well as regional diplomacy in the future.

Dreams and Disappointments
The Arab awakenings were in fact inevitable. The writing was on the wall. This should have been obvious to everyone, even in a region with a very high illiteracy rate. The fundamental reason behind the awakenings was the breakdown of the social contract between Arab governments and the constituencies they were governing.

“Freedom” and “social justice” are among the most prominent demands of these awakened Arab constituencies, irrespective of whether we are talking about North Africa, the Levant, or the Arab Gulf region. Two other important factors served as further catalysts for the awakenings. One is the extremely large proportion of Arab youth, well over 30 percent of the population, an age bracket that by its very nature calls for change and is impatient. Another important factor was the rapid evolution of communication technology, in particular satellite television, Internet, and social media. This weakened governmental control of information and provided knowledge access to the layman in diverse communities throughout the region, thus fueling aspirations and frustrations as people became more enlightened with respect to the fate and options of others around the world.

However, while change was inevitable, I argue that the turmoil was not. The deadly upheavals were a result of the Managing Change Deficit in the Arab World. While this crosses many domains, it is noteworthy that at the pinnacle of political power, the leaders of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen had been in office between thirty and forty years (albeit in Syria the continuous power was passed from father to son). Ironically, these personal tenures were longer than those of individual monarchs in the region. This stagnation created rigid modes of governance, lack of vision, and an inability to manage or even recognize the need for change, conditions that ultimately contributed to the diminishment of Arab diplomacy.

External factors have contributed to the turmoil. In the upheavals of the Arab awakenings a significant number of regional players—here I refer to Turkey, Israel, and Iran—have attempted to take advantage of the instability. As a result, these three countries have seen a rise in their political weight in the region as well as in their diplomatic influence.

Another important and alarming factor to take into account is the emergence of dangerous non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front. These groups are essentially homegrown; terrorism in the Middle East is a direct derivative of the breakdown of the social contract and the absence of effective state institutions. But these non-state actors, in different forms and with different identities, have managed to transcend borders with terrorist operations on different continents.

Across the Arab World, there is great frustration with the results of the Arab awakenings. Some reminisce about the past; others agonize about their failed dreams. Neither sentiment is based on considered dispassionate thinking. Equally disappointing is that the Arab political center seems to be falling back into a state of apathy, rejecting incremental nation-building, especially in its political sense where it is most needed. Needless to say, mistakes were made by all. Reform has been delayed, if not derailed. The dreamers never really understood the magnitude of their success, and consequently the enormity and complexity of the nation-building effort ahead of them. I admit to a degree of naïveté myself.

After all the disappointments, I do not underestimate the challenges, and understand that even more frustration may lie ahead of us. Things may get better or worse, yet there will be no return to the past even if dreams of a democratic future are not realized. There are many indications, particularly in the public discourse in Arab media, that the Arab awakenings are alive, and that rampant poor governance will no longer be accepted or condoned. The power of technology and effects of information exchange have in fact already put limits to the centralization of authority. Even in the concept of partial transformation of society, which we witness today in the streets, syndicates, and parliaments, there is a new assumption of personal rights that are inconsistent with sustained arbitrary centralized authority only in government hands.

I am confident about my conclusions for why we had revolution rather than evolution, but I believe that it is premature to declare the Arab awakenings a failure. The region’s transition is still ongoing. And that is an important reason for a revival of active Arab diplomacy.

Some legitimately ask why change in the Arab World is so difficult and chaotic. One answer is the absence of an Arab model for change in the twenty-first century. This is not eastern Europe of the post-Cold War era, wanting to join its western neighbors. But another fundamental reason is that Arabs have been excessively dependent on external parties in their security needs, in their economic engagement, in the evolution of their societies, and, needless to say, in the resolution of their regional conflicts.

In essence, Arabs suffer from a National Security Capability Deficit. Historically, the overwhelming majority of Arab countries have been or are in security arrangements with international players or import an extremely substantial amount of their security and military hardware from abroad. This has been true throughout the Arab World, almost without exception, with foreign partners such as the Soviet Union/Russia, the United States, and European countries. The figures on economic investment and trade similarly weigh very heavily toward international rather than domestic markets and inter-Arab cooperation. As a result, international players are excessively drawn into regional developments to safeguard their interests or assist their allies. Consequently, international politics and priorities weigh heavily and often complicate regional developments.

In formulating new Arab diplomatic responses and strategies, one must caution against gross generalizations in making judgments and not draw conclusions that would seriously distort assessments and weaken potential policy proposals for how to move forward. The Arab awakenings have much in common; however, they are not identical. Developments in Egypt and Tunisia were and remain essentially homegrown, and bringing them to fruition will be determined most of all on the successes of domestic forces. The root cause of the situation in Libya was also domestic frustration. The ensuing chaos resulted from Muammar Gadhafi’s systematic annihilation of government structures during his forty years in office. The chaos was exacerbated by the way the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened after Libya’s uprising began: NATO exceeded the scope of the humanitarian mandate provided by United Nations Security Council resolutions, and then provided little crisis management nation-building support after Gadhafi’s collapse. The Arab League decision that provided political cover for NATO, while morally correct, was nevertheless diplomatically shortsighted in failing to insist a priori on clear plans for the aftermath of military operations. The uprisings in Syria and Yemen were likewise driven by domestic frustration and inept or excessively ruthless government responses; however, in contrast with the situation in North Africa, they are today fueled by regional and international geopolitics as much as, if not more than, local dynamics.

Basic Tenets of Managing Change
Any attempt to project the future amid the prevailing volatility of today’s Middle East is risky, if not foolhardy. Nevertheless, strategic planning based on considered assumptions is a necessity for policy makers. Personally, I expect the next five years will witness more good and more bad. Domestic pressures will force governments to open up their systems, yet often cause them initially to overreact with restrictive measures. Hopefully, overreactions will end once things stabilize. In Egypt and Tunisia, the balance between successes and failures will mostly be determined by domestic and economic factors; they will need regional and international support to redress the costs of instability since 2010–11. Additionally in Egypt as well as in Tunisia, legitimate domestic security concerns, influenced particularly by cross-border threats such as from neighboring Libya, will be a constraining factor but should not derail the reform process in the long term.

In the Levant, global and regional geopolitics, revolving around the U.S.–Russian and Saudi–Iranian rivalries in particular, seem to be the predominant factor. In Syria, these international and regional rivalries even supersede inter-Syrian rivalries at this point. The Vienna meetings, Geneva process, the Russian announcement of withdrawal of its military intervention forces, and American acceptance of an eighteen-month Syrian transition phase are welcome indications that Russia and the United States have concluded that diplomacy or at least crisis management is imperative.

The severe turmoil in the Middle East has raised questions about the borders mapped in the Levant according to the Sykes-Picot agreement after World War I. In conjunction with this, we have witnessed an increasingly polarizing and potentially catastrophic debate about ethnicity and sectarianism, raising questions about the very identity of citizens in the Arab World. Discussions about Syria, Libya, and Yemen have brought forth numerous proposals about decentralization, self-government, and federalism. At face value, these are worthy proposals if they are based on geography and topography. However, at closer look they appear to be defined by ethnic and sectarian considerations. This is a highly volatile prescription and in fact could have further destabilizing effects with cross-border ramifications throughout the Levant and Arab Gulf region.

Given that the Middle East cannot and should not live in isolation from the world community, the path forward should be navigated by upholding international norms and practicing rational regional realpolitik in crisis management and conflict resolution. Arab and Middle Eastern states will not find stability unless they see and respect international norms, not as an imposition from foreign powers but as a response to the demand of their own people.

At the same time, sober crisis management and conflict resolution should drive the international community to preserve existing government institutions and respect the sanctity of international borders. Stability through the respect of sovereignty and application of good governance are in the strategic interest of all of the conflicting state parties, even if shortsighted tactical gains may appear attractive and drive opportunistic policies. Changes where they occur should be in the realm of practices and when called for personalities in response to the demands of national constituencies.

However, no changes should be countenanced with respect to borders, irrespective of how they were originally drawn. Nor should changes involve dismantling institutions at the expense of a country’s security and stability. These are roads we cannot afford to travel in the present volatility. If we are to see the light at the end of the tunnel, these basic tenets must be respected by domestic, regional, and international players.

Arabs must become more engaged in determining the future of the region. If reshaping the region is once again left to foreign powers, the Arabs will only have themselves to blame for their complacency. Arab over-dependency on external forces has led to complacency in raising their national security capabilities, politically and militarily, particularly in comparison to non-Arab Middle Eastern states in the region, whether we’re speaking of Turkey, Israel, or Iran. These three states have become overly influential, aggressive, and present in the regional conflicts associated with the Arab awakenings.

I find it difficult to envision stability in the Middle East with four of its major players at loggerheads. To move forward there must be a reorientation of relations between Turkey and Egypt as well as between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Such shifts will prove challenging if not impossible in the short term. Turkish sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt, makes immediate rapprochement between Ankara and Cairo impossible. Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran’s overzealous engagement in the Arab Gulf countries, Iraq, and the Levant are deeply rooted and highly sensitive. A series of preliminary but substantial and concrete confidence-building measures by Turkey and Iran are necessary just to start a serious Arab dialogue with these countries. Turkey and Iran, using Sunni and Shiite Islam as a springboard for influence, must make clear commitments not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring states. Egypt and Saudi Arabia can reciprocate with actions acknowledging greater openness toward both countries.

The Arab World as a whole needs a diplomatic awakening and a renewed commitment to take charge of its own issues before calling on others to help. Arabs must reinvigorate its moribund regional organization, the Arab League. Strengthening its preventive diplomacy and crisis management capacities are paramount. As we enter a new era the Arab League should also lead a constructive, comprehensive dialogue not only with Turkey, Iran, and Israel, but with all neighboring states from sub-Saharan Africa to southern Europe and Asia.

Despite impressions to the contrary, Arab states continue to have more in common than ways in which they differ. Their historic legacy and shared cultural values should not be underestimated. A common path forward is paramount if truly sustainable progress in the Arab World is to be achieved. Arab states must individually and jointly become more proactive diplomatically. The alternative, further diminution of Arab political weight, will prove disastrous to the region in this time of transition. It is imperative that the Arab states approach the changing world in wide-ranging agreement with the intention to continue building pluralistic, inclusive governments and reorienting their foreign policy away from excessive international dependency.

Ensuring true stability in the Middle East will require domestic political reforms in Arab countries. But it will also require a more robust Arab diplomacy. Arabs must look at the security paradigm in the Middle East from within nation-state boundaries, and also with respect to their immediate regional neighbors and beyond to sub-Saharan Africa and to Europe. Like the world itself, the Middle East is changing geopolitically and this needs to be addressed. The challenges ahead for a better future and regional stability are daunting, and this will require rational, proactive, and wise steps by strong and proud Arab states. Active Arab diplomacy will be a determining factor in whether the Arab awakenings are a success or failure. This new approach will also be among the factors in determining the place Arabs will have in the future world order, and in determining whether the Middle East will remain a cauldron of violence or proceed toward a more stable future.

Nabil Fahmy, a former foreign minister of Egypt, is the dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999–2008, and as envoy to Japan between 1997 and 1999. On Twitter: @mnabilfahmy.

Fantasies of a Middle East Envoy

The story of the involvement of Dennis Ross in the Middle East is as long as it is remarkable. Analyst, diplomat, peace negotiator, special envoy, presidential counselor, author, and pundit, his career has spanned six U.S. presidents, eleven secretaries of state, fifteen National Security Council heads, and countless senior officials and Middle East hands, veteran and wet behind the ears. He has borne witness to almost every major Middle East event from one position of influence or another, from the Ronald Reagan era to the presidency of Barack Obama.

Though originally a specialist on the Soviet Union, Ross developed a notable focus on Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Out of government, he has held privileged positions at the influential pro-Israel think tank he helped establish with Martin Indyk, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A decade ago, he authored The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, a thick volume that largely detailed his close involvement in Israel-Palestine negotiations after the Oslo Accords. A few years later, he wrote Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World, a plea—written during the George W. Bush administration—for the critical importance of diplomacy and wise American leadership in international affairs. In Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, written with Washington Institute colleague David Makovsky and published during Ross’s tenure in the first Obama administration, the authors argue for a realpolitik approach to the Israel-Palestine and Iran issues.

Ross has returned head-on to the subject of Israel-Palestine in his latest work, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama. It is an ambitious attempt to reinterpret the history of U.S.-Israel relations (and consequently U.S.-Arab relations) over seven decades. His basic thesis is quite simple: under the misguided influence of the State Department Arabists and the U.S. foreign policy establishment, a concept took root under Harry S. Truman that U.S. alignment with Israel would cost it dearly with “the Arabs.” In light of the fact that the United States had (and still has) vast interests across the Arab World, not the least of which is oil, so this argument goes, these interests would thus best be served by maintaining some distance from Israel and occasionally pressuring it to accommodate Arab demands.

Over the course of 496 pages, Ross sets out to disprove what he believes has been this seriously misguided counsel. In practice, and despite their occasional vocal protestations, he argues “the Arabs” have repeatedly given precedence to their bilateral concerns and interests with the United States over their enmity towards Israel. Since inter-Arab rivalries rather than any real concern about Washington’s bias towards Israel have been the prime motivator of U.S.-Arab relations, it follows that the United States has rarely if ever paid a price for its alliance with Israel. It also follows that those who argue that maintaining some distance (or what has come to be known as “daylight”) between Israel and the United States are misguided if not downright wrong.1 Indeed it is America’s proximity to Israel that attracts the Arabs to begin with.2

Ross’s thesis is reinforced with the supplementary claim that contrary to what many people believe, U.S. policy towards Israel is not significantly affected by domestic electoral pressures or concerns, that is to say from the “pro-Israel” (or Zionist) lobby. On a number of occasions, he says, different U.S. presidents have deployed various tools of pressure against Israel thus overriding the protests of the lobby, yet the end result has been little or no payback in terms of improved U.S.-Arab relations or America’s standing in the Arab (or Islamic) World.3 Conversely, American support for Israel has not led “the Arabs” to abandon relations with the United States because they have no realistic alternative anyway. And so, Ross concludes, since the substantive basis for American support for Israel is grounded in unchanging common values, mutual cultural empathy, historic sympathy for Jewish suffering, and a mutual commitment to democracy, this relationship is simply “doomed to succeed.”4

Ross’s reading of the history of U.S.-Israeli relations naturally reveals the strong imprint of the man’s basic political beliefs and guiding principles. In its determined pursuit of its central thesis, the result is more of a sustained argument in favor of a particular point of view than a comprehensive and truly balanced account of what may be the most extraordinary relationship in contemporary international politics. With his broad brush, Ross tends to downplay those elements that may shed an alternative light, and skirts around contrary views that may embarrass or conflict with his own. His belief that the U.S. is bonded to Israel come what may, and that this is essentially a cost-free enterprise (indeed, the real cost stems from adopting the contrary view) is disputable at best and dangerously misguided at worst, and even appears to be increasingly out of tune with the emerging realities in U.S. politics and the general drift of developments in the region, including in Israel itself. Such misperceptions are no minor matter in light of Ross’s past role and continuing influence, and one would have hoped that his accumulated experience would have produced a more nuanced and calibrated view. Ultimately, his reading of history tells us more about the man’s own mindset than fully enlightening us as to the subject at hand, even if that itself may be a valuable contribution for those who seek to understand the kind of thinking that has shaped American policy towards Israel-Palestine over the past seventy-odd years.

Critical Decisions on Palestine
Ross claims that the rot set in under President Harry S. Truman, so it may be worth examining the Truman administration’s experience in some detail.5 Truman was president at a crucial time just before and during Israel’s establishment in 1945–48. U.S. policy at the time was not only critical in ensuring Israel’s birth, but in according it international legitimacy. As the Zionist movement began to recognize that the global balance of power had begun to shift across the Atlantic from London to Washington, a series of major battles were waged with and within the U.S. administration to ensure that it would provide the necessary backing to support the Zionist project of statehood in Palestine.

Truman seems to have had sympathy for the Jewish cause when he took office in 1945 but no ironclad commitment to the Zionist project of creating a Jewish state in Palestine as such. His first clash with the Zionist lobby coincided with the July 1945 Potsdam Conference almost immediately after becoming president: fifty-four senators, two hundred fifty house members, and the legislatures of thirty-three states pressed him to call on the United Kingdom, then still the Mandatory power in Palestine, to “open Palestine to mass immigration” and “reconstitute Palestine as a Jewish commonwealth.” When Truman hesitated due to British opposition, the Zionists organized a campaign of two hundred thousand telegrams in protest to the White House. Despite irritation with the lobby’s pressure tactics, he adopted the Zionist demand for one hundred thousand immigrants to be granted immediate entry to Palestine.6 Shortly afterwards, and at a meeting with senior U.S. diplomats in November 1945 that was convened to explain his policy on Palestine, Truman was in a pessimistic mood. There would be no solution, he presciently suggested, but:

Palestine would probably be an issue during the [congressional and presidential] election campaign of 1946 and 1948 and in future campaigns. And he concluded by returning to the political pressure he faced: “I’m sorry, gentlemen,” he said, “but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”7

Truman’s struggle with the Palestine problem took him in different directions. While instinctively sensitive to the Zionist cause, he repeatedly chafed under Zionist pressure.8 Nonetheless, as he tried to reconcile between his own political instincts and the advice of the “establishment,” including Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal, both of whom cautioned against a pro-Zionist bias, as well as the pressure from London to maintain a balanced policy, Truman was effectively driven to adopt one Zionist demand after the other at least six times in a row; moving from support for mass immigration, to support for a Jewish “commonwealth,” to support for a Jewish state, to backing partition, to extending almost immediate de facto recognition of Israel in May 1948, to de jure recognition. In each case, any initial reluctance or hesitation was met with a torrent of protests, complaints, and private and public pressures, after which Truman complied.9

Yet in all this Ross constantly underplays the domestic element, avoiding any clear description of the tight concentric circles of domestic pressure that surrounded the Truman presidency. The fact that Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign advisors specifically warned against alienating the Jewish vote is ignored.10 The fact that David Niles, who (in Ross’s words) “served in a critical role,” and Clark Clifford, “who served as White House Counsel,” were ardent Zionist sympathizers is all but overlooked.11 The fact that Niles was administrative assistant in charge of relations with labor and minority groups (e.g., the Zionist movement) is not mentioned. The fact that Truman’s inner circle of advisors included the staunchly Zionist Max Lowenthal escapes Ross’s notice.12 The fact that some of Truman’s most important positions including that of recognizing Israel in May 1948 were actually drafted in collaboration with Jewish Agency second-in-command Eliahu Epstein is passed over completely.13 The fact that Zionist leaders made clear their readiness to deploy their electoral power is not highlighted.14 The fact that Truman at vital moments felt bound to respond to close personal friends who were lobbying him on behalf of the Zionist cause is ignored.15 The role played by the United States in unashamedly bullying other countries to vote in favor of partition in 1947 is nowhere to be seen.16

Even after Truman voted in favor of partition, the pressures did not let up. The Zionist movement was bent on securing formal U.S. recognition of the Jewish state declared by the United Nations, regardless of if and how the UN Partition Plan was to be implemented. One authoritative account, by historian David McCullough, puts it thus:

Hundreds of thousands of postcards flooded the White House mail, nearly all from Jewish interest groups. Largely as a result of the efforts of the American Zionist Emergency Council [the leading U.S. Zionist organization at the time], thirty-three state legislatures passed resolutions favoring a Jewish state in Palestine. Forty governors and more than half the Congress signed petitions to the president. David Niles grew so emotional in one meeting in Truman’s office that he threatened to quit unless Truman moved more emphatically in support of the Jewish cause. [New York Democrat Party boss] Ed Flynn came down from New York to tell the President that he must either “give in” on Palestine or expect New York opposition to his re-nomination in July.17

Despite such accounts, all that we get from Ross is that Clifford subsequently “took great umbrage at the charge that domestic political pressures caused Truman to support partition and recognize Israel. He decried revisionist historiography and asserted that ‘the facts totally refute the assumptions of the revisionists.’” Ross asks rhetorically, as if to throw up his hands in exasperation, “Why did their argument take hold?” Later, he offers a brief concession that “the pressures were real” but goes on to insist that, what really drove Truman was “deep conviction.”18

The above summary does not do full justice to the extent of hesitation, backtracking, and confusion that marked some of Truman’s critical decisions on Palestine. Yet Ross sees this as the moment when a certain “Arabist” template emerged that Truman was right to ignore. There is no doubt that the Zionist lobby was confronted by significant forces within the administration that did predict dire consequences for the United States should it align with Israel. Ross makes much of the fact that these never materialized.

But the truth is that the United States did pay a price. It did not necessarily take the form of an all-out assault on American vital interests, as the establishment pessimists had warned. But there was the emergence of a widespread culture of hostility and anger toward the West in general and America in particular; one that facilitated the spread of Soviet influence throughout the post-World War II years and that created a convergence between the rising force of Arab nationalism and tiers mondiste anti-imperialism in general.

Ross’s conflation between the necessarily pro-Western monarchies of the Gulf and Jordan, and the rest of “the Arabs,” totally ignores the broader cost and long-term consequences of Truman’s policies. Furthermore, and contrary to Ross’s thesis, it remains that Truman effectively set up another more powerful and more long-lasting template; that of a U.S. Middle East policy that was largely determined by Israeli (Zionist) concerns, and shaped and formulated by the interaction between domestic electoral pressures, the powerful role of personal connections, and the pathology of the conflict as it is broadly construed in America; one in which by and large “the Arabs” in general and the Palestinians in particular have been consistently seen as the bad guys, and the Israelis as the good guys.

Limitations of “Israel’s Lawyer”
It would be a grievous mistake to underestimate the ties between the United States and Israel, as Ross himself amply demonstrates. There is a complex and profound matrix of common interests and perceived values that predates Israel and that continues to infuse the relationship at almost every level. Ross plays up those aspects of the relationship that he believes reflect what is best and brightest about them, and ignores their less salubrious aspects. Thus we learn nothing about the influence of the pro-Zionist inner circle surrounding Lyndon B. Johnson for instance: from the Rostow brothers, to Johnson’s friend and colleague Abraham Feinberg, to the former Irgunist and latter-day philanthropist Mathilde Krim and her husband Arthur Krim, who were both actually guests at the White House during the 1967 war.19 We don’t hear much of Henry Kissinger’s (only natural) sympathy for Israel, only his somewhat calculating attempts to pressure it.20 We are repeatedly told of Caspar Weinberger’s antipathy toward Israel and Alexander Haig’s criticism of Israeli settlement activities, but not of the latter’s “green light” for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.21 In effect, we get no real appraisal of the weight and significance of the personal sympathy for Israel that has marked so many U.S. officials and diplomats who have been engaged with this problem, not least of whom Ross himself.

This should be no surprise, given Ross’s longstanding belief that the most effective way of managing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is by way of adapting U.S. policy to the exigencies of the Israeli government in power, regardless of its particular outlook or political character. The fact that approach has not been outstandingly successful does not seem to register, and Ross makes little if any attempt to examine or review his own record and weigh the balance of his achievements and failures. This self-assurance has allowed Ross to pursue the same path unhindered by experience and to block out whatever else he sees as irrelevant to his approach. Ross’s propensity to downplay the domestic factor may be contrasted with that of his erstwhile and longstanding colleague in government, Aaron David Miller. Miller authored a book after leaving the State Department titled The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace. In the book, Miller notes that in The Missing Peace,22 Ross’s own 872-page tome on the peace process, Ross says nothing about American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or domestic pressures on policy makers. When Miller asks Ross about this, the latter says that in his view the United States didn’t do things simply [emphasis added] because of AIPAC or the Jewish community. Put this way (i.e., “simply”), Miller concurs, but adds: “But those of us advising the secretary of state and the president were very sensitive to what the pro-Israel community was thinking and, when it came to considering ideas Israel didn’t like, too often engaged in a kind of preemptive self-censorship.”23

One may differ with Ross as well as Miller over the degree to which AIPAC and its associates have a firm grip over presidential and congressional policies. But it remains that via its hold over congressional electoral politics, the pro-Israel lobby can implant legislation that impedes the president’s freedom of action and creates a public climate that has a direct bearing on the president’s tone and bearing.24 Certainly U.S. presidents themselves have felt the pressure, even if they have not always responded to it or been willing to do its bidding.

Over and above the lobby and congressional pressures, it may be worth noting here that Miller makes an extraordinary confession to which Ross appears oblivious, and that points to another perhaps even more profound structural flaw at the heart of American Arab-Israeli policy making. Talking of the U.S. Middle East team under Clinton, but in words that are by no means exclusive to that era, Miller notes that:

Whatever else we disagreed on, Dennis [Ross], Martin [Indyk], and I brought a clear pro-Israel orientation to our peace-process planning. Dennis often told me that Israelis saw him as the Palestinians’ lawyer, and I know he believed it, but I chuckle now when I think about it, because the Palestinians never regarded him in that way. In truth, not a single senior level official involved with the negotiations was willing or able to present, let alone fight for, the Arab or Palestinian perspective [emphasis added]. Under Bush and Baker, the administration’s four key advisors were also American Jews, but the secretary and president provided the necessary checks and balances to ensure that policy remained fair. At Camp David in 1978 Sam Lewis, then ambassador to Israel, presented [Menachem] Begin’s perspective when necessary and people listened. The Clinton administration offered no comparable voice for the Arabs.25

One could add, neither has any administration before or since—with the possible exception of the Obama presidency that has apparently had no vocal advocate for Israel since Ross’s own departure from the administration in 2011.26

In defense of his broad thesis, Ross points to a number of instances when a U.S. administration has taken a hard line on Israel. The problem is that most of the instances are so elusive and insubstantial as to be almost invisible, at least as far as “the Arabs” were concerned. Getting the United States to temporarily withhold some addition to Israel’s military arsenal such as in 1969, 1973, and again in 1981, only to be followed by an upgrade in military and strategic support and coordination, hardly seems to be cause for great satisfaction or appreciation of American evenhandedness from the Arab point of view.27

One “battle” that is often held up as an example of U.S. willingness to face down the pro-Israel lobby was over the supply of hardware to Saudi Arabia. Concerning Ronald Reagan’s tussle with the lobby over the sale of (unarmed) early warning AWACS aircraft in 1981, Ross writes:

It’s tempting when we read [Reagan’s complaints about the pro-Israel lobby] to overstate the influence of these supporters of Israel. In reality they have never driven basic policies, even as presidents have become more mindful of them. To be sure, the congressional capability to respond to Israel’s assistance needs or initiate programs that benefitted the Jewish state had become far stronger by Reagan’s time. But Congress’s ability to block actions presidents want to take was far more limited. [Jimmy] Carter could overcome opposition to the sale of F-15s to the Saudis and Reagan would do so as well with the AWACS.28

A number of points are worth making here. First, despite AIPAC and its supporters’ claims, the sale of hardware to Saudi Arabia did not represent any credible threat to Israel, as the Reagan administration insisted at the time.29 While AIPAC’s attempt to twist the president’s arm may not have succeeded, thereby damaging the lobby’s standing in the process, no vital or even significant Israeli interest was at stake. Saudi Arabia has never been a military party to any conflict with Israel, and was at that point in time preoccupied with the consequences of the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran. From an Arab perspective, the message could be read in a totally different manner: Reagan (as Carter before him) was only able to face down the lobby on a tangential and relatively secondary matter of no real consequence as far as Israel was concerned. And perhaps even more importantly, then and now, is that such battles with AIPAC tend to distract the executive and force it to expend political capital on a marginal affair, thus eroding its will and readiness to take on the lobby on other, more salient issues. In this respect, the lobby’s deterrent power can be as effective as its persuasive capabilities.

But Ross’s notion of “no price” is questionable, even in relation to Saudi Arabia. That the Saudis (and other U.S. allies) maintained their relations with Washington despite its bias towards Israel is a matter of hard political fact. Yet, when the Saudis did kick back, most significantly with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo amid the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Ross dismisses this as a relatively insignificant and passing phase.30 In 2001, when the Saudis threatened to “reevaluate” their relations with the United States due to Israeli actions in the occupied territories at the height of the Second Intifada, Washington took this seriously enough to issue the first formal U.S. adoption of Palestinian statehood and self-determination to placate Riyadh.31 In neither case did matters approach a total disassociation or breakdown of Saudi relations with Washington, but the question arises as to exactly what political damage the United States would have to incur so as to meet Ross’s criteria of a threat to U.S. interests.

America and 9/11
Almost seventy years on, there seems to be little point in lamenting American bias toward Israel or pretending that this is some great discovery.32 But simply swatting the fact of bias aside is not very useful either. Whatever the lobby’s final sway over policy making, the extensive human and cultural contact and overlap, the political sympathy and perceived identification, the background and education and cultural conditioning of the leading players, all of which have flowed copiously in one direction, it is hardly surprising that there is no equivalent or balancing mechanism that operates in the opposite direction—except for the occasional presidential defiance or mulish resistance. Bias is not just systemic; it is woven into the very fabric of U.S.-Israeli relations and thus seems hardly worth protesting. What really rankles is not that Ross seeks to rationalize it, but his suggestion that this is both cost-free and in America’s interest.

Even if we were to concede that U.S. intimacy with Israel can be a useful path to extracting Israeli concessions in theory (a notion that some Arab leaders have espoused), the evidence of almost seventy years of U.S. policy is that this rarely, if ever, manifests itself in any meaningful manner in practice. Indeed, the opposite is the case; whenever the United States has raised its tone or wagged its finger at Israeli actions, it has backed down with nothing to show for its ire. Even the Obama administration, which has seemingly been the least susceptible to Israeli persuasion, rapidly retreated from its initial high tone on Israeli settlement activities, and has amply compensated for any apparent cooling in personal and political relations between Washington and Tel Aviv by offering Israel unprecedented military support and aid.

Since Dwight D. Eisenhower effectively gave Israel an ultimatum to withdraw from the Sinai in the 1956 Suez Crisis, there have been few exceptions to this rule. One anomaly that is usually cited is George H. W. Bush’s battle over the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 and the Housing Loan guarantees as conducted by Secretary of State James Baker; yet all of Bush/Baker’s powers of persuasion and readiness to maintain distance—indeed their pressure on Israel—were the product of a unique moment of peak U.S. global power and were directed at a matter of process rather than substance; namely, simply getting the Yitzhak Shamir government to turn up in Madrid. The tough talk—“The phone number is 202-456-1414,” Baker said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in remarks clearly directed to Shamir. “When you’re serious about this, call us.”—culminated in the Israelis attending the Madrid conference.33

What seemed like a promising moment soon passed, with Bill Clinton’s defeat of Bush in the 1992 presidential election. The incoming administration, with Ross serving as Clinton’s special Middle East coordinator, was so solicitous of Israel’s needs and views that the prospects of peace on two fronts, Syria and Palestine, were virtually damaged beyond resuscitation since.

In Doomed’s account of seven decades of U.S.-Israel relations, Ross fails to mention some of the most obvious and incontrovertible facts. Israel has received more U.S. aid than any country or foreign recipient around the globe and currently gets over half of all American foreign military aid, while still asking for more.34 It has closer relations and more special military privileges and access to U.S. weaponry than any other U.S. partner. It has been afforded virtually total protection by Washington at the United Nations and all other international agencies (such as the International Criminal Court). Israel’s main policy planks have been consistently adopted by Washington: “No to the PLO” (U.S. policy before 1988); “No to a Palestinian state” (formal U.S. policy until the George W. Bush administration in 2001); “settlements are not illegal” (Reagan administration); accepting settlements as a fait accompli (George W. Bush letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004); “no return to the 1967 lines” (Obama statement in 2011).

If such American policies were driven by Washington’s fear of losing “the Arabs,” as Ross claims, it is worth asking what a deliberate policy bent on antagonizing the Arab World would look like. In Ross’s view, far from being the region’s central issue, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not really been that much of problem for “the Arabs,” and those in the United States who have believed otherwise, were (and still are) seriously mistaken. True, one would be hard pressed to claim that this conflict is at the center of all the storms sweeping through the region today (or during the last seven decades, for that matter). But putting aside “the Arabs” for the moment, one critical reason why the conflict remains a core issue is precisely because of its domestic salience and centrality in the United States itself. One could wonder why Ross and so many other U.S. officials and politicians have dedicated so much effort to resolve it otherwise.35

Ross’s definition of “the Arabs,” in fact, is problematic. The “Arabs” he has in mind seem to be mainly the Saudis (and sometimes other unnamed Gulfies) and only occasionally the Egyptians and Jordanians. It is clear that, for Ross, the Saudis are paramount.36 One could understand this in terms of hardcore U.S. national interests (i.e., oil), but it is a dangerous assumption to make, since “the Arabs” are neither coterminous with the Saudis in general nor with the Saudi ruling family in particular. Ross basically ignores the vast ocean of Arab popular sentiment outside the Saudi and Gulf ruling families. To suggest that U.S. policy toward Israel has had no impact on America’s standing in the area (and indeed across the Islamic World) not only reflects a singular detachment from political reality, but veers towards a veritable blindness and misreading of what the region’s dynamics really mean. A cursory glance at the Arab press or a passing acquaintance with the Arab street would offer abundant evidence that the years of U.S. support for Israel have generated a bedrock of Arab hostility and anger, not only stemming from moral outrage at America’s (and the West’s) bias, double standards, and hypocrisy, but also from the indubitable reality that tens of thousands of Arabs (but admittedly not too many Saudis) have been killed by U.S. hardware bountifully supplied to Israel over the last five decades.

Perhaps one egregious example of Ross’s blindness is worth highlighting. According to Ross, the State Department’s view of the September 11 attacks assumed that they needed to be understood in the context of the deep antipathy in the Islamic World toward the United States because of U.S. support for Israel. Ross complained that “it mattered little [to the State Department] that Osama bin Laden’s desire to attack the United States was not driven by Israel. He was far more motivated by his desire to remove ‘iniquitous’ Arab regimes that we backed—the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians—which he felt survived only because of the United States.”37

Bin Laden was no great fan of the Saudi regime (or any other Arab regime for that matter), but it may be worth casting a glance at what Bin Laden actually said, as opposed to what Ross claims to be his “real” motivation. Bin Laden’s first “Declaration of War” in 1996 made clear the link between his disdain for the Saudi regime and U.S. support for Israel.38 In his “Open letter to America” in 2002, he offered an even clearer and more explicit answer to the question of why he attacked the United States:

The answer is very simple: because you attacked us and continue to attack us. You attacked us in Palestine … the creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime that must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily … the blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged. You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.39

Bin Laden enumerates other injustices that have motivated the attacks, including the U.S. intervention in Somalia, alleged Western support for Moscow in Chechnya, and for New Delhi in Kashmir. But it is Palestine that he returns to repeatedly, finally issuing a warning:

With your help and under your protection, the Israelis are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. Under the protection of your weapons, Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque, to pollute it as a preparation to capture and destroy it. These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance, and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?40

It could be argued that this was no more than a staged address designed to play on U.S. sentiments and to drive a wedge between the West and Israel. But even if so, this would not negate the view that Bin Laden was motivated at least in part by U.S. policies toward Israel, and that his views on Palestine cannot be totally ignored as a matter of principle, simply because the “State Department Arabists” believed there was some credence to the view that “the Arabs” were disturbed by U.S. support for Israel.

Arabs Are Angry, So What?
Given that Ross has forty years of dealing with the Middle East, one is hard pressed to say anything but that Ross simply doesn’t get it. It is almost surreal to have to argue that there is more to the Arabs than either the Saudis or the pro-Western regimes, who by definition are unlikely to desert the West and who have—as Ross may well be right in suggesting—no other viable alternative anyway.41

Anyone who knows the area, who has lived there, who has had contact with its ordinary citizens of any class or standing, simple or sophisticated, would know exactly how “the Arabs” feel about U.S. support for Israel. Ross seems to think that his contacts with certain Arab leaders or officials have given him some privileged insight into how they “really” feel about Palestine or U.S. support for Israel, but the extent of his misjudgment in this case can only be described as depressing; forget the standard journalistic “taxi driver” test, even a sample reading of U.S. polls of popular Arab sentiment reveals the extent to which Arab hostility toward the United States is driven by the perception of U.S. bias in favor of Israel.42

One may of course say, so what? So “the Arabs” are angry, but nothing ever comes of it. But that is not Ross’s position; rather, he seems to put a great deal of importance on Arab sentiment when it comes to issues that do not pertain directly to Israel. Take his continuing concerns about Iran, for example. A repeated theme in his prescription for U.S. policy toward Iran (including in the Syrian crisis) over the past few years is the need to keep the “Sunnis” on board.43 Once again, Ross seems to mean the Saudis, since he appears not to recognize that a good slice of the Arab “Sunni” world is not so keen on Saudi policy in Syria or its stance toward Iran. Two major Arab Sunni powers, Egypt and Algeria, do not share Riyadh’s antagonism toward Bashar Al-Assad and have not adopted the same sectarian-based stance toward Iran. “Sunni” Morocco has remained largely outside the fray, despite its royal regime’s close ties with the Gulf monarchies. Even in the Gulf, “Sunni” Oman has taken a strong dissident view regarding both Iran and Syria, and both “Sunni” Kuwait and “Sunni” United Arab Emirates have a different view of Syria than Riyadh. It seems to have escaped Ross’s notice that Saudi Arabia does not represent the Sunnis and the “Sunnis” are not all in the same boat anyway.44 He also seems to think that, whereas there is no need to appease “the Arabs” when it comes to Israel, the failure to do so would be a fatal mistake when it comes to Iran.

Yet even if one were to concede that U.S. pressure on Israel has not brought it any Arab gain or its absence any loss, it has also—on the rare occasions it has been deployed—not had any negative effect on relations with Israel either. In other words, the occasional pressure deployed on the Israeli side has had no discernable or long-term ill effect on U.S.-Israeli relations. From this perspective, one could also suggest that in the very few instances when pressure has been seriously applied, Israel has given way, with Eisenhower in 1956, Carter in 1978,45 and George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Be that as it may, “no daylight” is not a policy but an article of faith; an ideological commitment, rather than a sound political judgment. From it follows the idea that any difference with Israel is detrimental to the United States, an assumption that does not seem to apply to any other country or issue. From it also follows that Israel has the first right of refusal of any U.S. proposal—the so-called “no surprises” policy. This has been in effect since the Gerald R. Ford-Yitzhak Rabin letter of 1975.46 But “no surprises” effectively also negates the principle of an independent American position. If every serious U.S. initiative has to pass through the sieve of Israeli prior approval, then the United States loses all agency. It becomes merely a conduit for repackaged Israeli policies. The parties might as well deal with each other directly; indeed—whatever else may be said about Oslo, the fact that it was concluded behind Washington’s back at a time when the United States was ostensibly in full charge of the peace process (with Ross at the helm) offers eloquent evidence as to Washington’s limitations when acting, in Aaron David Miller’s phrase, as “Israel’s lawyer.” Ross’s protective instincts of Israel have effectively sought to turn “no daylight” into an axiom. His broad approach has consistently been that of working within the parameters set by the Israeli government of the day (regardless of its politics) and seeking to adjust U.S. and Arab policies accordingly.47

In keeping with his effort to downplay the significance of domestic politics in U.S. decision-making, Ross says very little about the rise of the religious right and its insidious influence on the Republican Party and on broad sectors of the American electorate. It would have been useful to know what he thinks about the role of kingmakers such as Sheldon Adelson and the influence of the Super PACS, of Irving Moskowitz’s private funding of the settlement enterprise, and the fact that serious politicians feel that they have to bend before the pernicious role of certain individuals, let alone the organized pressures of the lobby (such as former presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s groveling apology to Sheldon Adelson for referring to the occupied territories as “occupied,” and Adelson’s political beauty contests on Israel’s behalf). While given cursory mention, Ross does not seriously address the implications of the changes within the U.S. Jewish community and the growing alienation of young Jews not just from Israel, but from the historic Zionist narrative.48 He skirts over the potential consequences of the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans and the fact that Israel has become more and more of a partisan issue as a younger generation of Democrats appears to be less inclined to follow the same Trumanesque path as its predecessors. In a brief paragraph at the end of the book, Ross’s recipe to meet these challenges is predictable: better Israeli public relations and outreach, less partisan division, and a new U.S.-Israeli stab at peacemaking—not much that has not been tried before.49

In Doomed, Ross is repeatedly critical of successive U.S. administrations, but one finds hardly a whisper against any Israeli government. He worries more about the fact that Israel’s concerns are losing traction on the international scene and that the Palestinians have become “far more adept at presenting themselves as victims” rather than the corrosive impact of almost fifty years of injustice and occupation.50 In looking ahead, Ross wants to believe that, like some love-struck, democracy-hugging couple, Israel and the U.S. are “doomed” to fall into each other’s arms; this, at a point when the former is in full flight from its self-professed democratic ideals towards ethnic retrenchment, national/religious insularity, even open racism towards its Arab minority. A hardheaded examination of the long-term political, demographic, and ethnic changes in both countries and their future trajectory does not bode well for the kind of relationship Ross seeks to uphold as the debate sparked by 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party indicates. Ross simply does not want to admit to the fact that the Israel he believes in seems to be rushing headlong towards a darker and more unfamiliar place. Rather than a searching meditation on the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, he ends up with a series of talking points for those seeking to deflect any differences between the two sides. It may be worth bearing in mind that “doom” is more usually associated with failure or disaster, and that “success” is rarely preordained.

Ahmad Samih Khalidi is an academic visitor at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Palestine Studies Arabic edition. He served as advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid/Washington DC peace talks in 1991–1993 and as senior advisor on security to the Cairo and Taba PLO-Israeli talks in 1993. He was co-chair of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences project on Israeli-Palestinian security in 1993–1995 and associate fellow of the Middle East program at Chatham House in 1995–1996. He has contributed to the New York Times, Guardian, and openDemocracy. He is the co-author of Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation; A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine; and Track-II Diplomacy: Lessons from the Middle East.

1    Dennis Ross, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 4–5.

2    Ibid., 317.

3    This theme is taken through twelve presidencies. See summary in Chapter 12 on Lessons. Ibid., 393–99.

4    Ibid., 407–08.

5    There is a voluminous literature on the Truman administration and Israel. Much of the following account is based on John B. Judis, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

6    Ibid., 200–01, 204.

7    Ibid., 208–09.

8    Ibid., 226. Ross naturally notes such instances as well, see Ross, Doomed, 12.

9    A key insider account is that of State Department senior official Evan M. Wilson, Decision on Palestine (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1979) reissued as A Calculated Risk (Covington: Clerisy Press, 2008). See also Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest (Beirut, 1970), 481–737 for much more on the Truman administration and the politics of partition.

10  The famous Rowe memorandum. See the authoritative biography by David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 590–91.

11  Only later when dealing with the Eisenhower administration, does Ross acknowledge that Niles and Clifford were “strong advocates” of Israel. See Ross, Doomed, 47.

12  Judis, Genesis, 198 states, “Lowenthal was in the White House so often that Truman thought of him as being on his staff, even though he was not.”

13  Ibid., 198, 243, 317.

14  Ibid., 316.

15  Such as his former business partner Eddie Jacobson. See McCullough, Truman, 599.

16  See Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, 703–45.

17  McCullough, Truman, 603–04.

18  Ross, Doomed, 18. Judis’s 373 pages of close argument, documentation, and analysis get one footnote appended to the above Clifford quote, saying that “this is contrary to Judis’s argument.” Judis is thus dismissed as a “revisionist,” while Clifford’s self-serving testimony is taken at face value. McCullough, Truman’s most distinguished and non-partisan (as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned) biographer appears considerably closer to the “revisionists” in his summary of the Truman legacy on Palestine. Noting Niles and Clifford’s Zionist contacts and the significance of the Jewish vote and Jewish donations to the Democrats as well as the Republicans’ willingness to align themselves with the Zionist cause for electoral benefit, McCullough adds that “popular support for a Jewish homeland was overwhelming. As would sometimes be forgotten it was not just American Jews who were stirred by the prospect of a new nation for the Jewish people, it was most of America.” McCullough, Truman, 596.

19  See Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985). For more on Johnson’s inner circle, see Grace Halsell, http://www.wrmea.org/1993-june/how-lbj-s-vietnam-war-paralyzed-his-mideast-policymakers.html.

20  Ross, Doomed, 137.

21  Ibid., 182–83. By way of contrast, see the account of Haig’s “green light” by Israel’s foremost military commentators Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 72–77. Ross’s account of 1982 also misses a crucial link in the story: The attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to the UK was organized by the Abu Nidal group precisely in order implicate the PLO in a conflict with Israel. Ross ignores this entirely, Doomed, 192–93.

22  Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

23  Aaron David Miller, The Much Too Promised Land (New York: Bantam, 2008), 122–23. Working with Ross for much of the time, Miller was one of the main players in planning and executing U.S. Mideast policy over twenty years of diplomacy.

24  Funding is a key issue here. U.S. funding to the PA would be cut off if the PA were to enter a national unity government with Hamas, for example. Anyone in any doubt about the cumulative impact of the bias deeply embedded in Congress’s output can refer to the Institute for Palestine Studies’ Congressional Monitor. http://www.congressionalmonitor.org.

25  Miller, The Much Too Promised Land, 243–44. Miller’s words written in 2008 appear to have done little to move Ross in the interim. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a decade of their intimate working relations secures only one passing mention in the 408 pages of Doomed.

26  Ross, Doomed, 360–62.

27  Ibid., 111–12, 118, 126, 151, 187, 190.

28  Ibid., 216.

29  Indeed, in an echo of the latter battle over how to deal with Iran, the Reagan administration was arguing that these weapons were part of a regional “strategic consensus” that included Israel and Saudi Arabia, aimed at the Soviet Union. See William Quandt’s authoritative Peace Process (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1993) 338–39.

30  Ross, Doomed, 132.

31  Ibid., 303–06. Ross suggests that Washington’s drift towards Riyadh was only stemmed by the events of 9/11.

32  The question of U.S. bias has been addressed at length by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

33  Miller offers a good account of the Baker approach in The Much Too Promised Land, 191–234. It is also worth remembering that George H.W. Bush offered Israel a long list of services in compensation for Madrid and the first Gulf war. See Ross, Doomed, 222–23.

34  See Jeremy Sharp, US Foreign Aid to Israel, Congressional Research Services, June 2015. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf.

35  Ross now seems to believe that a solution “would not be a game changer in the region” [emphasis in the original]. Doomed, 407.

36  For examples see Ross, Doomed, 178, 405, 397–98.

37  Ibid., 309.

38  “It is incredible that our country is the world largest buyer of arms from the USA and the area biggest commercial partners of the Americans who are assisting their Zionist brothers in occupying Palestine and in evicting and killing the Muslims there, by providing arms, men, and financial supports.’’ See the full English text as published by PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military-july-dec96-fatwa_1996/.

39  See the full English text in the UK’s Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver.

40  Ibid. See also analysis of internal Al-Qaeda documents captured in the 2012 raid that killed Bin Laden and that stress the need to highlight the Palestinian cause and counter the impression that the organization is not interested in Palestine. https://consortiumnews.com/2012/05/27/how-al-qaeda-exploits-palestine-cause/.

41  Ross, Doomed, 207.

42  Just a random selection of recent opinion polls that show that its support for Israel is a constant source of popular Arab antagonism towards the U.S. despite other concerns over U.S. policy in the area since the Arab Spring events. See http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/zogby-poll-arabs-oppose-us-military-syria.html. Also http://www.voanews.com/content/arabs-ire-directed-at-us-policy-not-obama-poll-shows/1930430.html. And http://www.voanews.com/content/arabs-discouraged-by-us-policies-opinion-poll-says-100121494/172234.html.

43  See for example http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/a-strategy-for-beating-the-islamic-state. See also http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/01/04/saudi-arabia-a-dangerous-ally/the-saudis-are-rightly-concerned-about-iran.

44  See Tarek Osman’s piece in this publication, http://www.thecairoreview.com/tahrir-forum/saudi-arabia-is-not-sunni-central/.

45  Carter applied real pressure at Camp David in 1978. Begin was convinced that he was facing a serious downgrading of U.S.-Israel relations if he didn’t comply. See Lawrence Wright’s recent detailed account of Camp David, Thirteen Days in September (London: Knopf, 2014).

46  Ross, Doomed, 319

47  Ibid., 407. His views have not gone without challenge from his own colleagues. Miller sums Ross up as follows: “Dennis like myself had an inherent tendency to see the world of Arab-Israeli politics from Israel’s vantage point rather than from that of the Palestinians. Not that he didn’t understand Arab or Palestinian sensitivities. But his own strong Jewish identity and his commitment to Israel’s security combined with a deep conviction that if you couldn’t gain Israel’s confidence you had zero chance of erecting any kind of peace process. And to Dennis achieving this goal required a degree of coordination with the Israelis, sensitivity to their substantive concerns and public defense of their positions.” Miller, The Much Too Promised Land, 205.

48  See Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism (New York: Picador, 2013).

49  Ross, Doomed, 406.

50 Ross, Doomed, xii.

The Islam of Bassam Tibi

Where does religion end and culture begin? Bassam Tibi has spent a distinguished career exploring that thought-provoking question. Professor Emeritus of International Relations at the University of Göttingen and author of more than forty books about the interactions between Islam, society, and politics, Tibi argues that Islam has incredibly diverse manifestations across the world.

Tibi was born in Damascus, but went to Germany as a young man to earn a PhD and eventually became a German citizen. Living among Muslim communities outside his native Syria, he quickly realized that much of what he believed about Islam was actually related to a certain, Middle Eastern culture.

Visiting Senegal, he remembers encountering a kind of Islam so different from the Middle Eastern version with which he was familiar that some of its aspects seemed “un-Islamic” to him. “Mais c’est africain, c’est notre religion, c’est notre Islam,” they told him. (“But it is African, it is our religion, it is our Islam.”)

The idea that Islam was not a foreign concept but a part of the local culture inspired Tibi to apply a similar framework to understanding Islam in Europe. Thus came Tibi’s noted concept of Euroislam, which proposes that Muslims can be fully assimilated as Europeans without compromising their religious beliefs, and without “Islamicizing” Europe, as many European nationalists have come to fear is the inevitable result of Muslim integration. Euroislam is a social, not a religious, concept.

“I do not touch on the credentials of Islam,” he explained during a recent talk at the American University in Cairo. “Islam is based on the five pillars, and so Islamic beliefs are sacred. But for the way you live, it is possible to be a Muslim believer and have a way of life which is European.”

For Tibi, the real choice facing Muslims living in Europe today is not between being Muslim or European, but between integrating or remaining separate. Integration, according to Tibi, goes beyond legal citizenship or even economic integration. It requires participating in a political culture of pluralism.

He strongly opposes the alternative to this political culture, where Muslims in Europe live in what he calls “parallel societies.” Such communities may be part of Europe legally or economically, but beyond this, they conduct their lives within their own religious and ethnic communities.

Instead, Tibi argues that Muslims must go further and participate in a political culture based on five non-negotiable principles: separation of church and state, democracy, human rights, religious pluralism, and civil society. Rather than fully assimilating and giving up religion to integrate, Tibi says, Muslims just need to add to it and live by these five principles.

Tibi also urges critical discussions about Muslims in Europe, cautioning that legitimate concern about Islamophobia should not stifle open public debate. Using the example of the mass sexual assault in Cologne, Germany last New Year’s Eve, he argues, “Free speech means to address the issues in a rational way. What these one thousand Arabs did to women is wrong and if we are silent about it, it doesn’t become right.”

Islam is not a monolithic idea, Tibi argues. “The essentialization of Islam,” he says, “comes not only from Europeans, but it often comes from many [Muslims] themselves. They say there is only one Islam and you either take it or leave it.” He points out that this idea contradicts the reality of Islam on the ground. Even among European Muslims, there is not just one Islamic community, and within these communities, every individual has their own interpretation of Islam. As Tibi puts it, “I would never contradict what Allah says… but this is not Allah, this is you.”

This individualism is central to Tibi’s vision: “I am a Muslim, but I want to be judged upon as an individual. So if I’m ‘bad,’ I’m bad as Bassam, not as a Muslim. And if I’m ‘good,’ I’m good as Bassam and not a Muslim.”

Tibi has also written extensively about other issues like Islamic reform and political Islam. His most recent book, The Islamist Shari’atization of Polity and Society: A Source of Intercivilizational Conflict, was inspired by the growth of Islamist movements during the Arab Spring. The separation of Islam as a religion from its social and political manifestations is also at the core of this work. As he has throughout his long career, Tibi goes to great lengths to disassociate the religion of Islam from the political and historical influences that shape what it looks like today.

Keeping Hope Alive

Many say the two-state solution is dead. Lara Friedman, for one, believes there is no other way out of the long Israel-Palestine conflict. She comes at the issue from a unique perspective: she is the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now (APN), and is a former U.S. diplomat posted to Jerusalem as well as Tunis and Beirut.

Friedman’s group, the sister organization of the Israeli organization Peace Now (Shalom Achshav), works to persuade Americans and U.S. policymakers to support policies that promote a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories. In a recent visit to the American University in Cairo, she defined the two-state solution as “a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that yields two states that are geographically, each of them, contiguous enough to be states. It’s going to have to be politically and economically viable, and it will have to be recognized as such by the world.”

The deal will require politically painful sacrifices from both sides, Friedman says, but is the only solution that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to “hold on to their core narratives of who they are, of their right to the land, of their grievances, their nationality, their rights to self-determination as a people.” Both peoples hold these values dear, Friedman notes, “possibly more dear than people who have not had to fight for their identity could possibly understand.”

Friedman argues that Israeli colonization of the West Bank is not irreversible, noting that Jewish settlements can and have come down. Otherwise, she asks, what option is there? The dark alternative is perpetual warfare. As long as the status quo persists, she warns, the situation will continue to get “progressively worse” for the Palestinians, as their freedom of movement is further restricted, Israeli settlements expand, and new generations lose faith in their leaders and communities.

Friedman strongly supported President Barack Obama’s call in 2009 for a settlement freeze and believes that the administration’s abandonment of the condition was a mistake. As long as Palestinians see bulldozers moving and settlement construction going on as normal, she says, “you can’t fool people with claims of serious talks who are on the ground watching it.”

Still, even a freeze is becoming harder to achieve. Friedman recalls how earlier in her career, removing settlements, not halting construction, was the demanded concession. A freeze was simply a tactic to give negotiations credibility. However, she notes, “since [Ariel] Sharon and [Benjamin] Netanyahu, Israeli people genuinely believe that simply freezing the growth of settlements is giving something to the Palestinians, and will only do it if they get something in return.”

Friedman believes that a peace agreement with Palestinians will be a “net gain for Israel on security” and the only way out of the perpetual conflict and insecurity experienced by both sides. The occupation costs too much in terms of Israel’s international standing, she argues, and is “an infection that ends up making the entire country sick.” Resolving Israel’s security issues means actually dealing with the root cause—occupation—rather than focusing on “terrorism,” a tactic she believes is exploited by Israeli leadership.

Many Israelis, Friedman points out, “by and large don’t feel the occupation until things get bad, and when things get bad, they go into defensive mode because they’re being attacked. There is somewhere in there… when people, I hope, realize that these things are not disconnected.”

According to Friedman, the real turning point in the conflict will come only when enough Israelis and Palestinians realize that the cycle of violence, followed by short-lived peace talks that collapse with more violence, is absolutely unsustainable. Friedman also sees potential for positive change in a younger generation that perceives the world through the lens of justice and equal rights, and applies this view to Israel. An unprecedented number of American and non-American Jews as well as millennials, she says, now oppose many of Israel’s current policies.

Oriental Hall, etc.

Freedom of expression in Egypt has never been worse, asserted Egyptian investigative journalist and human rights activist Hossam Bahgat during a recent lecture organized by the student-run AUC Times magazine. “Although I was very optimistic toward journalism practices during the early days of the Egyptian revolution, the situation now is not encouraging,” he said. As a result of the dangers journalists face, they have begun to practice self-censorship, Bahgat warned, leading them to ignore important stories in favor of covering safer topics. Bahgat recalled how he received an outpouring of international and domestic support when Egyptian military forces detained him in November 2015. “This kind of support should be given to all journalists who are in jail or are facing danger because of their work,” he said.

“Academic freedom is a communal action,” Steven Salaita, Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut, argued in a March talk hosted by AUC’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. Salaita noted that he bears the “mark of a radical” and is “unemployable” in the United States after he posted anti-Israel tweets in 2014. The colonizer, Salaita explained, experiences a state of constant anxiety of existence, especially when challenged by divergent opinions, and it is necessary for academics to launch these challenges.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. has been named the twelfth president of the American University in Cairo. Previously, Ricciardone was vice president and director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council. In addition to his posting in Egypt (2005–2008), he served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey (2011–2014) and the Philippines and Palau (2002–2005).

Photojournalist and AUC trustee Mary Cross died in February 2016. Cross published the photographic books Egypt; Behind the Great Wall: A Photographic Essay on China, with Theodore Cross; Morocco: Sahara to the Sea; Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth, with Frances FitzGerald; and Sacred Spaces: Turkish Mosques & Tombs.

Spring 2016

Is multiculturalism dead? That’s the critical question raised by Michel Wieviorka in “Crisis of Identity,” the lead essay in our Spring 2016 issue’s Special Report: Trouble in Europe. He notes that identity questions involve regionalist or even secessionist movements that have been around for awhile—for example in Spain, Britain, Italy, Belgium, and France. But more recently, the refugee crisis, threats from terrorism, and a financial crisis have thrown European cohesion into doubt. Judging from the difficulties facing the continent—including the anti-European Union movements in Britain and Greece—Wieviorka concludes, “there is an enormous risk that countries will begin closing in on themselves.”

Peter D. Sutherland delivers a passionate argument against such a course in “Our Great Migration Challenge.” “We must now demonstrate not merely our humanity but our belief in the equality and dignity of man and seek in our own society to integrate with the strangers in our midst,” he writes. In her essay, “Closing the Gates,” Catherine Wihtol de Wenden surveys the refugee crisis and offers alternatives to Europe’s security-driven policies. The influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East and the recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have reignited the debate over Europe’s Muslim minority communities. In his essay “The Paradox of Arab France,” Pascal Blanchard questions how a people so deeply tied to French history have been left permanently on the nation’s margins.

We are grateful to the publisher Polity and Emmanuel Todd for permission to publish an extract from Who is Charlie?: Xenophobia and the New Middle Class, the English translation of his book Qui est Charlie?: Sociologie d’une crise religieuse. Todd writes that a positive integration of Islam would reinforce France’s republican culture, not subvert it.

That brings us to The Cairo Review Interview. In March, I had the honor of moderating a Tahrir Dialogue talk at the American University in Cairo by Danilo Türk, the former president of Slovenia who is a candidate to become secretary-general of the United Nations. Later I sat down with him at the Slovenian ambassador’s residence for an engaging discussion about the crises in Europe, the Middle East conflicts, international diplomacy, the influence of big powers, and much more.

Scott MacLeod
Managing Editor