The borders between Algeria and Morocco have been closed since the early nineties. Every time I cross into the Schengen area I cannot hide my envy as I pass from one country to another without having to show any document at all. Why have Arabs failed in creating an Arab Union, whilst our European neighbours managed to create the EU out of the extremely tough aftermath of the Second World War? Founded in 1945, the Arab League is still an ineffective organisation. The essence of the problem is not the people but their leaders and the fact that we always revert back to the same issue: a lack of democracy in the Arab world.
Dialogue of Cultures
Ireland has had enormous advantages over the past 35 years thanks to its EU membership. The country has changed from being an exported of butter, beef and Guinness to the place where some of modernity’s symbols are produced – ranging from Viagra to Botox, and including microchips. The Irish ‘No’ was the result of a complex mix of different kinds of generally unfounded fears. With a financial crisis resulting in pessimism, the EU has, even more than in the past, become the easy scapegoat. There is a need for new idealism, or perhaps it is precisely idealism (the sort that aspired to a new European Constitution) that has been rejected? A great deal now is in the hands of France, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, current President of the European Union. The time has come to establish whether there is still a will to move forward and above all in which direction.
“During any given day, most of the time I feel European, and this feeling has become stronger ever since my native country, Bulgaria, entered the EU”, says Tzvetan Todorov to Resetdoc. He sees the foundations of a European identity in the protection of diversity and in an “obligation of tolerance”. The French-Bulgarian philosopher and linguist, who recently published La Littérature en péril, says that he is “very proud” of being a European, and hopes for greater continental political integration, while believing that national traditions are not destined to disappear (“I do not think that we will ever speak ‘Europeanese’”). The author of The Conquest of America also hopes that Tony Blair will not become the President of the EU and asks us not to identify the culture of Muslim immigrants with their religion: “I do not think that there is such a thing as an encounter between the West and Islam”.
It is absurd to think that Islam cannot accommodate democracy or that democracy cannot accommodate Islam. It is not Islam per se, but religion tout court that stands in some tension with secularism and with democracy – a tension that is healthy rather than unhealthy in a free society. Like Christianity and other religions, Islam is a religion practiced in many cultures and societies, sectarian, stratified, schismatic and pluralistic. To the degree Islam is fundamentalist, so is religion in many places, because in our secular age religion is under siege and fundamentalism is above all a reaction to religion under siege.
“Unfortunately, after Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, we have seen a return of the stereotypes used in existential debates. The kind of discussion used in psychoanalysis. It is said that Europe is distant from its citizens, that it no longer has a mission nor the spirit of its founding fathers. This is not true. While there are no longer powerful post-war feelings, Europe has not disappeared from the consciousness of its citizens.” Giuliano Amato, former Italian Premier and Vice-President of the EU Convention, invites Europeans to avoid skepticism, and adds: “I share the idea expressed by Bronislaw Geremek and others, stating that our cultural identity exists, but it is not an unquestionable fact, but rather a task we must want to address, ensuring that our shared characteristics overcome our diversities.“
Obama enters the White House, and what happens? Liberal Internationalism is the name that his advisors have chosen for what they hope will be his foreign policy. But what does it mean? The end of Bush’s unilateralism, a new position on global warming, maybe some indication of a willingness to join the International Criminal Court, a different approach to the World Trade Organization, a stronger commitment to “the responsibility to protect” in places like Darfur or Myanmar, a clear recognition that the “war” against terrorism is mostly police work and political work, a withdrawal from Iraq (maybe), more troops in Afghanistan, a diplomatic initiative in Israel/Palestine and also in the larger Israel/Arab conflict. A new American foreign policy may not however make a significant difference.
Turkey’s unfolding constitutional crisis could end in many things: the continuation and even conclusion of the long democratic transition; military coup with entirely uncertain consequences; or, in between them an unproductive stalemate. And what if the AKP will be closed? The AKP would be replaced, as historically, and with or without Erdogan the successor party (like the AKP itself) should be able to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. The search for consensual solutions must continue. The Constitutional Court will remain an important actor in any consensual process, and it makes no sense to vilify it whatever anyone may think or imagine about some of the members and their allegiances.
I think Carl Schmitt was right in saying that politics needs an enemy. Must this enemy necessarily be the ‘other’, and hence a political opponent or someone who is diverse? Could the enemy instead be hatred, intolerance and such other issues, so that the message conveyed through the media would become very different? One could say that this does not attract attention. This is not true. Political leaders have an undisputed advantage compared to anyone else. If they have something significant to say they obtain attention and visibility. Ordinary people can preach wonderful things without anyone paying any attention, while statements by national, regional and local political leaders become news, and not necessarily bad news.
“To beat John McCain, Obama must address the economy and the war in Iraq, two issues on which the Republican will have to defend himself from the burden of George W. Bush’s legacy”. Ian Buruma, a Dutch intellectual who settled in New York, reflects on the American presidential campaign. At the Istanbul Seminars, held at Bilgi University and organised by Resetdoc, the author of “Murder in Amsterdam” supports Obama’s foreign policy: “He is right to be open to Iran, while the speech he made at AIPAC did not surprise me. No American President will ever be able to change the USA’s Israeli policies”. Finally, regards to a possible vice-presidency for Hillary Clinton, the Professor of Human Rights at Bard College says: “Obama does not need her, and he has no obligations to her”.
Immigration, the race issue, elitism and patriotism. These are the subjects discussed in Part One of the forum on the coming American elections organised by Resetdoc.org. According to Jim Sleeper, “Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate to embody two fundamental American myths, involving race and immigration”. This is also why Benjamin Barber describes him as “the first multicultural candidate”. Andrew Arato reflects on the accusations of being elitists addressed at Obama, and counterattacks saying that “The Americans have a bizarre definition of élite. Because there is McCain, who of course comes from a really élite military family, his father was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, and this is the real élite, right?”.
How can Democrat Barack Obama be effective on the subject of terrorism without resorting to playing the “fear card”? Did he make a mistake in showing his readiness to establish a dialogue with Iran? And, if he is elected, will he be able to implement a balanced Middle Eastern policy? These are subjects addressed in Part Two of the forum on the coming American elections, organised by Resetdoc.org. Jim Sleeper warns that the Democratic Senator “cannot minimize the issue of the war on terror”, and according to Andrew Arato “the terrorists would definitely be hurt by an Obama presidency”. Benjamin Barber however believes that foreign policy will not play a significant role for American voters. Once again, “it’s the economy, stupid”. Or not?
"I don't say that the Court is defending the right notion of secularism. I only say that it is better for the Court to turn into the guardian of the constitution as it just arguably was even in a technically bad decision, than to remain the guardian of the authoritarian elements of a dualistic regime". This is how Andrew Arato clarifies his position regards to the decision taken by the Turkish Constitutional Court in rejecting the law allowing students to wear the Islamic veil in universities: "The AKP is in part responsible for the constitutional crisis for abandoning the consensual path of politics, and especially constitution making. Outsiders should not be too quick to uncritically take its side. I am happy that you are following this case – he ends - Its right outcome is all important for all of us".