Gjesteskribent

Europa har latt skylden over fortiden vippe over i selvpisking og evig anger. Det er ikke produktivt. Europa har ikke råd til denne troen på at det går an å snakke med alle, såvel venner som fiender.

For store deler av verden gjelder ikke dialogens regler, skriver Pascal Bruckner, den franske filosofen som utfordret Ian Buruma og Timothy Garton Ash til debatt om Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bruckner ser med spenning frem til hva Nicolas Sarkozy og Bernard Kouchner vil foreta seg. Europa trenger sårt til nye initiativ. Kontinentet er opphav til de største forbrytelser, men har også greid å reise seg og ser på seg selv med et strengt blikk. Men det må ikke vippe over i selvplaging. Myrderier er ikke noe som er forbeholdt Europa. Andre nasjoner har også vist seg oppfinnsomme, men har ikke vært like flinke til å ta et selvoppgjør.

Dagens Europa sender Javier Solana til Teheran og Damaskus når ambassader brennes ned. Det er et helt annet svar som trengs i dagens verden, skriver Bruckner.

‘Re-Arming’ Europe
The Old World needs an intellectual revolution to meet the challenges ahead.

BY PASCAL BRUCKNER

Bernard Kouchner and Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French foreign minister and president, are the most improbable and interesting couple of the year. The former fought against Europe’s passivity in confronting the massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Darfur. The latter has strongly denounced the spirit of repentance that he thinks is demoralizing the Old World. Today, despite their disagreements, they have one point in common–a desire for action as opposed to capitulation.

Europe has been absent from the world stage for too long. After 1945, Europe remade itself on the idea of its refusal of war. Europe was not, like the U.S., born from the collective oath that everything is possible, but from the fatigue of enduring so much bloodshed. Had the two world wars not happened, Europe’s yearning for peace–confused with its longing for rest–would never have existed.

European democracy is now the democracy of small steps, of constructive modesty. It is what remains when other dreams have been abandoned, a diversified space where life is good, where one may fulfill himself, enrich himself, preferably in the presence of a few cultural masterpieces.

Such ambition would be perfect in a world in which the Kantian ideal of «perpetual peace» had been won. However, the contrast is striking between the idyllic dreams of the Europeans–a society of law, dialogue, mutual respect, tolerance–and the tragedies being endured by the rest of the world, in autocratic Russia, aggressive Iran, the devastated Middle East, unstable Africa and in recent episodes of hyper-terrorism. Europe is not enamored of «history»–the nightmare from which it emerged with such difficulty in 1989 after the Berlin Wall came down. Europe claims to have no adversaries, only partners, and to be a friend to all, the tyrant as well as the democrat.

And Europe has been haunted for half a century by the torment of repentance, reliving and remembering its past crimes: slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism–what it sees in its long history is an unending series of killing and plundering, culminating in two world wars. Europe gave birth to these monsters and was also «mother» to the theories which allow for both their genesis and destruction.

Continuing in the footsteps of the Arabs and the Africans, Europe instituted the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But it was also the first to theorize abolitionism and it put an end to slavery before other nations did. It seems that Europe committed the worst acts and then found the means to eradicate those acts, like a jailer who throws you in prison and then sneaks you the keys to your cell. Europe brought despotism and freedom to the world at the same time–sending the military, the missionary and the merchant to subjugate those faraway lands. And the colonial adventure died because of that contradiction: subjecting these continents to the laws of the city, instilling in them the idea of nationality and the rights of the people to dictate their own future. The colonized who claimed their independence turned against their masters the laws that they had been faithfully taught.

A civilization capable of the worst atrocities as well as the most sublime creation cannot examine itself only from the perspective of a guilty conscience. Genocide is far from a Western specialty, and it is the West which has allowed us to conceptualize certain acts as crimes against humanity; it is the West which since 1945 has distanced itself from its own barbarity to give a precise meaning to the term crimes against humanity.

Europe’s genius is that it knows too well the fragility of the barriers separating it from its own ignominy. This lucidity, pushed to the extreme, keeps Europe from calling for a crusade of Good against Evil, inspiring it to substitute instead the battle of the preferable against the detestable, to use the excellent formula of Raymond Aron. Europe is constituted inside the very doubt which denies its existence, seeing itself with the pitiless gaze of an intransigent judge.

This suspicion weighing down our most notable successes risks degenerating into self-hate, into facile defeatism. We would then have only one obligation, to pay off our debts, forever atoning for what we have taken from humanity since its beginnings. Observe the wave of repentance ravaging our latitudes, especially our principal Protestant and Catholic churches: It is a good thing, a salutary awakening of awareness, provided that they accept reciprocity, and that other cultures and other faiths recognize their errors as well.

Contrition is not reserved for the chosen, nor is moral purity given like a moral allowance to those who say they are humiliated and persecuted. For too many countries, in Africa, in the Middle East, in South America, self-criticism is confused with the selection of an easy scapegoat who can explain their unhappiness: It is never their fault, always someone else’s, the American Great Satan or the little European Satan.

This is the problem in Europe today: No policies of great import can be achieved through guilt. This was made clear in the whole [Danish] affair of the Muhammad caricatures, when Brussels, instead of showing solidarity with Denmark and Norway, whose embassies were being burned down–chose instead to send Javier Solana into the Arab capitals like a traveling salesman of mea culpa. Just as the status of «victim» cannot be transmitted hereditarily, there is also no transmission of the status of «executioner.»

The duty of memory does not imply the punishment or the automatic corruption of our children or of our great grandchildren. There are no innocent states or citizens, that is what we have learned during the past half century. But there are states capable of recognizing their duty and looking their own barbarity in the eye, and there are others who seek in their long-ago oppression excuses for the indignities of today.

Europe does not need to blush because of its history. Here is a civilization which raised itself up from the apocalypse of World War II, representing today the peaceful marriage of strength and conscience–it may indeed walk with head held high, serving as an example to other nations.

The time has come for a new generation of political leaders to mentally re-arm Europe, to prepare the Union for the confrontations which will soon be coming. We need a veritable intellectual revolution if we do not want the spirit of penitence to stifle in us the spirit of resistance–to give us up with bound hands and feet to the fanatics and the despots.

Mr. Bruckner is a writer based in France. This piece was translated from the French by Sara Sugihara.

‘Re-Arming’ Europe