Second edition

Europe: A Short Story

Pakistan is our country. Britain is our country too.”
– A Pakistani woman living in Bradford, UK [1]

We shall wake up one day to find out that far from solving the problems of our continent, the myth of ‘Europe’ has become an impediment to our recognizing them … It has become little more than the politically correct way to paper over local difficulties, as though the mere invocation of the promise of Europe could substitute for solving problems and crises that really affect the place.”
– Tony Judt [2]

“… not that we can learn from catastrophes, but indeed that we only learn from catastrophes.”
– Jürgen Habermas [3]

I speak only one language, and it is not my own.”
– Jacques Derrida [4]

I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.”
– Michel Foucault [5]

Syed Rashid Munir │srmunir@gmail.com

Rashid

The heavy rains are back, beating away furiously at my windowpane, threatening to shatter it to pieces. The cold they bring with them is excruciating this time around, particularly because my heating has been out since 8am. Every muscle in my body is shivering. I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I wish I had never eaten that stale sandwich for lunch. These days, I haven’t been able to sleep a lot. Fear takes hold of me every night, and doesn’t let go until the early hours of the morning. And when I finally manage some sleep, demons haunt my dreams, scaring me within an inch of my life. The cold medicine I’m on makes me groggy and nauseous all the time…

All nations need narratives to exit, where the legends, stories, myths, and outright lies have to be patched together into a national imaginary. “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” [6] Sitting in my Lahore home back in Pakistan, I had always held the EU in great, fantastical awe. The idea of a trans/supranational union amongst previously-sworn enemies, to a particularly impressionable political science student, I must admit, was nothing short of finding true love: platonic and political at the same time. The romance continued for a long while even after I came here, but I must admit, most of it has been lost. Relationships are hard work, and I’ve never been good at either one.

Freedom. Democracy. Justice. Human Rights. What is one without all the others, and what are the others without the one? Nation-states include and exclude simultaneously. Democracies still need to assign and protect liberal rights and, in order to do that, they need to demarcate clear and enforceable boundaries. These two conceptions seem so inimical to each other, and yet they are inseparable in political thought.

I have never seen the sky so grey in all of my time here. Where’s the silver lining here?

The more I talk with elderly people (in my broken Spanish, of course), the more hopeless I become. And the more I talk to the young ones (in their broken English, of course), the more fearful I become. The elderly say the EU is for the young ones to worry about; the youngsters say the EU is one big bureaucratic dinosaur that has failed to solve their frustrations. People, momentarily, forget the freedoms they take for granted now. And perhaps they don’t really amount to much when you’ve spent all your life in liberal-democracies, but there’s no denying that they are luxuries that not everyone can afford.

The clouds are quiet for now, but I sense a thunderstorm…

But, what freedoms? And at what cost? Are the Basques, Spanish? Are the Catalonians, Spanish? Are the Spanish, European? Are the Europeans, European? People vote in democratic elections, expressing their unwavering commitment to human liberties, at the same time as hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers are denied entry into European borders, lest they start undermining the ‘unity of the nation’, or start the looting and plunder they bring from their ‘third/home’ countries. Are all humans, human?

These are unsettling times. Reason gives way to fear, resentment, and disappointment. Structural inequalities have a way of constant perpetuation; the only difference is that now, they are more visible than ever. Economic, social, and political outcasts live among us, in front of our very eyes. Youths, civil servants, and pensioners occupy a limited domain of rights. And then there are long-term residents who know of no homeland other than Europe, who know of no loyalty other than to their host state, and yet they live in permanent alienage, shunned to the ghettos of European cities.

Where does violence begin, and where does it end?

I see the lightning, but it’s too far away to hear the thunder…

The ‘democratic deficit’, as everyone so lovingly calls it, is a symptom of a rather malignant tumor that shapes the core of the EU organism. People don’t care about participating in European elections, that’s fine. After all, the Union lies at such a great (metaphorical) distance from the localities in member states, so as to shake the faith of the otherwise faithful, from time to time. But why do they, then, furiously resist even the good steps, in times of crisis? The fact of the matter is that the ‘deficit’ only becomes real for the public once mad cow disease hits the EU’s cow population, or when fiscal austerity results in hundreds of people losing their jobs. Only in times of crises do they really start ‘caring’ about the European Experiment, by immediately distancing themselves from it, of course. In their disowning of the EU, at least, they are united. The political elites have grown accustomed to public indifference at the European level; they are flabbergasted to see them rise up, en masse, against their judgment. Where were they before, they ask?

Will this persistent downpour brew up a storm?

What happens when we die? What lies beyond the nation-state? Is there life after the liberal-democratic, welfare society?

If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?” [7]

My head has started to hurt again. The rains have subsided for now…

“Whatever happened to the European Dream?” the demons inquire.

“It came true…”

________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/nov/22/freedom-diversity-liberal-pentagram/?page=1
  2. Tony Judt, A Grand Illusion? An Essay on Europe.
  3. Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation.
  4. Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other: or, The Prosthesis of Origin.
  5. This quote does not come from a book. It was overheard by Hubert Dreyfus, who mentioned it in a talk that was heard by Lewis Hyde, who wrote it down.
  6. Arundhati Roy, War Talk.
  7. Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

If you liked Rashid’s article, also read Missing IP 2012 ─ We’ll Always Have… Bilbao?

RashidSyed Rashid Munir, Contributing writer

Hailing from Lahore, Pakistan, Rashid has a B.Sc. in International Relations from LUMS, Pakistan. He is studying MA Euroculture under the cooperation window programme of the European Commission at the University of Deusto, Bilbao. His research interests lie in post-colonialism, sub-altern studies, cultural and critical theory, and citizenship regimes in Europe. Apart from his love of writing fiction, travelling, and exotic animals, Rashid daydreams in his spare time about a job in diplomacy, and is a big Ingmar Bergman fan.

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Categories: Second edition, Your Story

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