WHERE IS THE MEDITERRANEAN GOING?

In this period of unrest in the Arab world we perceive the lack of a strategic vision for the Mediterranean and the inadequacy of the mental categories with which we have read the politics and the progress of society on the southern shore. For this reason it is necessary to equip ourselves in order to understand where the Mediterranean is going.

The Unimed proposal is to create a Permanent Forum on the questions aroused by the events of the Arab spring, in order to provide to society, as well as to the Italian and European policy makers, a know-how allowing us to think, in the short and long term, about the way of rebuilding the mental categories enabling us to better understand the needs at the base of these revolts.

The revolts occurred in the Mediterranean have changed once and for all the way of analysing the political and cultural perspectives of the region. Not even the historical Israeli-Palestinian conflict was able to challenge our analyses on the Mediterranean. The definitions of the Sea got empty, oratory and lose the inner meaning. The “Sea between the lands”, “one thousand things altogether, not a single landscape, rather a vast scenery”, the region characterized by many “piled up civilizations”, the “cradle of the three monotheistic religions”, the place of the commercial trade and cultural exchange and so on. We could go on exercising memory, yet the numerous Conferences regularly organized on the Mediterranean didn’t help in changing the situation, rather in many cases they contributed to spread a shallow edition of the Mediterranean.

Then it would be ungenerous and unfair to put the blame of this condition only on the countless conferences which subjects are almost the same, without drawing the attention on the narrow appeal that the studies on the Mediterranean had within the universities and on the scant chairs dedicated to this item. Moreover there are further reasons contributing to create this situation. I essentially refer to the political assertions coming along with the initiatives of the European Union and the United States in favour of the area. Since the first steps of its construction Europe looked at the Mediterranean with both volunteerism and a sense of guilt, due to its colonialist and post colonialist policy. Basically the brand new European Community didn’t know what to do as regard as the former colonies and protectorates and, because of the lack of an articulated Mediterranean policy, some forms of economic intervention expanded with the only scope of re-establishing the ancient holds. This reading of the relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean seems to be the guiding thread characterizing all next choices of the European Mediterranean policy, from the assuming GMP (Global Mediterranean Policy) to the RMP (Renewed Mediterranean Policy), to the Barcelona Conference until the UfM (Union for the Mediterranean). To the lack of a deep remark on the traumas and fractures occurred because of the colonization it corresponded a repression and oblivion policy.

The node was there and anyone wouldn’t dare trying to undo it has it happened for other painful events regarding Europe such as the holocaust. The dream of a global policy, including the Mediterranean in a European framework, brought within it the contradiction I was referring to, that made explicit the identifying of abstract political lines which the Southern Countries had to agree to. The Barcelona Declaration of 1995 was the school example. Its failure didn’t depend on a technical incapability of carrying out concrete facts, contrary to a common thinking, but rather on the lack of a political view banishing the node of the memory of the past to a historical page to turn or forget hastily. At the same time within the civil European conscience, after World War II, rightly the principles of freedom and democracy legitimately proceeded, despite the lack of their enforcement could be an obstacle when it dealt with the countries of the Southern Mediterranean shores ruled by bloody dictatorships: business is business. Then the only thing to carry out was to cloak the old behaviours through an ideological speech which many generations of young people trusted in: “to make of the Mediterranean -this stated the Barcelona Declaration- a sea of shared peace and richness”. No one had the slightest idea of what to do. The ideology went in a direction while the history was going to the opposite: the assassination of Rabin, the homicide attacks both from the Palestine and Israeli side and between them the population that for a moment, after Oslo, believed that peace could be established between the two peoples.

The failed resolution of the problem determined the loss of hope and the hardening of attitudes of both civil societies.

In this framework for the Islamic terrorism it was easy to come between its fear policy to any attempt of carrying out the initiatives towards dialogue and paradoxically this became functional to the Western policy based on the dread of extremism, partly true and partly fictitious.

In any case this situation legitimated a series of mental schemes through which we, Western people, are looking at the Arab Muslim world. Within this context to us it was neither extravagant asking if Islam could be compatible with democracy, nor organizing conferences and seminars on these subjects; we hadn’t any problem to play the leitmotiv of the incompatibility between Islam and West World, with the obvious consequence of the inevitable clash of civilizations. The export of democracy as well as the struggle against terrorism was a topos which refer to in order to justify the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What did remain of all this commonplace after the rebellions of the Arab world: the ones realized, those in progress, the ones reporting as in Syria thousands of deaths showing that the power wasn’t able to hush up the popular rising? The schemes through which we were used to interpret the Arab Muslim world miserably fell, and we in West world arrived bare to destination. This is the true reason we are not able to say anything but chattering on possible Islamic drifts.

Once again thanks to our Eurocentric spirit we sit in judgement on what to us these countries desirably should do, going through a deep transformation, so that the bright spring doesn’t turn into a dark winter. Which is the concrete relief that West is arranging, and I refer not only to the economic and financial one, but above all to the supply of ideas and support to this tricky transition period? We can only hear the deafening noise of silence. The scenery is animated only when Sarkozy and Cameron before, and then Erdogan went to Libya demanding the primauté of their intervention and reminding to Libyans that France, UK and Turkey should have a privileged place in sharing the richness of that mangled territory. History doesn’t teach anything at all.

Taking for true that the greater deficit distinguishing our society is the lack of a strategic view of the Mediterranean after the Arab rebellions, and that the mental categories through which we always interpreted the politics and the trends of the societies of the other shore are obsolete, we need to gear up to better understand where the Mediterranean is going.

The proposal submitted by UNIMED, an association gathering 84 universities of the Mediterranean basin, is to put use in the politics and society a know-how of skills so as to think in the short and long period on the best way to reconstruct mental categories allowing to recognize in deep the needs standing at the basis of these revolts through a discussion and a meeting with the protagonists of the Arab spring and all the ones willing to took up the challenge. It should be a collaboration involving the universities of the two shores of the Mediterranean, together with politicians and businessmen so as to comprehend where the Mediterranean of nowadays is going. At this purpose we propose the creation of a Permanent Strategic Forum enabling, thanks to a continuity of social and political analysis, previously identified and conducted by researchers of the two shores, confronting with politicians, businessmen, intellectuals and representatives of the civil society, to contribute to the statement of a meanings more adherent to the current situation in the Mediterranean. I think that this making, always following a clear way and thanks to the community of knowledge, to elaborate a different looking to this Sea.

Franco Rizzi

ITALIAN VERSION

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