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The Strasbourg Speech: Change in Europe
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-04-08 10:03:45
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Barack Obama went to Strasbourg to give a speech to the French and German people in the audience.  A good sign, since it shows a sincere effort to engage in a productive and honest dialogue with Europe. We have our disagreements, but this dialogue can be very fruitful – above all, if you engage in a dialogue, at least you can have hope that basic mutual trust is being restored. And you are amazed on how much humbleness this man is able to show, thanks to the shit somebody else made in his place. This alone wins him the sympathy of the Europeans.

strasbourg1_400The man impressed me with how accurate and sensible his diagnosis and analysis of the current and recent relationships between Europe and America was. I have expressed before my disgust with blind and growing European anti-Americanism, but also with American arrogance towards Europe. Here’s what he had to say about this subject matter: “I'm confident that we can meet any challenge as long as we are together.  It's easier to allow resentments to fester than to forge true partnerships. So we must be honest with ourselves. In recent years, we've allowed our alliance to drift.

I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy. But we also know that there's something more that has crept into our relationship. In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America's showed arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad. On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise; they do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated.

I've come to Europe this week to renew our partnership – one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies, but where our friends and allies bear their share of the burden. Together, we must forge common solutions to our common problems.” And he ended like this: “So let me say this as clearly as I can: America is changing. But it cannot be America alone that changes”. Take that Europe, and digest it. And I’m saying it sincerely, as a European. If European leaders are not fools (something about which we’ve all been having doubts lately), they will understand that they either engage in dialogue with America now that they have all the conditions to do so, or the Americans will have other powerful emerging partners – like South America or India.

strasbourg2Also, they’ll better engage in dialogue because Obama is more popular in Europe than themselves – they will either talk with him, or the Europeans will kick their butts out of the power seats. That wouldn’t be bad at all… when you think about an Union where there are laws demanding that all the fridges have to be at the same distance from the kitchen in all restaurants from Portugal and Spain to Estonia or Finland and all the bread has to have exactly the same amount of salt from Greece to Belgium or the UK, but where our Labor Ministers can simply give up from sitting down and decide common policies to deal with unemployment, create new jobs and fight the crisis, and no one seems to care or ask them for responsibilities on that…

He was absolutely on target about the current condition of the relationships between Europe and the United States. Things that Europe does not forgive the US about are the promiscuity between groups of influence and the State – this is, in the end, what has been rising many eyebrows and many suspicions in Europe about the quality of the American democracy, so there should be an effort by the Obama administration to clarify how much those intervened in the past and to assure that they don’t in the future.  A French boy in the audience rose and asked Obama what he expected of France and Europe in the war against terror. 

Here’s part of Obama’s answer: “Don’t fool yourselves. Do not think that Al-Qaeda will stop being a threat just because we… solve the Middle East crisis or because we… show more tolerance and respect for the Muslim world. Because that’s just not going to happen”. The good news are that Barack Obama might be slightly wrong in these last sentences, and Europe knows that. “Just solve the Middle East crisis”? That wouldn’t be a “just”, that would be a miracle!! Can you imagine what would represent to the Islamic world to have at least equal access to and rights over Jerusalem, just to give a small example? And showing more respect for the Muslim world could be not decisive, but it would certainly help much…

Here’s why: faithfulness is an incredibly important value inside Islam. If you attack a Muslim in Australia, a Muslim in Iceland will defend him. If you show respect for Islamic faith and those countries’ cultures, and help to give better life conditions and opportunities to people in Afghanistan or Pakistan (not with the army but with civil servants, for example), many young boys and girls will stop being so easily manipulated by cheap murderers, because actually the Prophet urges everybody to use their own head and not only to use their own head: to study (this includes women), as well as to respect all life on Earth.

So real Islam is on your side, if you are clever enough - please understand this. Finally, he said “We have no interest in occupying Afghanistan”, still he should have clearly added: “But we have true interest in helping its development and assist in providing its population with basic life conditions, opportunities and dignity”. This would have been a victory celebrated not only in Europe, but by people in all Islamic countries too. Why? Because the whole world wants to be sure and assured that Afghanistan is not a shameless game of interests like Iraq was, and that America respects its citizens’ rights as much as it respects the rights of American citizens. That’s the basic premise for dialogue with Europe. I am sure it will be fine. 

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AP2009-04-08 19:46:33
So yes, for dialogue America has to prove that it has learned that it cannot just go through the world razing countries and lives like armed bulldozers. Things just can't be done like that.
The isolation/cooperation and reputation of America depend much on being able to show a higher level of maturity or not.

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-08 20:10:28
A few inconvenient facts worth remembering, lest in our euphoria we end up “misremembering.” Fact one: within Nato Turkey has the largest army after the US while France which had withdrawn from its military section has just now returned. Fact two: at the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 800 Bosnian men were brutally killed while a Dutch peacekeeping UN contingent of 400 men looked on and did absolutely nothing to prevent the massacre. Fact three: the war criminal General Mladic is still at large. Fact four: this was the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. Fact five: the Europeans were reluctantly brought into the conflict to prevent a genocide that had begun via NATO at the insistence of the US and Turkey. Fact six: one of the NATO members, Greece, even helped the Serbs with arms’ shipment and paramilitary personell who participated in the massacre. Now, considering those unpleasant facts, ought we be surprised that President Obama wants to mend relations with Turkey? On the other hand, Turkey too needs to come clean and acknowledge its genocide of Armenians in 1916. History is not a cherry picking exercise. The whole truth needs to be told, acknowledged and owned. If change has come to Europe, hat is good news indeed.

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-08 20:12:19
Errata: that is good news.

AP2009-04-08 21:39:03
Mr. Paparella, you're comments are under the wrong article...

AP2009-04-08 21:39:52
I meant "your comments" (on Turkey), sorry.

AP2009-04-08 21:58:23
Notes - not 800 were killed in Srebrenica, but 8000. To relate this with the other article, as you know Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are not part of the EU. If the intervention was late, that was because there were conflicts inside EU on how to intervene there as well. Anyway, it was impossible for 400 men, when it happened, to be able to do anything significant to stop it.

AP2009-04-08 22:02:38
But as you know, it's not just because of their army that Obama wants good relations with Turkey... it's mostly because that's one of the last allies the US have in the region, and a Muslim-majority one. I don't say that's bad, but I don't think the army is the main reason.

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-08 22:16:13
Indeed, thre is plenty of blame to go around, but the point is simple and I am afraid it was missed again: the rethoric on human inalienable rights and freedom of speech and freedom of religion of citizens by which Europeans assume a superior stance often does not match the shabby performance, those who would lead must give the first example, to wit the spectable of armed men whose profession was to defend the vulnerable and innocent standing by while genocide is being committed before their eyes and in one's back yard. Bosnia and Serbia are still in Europe or am I wrong? Hubris or projection of arrogance? Hard to tell but what happened there, as far as I am concerned, is inexcusable.

AP2009-04-09 14:09:08
Mr. Paparella, you are wrong about that: this is not a matter of Europeans assuming a superior stance - Europe is merely expressing what the rest of the world also thinks. Haven't you understood that? If not - well that would be the path for America's self-destruction... if I didn't have faith that most of your compatriots are wiser than you on this.
What do you think? That people were not revolted in most countries in Europe and doing demonstrations demanding for a proper and ready UN intervention there? It was obvious for everybody that they were letting them die because they were Muslims, but the UN has let that happen, not exactly the EU. And anyway, in how many places in the world where UN was present have massacres happened during the 20th century? Many places in different continents, not just in Bosnia.

AP2009-04-09 14:12:35
But if you want to erase the indignation of most Europeans, very clearly expressed when that happened, that's up to you...

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-09 23:45:57
The point was simple but it seems it was missed: those who live in glass houses when it comes to owning their own history should not be so cavalierly throwing stones to the passerbys.

AP2009-04-12 03:55:01
You know what they say: from the attic in my glass house, I can see the whole world... I light up a simple lantern at night, and it becomes a lighthouse.

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