Will Europe Capture the Moral High Ground?

Will Europe Capture the Moral High Ground?

BERLIN ~ As I write this piece in this formerly divided city, I can only feel hope that walls built between populations must inevitably fall to the communal needs of peoples with an equal right to justice and security.

Last week, I began my trip to a so-recently divided Europe with a visit to Copenhagen where I was delighted to declare my full support for the Nordic Council’s Co-existence Agenda. Whether European or Asian, we all have a strong vested interest in the success of any initiative that recognizes the importance of dialogue.

Co-existence of Civilisations is an international project that grew out of Denmark’s recent cartoon controversy. In response to the crisis, the country’s leading economic and political newsletter, Monday Morning, devised the initiative to mobilize regional and global media to promote understanding, debate and engagement.

I was honored to take the baton as patron of an expedition of understanding launched by the initiative and to be the first outsider to address a plenary session of the regional Nordic Council, a consultative body representing five Nordic countries and three autonomous territories (Danish parliament, Copenhagen, November 1, 2006). The countries’ prime ministers, ministers and politicians agreed almost unanimously to promote multicultural development through the co-existence project.

It is perhaps timely to remember that the notion of co-existence was formed in the dangerously divided era of the cold war. It marked the start of a process of rapprochement in fractured Europe. Similarly, the Nordic Co-Existence Initiative aims to reach past mere co-existence towards true partnership — of people, of ideas and of governments.

Many in Europe agree with my urgent belief that the time has come to reassess the responsibilities of a fast-paced, globalised world. The various crises facing our peoples should serve to remind governments and policymakers alike that rights emanate from and affect not only the European and American contexts but the entire family of cultures that comprise our human civilization. Crucially, our quest for co-existence must look beyond technological, market-driven imperatives to achieve a lasting reconciliation of cultures and peoples.

At a press conference at the Danish parliament, I stressed the role of the Nordic countries as catalysts for world peace. I believe that the history of Scandinavian, Nordic and Baltic co-operation can act as a model for peaceful interaction in our region. Our cultural, linguistic and existential links in the Levant or Mesopotamia are worth more than many outside the region appreciate.

Nordic governments and civil society activists have a long history of upholding the fundamental rights of humanity and of promoting human security above all else. Their continued involvement in our region will provide much-needed moral support for cultural engagement. The region’s governments have recognized that globalization presents us with a clash of opportunities and challenges. To deal properly with the implications of growing interdependence, we must invest to reconcile diverse cultural and religious values, political ideas and economic regimes.

The Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy and the Barcelona Process for Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue outlined three inter-connected categories of human relations: security, economy and culture. We must integrate these into a coherent strategy in which culture is not merely an afterthought.

For Europe, migration is an inevitable aspect of economic globalization, bringing the issues faced by far-off populations to the heart of European societies. Ethnic and religious groups are no longer confined to one region as traditional margins shift and groups disintegrate and reintegrate at escalating rates. We have all seen how conflicts arising from repression can spread swiftly from their epicenter.

At the first Middle East-North Africa Summit in Casablanca in 1994, delegates called for the European Union to invest US$35 billion in 24 countries over 10 years, to build an infrastructure to encourage a “will to stay.” Providing opportunities at home was cited as the only way to avoid the problems caused by mass migration. Sadly, the European response at the time was “first come, first served.”

It is ironic that the same sum was allocated in one day for Homeland Security in the US following the September 11 attacks. However, supporting a siege mentality in the US or in Europe does nothing to alleviate the chronic problems caused by the inequities of globalization.

The Nordic Co-Existence Initiative reminds us that the dominance of military response in international relations must be addressed. In the Gulf area alone, there have been no fewer than 22 active border disputes since 1900, all dealt with by military means. The recent war in Lebanon provides yet another example of militarism called into play as a first-resort tactic.

The politics of military supremacy have fuelled massive military spending, augmenting national debts in my region and diverting funds that could have been used to narrow the gap between inclusion and exclusion. It is a telling irony that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the group empowered to uphold peace around the world, together account for some 90 percent of the world’s arms trade.

The Nordic Co-Existence Initiative marks a positive step in bringing cultural comprehension into the globalization process, both at home and abroad. Managing cultural complexities through a framework for dialogue must become the norm in inter-state and inter-regional relations. Participation rather than exclusion must underpin security and freedom, while freedom of expression must come with a responsibility to protect the livelihoods and beliefs of all.

By Prince Hassan bin Talal

HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is chairman of several organizations in fields that include diplomacy, interfaith studies, human resources and science and technology.

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