Thursday, January 28, 2016

Interview With Noam Chomsky: Is European Integration Unraveling?

Europe is in turmoil. The migration and refugee crisis is threatening to unravel the entire European integration project. Unwilling to absorb the waves of people fleeing their homes in the Middle East and North Africa, many European Union (EU) member states have began imposing border controls.

But it is not only people from Syria and Iraq, as mainstream media narratives would suggest, who are trying to reach Europe these days. Refugees come from Pakistan and Afghanistan and from nations in sub-Saharan Africa. The numbers are staggering, and they seem to be growing with the passing of every month. In the meantime, anti-immigration sentiment is spreading like wildfire throughout Europe, giving rise to extremist voices that threaten the very foundation of the EU and its vision of an "open, democratic" society.

In light of these challenges, EU officials are pulling out all the stops in their effort to deal with the migration and refugee crisis, offering both technical and economic assistance to member states in hopes that they will do their part in averting the unraveling of the European integration project. Whether they will succeed or fail remains to be seen. What is beyond a doubt however is that Europe's migration and refugee crisis will intensify as more than 4 million more migrants and refugees are expected to reach Europe in the next two years.

Noam Chomsky, one of the world's leading critical intellectuals, offered his insights to Truthout on Europe's migration and refugee crisis and other current European developments - including the ongoing financial crisis in Greece - in an exclusive interview with C.J. Polychroniou.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, thanks for doing this interview on current developments in Europe. I would like to start by asking you this question: Why do you think Europe's refugee crisis is happening now?

Noam Chomsky: The crisis has been building up for a long time. It is hitting Europe now because it has burst the bounds, from the Middle East and from Africa. Two Western sledgehammer blows had a dramatic effect. The first was the US-UK invasion of Iraq, which dealt a nearly lethal blow to a country that had already been devastated by a massive military attack 20 years earlier followed by virtually genocidal US-UK sanctions. Apart from the slaughter and destruction, the brutal occupation ignited a sectarian conflict that is now tearing the country and the entire region apart. The invasion displaced millions of people, many of whom fled and were absorbed in the neighboring countries, poor countries that are left to deal somehow with the detritus of our crimes.

One outgrowth of the invasion is the ISIS/Daesh monstrosity, which is contributing to the horrifying Syrian catastrophe. Again, the neighboring countries have been absorbing the flow of refugees. Turkey alone has over 2 million Syrian refugees. At the same time it is contributing to the flow by its policies in Syria: supporting the extremist al-Nusra Front and other radical Islamists and attacking the Kurds who are the main ground force opposing ISIS - which has also benefited from not-so-tacit Turkish support. But the flood can no longer be contained within the region.

The second sledgehammer blow destroyed Libya, now a chaos of warring groups, an ISIS base, a rich source of jihadis and weapons from West Africa to the Middle East, and a funnel for the flow of refugees from Africa. That at once brings up longer-term factors. For centuries, Europe has been torturing Africa - or, to put it more mildly - exploiting Africa for Europe's own development, to adopt the recommendation of the top US planner George Kennan after World War II.

The history, which should be familiar, is beyond grotesque. To take just a single case, consider Belgium, now groaning under a refugee crisis. Its wealth derived in no small measure from "exploiting" the Congo with brutality that exceeded even its European competitors. Congo finally won its freedom in 1960. It could have become a rich and advanced country once freed from Belgium's clutches, spurring Africa's development as well. There were real prospects, under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, one of the most promising figures in Africa. He was targeted for assassination by the CIA, but the Belgians got there first. His body was cut to pieces and dissolved in sulfuric acid. The US and its allies supported the murderous kleptomaniac Mobutu. By now Eastern Congo is the scene of the world's worst slaughters, assisted by US favorite Rwanda while warring militias feed the craving of Western multinationals for minerals for cell phones and other high-tech wonders. The picture generalizes too much of Africa, exacerbated by innumerable crimes. For Europe, all of this becomes a refugee crisis.

Do the waves of immigrants (obviously many of them are immigrants, not simply refugees from war-torn regions) penetrating the heart of Europe represent some kind of a "natural disaster," or is it purely the result of politics?

There is an element of natural disaster. The terrible drought in Syria that shattered the society was presumably the effect of global warming, which is not exactly natural. The Darfur crisis was in part the result of desertification that drove nomadic populations to settled areas. The awful Central African famines today may also be in part due to the assault on the environment during the "Anthropocene," the new geological era when human activities, mainly industrialization, have been destroying the prospects for decent survival, and will do so, unless curbed.

European Union officials are having an exceedingly difficult time coping with the refugee crisis because many EU member states are unwilling to do their part and accept anything more than just a handful of refugees. What does this say about EU governance and the values of many European societies?

EU governance works very efficiently to impose harsh austerity measures that devastate poorer countries and benefit Northern banks. But it has broken down almost completely when addressing a human catastrophe that is in substantial part the result of Western crimes. The burden has fallen on the few who were willing, at least temporarily, to do more than lift a finger, like Sweden and Germany. Many others have just closed their borders. Europe is trying to induce Turkey to keep the miserable wrecks away from its borders, just as the US is doing, pressuring Mexico to prevent those trying to escape the ruins of US crimes in Central America from reaching US borders. This is even described as a humane policy that reduces "illegal immigration."

What does all of this tell us about prevailing values? It is hard even to use the word "values," let alone to comment. That's particularly when writing in the United States, probably the safest country in the world, now consumed by a debate over whether to allow Syrians in at all because one might be a terrorist pretending to be a doctor, or at the extremes, which unfortunately is in the US mainstream, whether to allow any Muslims in at all, while a huge wall protects us from immigrants fleeing from the wreckage south of the border.

by C.J. Polychroniou and Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Read more:
Image: Andrew Rusk