Lisbon Treaty Referendum: Is the European Union an example for the Islamic World?

By Yamin Zakaria

Lisbon Treaty established on 13th of December 2007, is another step towards cementing European unity. Almost all the member states of the European Union have ratified the treaty through the parliamentary process. Ireland is the only country to have done this through a referendum. Once the treaty comes into effect, Europe will have its first President, Tony Blair looks set to occupy that position.

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It all started back in 1957 with the treaty of Rome; six European countries formed the EEC (European Economic Unity). The small economic club has now increased to 27 member states, which is increasingly asserting itself beyond an economic entity. It is only a matter of time that we may see a call for the creation of a European army, controlled by the European Parliament, headed by the new President of Europe. To a spectator, it seems they are moving inexorably towards a Federal Europe or some kind of super state. Is the new Roman Empire on the rise again? Many would view this power as a positive force to counterbalance the negative situation of having a lone super power.

Only 70 years ago, Europe was at war, and despite their historical animosity, diversity of language, culture and race, they are gradually moving forward with greater unification. One can argue the formation of European unity has been one of the main factors that have prevented wars breaking out in the continent. This period of stability is slightly tainted by the limited air raids carried out over Serbia by the NATO forces. However, this is seen in the fringes of Europe, and hardly constituted a full-scale war.

Rational justification for unity is self-evident. It gives more strength by pooling the resources of various nations. A unified European economy is one of the largest economies in the world that is competing with the US and the Japanese economy. The Euro looks set to replace the US Dollar as the dominant currency.

The tide of European unity is opposed by those who are concerned about sovereignty of their nation. The counter argument is the old notion of sovereignty of territorial or national integrity is outdated, has to be modified to conform to the globalised world. Increasingly the nation’s ability to determine its own economic or political policy is being limited by the rising tide of globalisation. Sovereignty is redefined as the ability of a nation to determine the welfare of its own citizen.

As an example, the European powers have collectively relinquished some level of political and economical sovereignty for the increasing collective benefit. Hence, if the UK were to pull out from the EU it would be more sovereign to determine its economic and political policies internally, but its influence would be reduced significantly in the international arena. Consequently, this would harm the welfare of its own citizen significantly. If it loses power and influence, in effect it is losing real sovereignty.

Nation states are supposed to be inherently divisive as each nation seeks to promote its interests. Yet, these European states have overcome these barriers and forge unity, propelled largely by the mutual economic benefit, which is reinforced by cultural and political cohesion brought through education, open debates and legislation.

Unity does not mean uniformity in every aspect. Different nations within Europe maintain their cultural identity, language and religion. In this age, mass participation is a feature of most society; this implies unity should come from within through mutual consultation, rather than the imposition of force, like the good old days of Napoleon. European Union reflects that ethos, and it seems to be working well.

Many of the Muslim countries and the respective minorities can learn from European countries like the UK, which has different nations (Scotland, Wales, Irish) flourishing within. The minorities retain their cultural identity, there is no ban imposed on the Celtic or Cornish language or the Scottish Kilt. In fact, the central government encourages all minorities, including the recent migrant populations to express their cultural identity; it adds character to the nation and enriches the culture.

The case for unification of the Islamic world is even greater. Apart from the rational justification of increasing material benefit, there is a religious obligation to be unified. Our values are identical, from Morocco to Indonesia. The cultural similarities are stronger than our regional differences.

However, the Islamic world is more divided than ever before, and to blame this entirely on the west is simply being in denial of our failure. We were colonised argument has passed its sell by date. Other countries have made considerable progress since independence, whereas the Muslims countries are constantly falling behind.

Take the example of India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh), both countries have gained independence in 1947, yet India has made far more progression, despite having far greater levels of disparity in terms of language, race, religion and culture. To blame the British for the stagnation and corruption that exists within Pakistan and Bangladesh is ludicrous. Whenever, I have travelled through these parts of the world, just the experience with the airport officials seeking bribes tells the story. When you peek under their cover, you see nepotism and bribery is a way of life. There is no evidence to suggest the west is dictating or influencing the Muslim countries to behave in this manner. Why should they?

Those who argue the absence of Caliphate is the reason for our failure are missing the point. The progression does not start with the Caliphate but rather Caliphate would embody the result of our progression, which should begin before that. The existence of the Caliphate should not be a prerequisite to have the basic level of civility and some level of progression even within secular dictatorships or monarchs.

The stable European model and the volatile Islamic world shows, unity in the modern age has to be achieved gradually through mutual consultation, rather than the imposition of force. It has to be cultivated in the minds of people. The various organisations have failed to create any form of unification, even in terms of close cooperation between the various Islamic nations. There is deep-seated racism amongst various racial groups; the Turks see themselves as superior to Arabs, and the Arabs in turn looks towards the Pakistanis with disdain, and so on. The example of Iraq clearly illustrates this fracture, each group based on racial and sectarian motive pursued its interests, and thus the war was lost even before the US invaded Iraq.

Even the smaller experiment of Arab nationalism has failed at every level because the same prejudice is replicated amongst the various Arab states. It is no secret, many of the Arab states are eager to delete the Palestine issue, rather than collectively confront Israel. All they can offer is some token economic aid to the Palestinians after watching the routine Israeli massacres.

The world is moving on, but the Muslims seem to be stuck in the past literally. You see the endless lectures of what the Muslims achieved in the 12th century, failing to see the scientific advances made by the west in the last 500 years have left us behind in another galaxy!

‘Allah will never change the situation of a people unless they change what is within themselves’ (Quran – 13:11)