This paper provides a frank overview of the political fallout that occurs through the European institutional othering of the Mediterranean, which couches predatory interests within the rhetoric of security and paternalistic, humanitarian concerns for engaging with the Mediterranean. Though it is intended to instigate a shuffle in (particularly) the European Union’s strategic approach to the Mediterranean, it could also provide a comprehensive comparison to the U.S.’ issues regarding the region as well, with a few notable divergences that account for different geopolitical concerns between the two.
Both the US and Europe, having been guided by the same Enlightenment principles that to this day demand the objectification, othering, and domination of any adjunct rivals, have nearly the same position in regard to the Middle East and North Africa especially. One, that it is somehow homogenous, despite having a vast religious, ethnic, historical, cultural, and social heterogeneity (Israel excepted, of course). Second, that it is uniquely and pervasively dangerous – the only friends are those that can be bought, such as Saudi Arabia (again, with Israel falling outside of the Middle East for all categorical intents and purposes). Third, that it is a source of great wealth and is of pivotal economic importance, and for that, many human right issues can be passed over for the right price. Fourth, and related to said monetary interests, that conflicts that cannot be contained must be crushed, for the actors cannot be trusted to be solve the issues internally, and thus may become a threat to wealth accumulation efforts by the West. For both Europe and the U.S., the mostly “depoliticized” status of these assumptions (in that, regardless of party affiliation or political persuasion, people generally and automatically take these as true statement) have led to the same result: Western, “enlightened” countries that are suspicious of Muslims or any brown person, who have not been integrated equally or given the same opportunities as their white counterparts even if they are citizens of the country they dwell in, and when they become a subject of concern, they either become threats or subjects of a paternal narrative that denigrates them.
This mindset, however, has played out drastically differently between the heavily-institutionalized Europe and the institution-leery U.S. As described in the final paragraph of this article, the E.U. strategy employs overly complicated, technocratic language that intends to obscure its purpose in the Mediterranean project, and thus produces an ineffective internal coalition which cannot trust nor ascribe to a deliberately confusing strategy. This bares an opposite problem to the U.S.’ approach to the Mediterranean. Instead of overly obfuscating the interests and efforts of the U.S. in the Mediterranean, the message is usually laughably simple: to stop terrorism, and protect the U.S. As a designation, “terrorist” denotes no particular locale except the nebulous Middle East, no particular belief other than a simplified Islam, and no motivation other than irrational, stupid hatred. It is no where, and no one in specific, because they could actually be from anywhere (except from U.S. allies) and anyone. Thus it has become clear that dehumanizing the other under the euphemistic concern for security is an issue that crosses every national, communal, ethnic, or religious border, and it is those who hold power that determine how the euphemism is used to carve out the world that best suits them.
This paper’s claim that the security-laden context of othering has produced important political ramifications is evident to the most minute levels of politicking: every politician stakes his or her claim on a voting bloc not on the basis of their shared identity to the bloc or their familiarity – after all, even in the U.S., what does a factory worker have in common with a gubernatorial politician? Rather, these politicians form a deliberate bond of cohesiveness with the bloc by othering an enemy, whether that enemy is a politician of a rival party, or a Muslim who lives half a world away. As the paper also notes, if these nations and institutions truly aim to “make a difference in the Mediterranean” (pg. 4) – which applies jointly to both Europe and the U.S. – they cannot become mired in producing narratives that solely focus on the securitizing elements of any strategy. Not only does that ignore the voices and participation of potential local partners, and has in the past frequently reproduced their conflicts and misfortune of the sake of Western economies, but it also instills in the minds of Western citizens the correctness of fearing Mediterranean peoples, the truth of their inferiority, the necessity of foreign intervention, and ultimately, their inescapable unfamiliarity. Both the technocratic approach of the E.U. and the simplifying strategy of the U.S., though radically different in rhetoric, approach the Mediterranean from the same worldview: above. By the same poststructuralist approach taken by this paper, this will always do more in favor of European and U.S. hegemony by way of the construction of the self vis a vis the other, than it will ever do for the Mediterranean subjected to it.
Kylie Broderick is Managing Editor of Tadween Publishing and holds an M.A. in Middle East and Islamic Studies at George Mason University.