Made-in-Europe Arab states

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Foreign Policy, Italy, Libya Views: 4122

Made-in-Europe Arab states

By Rami G. Khouri 
Daily Star staff

The agreement signed last Saturday that saw Italy apologize and pay $5 billion in compensation for its colonial rule and misdeeds in Libya was a powerful example of why it is so important to acknowledge that which many of our friends in the West constantly tell us to put behind us: history. 

History matters, and endures, and its consequences constantly must be grasped, not ignored. In this case, we witness neither the end nor the resumption of history, but the neutralization of one aspect of history as a fractious force of resentment and discord. 

For many in the West, history, especially the West's colonial and imperial history in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, is something to skim through in a high school class, and then to relegate to the past as irrelevant to today's conflicts and tensions. For many people in the former colonized world, however, history is a deep and open wound that still oozes pain and distortion. Libya is a classic example of colonialism's twisted and enduring legacy of nearly dysfunctional states governed by corrupt and often incompetent elites, whose people never have a chance to validate either the configuration of statehood or the exercise of power. 

Made-in-Europe cars and shoes are wonderful; made-in-Europe Arab states are unnatural and embarrassing.

History is very much an active force in much of the Middle East today. It manifests itself in the form of bitter memories of the West's behavior in the past (Iran, Palestine), and also of vulnerable, poor and fragmenting countries that have never made a coherent transition to stable statehood, legitimate sovereignty or credible governance. 

A major reason for the mess and mediocrity that define so many Arab, Asian and African countries is their unnatural birth at the hands of retreating European colonial midwives. Because they were manufactured by European occupiers, many countries in the Middle East have enjoyed neither the logic of a sensible balance among natural and human resources, nor the compensatory vitality that comes from self-determinant and truly sovereign states. Made-in-Europe cars and shoes are wonderful; made-in-Europe Arab states are unnatural and embarrassing.

The Arab world remains ignominiously the world's only collectively, structurally and chronically undemocratic region in large part because it experienced an unnatural birth, and could be maintained in its current format only through the pacifying force of hard security states. Not surprisingly, the former European colonial powers continue to sustain and benefit from the bizarre Arab order of turbulent, often violent, and sometimes vicious, statehood they left behind when they fled our shores. 

The Italian-Libyan agreement is fascinating for what it reveals about a belated acknowledgment in at least one European country - always elegant Italy - that colonialism damaged and retarded the native land and its people. This is a noteworthy and noble act, for which the Italians and their government are to be congratulated. It takes courage and humility to undertake such an agreement, admitting, as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi did, "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era." 

Berlusconi continued: "In the name of the Italian people ... I feel the duty to apologize and show our pain for what happened many years ago and which affected many of your families."

Among the things Italy regrets were its killing thousands of Libyans and uprooting thousands of others from their homes. Italy will spend $5 billion to help compensate for its historical misdeeds, in the form of $200 million of investments per year in Libya over 25 years, including building a highway across Libya from the Tunisian border to Egypt. Italy will also clear mines dating back to the colonial era, and has already returned an ancient statue of Venus stolen during colonial rule. 

While Italy should be commended for this acknowledgment and apology, at the same time troubling dimensions to this agreement deserve wider scrutiny. In return for its gesture, Italy expects to reap great rewards, in the form of multi-billion dollar contracts and tighter security controls over flows of illegal immigrants. It will continue benefit from an unequal historical association with the land and people it once directly colonized. 

Equally troubling, such agreements help to maintain in power leaders like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, who next year celebrates 40 years in power, with very little to show for it other than a legacy of intensely erratic and wasteful governance matched only by its longevity. If there were a prize for modern Arab mismanaged statehood and squandered wealth, Libya would win it hands down, with close competition from countries like Algeria, Sudan and Iraq. 

Yet the West continues to manipulate, reward and protect these hapless societies in what seems very much to many of us in the Middle East as a disguised new form of colonialism. For ordinary Arab people, the endless pain of an unsatisfying relationship with European colonial powers endures, in new and more elegant forms. 

Rami G. Khouri is the editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Foreign Policy, Italy, Libya
Views: 4122

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Older Comments:
The colonised nations of the world who have had their people dislocated, borders unconscionably re-drawn, resources plundered and development deferred are owed unconditional apology and reparation for the so-called colonial masters to atone for their gross misdeed

I think the world needs to be compensated for the burning of the library at Alexandria.

Note to Ronald (Australia):

Ah, You forgot the English (mis)treatment of indigenous people of Australia; I am assuming that Australia was settled by people of English origin; they took over all of their land, minerals, etc; just like the English did in Zimbawe, S Africa, US, Canada, New Zeland, Falkland Islands, etc.

To all muslims, when am I going to get paid for muslim colonization of Hindu India? I am waiting for my money.

The Brits for their grave imperialistic misdeeds to China from pushing opium to territorial concessions to the burning of the imperial museum.
The Japs for their barbaric and brutal occupation of the Far East and SE Asia.
Bad history can indeed be erased by compensating.

Italy agrees to pay Libya for its misdeeds during colonial rule. Great. How much will muslims pay for their (mis)rule in Spain and Portugal over a period of 800 years? Christians in Spain/Portugal muslim rule as colonial and that is they fought and got rid of muslim rule. I hope muslims remember their history.

How much will muslims pay Hindus for their (mis)rule over a period of 1000 years or so? Hindus consider muslim rule as foreign and colonial. I hope muslims remember their history.

May be Balkan states and Armenians and Greeks will demand compensation for Ottoman muslim (mis)rule. Please remeber your history.

Now the principle of compensation has been established, let muslims live by it.