Bri­tain’s exit vote

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

FOR cen­turies, Europe has pro vided lessons for the world on how to de­fine a col­lec­tive iden­tity. Its peo­ple have gone from be­ing me­dieval serfs to im­pe­rial sub­jects to cit­i­zens of na­tion-states to “mem­bers” of the Euro­pean Union. They have gone from be­ing the cen­tre of Chris­ten­dom to an ex­porter of sec­u­lar val­ues en­shrined as “hu­man rights.” Now, af­ter Bri­tain’s June 23 vote to leave the union, Europe may once again show how di­verse so­ci­eties, be­set with new chal­lenges, dis­cover the foun­da­tions to bind them­selves around com­mon ideals.

As Bri­tain sorts out the terms of a new re­la­tion­ship with the Con­ti­nent, its vote to “leave” the EU has opened de­bates else­where on what con­sti­tutes iden­tity as a body politic. Will Scot­land vote for in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in or­der to stay within the EU? Will North­ern Ire­land seek to join Ire­land? Will other EU mem­bers fol­low Bri­tain and drop out? Will Bri­tain’s move dampen the in­ter­est of Ukraine, Turkey, and oth­ers to join the EU? Within the EU it­self, Bri­tain’s vote will prob­a­bly drive a de­bate on poli­cies that were aimed at form­ing a Euro­pean iden­tity. Was it wise to open in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion within Europe so quickly? Did the EU cen­tralise too much un­ac­count­able au­thor­ity and step too harshly on na­tional sovereignty? Most of all, are the EU’s pri­mary mis­sions – to pre­vent wars like those in the 20th cen­tury and to cre­ate a gi­ant sin­gle mar­ket – not grounded enough in shared moral ideals to form a con­ti­nent-wide iden­tity? Much of Bri­tain’s ref­er­en­dum de­bate fo­cused on prob­lems of im­mi­gra­tion and whether EU mem­ber­ship brings eco­nomic ben­e­fits. While wor­thy is­sues, these only hint at is­sues of iden­tity. In say­ing “No” to the EU, we can hope that Bri­tain was say­ing “yes” to its hope of em­brac­ing and pro­tect­ing its rich in­her­i­tance – its open sys­tem of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, its his­toric pat­tern of ab­sorb­ing for­eign­ers, and its at­trac­tive le­ga­cies in cul­ture and land­scapes. When en­tire peo­ples split apart – the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion is one ex­am­ple – it means that con­di­tions were not right for us­ing the word “we,” as in “we” Euro­peans. For that to hap­pen, a so­ci­ety must of­fer some­thing that is wor­thy of sac­ri­fice or that helps in­di­vid­u­als find sal­va­tion. Iden­tity can­not be im­posed. The fact that Bri­tain de­cided to hold a pop­u­lar ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship was a re­minder that only in­di­vid­u­als, through such mea­sures as vot­ing, can seek a con­sen­sus on their bonds of at­tach­ment. Europe’s grand ex­per­i­ments in iden­tity for­ma­tion may now make his­tory again. — The Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor

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