EUROPE, THEIR EUROPE
By Pius Adesanmi
Saturday/Sunday, February 28 – March 1, 2009.
I've been asked to reflect briefly on the entanglement of Europe, America, and Barack Obama. Well, let's just say that the former U.S Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "old Europe" has never known how to handle the enigma that is America. Here is a Frankenstein Europe created, a colony of inconsequential second-raters and failures, the dregs of European whiteness who took out their frustrations on the Native Americans they exterminated and the Africans they enslaved.
If you were somebody of even minimal consequence in 17th and 18th century England, you had no inclination to move to the uncertainty of some distant colony called America. Yet, this former colony has surpassed Europe in every sphere of human experience. America has taken every ideal Europe patented, to levels beyond the wildest dreams of even the most imaginative Europeans. Europe has value now only as America's poodle.
Take democracy and some of its constitutive ideals - freedom, equality and inclusion. Europe has had three centuries to empty those ideals of content because she has never known how to handle human difference. Her Enlightenment project could conceptualize humanity only in terms of hierarchies based on pseudo-scientific racialism. Although not devoid of these foibles, the American model allows the racially excluded to hope, dream, struggle, and aspire in the interstices of an imperfect system constantly in search of perfection.
This explains European thinkers' fascination with America. The 19th Century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, was more preoccupied with American democracy than the French model with its empty rhetoric of "liberty, equality, fraternity." Closer to us, his compatriot, Bernard Henri-Levi, salivates permanently over America. Historians Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama are formidable anchors of Anglo-European intellectual fascination with America.
Europe forecloses possibilities of genuine movement for the racialized other. In good old England, the headquarters of European snobbishness and hypocrisy, it is still a terrible idea to be "Paki". Generations of Turkish Germans know where the do-not-cross lines are in Germany. French citizens of Maghrebian origin know a thing or two about European strictures. Unless, of course, your name is Zinedine Zidane.
Even at that, venture out of France and an Italian nemesis could rub your Arabness in your face on the field of play and remind you that you are not European. Zidane's ‘Europeaness' all came down to Marco Materazzi's whisper: "terrorist"! And if, like George Weah in the case of Liberia, Zidane suddenly begins to imagine himself a possible contender for the Presidency in France, the French will tell him a story or two.
African sportsmen such as Samuel Eto'o Fils, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Gerald Asamoah, Sulley Muntari, Mikel Obi, and all Black footballers have to contend with ubiquitous monkey chants in European stadia. To show that they are extremely serious about fighting racism, Europeans impose a hefty fine of two or three thousand Euros on offending billionaire clubs! You know, Manchester United or AC Milan may go bankrupt after paying such a heavy fine!
Imagine what would happen to an American basketball team whose supporters chant "nigga" every time Kobe Bryant or Lebron James slam dunks! Europe constantly tells her people of colour in not so many words that a tree trunk may spend twenty years in the river, it will never become a crocodile.
Political careers crash in North America on account of bigotry. In fact, the mere suspicion of bigotry is enough to make you history. Careers do not crash in Europe because of bigotry. At about the time the career of former Virginia Senator and US presidential hopeful, George Allen, crashed for publicly using the racist epithet ‘macaca', the profile of current French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was rising steadily in France, even as he made a habit of publicly calling Arabs and Africans terrible racist names. As Mayor of Paris in the early 1990s, Jacques Chirac had complained publicly about the offensive "noise and odour" of African immigrants and was promptly rewarded with the presidency of France!
European politicians like the late Pim Fortuyn of Holland and the loquacious Jean-Marie Le Pen of France answer names like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and Lou Dobbs in America. But these irritating and obnoxious Americans are not politicians like their European comrades in bigotry. Senator Tom Tancredo may be a fire-spitting anti-Hispanic noise maker, he will kiss his political career goodbye the day he lapses into public racist epithets as is the practice of European politicians of his ilk.
It should be clear by now where I am going with this: there can be no European Obama in the foreseeable future. No "Paki" is going to occupy 10 Downing Street anytime soon. And no "beur"- that's the derogatory term the French openly use for their compatriots of North African descent - should entertain any ideas in France. Somalis of whatever generation in Italy are welcome to speak Italian, name their children Giovanni, and eat as much pasta as they want, so long as they do not dream unauthorized political dreams. Let's just skip Germany. After all, when you invite a toad to dinner, you do not make tails the subject of dinner table banter.
In essence, Obama caught Europeans pants down. He is as much an index of America's progress and advancement as he is an index of Europe's terrible backwardness. He is the embarrassing mirror history waves in Europe's face. They can't believe that the former colony they created across the Atlantic has shown, once again, that she is light years ahead of them. Yet, Europeans keep supplying evidence of their backwardness. For instance, Prince Harry of England picked the week preceding Obama's inauguration to ‘release' a videotape showing him calling a fellow officer in grandma's service a "Paki". Let me remind you that the foolish prince had also been caught in the past frolicking at a party with a Nazi swastika emblazoned on his shirt.
Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair were lucky. The two European leaders narrowly escaped having to suffer the indignity of calling a black man "Our Holy Father" when Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze lost out in the race to succeed Pope John Paul II. Now, their unfortunate successors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, will have to swallow the bitter pill of groveling before a black boss in the theatre of world leadership. I feel so sorry for the racist Sarkozy. Had the young Barack Hussein Obama grown up in the suburbs of Paris, he would have fallen into the category of those children of immigrants Sarkozy famously called scum. Scum is now his master. History is funny. And I like it like that.
Pius Adesanmi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Director, Project on New African Literatures (PONAL), at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.