In a famous passage in his now classic book, Wretched of the Earth (1961) Frantz Fanon wrote one of his most iconic phrases: “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.”
Why would he say that and what could that phrase actually mean? What will have remained of the very idea of “Europe” that now even the UK has opted to bid it farewell?
Let us answer these related questions with another more recent – more urgent, perhaps – question.
Why would Dalai Lama, evidently a kind, gentle, caring man, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, for millions around the world, Buddhist or otherwise, the very definition of tolerance and gentility say: “Europe, for example, Germany, cannot become an Arab country. Germany is Germany.”
While finding his own remark entertaining, the Dalai Lama laughingly adds during his conversation with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “There are so many.”
‘Germany cannot become an Arab country’
That is right: “Deutschland,” he is reported to have said, “konne kein arabisches Land werden”. This is not a neo-Nazi skinhead sharing these sentiments with a leading German newspaper. This is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: “Germany cannot become an Arab country.”
Germany is not an Arab country, nor is it even “in danger” of becoming an Arab country. But why would the Dalai Lama say such a thing – be so dismissive, derisive even, nervously sardonic of even the idea? What is it to him? He is neither a European nor an Arab.
Dalai Lama and the rest of Eurocentric universe around the world need this idea of 'Europe' as the figment of their own captured imagination ...
The answer to this question rests on Fanon’s insight: “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.”
To be sure, Fanon meant it “literally”, as he puts it bluntly: “Latin America, China, and Africa. From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence, there has flowed out for centuries towards that same Europe diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, wood and exotic products. Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.”
But there is also an even more potent, metaphoric, aspect to his iconic phrase, that the Third World has been definitive and instrumental in manufacturing the very idea, the metaphoric normativity, of “Europe”, and with it the myth of “the West”.
Partaking in the Eurocentric universe
The Dalai Lama and the rest of Eurocentric universe around the world need this idea of “Europe” as the figment of their own captured imagination, the whitewashed epicentre of their own metaphoric cosmos.
He cannot imagine this metaphor of “Europe”, which in his mind is all white, all Christian, all the civilised measure of our humanity, tinted with the presence of non-Europeans, Arab or otherwise.
He, in effect, partakes freely and is categorically invested in the unexamined metaphor of “Europe” beyond all reality and geography. In that assumption, he is not a racist at all, for his mental makeup is already racialised, a normative entrapment he can never decode.
This figment of imagination has nothing to do with the reality of Europe: fragmented along race, gender, and class; some welcoming, many resentful of the new immigrants and refugees.
Not just the reality of this wave of migration, or even the reality of European Muslims long before this wave, but the reality of Europe as fractured in its layered composition opens to much different horizons. Put them together, these varied realities map out a vastly different Europe than the one the Dalai Lama imagines.
Europe is changing for good
The city of London has just elected its first Muslim mayor, just before the UK opted to exit the EU.
Yes, there was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who, in order to prevent this from happening, tried to recreate sectarian hostility in London on the model of British colonial practices in India.
Yes, the new mayor had to shift to the right and denounce BDS before he could get elected. But elected he was: and on a merely symbolic and demographic register, this was an indication of what is dawning on the opening horizons.
The UK has now opted for nativism. Cameron has just announced his resignation.
Yes, there are nervous “European” philosophers (as they continue to insist in designating themselves) like Slavoj Zizek, or even more zealous Zionists like Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut, or mass murderers like Anders Breivik, or politicians like Marine Le Pen, or Islamophobe atheists like Richard Dawkins, who fume and fumble at the sight of new Muslim immigrants.
But there are also other defiant voices like Alain Badiou’s, who catch these retrogrades red-handed and whose visions are far more embracing of the newcomers.
Europe is changing, slowly but surely, self-imploding much quicker than the new immigrants and refuges would warrant it.
Muslim refugees are awakening Europe to its central paradox: both its racist foregrounding and its liberal illusions, and the force of this dialectic will forever alter the repressed memories of the thing that has called itself “Europe”, and even more so “the West”.
Refugees are liberators
Look at them closely: These refugees are liberators. They are liberating Europe from the deadpan myth of “the West”. The reaction of nervous philosophers like Zizek, Levy, and Finkielkraut, as indeed the rise of nativism in UK, are symptomatic of a futile resistance to the full dimensions of a seismic change they are unable to see yet.
But change is inevitable, not so much under the pressure of refugees, but because of the bursting bubble of the myth of “Europe” itself that has long since exhausted its enabling emotive universe.
Today, the Dalai Lama and millions of other retrograde cartographers of our changing world will be disoriented and dizzy if they were to be denied “the European” figment of their own captured imagination. But tomorrow the creative consciousness of a radically different geography will inform and people our fragile earth.
The bursting of the myth of Europe and its contingent metaphor of “the West” does not bode well for “the Rest” either, for it spells out the end of all the binary illusions it has manufactured to believe itself more ardently, chief among them “the Islam” it has colonially manufactured to rule it better, aided and abetted, to be sure, by Muslims themselves.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.