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Ever since the ultimate defeat of Napoleon in 1815, many modern ideas for models of European unity have been proposed and whilst each shares a common goal of unifying an otherwise disparate continent, they each seek to do so in a variety of ways.
The same could be said of proposals for Arab unity after 1918. Arab unity was accomplished first under the Prophet Muhammad and successive Caliphs. In this sense one could compare early Arab unity under Islam to early European unity under the Roman Empire.
Here is a look at the similarities and differences between European and Arab unity in the modern era.
The first concerted attempt at post-Napoleonic European unity was the Zollverein, a customs union among the then politically fragmented Germanic states. The success of the Zollverein ultimately led to the creation of the modern German state in 1871. It also however led to perilous ideas about a Gross Deutschland: a German state that would ultimately swallow up Austria and bifurcate her from her non-Germanic countrymen which at the time included Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Slovenians, Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs.
After 1918, calls for European unity were largely inspired by the views of Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi. He called for a fraternal political unity of European peoples. One is tempted to refer to his ideas as a neo-Austrian style view, insofar as nationalism was discarded in favour of ethnic pluralism.
Then of course one has fascism which united Europe politically whilst brutally massacring millions of Europeans.
Today there is the European Union which is increasingly looking like a United States of Europe (however fractious it has become).
Whilst I am an opponent of the EU, it is important, especially in this context, not to confuse this with someone who dislikes the idea of some kind of European unity.
I support a loose confederation of European states where people trade, work and live in peace and prosperity. I’m simply opposed to the EU model of achieving this.
Turning to the Arab world, in theory, unity could be achieved far easier than in Europe.
Europe is generally secular and historically has had far more religious differences than the Arab world. However big the schism is between Sunni and Shia Islam, the differences between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and various forms of Protestantism are far greater. Thus whilst Europe hardly has a God anymore, and even when it did no one could agree on how to worship Him, the vast majority of Arabs do have a single God.
In Europe, there are scores of languages and many of them are mutually unintelligible. All Arabs by contrast speak a single language: Arabic.
The climate of the Arab world is more uniform than the climate of the European world, making the ability to trade less complicated and uneven than for example, a snow covered Volkswagen factory and a Greek olive farm trying to achieve economic parity.
After the Second World War, General Nasser’s theories of pan-Arab unity, often called Arab nationalism, took hold in Egypt. These views advocated Arab unity on the basis of a modern, secular (though not at all atheist) Arab state, whose economic system would combine the command industrial model of socialist states along with elements of capitalism.
As Nasserism began to fragment, even towards the end of Nasser’s lifetime, Ba’athism emerged as a powerful force for Arab unity.
Ba’athism was the brain child of a deeply learned man, Zaki_al-Arsuzi. His vast knowledge of international modern and ancient philosophy led him to formulate a political programme which argued for a kind of non-aligned and distinctly Arab brand of socialism.
Whilst many Arab countries had and continue to have Ba’ath parties, in the 20th century Syria and Iraq became prominent Ba’athist states, this despite the split in 1966 between the Iraqi and Syrian branches of the Ba-ath party, which hindered Ba’athist and by extrapolation Arab unity.
Finally, Muammar Gaddafi, once the protégé of Nasser, developed his own brand of post-Nasser Arab unity. The Jamahiriya, founded in 1977 on the basis of Gaddafi’s Green Book, was to be a model of unity that could be followed throughout the wider Arab world.
Yet as with the fall of Nasser’s United Arab Republic in 1961 and the split of the Ba’ath party in 1966, Gaddafi was often shunned by fellow Arab states and was never a favourite of the Arab League. Prior to his overthrow and murder Gaddafi had all but given up on Arab unity, turning instead to the idea of a united Africa.
Today many say that the idea of Arab unity is dead. It isn’t, but it has taken a turn to the grotesque and barbarous.
ISIS terrorists call themselves a state. They seek to conquer the entire Arab world and even parts of the non-Arab world that were once Muslim, including Andalusia and the Balkans.
Whilst their putative capital is in Raqqa in eastern Syria, the truth of the matter is that an ISIS victory would put the brutal Saudi regime at the heart of the Arab world. The Nazi ‘Germania’, the capital Albert Speer was to have built to commemorate Hitler’s conquest of the world, would be Riyadh.
The 1940s represented the darkest period in the European unity project as the continent was united not be a benign system but by fascism, the most evil ideology in human history.
Today, the Arab world faces a similar threat of unity under an evil ideology. Today’s fascism is Wahhabism, today’s Nazi Germany is Saudi Arabia.
Yet unlike the populations of great cities in the Levant and Mesopotamia which have always been great centres of Arab scholarship, the desert which the Saudis control has always been an intellectual backwater.
As the Saudi economy falters for the first time since the oil-boom, the Saudis are turning to Wahhabist imperialism as a model for Arab unity.
This theory isn’t necessarily new. Saddam, for all his faults, warned the world about this threat in the 1980s and 1990s, and the world should have listened.
For an aspirant Imperial power, the Saudis do have problems. They have soldiers who cannot fire their guns straight, and pilots who cannot fly the modern US built jets in their air force.
Naturally, something needed to be done. International terrorism was the Saudi solution to their imperial problem.
By using ISIS and Al Qaeda to ultimately destroy secular Arab states which could threaten the Saudi attempt to build a hegemonic Arab empire under their flag, the Saudis have simultaneously helped to destroy ideologies which could compete with Wahhabism as the intellectual motivation for Arab unity.
This must be stopped.
Wahhabism is a poisonous evil ideology which one can put on a par with fascism in terms of its wickedness, though thankfully not yet in its international scope.
In this sense Syria is the front line of a wider problem in the Arab world.
If Damascus falls the Arab world falls and it will fall into the hands of one of the darkest regimes in history.