Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Remember the glory days of the 1990s, when our interconnectedness -- the ever-tighter embrace of Disney characters, the Swoosh, and the Golden Arches -- was endlessly hailed? It was the era of "globalization," of Washington-style capitalism triumphant, and the planet, we were told, would be growing ever "flatter" until we all ended up in the same mall, no matter where we lived. Only a few years later in a twenty-first-century world that, from Ukraine to Libya, Syria to Pakistan, seems to be cracking open under the strain of religious-political conflicts of every sort, isn't it curious how little you hear about that interconnectedness? And yet, through time as well as space, we couldn't be more linked (and not just online), as the Charlie Hebdo murders and the response to them indicated.
Think of the Parisian killers of that moment as messengers from the European past. After all, the place we have long called "the Middle East" was largely a post-World War I European creation. The map of the area was significantly drawn, and a number of the countries in the region cobbled together, by and for the convenience of European colonial powers France and England. Jump slightly less than a century into the future and what one set of powers created, a successor power, the last "superpower" on planet Earth, helped blow a hole through in 2003 with its invasion of Iraq -- and the damage is still spreading.
In the rubble of American Iraq, that old European "Middle East" has collapsed in a paroxysm of violence, chaos, and religious extremism (hardly surprising given the circumstances). And on a planet that's been "globalizing" since the first European ships with cannons appeared off the coasts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, how could that crumbling region not send a message back to the world that created it? That message has been arriving regularly in rusty cargo vessels, as well as in Islamic State videos aimed at the Muslim communities of Europe, and two weeks ago in the outrages in Paris. Now, the Middle East is threatening to blow a hole in Europe.
It's a grim irony that TomDispatch regular John Feffer, the director of Foreign Policy In Focus, takes up in his new piece, "The Collapse of Europe?" The disintegration of the Middle East is visibly blowing back on Europe and its hopes for an integrated future. It will certainly be blood-drenched years before we can hope to know what shape the post-colonial, post-European, possibly even post-superpower Middle East might take. In the meantime, the shape of a Europe in which the right (and in some places, the left) is rising amid an upswelling of Islamophobia remains remarkably undetermined.
The European Union, that great integrating experiment of the last century, may now, as Feffer writes, be tottering. There is, however, at least one new form of "integration" that might be emerging. In France (which, in seeming imitation, if not parody, of the post-9/11 Bush administration, declared "war" on Islamic extremism in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings), Belgium, Germany, and possibly elsewhere, national security states built on the American model are being strengthened in the American fashion. We may, in other words, be seeing the sinews of a new, increasingly integrated global security state taking form amid the ruins of the old Middle East and at a moment when the European Union threatens to dissolve.