Chaos characterizes Britain’s attempt to leave the European Union (EU). Though the EU is an experiment in supra-national governance, nationalism is reviving there too. The reason, partly, is fear of large-scale immigration from other continents.
Indigenous Europeans fear that higher immigrant birthrates will make them a minority in their own countries and dilute their identity. Terror attacks staged by Muslim extremists or anti-Muslim Europeans exacerbate the conflict. Europeans on both sides of the Channel appear willing to fight for their self-determination: the British against EU bureaucrats in Brussels, a growing number on the continent against swelling immigration.
Yet it was giving up some self-determination which started the development of today’s Europe. France and Germany took the first step by surrendering national control over their heavy industries and putting them under joint administration. Between 1870 and 1945, the two neighbours had fought three wars against each other. New economic structures made re-arming for another round virtually impossible. Eventually, 26 more European nations joined the two in this risky experiment of superseding the nation-state.
Norway, however, decided against joining. After 400 years of varying degrees of subservience to Denmark and Sweden, Norway became independent only in 1905. Its new government decided that Norway would “remain outside alliances which could drag us into wars started by Europe’s combative states.”
That is still Norway’s policy. It was reinforced by Germany occupying Norway in World War II. I was one of many Norwegians who fought the German occupants in a clandestine resistance movement.
Germany was the last place in the world I thought of visiting. But three years after our liberation, I received an invitation which touched my heart: A German provincial government invited a group from former enemy countries to come and help them “give hope to our people”. Together with about 30 others, most of them young Europeans and Americans, I responded positively, packed my bags and came to Germany.
We thought our sheer presence might encourage some hope. I ended up living in Germany for the next five years and learned to love the Germans as my brothers and sisters.
But it remained difficult to meet Germans who had been soldiers in Norway, especially when they were oblivious of the suffering which the occupation had caused. Hearing former occupants gush about the beauty of Norwegian fjords and mountains, I was often tempted to turn on my heels and walk away. Deeply held prejudice crowded my mind and made it impossible to see the individuals I was actually talking to.
Having experienced the power of prejudice -- “Feindbilder” (enemy caricatures) --, I am alert to the danger of anti-Muslim prejudices now spreading in Europe. Together with a few friends, I set out to get to know some of Norway’s new Muslim citizens, one of them a learned imam from Pakistan.
When the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in Scandinavian newspapers embittered the Muslim world, this imam travelled to Pakistan and spent two weeks assuring his countrymen that the caricatures did not represent the views of most Norwegians. Before he returned, the Norwegian embassy in Islamabad thanked him for contributing to better understanding between our two countries.
Europe’s strength in international power politics may seem to be dwindling, but the continent’s potential should not be underrated. As globalization proceeds, nations will be looking for models which facilitate economic and political integration. Europe has such a model in place. The social justice and security of the European welfare state already attracts immigrants from all continents.
Europe’s Christian heritage is becoming enriched by the dialogue with others. All Europeans will increasingly realize that they need each other to win a struggle which the founders of modern Europe foresaw:
France’s foreign minister Robert Schuman, pioneer of French-German reconciliation, warned: “The EU will only succeed if future generations liberate themselves from the materialism which destroys societies by cutting off their spiritual roots.”
Socialist president of the EU commission from 1985 till 1994, Jacques Delores, warned after a period of unparalleled growth and consolidation for the EU: “Unless we succeed in giving Europe a soul which strengthens spirituality and adds meaning to life, the game will be over.”
New arrivals and seasoned citizens of Europe may find each other and a destiny for their continent by taking the challenge of these pioneers seriously.