I think all of us Europeans should have an extended stay outside Europe (not US, Canada, Australia etc.) and preferably in the Middle East or North Africa. We then might generate a little more realism about what we have done and how it is rebounding on us. I have just finished watching the four part serial ‘Collateral’ by David Hare on the BBC. A good title because it is set in London, but about people trafficking from countries where we Brits have been meddling. The plight of people from the ‘stressed’ countries – Iraq, Syria, Libya etc. is heart-breaking, but the drama also shows up the greed and cruelty of those who are trying to exploit them. Many of our citizens (British i.e.) do not come out well, especially the army, security services, politicians, detention centre staff and the like. And of course this does not just apply to the ‘baddies’. The soldiers who served in Iraq, for example, seem horribly damaged.
I am reminded of that well-known saying that the British don’t really understand their history because most of it happened somewhere else. This was a comment about Britain’ long imperial history, but it might work too in a contemporary setting. The obvious example is the Second Iraq War and its aftermath. The regional chaos subsequent to March 2003, especially but not only the rise of Isis, has been one of the main contributing factors to the refugee crisis and the growing number of asylum seekers. (Patrick Coburn has documented this meticulously: see especially The Age of Jihad.) Even the surge of economic migrants, which we feel is somehow not our fault, can often be traced to the failure of eco-systems, agriculture and industry due to the effects of Western policy. If the West accepts any responsibility for the effects of climate change, this must be the case.
Whatever the final arrangements about Brexit (I am sorry to introduce that word) I hope they do not mean that we think that Britain can ‘go it alone’ or even ‘take back control’. That is a complete illusion. Our history, good and bad, remains our history. Imperialism was a big bad idea. The fight against fascism was ‘our finest hour’. Invading Iraq, along with the United States, was a mistake, just to pick out some ‘highlights’. The consequences are with us still. We shall have to deal with them. Treaties and laws and boundaries won’t change any of that.