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Josep Borrell's European 'garden' is built on the plunder of the 'jungle'

The EU foreign policy chief's racist comments are nothing short of a smokescreen to cover up Europe’s ongoing and actual neocolonialism in Asia and Africa
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell attends an EU 27 Summit at Prague Castle on 7 October 2022 (Reuters)

Continuing the racist metaphor which Israel's former prime minister, the Lithuanian-born Ehud Barak, née Brog, posited in 2002 when he described Israel as a "villa in the jungle", European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell declared last week that "Europe is a garden. We have built a garden…The rest of the world – and you know this very well, Federica [Mogherini] – is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden." 

It is colonialism and slavery that built the European 'garden' - from Portugal to France, to Belgium and the Netherlands - and not Europeans’ ingenuity or goodwill

Borrell, a Spanish socialist from Catalonia, who volunteered in 1969 in a kibbutz colony founded by Polish Jewish colonists in 1946, seems to be on the same wavelength as the former Israeli leader.

In the 19th and much of the 20th century, the favourite metaphor that European colonial racists used against the rest of the world was that Europe represented "civilisation", while the rest of the world represented "savagery" and "barbarism".

The indigenous peoples of the Americas were described early on as savages. Any resistance to Europe’s colonial genocides then or later was considered nothing short of barbarism, as the French described the resistance of the enslaved Africans of Saint Domingue, the Algerian people, the Kanak of New Caledonia, among many others.

In the same vein, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, had proposed that the future Jewish settler colony in Palestine would be "a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism".

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Civilisation vs 'barbarism'

Europe’s liberal luminaries like John Stuart Mill argued that “nations which are still barbarous have not got beyond the period during which it is likely to be for their benefit that they should be conquered and held in subjection by foreigners.”

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Writing in 1848, Alexis de Tocqueville was most concerned about the fate of white Americans if the slaves were liberated. He hoped that the fate of the whites of Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean would hopefully differ from that of the white colonists of the United States: "In the West Indies it is the white race that seems destined to succumb; on the continent, the Black race." He added with much concern though that "Perhaps what happened to the Moors of Spain will then happen to the white race of the South."

Borrell’s imperialist and racist metaphor was spewed as part of his opening remarks at the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges last week and were addressed to the Italian Islam expert and former communist Federica Mogherini, rector of the College of Europe.

Borrell used the Malthusian language of population control when he expressed his concern to Mogherini that "the jungle has a strong growth capacity, and the wall will never be high enough in order to protect the garden".

Like de Tocqueville before him, and even like Israel’s former prime minister, the Ukrainian-born Golda Meir (née Mabovitch), who was unable to sleep worrying about how many Palestinian children were being conceived or born every night, Borrell’s main worry is about the inhabitants of the jungle invading the garden.

Borrell believes that: "There is a big difference between Europe and the rest of the world – well, the rest of the world, understand me what I mean, no? - is that we have strong institutions. The big difference between developed and not developed is not the economy, it is institutions.”

He adds that he could not "go to emerging countries and build institutions for them – they have to be built by them. Otherwise, it would be a kind of neocolonialism".  

Covering up neocolonialism

What is most bewildering about Borrell’s speech is not its ignorance of colonialism and neocolonialism, of which he is evidently aware, but that he thinks they only affect the “jungle” but not the “garden”.

It seems that Europe’s own colonial and neocolonial institutions are not what made it possible to build the European "garden" - with the labour of immigrants from the “rest of the world” and with the stolen wealth of the "rest of the world". Rather, according to Borrell and the rest of Europe’s white supremacists, with the fantasised ingenuity of Europeans themselves.

This applies to his own country, Spain, which was built on the ruins of the Americas and the genocide of Native Americans, as much as to Britain, whose pirates stole much of the gold and silver the Spaniards had stolen from the Americas and redirected it to England.

It is colonialism and slavery that built the European "garden" - from Portugal to France, to Belgium and the Netherlands - and not Europeans’ ingenuity or goodwill. Borrell’s worry about a potential new European neocolonialism is nothing short of a smokescreen to cover up Europe’s ongoing and actual neocolonialism in Asia and Africa.

De Tocqueville, who was so enamoured of the US republic of slavery, which he dubbed a "democracy", wrote that white Americans have much "national vanity": "The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise... They unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous."

Europeans clearly suffer from a similar ailment. Borrell volunteers that: “The world needs Europe. My experience of travelling around the world is that people look at us as a beacon. Why [do] so many people come to Europe? Are there flows of illegal or irregular migrants going to Russia? Not many. No, they are coming to Europe but for good reasons." 

Plus ça change

What Borrell does not seem to realise is that unlike Russia, Europe has stolen and continues to steal the resources of the world in Asia and Africa and keep them in Europe, making life impossible for the inhabitants of both continents.

Those Asians and Africans who flock to Europe, and are able to jump over its high walls, are following their stolen wealth to be able to live. Unlike Borrell, they are not enamoured of Europe’s alleged "freedom" and "democracy", which have caused them and continue to cause them much suffering inside Europe and outside it.

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The increasingly institutionalised racism against Europe’s non-white peoples whether in Spain and Germany, Italy and France, Britain and the Netherlands, to name the most prominent examples, are clearly not sufficient to dissuade Borrell of the fictional version he has of Europe.

The imperialist, anti-socialist Winston Churchill understood Europe’s position much better than the socialist Borrell, let alone the former communist Mogherini.

He declared in 1914: “We are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance... We have engrossed to ourselves an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us."

Borrell’s final clarion call to young Europeans that they must “keep the garden, be good gardeners. But your duty will not be to take care of the garden itself but [of] the jungle outside", is indeed nothing short of another directive for them to be better racists and colonialists. This is hardly a new call. Plus ça change!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
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