The “Alliance of the Civilised”. The Euromediterranean strategy of Mr. Aznar

Publico mi traducción de un discurso reciente de Aznar en Túnez, en el que propone una  “alianza de civilizados” que considero de dudosos efectos.

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The following speech of Mr. Aznar, former Spanish Primer Minister (Presidente del Gobierno), has passed unnoticed even in Spain. It was delivered to Tunisian President, Ben Ali in the frame of a conference with title “Political participation in a changing world”, on the 3rd of November 2008.

Mr. Aznar proposes and “Alliance of the Civilised”, which is a Euromediterranean strategy, even if with one of the most reliable rules of North Africa,

I have translated the speech for the English speaking readers and added some comments at the end.

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President of the Republic. My dear and good friend Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Mr. Secretary General of the RSD (Ressemblement Constitucionnel Démocratique), Mohamed Ghariani,

Dear friends,

It is a great joy and a great honour for me to stand here in Tunisia in response to the kind invitation of my good friend, President Ben Ali.

Tunisia is a country very dear to Spain; the historical and cultural ties that bind us are very old. Tunisia is also an example of progress and openness in the Arab world. We the Spaniards, when travelling to Tunisia, feel at home as we find an open and welcoming people.

When I had the honour of chairing the Government of Spain, one of the priorities of the foreign policy was to strengthen and deepen our relations with Tunisia.

The high-level meetings were always held in an atmosphere of mutual respect, constructive cooperation and pursuit of the common progress of our countries.

I keep very pleasant memories of the tasks that I advanced both with President Ben Ali, as with Prime Minister Gannouchi.

Today, as you all know, I am far from the forefront of political activity. My main activity is devoted to cogitating new policies.

In the changing world in which we live, a world that offers us no charted paths, it is important to have clear references to achieve our goals. Without doubt, one of those references, for me, is collaboration and friendship between Tunisia and Spain, because in uncertain times and in a region subject to increasing challenges, together we can help to enhance stability, justice and the advance of freedom.

That is why today I celebrate the honour offered by this invitation to discuss the topic of “Political participation in a changing world.”

I think that in this world of change and uncertainty, but also of challenges and opportunities, promoting political participation is a way of advancing towards the common good on the bases of principles and shared values.

Precisely because of this, I must say that I do not believe in what has been called the clash of civilizations. Moreover, I doubt that the word civilization, at least in political theory and practice, can be used in the plural. Rather, I think that civilization is only one with different cultural expressions, with different historical manifestations, under various faiths and religious roots. But only one civilization.

I think so because, above any historical, cultural or religious circumstances, one can, and one should, find common values which are desirable for all. They can and they should be discovered, because they are there.

On the contrary, referring to “civilizations”, in the plural, means taking for granted that there are different and closed worlds, each with its own fundamental tenets.

These fundamental tenets, because seen as absolute in their closed world, are incompatible with those of other worlds. Then, inevitably, those closed worlds are likely to confront each other in a destructive fashion. This is the trap of fundamentalism. The trap of those who believe that their own existence depends on the destruction of the opponent, of the different, of that who disagrees.

Moreover, this vision has another equally pernicious face: assuming that there are many civilizations, that it is the same this or the other, that these values are as good as those, this is tantamount to renouncing the own idea of the good. And as good does not exist, one renounces the political endeavour to pursue that good. This leads to looking with indifference crimes which, unfortunately, have overshadowed the history of mankind. This is the trap of relativism.

Against fundamentalism and relativism, I think that we have to strongly vindicate civilization. Because what actually unites us are the same core values that we must keep in force under all circumstances to avoid returning to barbarism.

We live those values from the point of view different cultural, historical and religious traditions. For that reason, I think that what we really need is working for an Alliance of the Civilized.

Le me tell you which is for me, with no doubt, the heart of those values that make us civilized. It is the fundamental value of human life and the dignity of every person, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sex, social origin, political preferences, etc.

These are the limits that should always be respected, because they are the ones who make the difference between civilization and barbarism.

All our thoughts on political participation should start from this central core. In the current confusing times, we need moral and intellectual clarity to succeed on how to put in practice these values.

It will always be necessary to separate the lights of the shadows of our different historical heritage, of which we can be, both, legitimately proud. Because the lights are civilization and the shadows are barbarism.

Let me tell you which are today, in my opinion, the political realizations of those values that make us civilized, and for which we must endeavour in order to ensure that they are in force in all the countries of the world: tolerance, pluralism and an open democracy.

We, who believe that the life and dignity of the human being are the highest values, know that we must respect those who are different, who think differently, who have other beliefs. This is called political tolerance.

And tolerance must be embodied in positive laws. Tolerance is indeed a key element of civilization.

To respect someone does not mean to assume or share his ideas. Indeed, sometimes it will be necessary to combat those pernicious ideas to avoid they finish up with civilization.

In Europe we have the bitter experience of not having done so at the right time in the twentieth century. The result was the horrors of Auschwitz and the Gulag.

Today, fighting the evil ideas of fundamentalists who want to impose by force their world view or a perverted interpretation of religion is a common challenge to civilization.

Recognizing the others as different leads to admit also that they can bear a part of the truth and to value their contribution to a common life. The way to implement in the political order this civilizational value is to recognize pluralism.

This leads us to the third great civilizational political value that I want to share with you today: the value of open democracy.

Democracy is the will of all regarding what affects all [Difficult to translate, it has not a concrete sense neither in the Spanish original]. It is a tool open to all to search together the common good on the basis of respect for tolerance and pluralism.

This implies choosing freely, with clear and stable method, a ruler in charge, for a limited time, of what is common to all. This ruler must govern respecting law and, what is more important for all: the life and dignity of the individuals. [Aznar identifies democracy and rule of law. But democracy can be tyranny of majorities, the opposite to the rule of law]

Democracy and openness go hand in hand because this way of guiding the common life leads inexorably to the rulers to opening up to society and to establish cooperative and just relations with other societies. Otherwise, they are doomed to failure.

To illustrate why I think these are the basic questions of politics I would like to share with you the experience of my country.

Spain is a great nation with a centuries old history. We are proud to have made great contributions to the advancement of civilization. But we have also experienced moments of setback.

Not so long ago, many said -and I have memories of this- that Spain could not be part of the prosperous and advanced nations of the world. Many denied us the ability to be an open country where the basic principles of which I have spoken could ever be in force.

They were wrong. Spain changed from being a closed, scared country to be a democracy open to society and to the world. We refuted the inevitability of history.

Spain was transformed in a few decades. We all realized that tolerance, pluralism, democracy and openness could be the pillars of a major national project that was worth to work for.

That project was successful because it opened social participation to all Spaniards.

In politics, Spaniards were able to elect their democratic representatives.

In society, women joined, in full equality of course, all sorts of activities.

In the economy, all sectors benefited from the dynamism and the opportunities created by an open society.

Thus, Spain opened to the world and tackled the future as a great opportunity.

That story of Spain has been a success story. And not by chance. Because no one is doomed to historical failure, but neither has the guarantee of a continued success.

That is why I think that all countries can contribute to the advancement of civilization, but no one can take that contribution for granted.

Europe and Africa, Spain and Tunisia, each with its own history and culture, share aspirations and problems. History and culture which are, at any rate, much richer and more interlinked than it appears at first glance. The History of Spain and Europe necessarily leads to this land. We share History and, as we must share the future, it would be good that we choose how we want it to be.

The struggle for civilization is universal. It has taken place wherever someone, whatever his culture, has rebelled against injustice seeking justice, against deception looking for the truth and against misery seeking prosperity.

We all, regardless of our origins, share these aspirations. It will be possible to achieve them if we work with the moral and intellectual clarity that a changing world demands.

I am convinced that Tunisia and Spain, two friendly nations twinned by history, have a great task ahead. They can reinforce each other and together contribute to the advancement of civilization in this region.

Tunisia has been and should remain la source of civilization, so that the current challenges will soon be transformed into the opportunities and achievements of the future.

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I find many problems in this speech:

First, it has plenty of diplomatic compliments that less enlightened people may take at face value: “We the Spaniards, when travelling to Tunisia, feel at home as we find an open and welcoming people.” It is not the most relevant, but should always be taken into account. The following goes further:

“In the changing world in which we live, a world that offers us no charted paths, it is important to have clear references to achieve our goals. Without doubt, one of those references, for me, is collaboration and friendship between Tunisia and Spain…”

Well, it is obvious that Tunisia is not a key ally for Spain. If at all, this would be Algeria the neighbour of a neighbour (Morocco).

This is a much more questionable proposal:

“… I must say that I do not believe in what has been called the clash of civilizations. Moreover, I doubt that the word civilization, at least in political theory and practice, can be used in the plural. Rather, I think that civilization is only one with different cultural expressions, with different historical manifestations, under various faiths and religious roots. But only one civilization.”

This is a nominalistic way to solve the problem. The fact is that we are currently experiencing a declared aggression of one of those “cultural expressions, with different historical manifestations”. Saying that they are barbarians does not change the problem. Granted, Aznar states clearly that they have to be fought, but his proposal adds nothing new and creates confusion. For instance:

“We live those values from the point of view different cultural, historical and religious traditions. For that reason, I think that what we really need is working for an Alliance of the Civilized.

Let me tell you which is for me, with no doubt, the heart of those values that make us civilized. It is the fundamental value of human life and the dignity of every person, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sex, social origin, political preferences, etc.”

No. The Muslim “cultural, historical and religious tradition” denies those values. And by the way, “the dignity of every person” is just a vague expression. Moreover:

“It will always be necessary to separate the lights of the shadows of our different historical heritage, of which we can be, both, legitimately proud. Because the lights are civilization and the shadows are barbarism.

Let me tell you which are today, in my opinion, the political realizations of those values that make us civilized, and for which we must endeavour in order to ensure that they are in force in all the countries of the world: tolerance, pluralism and an open democracy.”

There are many questionable issues in these statements. First, it is not fair to compare the Muslim and Christian historical heritage, irrespective of how proud each of us may be of our own heritage. Second, “tolerance, pluralism and an open democracy” are a product of the Christian world and are denied in the Muslim world. But above all, we the civilised have no obligation to ensure that these values are in force in all the countries of the world. No obligation and, what it very sad, no power nor resources for that Herculean task.

This is a doctrinal issue:

“Democracy is the will of all regarding what affects all. It is a tool open to all to search together the common good on the basis of respect for tolerance and pluralism.

This implies choosing freely, with clear and stable method, a ruler in charge, for a limited time, of what is common to all. This ruler must govern respecting law and, what is more important for all: the life and dignity of the individuals.”

Aznar identifies democracy and rule of law, but democracy can be tyranny of majorities, the opposite to the rule of law. There is no common good, especially between Muslims and Kafirs; therefore there is no possibility of a common rule of law. It is Sharia or it is our Civil Law.

Curiously, Aznar shares the historical understanding of the left on General Franco’s rule:

“Spain changed from being a closed, scared country to be a democracy open to society and to the world. We refuted the inevitability of history.”

Spain was neither closed nor scared. The frontiers were always open; It was the Allies, not Franco, who decided to isolate Spain after SWW. Anyone could leave the country, but only those who were forced by the economic situation did so. No communist country has been nor will be able to pass that test. Granted: there was not political freedom; it was not possible for the citizenship to change the government by putting pieces of paper in a box. But this freedom is not essential for the rule of law.

Finally, here you have a proposal for a Euromediterranean policy not different than the one that is leading us to Eurabia:

Europe and Africa, Spain and Tunisia, each with its own history and culture, share aspirations and problems. History and culture which are, at any rate, much richer and more interlinked than it appears at first glance. The History of Spain and Europe necessarily leads to this land. We share History and, as we must share the future, it would be good that we choose how we want it to be.

I think that this proposal for an “Alliance of the Civilised” is actually more dangerous than that of Mr Zapatero. It leads to the same disaster by a more gratifying way. All in the name of Human Rights, Democracy, Freedom, Pluralism, Openness…

This is all we can expect from the “moderate right”. Still, Mr. Aznar is been vilified as an aggressive right-winger, when not a fascist.

Source: Señor Presidente de la República. Mi querido y buen amigo Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Señor Secretario General del RSD (Ressemblement Constitucionnel Démocratique), Mohamed Ghariani.

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2 Comments

  1. Aznar ya dijo en el 2004 que la Alianza de las Civilizaciones era una estupidez. Además ese mismo año en Georgetown se refirió en claro inglés a la ambición de los “moors” (moros) de conquistar Al-Andalus. Considero que Aznar, quién pidió en su momento en la BBC que la OTAN bombardease Hezbollah y que ahora ha pedido que Israel forme parte de la OTAN, sabe un montón de politica exterior. Civilizar a la gente no es mala cosa, el Rey de Jordania como primer ejemplo. Cuando vuelva Aznar en Junio, a centrar un descentrado PP, el discurso de mucha gente a derecha e izquierda se acabará.

  2. > Cuando vuelva Aznar en Junio, a centrar un descentrado PP, el discurso de mucha gente a derecha e izquierda se acabará.

    Volveeeeer, con la frente marchita, las nieves del tiempo, platearon mi sien…

    Jordania, otro aliado. Esto es de risa:

    > The History of Spain and Europe necessarily leads to this land. We share History and, as we must share the future, it would be good that we choose how we want it to be.

    Yo me niego a compartir el futuro con cierta gente. Y quiero que se sepa.

    No se desvíes del discurso principal, por favor. Creo que conozco algunos blogs en que sus comentarios estarían mas “centrados”, como dice usted.

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