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Brexit and the spectre of Europe’s ugly nationalism

The debate over the European Union referendum on June 23 was at last narrowed down to two main issues: Huge economic concerns by the Remain group and immigration fears by the Leave group.

The economic case by the Remain group gained centre ground in recent weeks with sustained support from authoritative global and national institutions: The IMF suggested that Britain leaving the EU was a significant risk, and the Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that Brexit is the biggest risk to Britain’s financial stability.

Remain and Leave groups 

The Leave group, with a predominantly right-wing political formation have dismissed the opponent’s economic arguments.

It has instead focused on the claim that remaining in the EU would lead to uncontrolled immigration to an already full island and have a negative impact on public services.

With net migration to the UK rising to 330,000 – over half of which was from the EU countries in 2015 – this gave huge ammunition to the Leave campaign.

Prime Minister David Cameron, facing voters during his first public test in the EU referendum campaign, strongly defended his position to remain in the reformed EU saying that he was “genuinely worried about leaving the single market”.

The opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, acknowledged that immigration could dramatically change communities causing discomfort for many.

But he urged people to “embrace the benefits of European protection for both workers rights, consumers and a cleaner environment”.

This is a powerful argument to remain in the EU for people who care about social justice and equality.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan put on a show of strength by joining forces with Cameron to drum up support for Britain remaining in the EU; his is a powerful voice in London.

Why I will vote for Remain

As someone from a minority ethnic and faith background I – like many – was not sure who to vote for.

However, I have been able to make up my mind to vote for Remain. The reason is not the better economic arguments for Remain over the fear of immigration for Leave.

But, it is about my genuine fear over the damaging consequences to peace and stability in Europe and the world should Britain leaves the EU.

This fear is already there in many quarters and Brexit will deal a hammer blow to the EU itself, resulting in further rise of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia across the continent.

Brexit will definitely weaken Britain and undermine the Europe project. As Field Marshal Edwin Bramall has said it would be catastrophic for Britain to be faced with “a broken and demoralised Europe just across the Channel”.

Given Europe’s erratic history, we cannot simply ignore the possibility of this nightmare scenario and we should not consciously lose our collective memory.

A dark past

Europe is indispensable for our modernity, but riddled with a history of extreme violence over centuries.

Post-Renaissance Europe ushered a new era of rationality, free-thinking and advancement of science and technology.

But brimming with new-found energy, it colonised lands across the globe, ethnically cleansed American Indians and Australian Aborigines from their lands and enslaved Africans and shipped them to America.

On the other hand, its moral majority often stood up with Britain leading the way. Europe abolished slavery and introduced democracy and the rule of law for its own people.

But the ugly nationalism, imperial hubris and economic autarky plunged the continent into darkness in the first half of the 20th century.

Two world wars which were essentially European wars brought an unprecedented carnage and catastrophe to humanity with the deaths of tens of millions of human beings and the extermination of six million Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust. Europe has almost lived two parallel realities.

Lessons learned but further efforts needed

The lesson that European leaders learned after the World War II was how to come together to avoid future bloodbaths.

European integration was seen as an antidote to any future peril. From the European Economic Community in 1957 to the European Union, the continent has made united efforts to rebuild not only its economy and social stability but also ways of keeping the peace.

The unforgivable lapse in Bosnia and Herzegovina that ended up in genocide against one of its indigenous people, the Bosniak Muslims, in early 1990s was another wake-up call for the continent never to be complacent.

The EU definitely needs to fix its problems and Britain has the ability to help if it is inside the EU. A fractured Europe has always been a danger, to itself and the world.

The recent rise of far-right parties in some European countries is indeed alarming. Language often used against immigrants and Muslims in the same breath is worrying – not only for Muslims but for other minority groups as well.

Much of Europe’s economic and social malaise seems to be blamed on such groups as an easy scapegoat.

Europe cannot run away from its global role and turn more inward and selfish. It is vital it remains united and deal with the multiple crises the world is facing today with a powerful voice and political leadership.

As the politics in the world’s only superpower across the Atlantic becomes dangerously fractious and the world is nervously watching the outcome of its presidential election in November, a stronger Europe can play a moderating role to better handle unknown global challenges of our time.

The latest polls on EU referendum suggest that the result could go either way. Maximum voter participation on June 23 is thus vital to ensure a better future for Britain in the EU, to ensure a better Europe and the world.

This article was originally submitted to Al Jazeera.


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