The various perspectives on European identity
There are various perspectives on European identity as distinct from a single identity. One of these interpretations is Paul Valery’s ‘Classical idea’, which stated that European identity requires all races and all territories to be successively Romanised, Christianised and submitted to the discipline of the Greeks; people should possess Greek habits, be accustomed to the Roman legal system and have an understanding of the Christian religion. In addition, a democratic political system is important to this classical idea.
Another idea of a strictly European identity was elaborated by Karl Mannheim, who saw European identity as being part of a common culture, political, intellectual or moral condition with common customs, manners or religious traditions, regardless of the differences between people. The classical view has similarities with the view of Mannheim. But the perspective, as described by sociologist Ash Amin, is different. According to Amin, Valery’s classical conception leads to despotic rule unable to govern difference without submitting it to its own understanding of reality. He argues that the current society with people from many different backgrounds, such as European and non-European, different religious backgrounds and customs should not be excluded from a modern European society. Amin is afraid that powerful persons will misuse the classical European identity to marginalize strangers as lesser citizens.
European identity: a match or mismatch with the refugees?
When taking the various perspectives of the European identity and placing it next to these points, it is noticeable that the immigrants are difficult to place within the classical idea of the European identity. As these immigrants are not accustomed to the roman legal system, have in most cases no understanding of the Christian religion, and are in some cases more used to despotism than real democracy. The perspective of Karl Mannheim is quite similar to the classical idea and thus also sees a cultural clash between Europeans and immigrants from outside Europe. However, the view of Ash Amin in comparison fits better with the idea of immigrants from a different background coming to live in Europe. He argued that modern Europe is a cosmopolitan Europe with various cultures and backgrounds - something that includes the Syrian refugees and other Middle-East immigrants, making them fit within the European identity.
The situation with the immigrants also created a clash between the west of the European Union and the east, an inter-European culture clash, with the west being more welcoming to refugees than the east. It might be possible that the answer to this situation can be found within the historical material analysis from Andreas Bieler. He argued that in the 90s, after the fall of the USSR, the west started with an eastern-expansion turning eastern societies into more modern liberal capitalist societies. As this only happened in the 90s. the mentality of their old ‘society style’ is still present. A mentality that is not fond of refugees of different cultures.
The recent events with the immigrants, such as rape, criminality, and harassment against minorities makes one believe that the theory of Ash Amin does not work in practice, and that the classical theory and the theory of Karl Mannheim seem more adequate to understand situation. Europe took in too large amounts of refugees, refugees that had no idea about Europe and threaten the European way of life by not adapting their values and principles to European values and principles. Nonetheless some refugees show the will to adapt to their new home and country, refugees who are always welcome. Still it is hard to decide who is willing and who is not when they come into Europe with defective boats.
In addition, Ash Amin may be right about the fact that the classical theory can increase despotism in society as it visible these days with the rise of far right parties across Europe and this while despotism is totally anti-European, showing another negative side of the current refugee crisis.