Senior Arab diplomat derides EU migrant discourse

Lakhdar Brahimi [Susris]

A distinguished Arab diplomat remarked that EU politicians and think tank representatives did not make use of keywords such as “Iraq” or “Islam” while discussing the Union’s relations with its neighbours and the refugee crisis for several hours.

Former UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi told an audience in Malta on Monday (27 February) to look at the root causes of the unprecedented refugee crisis, which he said was triggered by destructive Western policies.

Brahimi spoke to the dinner debate of a think tank forum in Valletta dedicated to the EU’s relations with its neighbourhood, organised by the Jacques Delors Institute, together with the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, and the President of the Jacques Delors Institute, Enrico Letta, a former Italian premier, opened the debate.

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Under Chatham House rules, various speakers had addressed the refugee crisis during the day, mainly discussing the EU’s response, rather than its root causes.

‘Iraq is your neighbour’

“The word Iraq was not used this afternoon. But Iraq is your neighbour. If we talk security and migration, the majority of migrants come to Europe from Syria, the second largest group comes from Afghanistan and the third from Iran,” Brahimi said.

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Brahimi argued that one important principle in international affairs was that “if you can do no good, at least do no harm”.

“I don’t think you have respected this principle,” the former UN official commented.

“If not the Europeans, at least the Western world hasn’t. Iraq has been invaded and destroyed by the Americans, with the complicity of at least one major European country and one major personality. Iraq was destroyed completely and it will take a very long time before it will revive again. I don’t think that the Americans and Mr Blair went to Iraq to hand it to Iran, but this is what they have done,” he said.

Brahimi quoted the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who said at the recent Munich Security Conference that international terrorism was here to stay for at least 20 years.

Regarding Libya, Brahimi said that “nobody cries over the departure of [Muammar] Gaddafi”, adding, “But the intervention of NATO, led by Mr Sarkozy, has destroyed the country and created more problems than it has solved.”

On Syria, Brahimi said that the analysis in Western capitals was “very superficial”, especially when it decided that the country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, should go in a matter of days, or at least months, and when the UN, including himself, were saying that there was no military solution. At that time, western leaders accused them of seeking to protect Assad. And when the West finally accepted that there was no military solution, they were working for a military solution.

Brahimi said that the speakers had also been too shy to use the key word “Islam.”

‘Europe problem’s is Islam’

The Arab diplomat said that “Europe’s problem is Islam,” warning of a dangerous amalgamation between Islamic State, or Daesh, and the Islamic faith. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherland’s xenophobic Party for Freedom, who is a frontrunner in his country’s upcoming general election, says all Muslims are terrorists, Brahimi pointed out.

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Brahimi said that in Raqqa, Daesh’s self-declared capital in Syria, the Islamists had gotten the world’s attention for taking down the cross of a church. But, he noted, that few people know that seven young Muslims from that city put the cross back. He asked: “Who are Muslims, Daesh or the seven people who risked their lives to put back the cross?”

“Try to avoid amalgamation, mixing up things. We have a very serious problem within Islam. Daesh is the result of the invasion of Iraq and in particular of the dissolution of the Iraqi army. Hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of the army, and this is why Daesh is so well organised, [this is why it] has such military skills and is so savvy in IT,” he said.

Brahimi added that the US-led bombing of Iraq had not achieved any military goals, but they had pushed Daesh outside of Iraq, in Syria, into North Africa and into the rest of Africa.

“Daesh is a joint creation of the Muslims, of the Americans, and of Western Europe. You don’t fight Daesh by bombardment. You fight Daesh by addressing the problems that led to its emergence,” he said.

Asked about Russia’s role in Syria, he said that the Russian military intervention had done “a lot of harm, but also a lot of good”.

“In particular, it has given the chance to Syria to stay united,” he said. The worst scenario, he added, would be the disintegration of Syria.

EURACTIV.com heard comments from the audience that Brahimi was speaking like the leftist Die Linke in Germany, that his analysis may appear to boldly challenge the West’s political correctness, but that it wasn’t so original after all.

This reporter asked Brahimi if he was comfortable with such analyses of his statement. He answered that he didn’t know anyone from Die Linke, but was OK with the comparison.

“What is important is to say the truth,” he responded.

Dr Jana Puglierin, programming chief for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), told EURACTIV that Iraq and Libya cannot be portrayed in the same way, the way Brahimi did.

“For Libya, it was not an intervention out of the blue, it was under a UN mandate and the R2P principle (responsibility to protect). Maybe the principle was violated, but he didn’t mention it at all and this is what I criticise.”