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Racism row: How Asia and Africa shaped civilisation

When Josep Borrell spoke of ‘privilege’, did that mean ‘white’ privilege?

As a child growing up in the family home, I was fortunate to be surrounded by large trees on the property, some bearing a variety of fruit.

I would spend hours under or on the lower branches of these trees, pretending I was Tarzan, and even tried my hand unsuccessfully to swing between one tree and another. Fortunately, I escaped bodily harm in my failed attempts.

Those precious childhood moments were perhaps best inspired by the simplicity of living in a jungle as portrayed in the books and cinema we saw of my hero Johnny Weissmuller as he swung across the African jungle in his loin cloth and a massive knife sheathed to his waist.

This was in the days before television and smartphones made their foray into our homes and imagination and physical activity was our best friend.

As I grew older, I found myself slowly becoming detached from my love of climbing those trees and letting my imagination go into overtime while feasting on the varieties of fruit they offered.

There were mulberries, mangoes and ‘cheeko’, a fruit similar in shape to a kiwi but far tastier. But all that gradually came to an end as school and then work propelled me forward to modern-day civilisation.

Borrell controversy

Now decades later, I was surprised to hear an EU official describe my childhood to a T. At the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges, Josep Borrell, a High Representative of the EU made an unexpected reference to my childhood during his opening speech. He said, “Bruges is a good example of the European garden. Yes, Europe is a garden. We have built a garden.

Everything works. It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humankind has been able to build — the three things together. And here, Bruges is maybe a good representation of beautiful things, intellectual life, well-being.”

To elaborate, Borrell continues, “The rest of the world is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden. The gardeners should take care of it, but they will not protect the garden by building walls.

A nice small garden surrounded by high walls in order to prevent the jungle from coming in is not going to be a solution. Because the jungle has a strong growth capacity, and the wall will never be high enough in order to protect the garden.”

And to drive his point home, Borrell concluded with “The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us, by different ways and means. Yes, this is my most important message: we have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. We are privileged people.

We built a combination of these three things — political freedom, economic prosperity, social cohesion — and we cannot pretend to survive as an exception. It has to be a way of supporting the others facing the big challenges of our time.”

Garden of myths

Indeed, I had not grown up in Europe and therefore was not in this garden of myths that our dear EU colleague was referring to. Although I was too young at the time to understand political freedom, I can assure him we did not suffer from the lack of economic prosperity or social cohesion.

And when Borrell spoke of ‘privilege’, did that mean ‘white’ privilege? Because after all, there is a multitude of people of colour that have built an outstanding resume across many fields including space technology, medical science and digital communications among others.

Indeed, their jungle domain perhaps provided them with the incentive to explore and develop breakthroughs in the various fields that benefit all mankind. People from all over the world have contributed more positively to making the world a better place through their knowledge and findings than some of their European counterparts during the Dark Ages.

Most breakthroughs in math, astronomy, metallurgy and tools, architecture and engineering, medicine and navigation, as well as the hallmarks of civilisation like invention of paper, large-scale production of staple products that today feed the world, apart from a host of useful discoveries including nanotechnology, computer graphics, animations and humanoid robotics and advancement in the fields of medicine — were done outside mainland Europe.

Borrell may have publicly voiced the feelings of many European politicians with his over-the-top remarks. and has since apologised for his insensitive remarks. “Some have misinterpreted the metaphor as colonial Euro-centrism … I am sorry if some have felt offended.”

Source: Gulf News