I currently live and work in the Middle East, where the last thing I expected people to care –much less worry—about is U.K. politics. One would think nervous conversations would revolve around Isis, the latest terrorist attack, the stability of the regime… Yet this past month, the prospect and then the fact of Britain leaving E.U. has been the focus of apocalyptic anxieties. The words I read in mainstream media and hear around me would seem to express the effects of a war declaration rather than referendum results. Catastrophe, folly, fault, demise, hatred. Brexit supposedly leading to Trump’s presidential victory, the collapse of the E.U., rises in racism. As if these things could be caused by a single event.
The question is, what does Brexit actually cause in the lives of people? Why do Europeans living in the Middle East feel affected by it? Yes, there are ‘catastrophic’ economic consequences (the drop in the currency surely has been tangible to most Brits), but these are short-term: there will be trade agreements, as there have been between the E.U. and Norway and Switzerland. This is a simple matter—in terms of the economy, everything has changed only so everything can stay the same. As for the other tangible effects, that of borders and taxes, this only means experiencing what the majority of the world already does. As one Palestinian friend charmingly put it on facebook:
“oh so now a bit less racist white people will have a tiny taste of what it feels like to apply for visas and residency. What a sad day! Hand me the tissue box. #Brexit”
The real issue is a question of identity politics: the intangible effects of Brexit. If Britian belonging to the E.U. was a symbol of ‘being European’, then leaving is a fundamental rejection of that identity. This is what anguishes most of my liberal-minded friends.
Yet placing the responsibility of one’s identity, be it a transnational one, in the hands of a national government, means ultimately accepting the nation-state. If you identify as European, be European. Why should a single national government have the power to give an entire population this right, or to take it away from them? Europeanness should not be about centralized bureaucracy, unelected autocrats, and an all-or-nothing ideology. Being a true (anarchist) European means not caring about Brexit.