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Sense and irresponsibility

Nov 06,2017 - Last updated at Nov 06,2017

It is always fascinating to follow changing world trends, particularly in politics.

Half a century ago, independence was the buzzword of the day, as old empires disintegrated giving birth to new nations.

Emergent countries in Asia or Africa sought to undermine one another by exchanging accusations of not being independent enough. The youth were enjoined to sing ever more passionately the praises of independence, and intellectuals cited dependency theory to explain all evils in the world.

Meanwhile, a new trend was rearing its head that was the exact opposite of independence. Europe was picking up its pieces after the destruction of two world wars, and statesmen wanted to prevent a third one at all cost. Their answer was interdependence.

By linking closely the economies of France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries, Europe made it inconceivable for any of these countries to go to war against another.

Today, more than 60 years after the coal and steel treaty, the European Coal and Steel Community grew into the European Union, the best living example of a supra-national entity of nations that maintain their national independence.

But Nemesis was not far behind. Just when some Europeans started contemplating integration into the “United States of Europe”, and as countries on its periphery sought membership in the union, Britain surprised the world, including itself, by voting to leave the EU.

And while pundits were reeling from the shock and wondering what will happen to Britain and the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland started talking about seceding from Britain in order to stay in Europe.

Then, to top it all up, Catalonia voted for independence from Spain. And, to make sure the Middle East is never out of front-page news, Iraqi Kurdistan also voted for its own independence.

Clearly, the world is being swept by a new wave of independence, but independence bids today do not have as much support as in yesteryear.

Catalonia is in a Catch-22 situation because it can only claim independence through the constitution, which bans secessionism to preserve national unity and territorial integrity.

This Spanish attitude is dangerous because those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. Still, Catalonia came out better off than Kurdistan whose bid for independence led to an unthinkable anti-Kurdish alliance between Iraq, Iran and Turkey even more preposterous for having universal support.

How, then, should one handle aspirations for independence? After all, it is easy to arouse people’s passion by evoking national heroes and historic injustices, of which there are plenty all around.

A sobering thought may be the experience of Québec.

In the 1970s, the Parti Québécois sought independence from Canada, only to see large banks and enterprises leave Montreal to other Canadian cities.

The referendum resulted in a vote against independence, and it is estimated that the exercise cost Québec about a decade of development.

There are moments in life when it is worth remembering the words of Benjamin Franklin: “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

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