This past weekend’s centennial commemoration of the World War I armistice brought the status of our transatlantic relationship back into full view for reflection.
in my case, I was recently reminded of my visit last year to Cologne, Germany. My Facebook feed had pictures of the Central Mosque, Central Cathedral and the meandering boulevard of Venloer Strasse. Cologne was one stop on my month-long journey to Europe with a group of Americans as a part of the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship
. Last month, I continued my fellowship experience by hosting in Miami five European leaders during their fellowship in America. Amid the blur of connecting the fellows with the people and places that make Miami, I reaffirmed my belief in why people on both sides of the Atlantic must engage to keep this relationship from going to into a deep sleep.
America and Europe share core values and a love of healthy disagreement and debate, but the deeper trans-Atlantic bond lies in a dance between myth and dream set to the rhythm of freedom. Europe’s very name is based on a myth in which a young Phoenecian woman is abducted to Crete by the God Zeus. The woman was named Europa, and her homeland is the present-day Middle East. In my opinion, the Myth of Europe includes the ability to confront and reconcile the darkest parts of history to provide meaning and voice to the future.
Cologne is a global city that has a blend of hipsters, a vibrant LGBTQ community, Catholic history and reminders of the city’s horrific role during the Holocaust. I met young Chamber of Commerce staffers helping refugees find jobs and administrators from the University of Cologne helping refugee students get placed. I saw how the soccer team FC Koln prioritizes inclusion both on and off the field. In short, European cities like Cologne remind me of my hometown of Miami. It’s a place whose energy flows from the confluence of liberty and opportunity seekers from around the world.
My European visitors got glimpses of the American Dream via a cafecito-fueled sprint from Little Havana to
Liberty City and other energy centers of our community. My guests queried Miamians about a spectrum of ideals, including the notion of what it means to be a patriot. As we moved through Miami and engaged with people who are working tirelessly to make a difference on issues ranging from sea-level rise, combating anti-Semitism & Islamophobia, education, culture, spatial computing and the ghosts of Jim Crow, I recalled the words of the famous early visitor to America, Alexis de Tocqueville, who said: “The greatness of America lies not in it being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
My family’s history makes me an unlikely champion of the trans-Atlantic alliance, given that my great-grandparents were Muslims who were trafficked from India by the British Empire to the Caribbean as indentured servants bonded to sugar plantations in Guyana. It is because of that complex history, and the origins of so many in Miami who know what the absence of freedom and opportunity feels like, that we cherish an interconnected world.
In Miami, we understand that the promotion of freedom and pluralism is the antidote to Nicolás Maduro’s despotism in Venezuela, Viktor Orbán’s xenophobia in Hungary and other places in the world that would dismember journalists, invade neighbors and outlaw dissent.
As I hosted de Tocqueville’s modern-day counterparts, I knew I had to take them from their Versailles to our Versailles, on Calle Ocho. Cafecito served alongside the voices of the children of exile was the right setting to demonstrate that Miami is wide awake and won’t let the American Dream or Myth of Europe go to sleep and be overtaken by a nightmare of fear. Every day, citizens on both sides of the Atlantic help steer this dance of their shared value to ensure that our world will never again be engulfed by the discord and war of a century ago. The dance of shared trans-Atlantic values is what gives hope to the Ladies in White and those seeking refuge on the shores of Europe — hope that a better world awaits them.
Saif Y. Ishoof is a senior fellow at Florida International University’s Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.
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