Here are two ideas that are not immediately linked, but bear with me.

Thought one

Remember just after 9/11 when French newspaper Le Monde led with the headline “Nous sommes tous Américains“? That is, for those of you who, like me, are not exactly linguists, “We Are All Americans“. It was a moment of solidarity with a country which had been shaken to its foundations, a recognition that whatever divided us was irrelevant in the face of the terrorist atrocities that befell American that day. Five years later, in September 2006, in the midst of the ‘War on Terror’, that opinion no longer held true. In short, we stopped feeling connected with the US and started finding reasons we were different.

Thought two

I’m a big sports fan. Huge. Golf doesn’t usually rank within my top five, but when the Ryder Cup is on, I don’t think you can beat it for tension. 12 men selected to represent Europe and 12 to represent the USA, 28 matches to battle it out for a small gold trophy and bragging rights for 2 years. Obviously, that dramatically undersells it. Its not really about the trophy or the bragging rights. Its about sportsmanship, teamwork, integrity, honour, dignity – as with most sports, its modern day warfare without bloodshed (and yes, this is golf I’m talking about!). But for “us” (that is, Europe), it brings together those from many different countries (in this case, players from England, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany and Sweden, as well as a captain from Scotland and Irish, Northern Irish, Danish and Spanish vice-captains). For one weekend, we are all Europeans. The one time, as Jim Murphy pointed out, that people celebrate being European.

Linking the two

Obviously, I’m not trying to compare a golfing event to a terrorist attack. It is the sentiment emanating from each that I want to focus on. The Ryder Cup has been going since the 1920s (and, in fact, was cancelled in 2001 and rescheduled for the following year in the wake of the 9/11 attacks). Post-9/11, Le Monde was, I think, right to recognise the things that bound us with the States, that common humanity prevailed over senseless violence. But in a sense 9/11 had the opposite effect – it set the US on a path where a “you are with us or against us” mentality prevailed. It also began a process of “othering”, of identifying specifically “American” values which set the US apart from others – and alienated some of its allies.

The process of “othering” is not necessarily a negative thing. It helps to strengthen ideas about a nation, to build a national identity. Sometimes, in order to define self it is easier to define what you are not. And this, I think, is where the European identity falters a little – as lamented by Jim Murphy’s tweet. For centuries, European “nations” have identified themselves as themselves, distinct from other European “nations”. When the Ryder Cup rolls round, we have an “other” to distinguish ourselves from – an “us against them” mentality.

I guess if Jim Murphy is reading this, that is why the Ryder Cup makes people happy to be European (especially when we win). It isn’t really about being European but not being American. But we can learn something here too. For the European project to be successful, we need a “them”. Europe can only really continue to strengthen with a strong US. Because we’ll always have that one thing which unites the 27 European states: not being American.