Neither bond nor free?

scicli-ansa.jpg_415368877I must say that personally I don’t particularly like the figure of Saul of Tarsus (or Paul, if you prefer): though it is not difficult to recognize in him the real popularizer of the Christian faith, generally, in my vision, the price he decided to pay to allow a generalized acceptance of the Gospel, the betrayal of too many elements of what I consider the real message of Jesus Christ, is too high to allow me to appreciate his teachings.

This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some of his ideas. In particular, there is a sentence of the “Letter to the Galatians” I always loved as, in my opinion, it perfectly expresses the deepest meaning of the so-called “Christian freedom”: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

Well, I was thinking about this sentence a couple of days ago, watching the news on tv reporting about the umpteenth carnage of immigrants on the Italian shores.

Probably, the majority of the non-Italian readers (and, perhaps, also some Italian one) don’t even know what I am speaking about and that’s not surprising, after all: the life of a bunch of Africans trying to escape from violence and starvation doesn’t look like being so important to get to a level of international resonance.

I’ll try to report what happened in brief. The beach of Scicli, near Ragusa, in the Southern part of Sicily, is a wonderful place, so nice to be the location of some popular movies of the Italian television, so nice to be the destination of many tourists in summer: it’s a great place to live but not even Scicli is a great place to die. Unfortunately, death is what awaited thirteen Eritrean guys who tried to land on that wonderful beach: their boat ran aground a few meters far from the shore and their Libyan “ferrymen” forced them (and the many others on the boat) to jump into the water, kicking and whipping the ones who tried to resist. Some of them could swim and reached the beach, many couldn’t (when you are a child in Eritrea the priorities of your parents are rather different from the ones of many Western European parents taking their kids to swimming lessons) and had to be saved by the few local lifeguards, fishermen and tourists on the scene: many but not all of them and the thirteen crosses now present on the beach of Scicli remind us of the ones who were not saved and drowned a few meters far from their “promised land”.

There are many things one could say about this event: one could remember that these dead come after other ten dead some days ago on another Sicilian shore, after too many dead on all Southern Italian coasts in these last years; one could express all the crap any human being should feel in front of new slave traders earning on the desperation of poor people escaping from incredible life conditions and looking for hope, new slave traders using the same inhuman methods of all the slave traders along history; one could praise the efforts of the people of Scicli who managed to save many human lives. Any word would, anyway, be just rhetorical and empty in front of the image of thirteen bodies of young men lying on the sand because someone considered them just like a ballast to get free from.

But this is not what I want to speak about: I hope we all share the same feelings in front of scenes like these.

What made me think about Saul of Tarsus’ words is, in fact, something else. Thirteen people had been killed (I suppose nobody could disagree about the fact that to throw a person unable to swim into the sea is a murder) in the most terrible way possible, with a ferocity with no comparison, as just another episode of a long list of other misfits of the same sort taking place almost weekly, but the news on television dedicated to this event only a three minutes report: twenty minutes on thirty of the same edition of the tv news were, on the other hand, dedicated to the risk of a political crisis provoked by the maneuvers of a party of the coalition governing Italy.

I don’t want to enter in the details of this possible political crisis, now already averted: the whole thing looks to me so shameful that it would be even degrading to mention it. What I’d like to underline is the incredible (at least to me) imbalance in reporting the two pieces of news: three minutes about 13 dead being part of a continuous carnage of poor people dying to look for hope, twenty minutes about a possible political crisis due to political maneuvers.

Are the journalists to blame for this? I don’t think so. What the journalists were doing was simply to be prone to the will of the audience and, I suppose, this is a part of their job (although many things could be said about the way media could address the interests of the audience).

What is really painful to me is this will of the audience. Why are people more interested in a possible political crisis than in the unfair dead of thirteen people? For a very simple (and, in a way, even understandable) reason: a political crisis would put Italian economy in danger, would probably touch the wallets of all the Italians. I know we are living a hard period of economic crisis, I know life is becoming a hard business for too many families, but, honestly, I can’t help thinking that there must be something very wrong in a society in which a 1% increase in VAT becomes much more important than a sort of continuous massacre of human lives, in which the decisions of a political leader about the stability of a government have more appeal on people than the dead of thirteen desperate people trying to find a better life (or simply a life) and drowning a few meters far from the European shores.

And well, I’m not just speaking about Italy: the American shutdown related to the so-called  “Obama’s health care reform” tells us we are in front of a world trend. Money stands first, human being’s dignity and life just follows in the queue of values.

So, I think about those words, “there is neither bond nor free” and I feel very sad, I feel we are not so different from the young rich man who spoke to Jesus, I feel we are so far from the kingdom of brotherhood we have been asked to build… Mainly I feel the bond ones were not, as many could think, the thirteen young men whipped to jump into the water and killed by desperation and human cruelty: if we go on thinking that the welfare of our wallets is more important than the life and dignity of any of our brothers we’ll be the bond ones, the slaves of our selfishness and social myopia, forever.

Cultural integration models

ENG_Immigrant_flees_267234aI’m just back from a short holiday in Provence, in the South of France, and today I’d like to speak about a subject I am very interested in: integration.
I was in a little town called La Ciotat: it is a nice mainly tourist area with an important shipyard but the element that interested me the most was the composition of its population, formed by some 30.000 people or something around that number. What was amazing to me, considering the small dimensions of the place, was the number of Italian surnames (heritage of a mass migration from Southern Italy some fifty years ago) and of Northern and Western Africans I could see: I would say more or less half of the population had no French origin in that town. And what was great was the perfect integration I noticed! People of different origin lived together, worked together, played together, stayed together in pubs and… got married: probably I have never seen so many mixed couples and so many children with clear ethincally mixed characteristics in a single place in my life, perhaps not even in London.
I couldn’t help comparing this situation with the one I saw many times in some other places all around the world, especially here in Italy and, in particular, in some villages of the South of this country.
Migration in Italy, from Africa, South America and Far East is a growing and growing phenomenon and, but for all the problems and political discussions related to the so-called “illegal migration”, here too you can easily find large slices of people of different ethnicity sharing the same areas. The point stands in the meaning we give to the term “sharing”: in La Ciotat sharing meant full co-living, while here, with just few exceptions, it means, in the best case, to divide the places into separate areas were each group lives its own separate life. In the best case, obviously, because in the worst cases it means exploitation, segregation, ghettos, even conflict.
A few years ago I went on holiday in a little village in the South of Italy and I was horrified by what I saw. Exactly like La Ciotat, it was a mainly tourist village with wonderful beaches, a clean sea, nice hotels and pubs. The ones not engaged in tourism worked in agricultural productions, mainly of tomatoes, olives and oranges. The presence of Africans was quite massive but, simply, they were “the others”: they lived in slums built with sheets and row brick at the outskirts of the village, they didn’t mix with the local population (or, actually more correctly, the local population didn’t mix with them), they didn’t go to pubs, they were like ghosts. But this was not the worst part of the story. Every morning these people woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning, went to the main square of the village and waited: in time some local people with old lorries, the so-called “corporals” (some say linked to criminal organizations), arrived, chose the strongest among them and took them to work in the fields of the landlords, where the immigrants had to work for 10-12 hours under the sun being paid something like 3-4 euros per hour. This meant to spend a whole working day to get, in the best option, 40 euros but each of them had to give 5 euros to the corporal who had choosen him (5 euros just for being carried to the fields with the lorries!) and other 5 euros per day to rent the hut in which, in many cases, 10 or more of them lived in a room which would have been small for 3 people. The final result was to live and work in terrible conditions, with impossible time-tables, for something around 700 euros per month (and, I repeat, we are speaking about the best cases). This situation, to me has got only one name: slavery! When asked about this incredible situation (honestly reminding me of some old pictures of the slave market of Zanzibar in the XIX century), the locals answered the it was the only way to manage things as the earnings of agriculture were too low to give better salaries and better accomodations to the foreign workers. As far as I know, anyway, the situation is the same in many areas and in meny working sectors, in example in house construction, with Northern African, Romanian and Albanian unskilled workers hired with the same method.
So I really can’t help comparing this reality with the one I saw in La Ciotat and asking to myself the reasons of the enormously different approach to the phenomenon of migration.
I don’t think I have got a real answer. I couldn’t say Italians are more or less racist than French people: I suppose racists and non-racists are present everywhere and both the heavy engagement of Italy in the rescue of boat-people in The Mediterranean Sea on one side and the situation of some banlieu I visited near Paris on the other side tell me that any distinction of this kind would be really unfair.
In the same way, the distinction between an old tradition of migration to France and a relatively new tradition of migration to Italy, though probably having a certain weight, looks to me like being largely pretentious: given that the phenomenon of mass immigration towards Italy started at the beginning of the 90s, one could guess that in a quarter of a century, with a whole generation of sons of immigrants born in Italy and raised in an Italian cultural environment, the situation could, at least, start to settle down.
Finally, even the political attitude towards the phenomen doesn’t seem to be so radically different in the two countries: in both of them there are very inclusive parties as well as xenophobic movements and groups and a comparison between the migration laws of France and Italy doesn’t seem to show a stronger level of closure of the Italian regulation in respect to the French ones (on the contrary, French laws look like being more restrictive than the Italian ones).
So, where does this difference come from?
I would guess the root of the problem lays in a sort of cultural model with historic reasons: though both areas (the Provence and the South of Italy) had a rather similar history of contacts with foreign cultures and, partly, of invasions, it looks like the Provencals reacted to the situation developing a quite integrational attitude, while the people of the South of Italy, in the majority of cases, developed a wary attitude towards any external contact.
What is, anyway, clear observing the two realities is that the “Provencal model” (not so dissimilar to other models, like, in example, the Portuguese one and some others), based, at least apparently, on the idea of a common ground of all human beings allowing a peaceful integration in the respect of the cultural differences, works much better, at least in terms of social environment, than the Southern Italian model based on the stressing of the importance of differences and on cultural separation if it’s true that in Provence one never gets the impression of social ethnical conflictuality which is often present in many Southern Italian villages (and which, in some occasions, has given rise to violent reactions).
Well, isn’t it the same in any field of life?