Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
My title, ‘The Mediterranean “between the pleasures of wealth and the desires of the poor”’, borrows Alain Badiou’s definition of borders today: dividing “the rich capitalist North from the poor and devastated South. New walls are being constructed all over the world: between Palestinians and Israelis, between Mexico and the United States, between Africa and the Spanish enclaves, between the pleasures of wealth and the desires of the poor.”1 I could not find a more fitting expression to define such divisions – to explicate what the Mediterranean has come to represent in our contemporaneity. “Today the mythical Mediterranean is brutally vernacularized in the fraught journeys of anonymous men, women, and children migrating across its waters”.2
The tragedies unfolding in these waters need no further introduction – as news headlines announce more deaths, and Europe’s consciousness becomes more accustomed (and immune) to thousands of women, men and children being devoured by the sea, being rescued, detained. When the birth of a baby girl aboard an Italian rescue Navy ship was announced on the same day of the British royal baby, the web circulated viral images of these ‘worlds apart’ – this is the paradox of our contemporaneity.
Today’s is not only a humanitarian crisis, it is one of values, of ethics, of humanism itself. How are Europe and the West dealing with this? The dominant rhetoric oscillates between that of “invasion” and “victimization” where migrants are either portrayed as an inhuman presence gathering at the southern frontier of Fortress Europe, or as victims to be rescued from ruthless traffickers. The latest tragedies at sea and the increasing numbers of deaths in the last few days has led to yet another international initiative. On Monday, in a meeting held in New York, Federica Mogherini – the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – outlined proposals agreed between EU governments to the UN Security Council on the “use of all means to destroy the business model of the traffickers. This would entail having EU vessels in Libyan territorial waters, including the Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark – currently in Malta – […] to “neutralise” identified traffickers’ ships.” (The Guardian, 10 May 2015)
As Amnesty International (press release 11th May 2015) points out, “if implemented, the measures could lead to thousands of migrants and refugees being trapped in a conflict zone”. Such an intervention speaks of the West’s unwillingness to responsibly engage with contemporary migration – blaming traffickers shifts the West’s responsibilities of colonial and neo-colonial relations with the African continent. Colonial amnesia obfuscates centuries of oppression and reproduces the discourse of salvation and victimhood.
In this context, it is vital to turn to alternative responses – can the arts and humanities offer more adequate forms of ethical, human responses and influence current policies and practices? How does postcolonialism today engage with migration in the Mediterranean? Recalling Clifford’s not so recent definition, the postcolonial points to “real, if incomplete, ruptures with past structures of domination, sites of current struggle and imagines futures”.3 Ruptures with the past are still incomplete, and the bodies adrift in the Mediterranean speak of urgent current struggles, of “a haunting claim for equal rights of membership in a spectacularly unequal global society”.4 It is thus imperative to formulate new critical, perspectives to imagine different futures by bridging ruptures – starting from the Mediterranean area. Iain Chambers proposes a “criticism that is ultimately willing to expose itself to a Mediterranean whose histories, cultures, and possibilities are irreducible to the presumed authority of its northern shore. Is this what we might mean by a postcolonial Mediterranean?”.5
*This post was originally published on Malta University’s English Department blog on 11/5/2015.
1 Badiou, A. ‘The Communist Hypothesis’, New Left Review 49, (2008), pp. 29-42.
2 Chambers, I. ‘Maritime Criticism and Theoretical Shipwrecks’, PMLA 125:3, (2010), pp. 678-684.
3 Clifford, J. ‘Diasporas’, Current Anthropology, 9:3, (1994), pp. 302–381.
4 Ferguson, J. “Of Mimicry and membership: Africans and the “New World Society””, Cultural Anthropology 17:4, (2002), pp. 551-569.
5 Chambers, I. “Lessons Form The South”, CounterText, 1:1 (2015), p. 90-97.