The gavel struck at a Tripoli auction to announce that a migrant had been sold for $400 and took us back 300 years to when markets in Montgomery and New Orleans separated men from women, children from mothers, and sold human-beings like oxen, ducks or horses. Then came Abraham Lincoln and in 1863 the American Constitution introduced the thirteenth amendment, which forbid slavery in the United States of America. Fifty years later the ban was extended globally by a United Nations convention signed in 1926.
Humanity seemed to have been freed forever from the barbarity of slavery, yet a recent CNN film has documented that no, slavery still exists in the 21st century and we are closely implicated as the migrants we reject are the ones being sold as slave laborers. While we aren’t directly involved, as we do not have the stomach for these actions, we do enable it by the providing means and advisors to the Libyan Coast Guard.
In a certified statement written on November 14th by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he declared: “The European Union and Italy are providing assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean, including in international waters, to bring them back to Libya even though human rights organizations have denounced this as it exposes them to arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, torture, rape, forced labor and extortion.” And he added: “Despite increasing interventions in the area by the European Union and its member states, so far nothing has been done to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants.”
And as confirmed by CNN’s film: that gavel strike proved that Libya follows no rule of law other than that of money, and lacks not only moral leadership, but also basic human decency when it comes to taking advantage of migrants’ unprotected and vulnerable status to transform them into auctioned goods.
Now Italy is in the midst of election campaigning, with all of the parties vying to reflect their voters’ emotions and say what voters want to hear. Unfortunately, the media has painted migrants as criminals who steal and kill, thugs who rape women and children, and beggars who will impoverish us by taking welfare benefits. Inevitably now a large section of our population has a burning hatred for migrants, considering them to be at the root of all our evils, and political parties are competing to prove who is better at liberating us from this evil. The grosser demagogues go off to repel these migrants at sea with their machine guns while more educated leaders make arrangements with African militias so that they do the dirty work.
The writers of our Constitution would have never believed that our democracy, no matter how battered, could become such competitive machinery, used to trample any principle in the name of victory. But it is not our democracy that has decayed: it is our society that has not been able to accompany technological progress with human progress; which has not been able to accompany the growing of complexity of our world with education capable of understanding how to manage it; which has been unable to accompany growth of the market with growth of societal values to prevent market rules from governing our entire society; which has been unable to accompany the growth of economic power with the growth of information outlets, so now only the few most powerful are able to create a distorted vision of reality.
How to break this perverse cycle is difficult to say, but if there is a possibility, it is from those who have retained their ability to think and raise their voice in disagreement at the cost of being marginalized and vilified. While in prison in 1963, Martin Luther King wrote, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Raising our voice in condemnation is the only way to put an end to the banality of evil, the most contagious disease which humanity suffers from.
Translation from Italian by Liane Arter