Commentary. By oppressing refugees and migrants, we’re pulling our society back to the 17th century.

The age of the great imprisonment

The expulsion of migrants from the so-called “Jungle of Calais” is yet another hateful act of repression of a government in the European Union that plans to gain momentum pushing hard way on the weak, the desperate, those refugees fleeing from wars that we have caused and managed.

Unfortunately, even center-left governments are following the extreme right in their level of harshness in repressing migrants, accepting the slogan that has become commonplace: They are invading us.

But, who invades whom? How many migrants enter Italy in a year, how many are refugees in the E.U.? Not even one per thousand of the population knows that. The vast majority of people do not know the numbers of migratory flows, and is bombarded daily by news that quantify the large number of daily landings, but do not provide data on the phenomenon as a whole, both nationally and in the Mediterranean basin. Thus, slowly but steadily, an absolutely false and misleading collective imaginarium keeps building up.

Very few know, or do not want to know, that out of nearly six million Syrian refugees, the E.U., with its 400 million inhabitants will only receive 15 percent, mostly concentrated in Serbia and Germany, while a country like Jordan, with a population of 7.5 million, welcomes 700,000.

And even Lebanon welcomes 1.3 million with a population of only 4.5 million inhabitants. As a proportion, that would be as if 18 million refugees had landed in Italy. Imagine what would happen.

This invented emergency is building up the political fortunes of racist and hateful parties and leaders. They are pushing all of Europe toward a process of self-destruction, exposing the institutional and cultural subtext that has been simmering for decades. A Europe of rights, of welfare for all, the “dream” told by Jeremy Rifkin 10 years ago is melting fast like the snow on Mount Etna after a sirocco wind.

As the famous poem by Bertolt Brecht explains, before it fell to the Jews, the Roma, the blacks, and now the refugees. And tomorrow? Tomorrow it will fall on us to be poor, excluded, marginalized citizens.

In fact, all around the West, and beyond, kilometers-long walls are being built topped with barbed wire. Ruthless border controls are set up to fend off not the aliens, but the poor who flee from wars and famine.

Meanwhile, the rich, the traffickers of weapons and drugs, whatever their nationality or skin color, are entitled to enter any country in the world. For them there are no walls or barriers, no matter if they are Syrians and Afghans, Palestinians and Libyans: only the damned of the earth must be left out.

This is the “new war on the poor” that erupted around the world that is bringing us back to the 17th century, the century of the Great Imprisonment as it was defined by the great Fernand Braudel: “This bourgeois ferocity will worsen immeasurably toward the end of the 16th century, and even more during the 17th century. The problem was to enable the poor to do no harm. (…) Little by little, throughout the West, the houses for the poor and undesirable multiply, where the inmates are sentenced to forced labor: The workhouses like Zuchthauser, or Maison de force, sort of prisons gathered under the administration of the great Hospital of Paris, founded in 1656. This ‘great confinement’ of the poor, madmen, criminals and even children, is one of the psychological aspects of the 17th century rational society, implacable in its reason.”

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