'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’: The moral and political scales of migration in the Central Mediterranean
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
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Ben-Yehoyada, N. (2015). 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’: The moral and political scales of migration in the Central Mediterranean. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22 183-202. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12340
This paper offers recent dynamics of unauthorized migration and interception in the central Mediterranean as an example of historical anthropology of transnational region formation. It exemplifies how we can rescale classical themes in Mediterraneanist anthropology – hospitality, in this case – to illuminate transnational processes. I argue that anthropologists actually share with Human Rights advocates and European officials these ways of thinking about the scales of the moral and the political dimensions of migration, and I offer an alternative understanding of the scales of action, responsibility, and sovereignty as well as clue about how regions come to life. In the summer of 2009, the Bishop of the Sicilian town of Mazara del Vallo celebrated Holy Mass in an unprecedented way – from an altar mounted on the upper deck of an Italian Coastguard ship. The ship was anchored, together with the fishing boat tied up alongside it, off the leeward shore of the Italian island of Pantelleria, almost equidistant between the Sicilian and Tunisian shores. ^1 The position of this seaborne mass – afloat at the center of the Mediterranean – served the ritual staging of a macrocosmic transformation. Both during the mass and afterwards, the Bishop conjured up the space of Holy Communion as ‘the Mediterranean, this great Lake of Galilee.’ By casting the twenty-first century Mediterranean as the Gospel’s Lake of Galilee, the Bishop expanded the ritual act of communion and recast all its elements: the coastguard ship as St. Peter’s boat and the participating Sicilian fishers as the Apostles. When, during the seaborne mass, the bishop iterated Christ’s words to Simon and Andrew: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,’ he cast the unauthorized migrants in danger of drowning as souls in need of salvation and, by implication, the Italian State and the European Union as Herod and the Pharisees. The ritual casting served the Bishop in justifying and applauding the fishers of his diocese’s fleet for responding to distress calls made by boats carrying clandestine migrants en route to Italian shores. The fishers’ act exemplified Mediterranean hospitality. Mazara del Vallo is the closest Sicilian town to the Tunisian shore. The town, which nowadays counts about fifty thousand inhabitants, has seen millennia of connections to the other side of the Sea, and it has played a central role in cross-Mediterranean affairs during the last sixty years: fish wars, labor migration, drugs and arms trafficking, and transnational infrastructure projects. Mazara’s role in both recent and remote histories made the town one of the Sicilian hubs of Mediterraneanism. Many economic, political, and cultural projects in town carry the word ‘Mediterranean.’ And they have all sought to secure the town’s role in the region and help its economy. The bishop initiated some of these projects and gave his blessing to many others. The seaborne Holy Mass extended the same strategy to intervene in the new transnational dynamics of unauthorized migration and interception, which were engulfing Mazara and its fleet. The Mediterranean is back. It has reemerged in the international news cycle as the sea that migrants try to cross towards European shores – where many of them die. For Europeans, these events have turned the Mediterranean into a mirror that reflects their dilemmas about the tensions between the bounds of their political union and boundless humanity. Anthropologists do not know what to do with the Mediterranean. On the one hand, its shores served as ethnographic breeding grounds for classic themes like hospitality, patronage, and networks. On the other hand, the most ambitious treatises about the elementary forms of kinship stayed away from the Mediterranean (to mention two examples, Lévi-Strauss 1969; Sahlins 2013). Instead, they followed neater examples of what Germaine Tillion called ‘republics of brothers-in-law’ (1983). In regionalist scholarship, anthropologists had once searched for the cultural unity of the Mediterranean, but then dismissed this search as a form of orientalism (Herzfeld 2005). This conclusion eliminated the sea as a candidate for understanding the processes that form transnational regions. This paper offers recent events in the central Mediterranean as an example of historical anthropology of transnational region formation. I propose viewing transnational regions as ever-changing constellations, which form and dissipate through the interaction between cross-boundary practices and official region-making projects. And I show how we can examine these dynamics from the moving vessels that lace these constellations together and stage their social relations in full view. This double attention to seaborne vessels and historical process shows how regions become palpable. By returning to the Mediterranean, we may acquire new lenses for examining transnationalism the world over. A return to the Mediterranean enables us to reframe classical themes from Mediterraneanist anthropology to illuminate processes of region formation. The theme considered here is hospitality, or, as Pitt-Rivers put it, ‘the problem of how to deal with strangers’ (1977, 94). The process is the dynamics of unauthorized migration and interception in the central Mediterranean, where a struggle emerged over the meaning of the Law of the Sea and the universal hospitality it implies. The essay contains three parts. I first revisit the role of temporal and spatial scales in classical accounts of hospitality. I then turn to the transnational working of hospitality. Here I examine how the dynamics of unauthorized migration, interception policies, and rescue at sea aligned the ways that Human Rights advocates and European officials addressed the moral and the political dimensions of the ongoing situation. I explain how the delineation of the moral and the political aspects of migration policies emerged from the dynamics of maritime migration and interdiction, and how the scales of responsibility, jurisdiction, and sovereignty depended on the ‘scalar elasticity of hospitality itself, which is always of a place but inherently transportable’ (Shryock 2012, S23) . Third, I analyze the Sacrament of the Eucharist that the Mazara Bishop performed during his pastoral visit. I focus on the alternative view of transnational hospitality that the ceremony formulated; on the jurisdictional tensions that the ceremony reveals; and on the liturgical change from the pastoral visit to the Pope’s subsequent intervention in 2013. In the conclusion, I argue that anthropologists actually share with Human Rights advocates and European officials these ways of thinking about the scales of the moral and the political. Like advocates and officials, anthropologists set their scale of reference at the paramount scale of a global ‘shared humanity’ and pan-human fraternal parity and sameness; even if some of them treat this scale politically (e.g., Ticktin 2011) and others view it morally (Fassin 2012). I then build on the transnational dynamics of hospitality to offer an alternative understanding of the scales of action, responsibility, and sovereignty, as well as a better grasp of how regions come to life. Here, the moral and the political appear not as a duo of nested scales, but rather as entwined aspects of action across scales, which includes the struggle between competing scaling projects. These projects not only affect the relationship between the moral and the political. They also shape the formation and transformation of those scale of action which lie between the local and the global – transnational regions like the Mediterranean – how palpable they seem and what they come to stand for.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12340
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/252631