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Globalize Misery? Or Love?  What Riace Teaches Us

By Shlomo Maital      



 Pope Francis recently captured a bitter world dilemma in just a few words.  We need to transform the globalization of misery, he said, into the globalization of love.  What he meant was, the globalization of misery sends migrants from countries where they are oppressed, persecuted, killed, jailed and tortured, to countries where they have hope for better lives.  The journey is perilous, across tossing seas in tiny boats, and many die on the way. But still they come.  When they do survive, and arrive at places like the Italian island of Lampedusa, they often meet not love but hatred.  Pope Francis believes the migrants should be treated as human beings, with love. 

   In the BBC Program Heart & Soul, John Laurenson visits Riace, Italy, to explore the Globalization of Love, in a small but significant case study.  A report in The Guardian offers further details.

    Riace is a small village in Calabria, Italy,  sited 5 miles inland from the coast for safety from pirates, right at the ‘instep’ of the boot of Italy.  Its mayor Domenico has spent a decade trying to help African migrants. In doing so he has greatly helped his village.  “We need to show it that it has touched us all,” said  Lucano, “but we mustn’t just weep – that is not enough.”

  What Riace does is offer African migrants homes, jobs, and financial aid. The aid comes from the EU.  But it often comes late. So Riace prints its own money, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King on the face, gives it to the migrants, they buy food and shelter, and then, when the EU aid arrives, shopkeepers exchange Riace money for real euros.  Why does Riace welcome migrants when other countries and cities reject them?  Riace’s young people have left.  Industry has gone.  People are not having children.  So the migrants have revived Riace’s economy and social life.  Many of them (some are women from Afghanistan, who fled when the Taliban wanted them to marry off their daughters, at age 12!) learn crafts and revive Riace’s craft industries.  Muslims and Christians get along perfectly and together celebrate the Festival of “Id” (marking the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham).     Riace, in short, has done good, but has also done well for itself.   The sign, shown above, by the way, says, Riace – a Place of Welcome. 

    I was born and raised in Canada.  Canada was built by immigrants, including my parents.  I then moved to Israel. Israel exists because millions of Jewish immigrants came when they faced persecution, or survived the Holocaust and had nowhere to go.  A million immigrants from the former USSR built Israel’s high-tech industry.    

      Why do countries fail to understand that immigrants bring energy and aspiration, seek to do jobs that locals would never touch, and bring vibrant new cultures and customs?   If Europe has stopped having babies, the only alternative to becoming a huge Old Folks’ Home is welcoming migrants. 

Horn of Africa Migrants: Does Anyone Care?

By Shlomo Maital     


Again – a line of body bags.  No, not from Syrian Army poison gas attacks.  This time, an estimated 300 or more migrants from Africa’s Horn, who perished on a leaky ship bound for Lampedusa, an Italian island,  from Libya. According to the BBC  the ship’s engine failed.  Someone on board lit a fire to attract help. The fire then raged out of control. People on the ship fled the fire, too many moved to one side of the ship, and it tipped over.  Many drowned. All this took place just one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, from shore!    Italy’s conscience was aroused – the Italian Prime Minister declared a day of mourning.

       The migrants were mainly from Somalia and Eritrea.  Somalia is a failed state, has been for years, suffering from drought and famine, and is often in the news. Eritrea, on the other hand, is nearly invisible, run by a brutal dictator who does not allow journalists into his country.  The result:  Eritrea is rarely in the news, despite the brutal violence imposed against its citizens.   Until Israel built a high fence along its long border with the Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, many Eritreans fled to Ethiopia, north to Sudan, thence to Egypt, from there to Bedouin smugglers across Sinai, to Israel.  They suffered enormous hardship, extortion, blackmail and much worse.

      Total annual world military expenditure amounts to $1.75 trillion.  Suppose just five per cent of that amount,  $87.5 b.,  were allocated to programs that helped Horn of Africa migrants study and resettle in Western countries.  Ultimately, Somalis could return to rebuild their country.  Eventually, when the murderous dictator is removed, Eritreans could, too.   These migrants are full of energy, hard work and the desire to contribute. All they seek is a chance.  We have more than 50,000 of them in Israel, mostly in South Tel Aviv.   Why do 300 of them have to die, in order to arouse the world’s conscience, for an Andy Warhol 15 minutes – only to be forgotten again in no time?

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital