The map presented above is an artwork by Sabine Réthoré. It consists in a map of the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal regions that was subjected to two simple operations:
– A 90-degree tilt compared to the implicit imperial convention of placing the North on top.
– A withdrawal of all national borders.
That is how this map appears to us as simultaneously familiar and peculiar. Through it we recognize a space we know well — North Africans, Middle Easterns and South Europeans do at least — but our perception of it evolves thanks to the way it is represented. The “Borderless Mediterranean Sea” represents territories that seem optically closer to each other than when considered on a geopolitical map. The sea almost appears as a calm lake, where people on one bank would not feel fundamentally different from their neighbors on the opposite one. We can no longer see three continents struggling to exist but, rather, the sea as gathering lands around it. The names of the cities are worth reading out loud. Their sounds reveal more regional identities blending into each other, than strictly differentiated national belongings.
However, the original tectonic crack that created the Mediterranean sea millennia ago found its symbolic existence through the centuries of human wars that it hosted. Greek and Roman antic expansions, medieval crusades, and modern European colonizations have constantly militarized the surface of the chasm and transformed the idea of a borderless lake into an imperialist battlefield as I wrote in the past in comparison to the Carribean Archipelago. Nowadays, the militarization of the sea is still operative, whether through the Cyprus conflict, the NATO military intervention in Libya, or the Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip. However, these military operations constitute the spectacular part of this militarization.
The Mediterranean Sea embodies the South wall of Fortress Europe. On the contrary of the South Wall of the Fortress of the Globalized North (see past article/photographs), the access to Southern bodies is not prevented through a material wall but, rather, by the abyss of the sea, complemented by militarized detection and arrest technological apparatuses. “Le Gouffre” (The Abyss) is how Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau call the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where dozens of thousands of African bodies were thrown overboard from ships during the slave trade as I quoted in a past article about the slave ship (my translation):
What comes back from the abyss . It is a rumor of several centuries. And, it is the song of the Ocean’s plains.
Sonic shells rub themselves against skulls, bones and cannonball now turned green in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
In these abysses, there are cemeteries of the slave ships. Rapacities, violated borders, banners fell and picked up from the Western world. And who constelate the thick mat of the sons of Africa from whom a commerce emerged, those are out of nomenclature, no one knows their amount. (Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau,L’intraitable beauté du monde: Adresse à Barrack Obama, Paris: Galaade, 2009, 1.)
There is another “Gouffre,” one in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea where bodies of African migrants have sank after an exhaustive and precarious trip during which they had believed that their poverty could end at the borders of Europe. Over-populated migrant boats sinking in “Le Gouffre” now appear as a fatality to white Europeans, who prefer to systematically blame the black-market smugglers who fill their ships with bodies, using the latter’s dream to maximize their profits, a logic that Western capitalism would have no problem claiming for itself. The European laws are however made in such way that any form of help (from charging a cell phone to rescuing a sinking boat) to “clandestine” migrants can be prosecuted. Such an ethical dilemma is familiar to fishermen of the small island of Lampedusa — situated half way from Italy and Africa (Tunisia/Lybia) that has become the visible part of the Mediterranean cemetery of the poors.
As Caren Kaplan pointed out when discussing this idea, another cemetery of the poors, another “Gouffre” of a kind, can be found in the Arizonian desert where bodies coming from Latin America loose their lives either from dehydration or from the bullets of self-proclaimed vigilante of the Fortress North, who take “great pride in being born somewhere” (paraphrasing George Brassens). The essentialization of differences between Southern bodies and Northern bodies is strong in Fortress North in general, and in Fortress Europe in particular; yet, this essentialization is built upon ideological fantasies and rhetoric mystifications. It is therefore through the imaginary — a notion so dear to Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau — that these discourses need to be fought against (see past article about the ideological meaning of “an immigration problem”). The tectonic that once opened “Le Gouffre” now helps us to do so as it is closing it years after years, centimeters after centimeters.