No they did not. They died on a small boat. And you probably neither heard nor read anything about it. Why? Because we stopped caring. We stopped feeling embarrassed. We stopped feeling guilty when the “boat people” died.

Today it makes more news if these men, women and children make it to land than if they die. “Migrant landings” is more of a headline than “migrants drown”.

That is the saddest truth of all.

What happened to us? In which hole did we shove and bury our compassion, our values and our basic humanity?

The Mediterranean is known as the cradle of civilisation. The countries surrounding this sea gave birth to philosophy, mathematics, countless art and architectural movements. Trading on a mass scale started happening in the Mediterranean.

Three of the classical world religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, emerged from this region.

Some of the longest and strongest empires grew from countries around the Mediterranean. Alternating between peace and war, this Mediterranean Sea has a chequered past. But it was always a sea of hope. Until now.

Today, the Mediterranean Sea is becoming synonymous with despair and tragic loss of life. A growing number of Europeans and, sadly, European politicians see this sea as a natural border, an aquatic wall that can help protect the “European” way of life and European values.

I have no idea what these European values are but they are certainly not mine.

European civilisation is built on the premise that human life is sacred. Human life is the centre point of everything.

From the rallying cries of ‘America First’ to Brexit, we are witnessing the rooting for an ideology that gives more importance to a ‘way of life’ than life itself

This is depicted excellently in Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man; that drawing of a man with arms and legs outstretched. It is said that this sketch represents the meeting point of arts and science.

As humans we have pursued excellence in the fields of art, science, sports and commerce. We broke records, we scaled new heights, we made new discoveries to prove one thing: that humanity knows no boundaries.

Yet, in the very place where most of these boundaries fell, we now created a sea wall that is intended to destroy and not preserve human life. There is no value in this, European or otherwise. There is no civilisation in this, European or otherwise. There is only despair, there are only cries of pain and hunger.

Sadly, many of these cries are not being met by a humane response. They are being drowned by the raging cold sea.

The wave of populism and xenophobia grew larger and more powerful than the wave of humanity. The effects of this are already being felt. From the rallying cries of “America First” to Brexit, we are witnessing the rooting for an ideology that gives more importance to a “way of life” than life itself. To put it differently, if people have to die to protect our way of life, then so be it.

I listened and read economic and social arguments to back this protectionist line of thinking. Now, even if these economic and social arguments were 100 per cent correct, they would still not gain any favour from me. Why?

Because they devalue human life.

I am pretty sure that there was a strong economic argument in favour of slavery but slavery was wrong then just as it is wrong now. And do not kid yourself, many economies, including ours, are thriving on a new form of slavery.

But I fault these arguments even on economic grounds. Protectionism and wall building inhibit economic growth. And this can be proven theoretically but, more importantly, historically. Civilisations thrived when they opened themselves up to new ideas from outside and within.

They died when they built walls. Eventually, all the walls, even the longest and most impressive ones, failed. They failed to stop humanity.

And it is because of this that I hope.

I hope for a future, in the not-so-distant future, where we again start thinking and acting like human beings. I hope for a future where we do not have to listen to the cries of the boat people. I hope for a future where humanity trumps all.

Mario de Marco is a Nationalist Party MP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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