A fire in Italy

The eruption of rage among migrants which we have seen these past few days in Italy seems to be what many (prematurely) thought they saw in the difficult December 2008 in Athens: an uprising of the damned. Hundreds of legal and illegal immigrants went on the rampage after unidentified white youths fired on a group of them with a pellet gun last Friday in the town of Rosarno, southern Italy. At least 53 people were injured. The attack was the spark; the underlying cause was the feeling of rage and despair that increased over the past year because of the economic crisis and the message put out by the government and some other political parties. As in all countries with a large informal economic sector, many migrants live and work in degrading conditions. The crisis means that more of them are jobless, while those who do have jobs are forced to work longer hours for less money. Generally, this is a segment of society that has seen its hopes dashed and its sacrifices wasted. When the society in which they find themselves shows that it wishes they would just disappear, they easily become targets of violence. Migrants exist on society’s margins and any revolt on their part leads only to greater marginalization. Without leaders, without support and without direction, their rebellion is condemned and the rebels are double losers. Their outburst has no aim; it is the cry of those who have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. They are united only by despair, not by the pursuit of a new world. Each one, with his or her personal odyssey, sought a land of plenty only to be humbled. When they then inevitably come to realize that they have no hope, then their reaction spreads fear throughout society as a whole. This can lead either to a greater divide or to careful moves to improve the lot of the outcasts. The choice belongs to each society, as do its consequences.

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