We had a guest speaker at the latest in our research seminar series. Professor Peter Mayo is Head of Education at the University of Malta and he was talking about his latest book, The Politics of Indignation. This talk was concerned with one specific chapter in the book on migration in southern Europe. Critical pedagogy, sociology of education and social theory feature as his research interests.
It was clear from the beginning that we would be presented with a radical perspective on what is an utterly desperate situation. Professor Mayo opened with a shocking statistic: 20 000 migrants have drowned in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to southern Europe in the last 20 years. That’s 1000 bodies per year. And these are the ones who had survived war, rape, the desert, the journey to the coast. It couldn’t really be any further from the idealised image of the Med more commonly suggested in the media, and also perhaps reflected in many people’s holiday experiences or aspirations. I have been aware of reports of dead refugees washed up on southern Italian beaches and , and have read Partir, a moving, tragic but excellent fictionalised account by Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun of a migrant’s attempt to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. This isn’t mainstream fiction however, (not available in translation into English) and the aforementioned reports aren’t commonplace in the UK.
The migration debate is topical. It’s a policy which is supported by the SNP, but hasn’t really surfaced as a major feature of their independence campaign yet. Maybe it never will. The arguments to support it are usually economic. Migrants are trafficked as human commodities in order to provide a cheap and necessary source of labour in a globalised economy. Colonialism alone is not to blame for the wretchedness suffered by these people in their quest to find the better life in the promised land of their colonial power. The problem is they too often find the Promised Land has closed its doors to them; the discourses of security treat them as criminals and rob them of their dignity, their possessions and even their freedom to express themselves in direct defiance of the Geneva Convention. Political intransigence inside Europe on this issue has created a value system which prioritises security over human life and the perversity of globalisation has made both a necessity and an object of loathing out of the migrant among some (perhaps working class) communities – divide and rule.
The discussion opened up into a broader treatment of activism and groundswell movements, and neo-liberalism in higher education and how globalisation is working to marginalise radicalism and social justice in research and recruitment. It was a fascinating session, and a real pleasure to meet Professor Mayo. He was hopeful that in Scotland we have values in our education system which might mitigate the appalling racism he described. Whether we do or not, we certainly have a responsibility to ensure that inter-ethnicity is developed in a positive way.
There are some signs of hope. One of them for me is the fantastic work done by a close friend of mine, Maggie Lennon in the Bridges Programmes she set up and manages. Bridges find employment and education opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers. It has many successes to boast of and should be celebrated as a shining example of social entrepreneurship working for justice and integration. There is so much scope for educators to learn from this project, and maybe vice-versa. There’s also a massive need for more programmes like Bridges if migrants are to be considered as more than economic commodities in Scotland, and elsewhere.