-Essay-

Looking at these photographs means becoming witnesses. The eye sees, preserves and remembers. The eye feeds on presence, and presence is history. These photographs tell us that we are all witnesses and our conscience is implicated; it cannot call itself unaware of events.

But what to do? How to go from testimony to participation? Strange that, with all the tools technology makes available to us, we feel more helpless than ever.

A child is saved by a generous man. We feel an instinct of compassion and gratitude. But who is that child and who is that man? Can knowing this help us understand more? Maybe, yes. The images make their way into our heads and raise many questions: Who, how, when, why?

There is little doubt that the movement of peoples is a constant reality that will not cease after another emergency. We also know that it will be used by politicians to gain power. But what can we do?

Our gaze moves our compassion for those naked bodies, slapped by the water, for those poor feet that don't know comfortable and protective shoes, for those surprised faces that ask for asylum.

"Let them in!" cry those who think, like Saint Martin, that we should cut the cloak we wear in half and share it with those who feel cold. But if migrants become many, if they are thousands of thousands, how can such an intake be managed?

I have only two eyes to look, and a stomach that tightens.

Some argue that we need these people in our ranks as laborers, to swell the workforce. But I find this a cynical argument. With their arms, human beings also carry a faith, a culture, habits that die hard. Are we able to integrate thousands of refugees? Unhappy people cannot be welcomed in order to turn them into cheap workers.

What then? I have no answers, only questions. I have only two eyes to look — and a stomach that tightens — at the sight of so much despair, poverty, pain.

Compassion is certainly not enough. We need to think rationally and understand what we can do not to abuse these unarmed people fleeing hunger and fear.

Does remembering that we, Italians, were once a people of emigrants help us to organize ourselves without losing humanity? Someone speaks of a nemesis: We have plundered territories rich in raw materials for centuries, without leaving behind us roads, houses, schools and an example of good governance.

I got distracted and spoke as if these migrants had landed on our shores. But it doesn't make much difference — today they are in Spain, tomorrow they will be on the Sicilian islands.

I don't know if pity is good for anything. Yet I think that pity, together with reason, can help raise awareness and create a desire to act. And acting means building alliances to face together, without injustice and without wars, the inevitable displacement of peoples.


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