A Tale of Two Borders

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One clear winner of the recent European Parliament elections was Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose party won roughly a third of the votes, finishing well ahead of any other party. Salvini’s party, the Lega, began as a regional party in Lombardy, but won numerous votes in southern Italy, including carrying many municipalities and several provinces, a result as unlikely as Abraham Lincoln winning towns in Mississippi in 1860.

The primary reason for Salvini’s popularity is his stance on immigration. Salvini wants Italy to remain Italian. As interior minister, he has dramatically reduced illegal immigration into Italy. By making it clear that vessels carrying illegal immigrants are no longer welcome in Italian ports, Salvini has also reduced the number of illegal immigrants drowning in the Mediterranean.

However popular Salvini’s crackdown on illegal immigration has proved among ordinary Italians, it has not endeared him to the Vatican of Pope Francis. The pope has made clear his view that borders of Western countries should essentially be open to Third World immigrants—though he acknowledges it’s a prudential matter about which Catholics are free to disagree. A publication allied with Francis compared Salvini to Satan on its cover, and Vatican sources told reporters the pope will never meet with Salvini as long as the latter prohibits from Italian ports ships carrying illegal immigrants. One bishop allied with Francis even declared that anyone who votes for Salvini’s party isn’t Christian.

However, in June the Vatican issued another document with a markedly different view of borders—this time focused on South America’s Amazon rainforest. The Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Synod on the Amazon decries “the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, such as the right to territory, to self-determination, to the demarcation of territories, and to prior consultation and consent.” The document notes that, “For the care of the Amazon, the aboriginal communities are indispensable interlocutors, since it is precisely they who normally take best care of their territories.” It also discusses what it calls “Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation,” or tribes that shun contact with the outside world to such an extent that “[w]e do not know their proper names, languages or cultures.”

With respect to these tribes, the document calls for governments to “implement all measures necessary to protect their physical integrity and that of their territories, based on the precautionary principle, or other protection mechanisms in accordance with international law.” In other words, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon should have the right to inviolable borders, with no one allowed to come on their land without their leave.

There is much to criticize in the Instrumentum Laboris, which often suggests that Christian missionaries created an unnecessary imposition on tribes whose own way of life was superior to what the missionaries taught. There is no suggestion that these isolated indigenous peoples would benefit from missionaries bringing them the Gospel, an omission that would have shocked the many who risked and even gave their lives in those endeavors, such as St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Brébeuf.

But to be fair, the statements from Instrumentum Laboris about protecting the borders of the Amazonian tribes are an eminently sensible guide to apply to cultures one wishes to preserve.

Indeed, in light of the Instrumentum Laboris, the Italians who voted for Salvini were simply exercising their “right of self-determination,” expressing that there should be no immigration into Italy without their “prior consultation and consent.” If illegal immigrants were free to enter Italy, the Italians would lose “physical integrity of their territories.” Since Italians would soon be outnumbered in an Italy that allowed in every migrant from Africa and the Near East who desires a better life, it seems that voters for Salvini were merely applying the “precautionary principle” to their own circumstances, and perhaps even expressing a belief that they, the indigenous inhabitants of the Italian peninsula, “normally take best care of their territories.”

It is difficult to see why the people who gave the world Dante and Donatello, Michelangelo and Manzoni, Petrarch and Palestrina, and Verdi and Vivaldi, among many others, should not have the same right to maintain their borders and preserve their culture that the Vatican document proposes for Amazonian tribesmen whose contributions to world civilization are rather modest in comparison. Come to think of it, it’s hard to see why we Americans shouldn’t also be able to secure our increasingly porous borders and preserve our own culture—which is threatened to an even greater extent by the massive entry of uninvited foreigners.

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