Voyage 1. THE UNIVERSAL MEDITERRANEAN
THE MEDITERRANEAN has always exerted an irresistible charm on us for far too many reasons. If the Hellenes have done great, they owe it to this sea rather than the mainland. The Phoenicians likewise, just like every other Mediterranean people that have left their mark on the history of Mare Nostrum. The same is true, more or less, for all coastal peoples. We are primarily Mediterranean peoples, and only secondarily European, Asian, African, Balkan, Levantine, or whatever else. Despite that, however, very few have Mediterranean conscience: the sea that once united us, even during our military confrontations, now seems as if keeping us apart.
The importance of this small, landlocked sea is far greater than we can imagine: the Mediterranean has been the most crucial crucible of civilizations in the world, because it unites the three most important continents: Africa, where man was born; Asia, where he was civilized; and Europe, where he was liberated – on Greek soil, as is well known. Thus, it was quite natural for the Mediterranean aura to penetrate deep into the territory of these continents and its historical space to greatly exceed its narrow geographic boundaries.
The Mediterranean has been the most crucial crucible of civilizations. Thus, its historical space has greatly exceeded its narrow geographic boundaries.
Geographically the Mediterranean is clearly delineated. Besides, the sea was given this name because it is surrounded by these three continents and looks like a huge lagoon, having only one natural outlet leading to the Atlantic: the Strait of Gibraltar through the legendary Pillars of Heracles. However, as a historical space it is far broader. As a rule, human societies regarded no natural obstacles as eternally insurmountable. After a while, the growth of civilization – and the courage of some daring voyagers – always led to the overcoming of any barriers, thus creating wider unities of exchange and cooperation.
This far broader sea, the “universal” Mediterranean, is the one we voyage around: from the Atlantic coast of Iberia and the Maghreb to the Indian subcontinent and the Chinese border in Central Asia, often crossing some complementary seas such as the Black and the Caspian Seas, the Red Sea and the Gulf. We also sail out into the Indian Ocean, due to the extensive Afro-Asian exchange, caravan through the Sahara, for even the desert was unable to obstruct the cultural osmosis bearing rich fruit to the North of the Black Continent – without excluding crossing the Atlantic, mainly destined for Latin or Iberian America, but also for several Northern parts of the New World, where the Mediterranean culture is still omnipresent.
This area is certainly so vast that no one is willing to readily accept there are common features. Skepticism, nevertheless, starts dwindling away when one is reminded of the diverse exchange since age-old times between the two most remote peninsulas at the extremities of this integrated historical space: the Indian and the Iberian. These contacts were later reinforced with the Arab conquest of Iberia and, even more, with the arrival of the Indian Gypsies (Roma) to the peninsula.
It goes without saying, of course, that in this area, where the Hellenic presence was once very strong, apart from a certain minimum common denominator, there is such a plethora of sounds and art forms that it would be foolish – and dangerous – for anyone to try to “square” in an alleged attempt of some sort of classification.
The challenge amid all those myriads of local idioms and aesthetic standards, both folk and erudite, is unity within diversity. This unity must be safeguarded at all costs in the current era of galloping homogenization, which instead launches a certain “unity” through uniformity – that is, something that must be imposed on man, for it is against human nature.
The challenge amid myriads of local idioms and aesthetic standards is unity within diversity, rejecting any form of uniformity.
Sound-diversity, like biodiversity – diversity in all forms – is the absolutely necessary condition not only for the survival, but also for the further development of mankind and human civilization. But beware: the response to the so-called “globalization” will not be given through entrenchment but openness to the outside world, expanding exchange and cooperation on equal terms, with honesty and tolerance. Those who have confidence in themselves adopt an “open doors” policy.
“And those who do not consent?”, you may wonder. “What shall be done with all those who constantly undermine this unity having powers outside the Mediterranean backing them? Is it possible at this moment for the perpetrators and the victims to coexist, such as the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians? Are we day-dreaming?”
It is true that whatever the differentiation between citizens and politicians, the people are not blameless because, as a well-known saying goes, “every people deserve the persons who govern them” (Plato), or, if you like, “toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite” (every nation gets the government it deserves, Joseph de Maistre).
The degradation of a citizen to the status of a subject certainly makes things worse, especially now that the intelligentsia is mostly sold-out and has no role to play anymore. The identification of cultured people with states or parties is no longer conceivable, for it has been proven beyond any doubt that it constitutes the worst service to arts and letters – to culture as a whole, to humanity.
If we accept that mankind is able to create a world of peace and co-operation in the interest of all peoples, we can say: those who do not consent are de facto excluded from any efforts to forge a Mediterranean unity. That is why honesty precedes tolerance – where, of course, there are limits. We are not diplomats. In the final analysis, has diplomacy ever promoted culture?