I signed up to receive daily emails from the LA Times while I was doing research for my blog post on the California water crisis, and about a week ago I received an email regarding migration from Africa to Italy. In 2014, about 170,000 “Syrians fleeing their civil war,” and “Africans escaping poverty and oppression” migrated to Italy, and in 2015, this number is projected to be closer to 219,000 people. These refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea in unstable and overcrowded, wooden boats, and many vessels don’t make it across the Sea. According to the first article I read on the issue, over 700 migrants were packed into the lower decks of a75-foot fishing boat when it tipped over and sank. Rescue efforts recovered 28 survivors. After doing some research, I discovered that this event came about a week after over 400 migrants were lost en route to Italy in a similar disaster, and just one day after a migrant ship sunk while carrying up to 950 passengers.
Italy and the European Union have been under fire from human’s rights activists, and many activists have recalled the World War II term, “Fortress Europe,” as a “pejorative description of the state of immigration into the European Union.” After finishing Parable of the Sower and starting Parable of the Talents I was struck by how eerily similar Butler’s imagined future of walls and enclaves is to the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean area and the enclave that has formed out of Fortress Europe. To be clear, the similarities lie in the state of the enclaves of both the Parable novels and Fortress Europe, and how both enclaves reinforce the ideologies of “us” and “them, along with the ethical boundary that this distinction creates. For the purposes of this post, I’d like to examine two different enclaves in the Parable series: Robledo and Acorn. While Robledo illuminates flaws of the closed enclave—most specifically, what Shelley Streeby calls the enclave’s commitment to closure and totality—Acorn provides a space which is walled and closed, yet open at the same time, and this semi-permeability provides a model with potential to solve issues with closed enclaves such as Fortress Europe.
Comparing Robledo’s commitment to totality and closure—or in other words, the enclave’s commitment to let nobody in unless it’s a relative of an established community member—to Europe as an enclave closed off to the world across the Mediterranean Sea, one most obviously notices a similarity between the people trying to enter the walled enclave. In Parable of the Sower, people outside the wall are devastated by poverty, violence, rape, and a severe lack of resources such as food, water, and shelter. Similarly, many refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean are escaping civil war in Syria and murder and religious persecution in Libya; just days ago, ISIS executed over 30 Christian Ethiopians in Libya, clearly recalling President Jarret’s non-Christian witch hunts in Parable of the Talents. By examining the similarities between the people outside the wall of the enclave, a vital difference emerges: in the Parable series, the wall serves to protect the people of Robledo from bodily harm, as the outsiders have been left little choice but to thieve and murder or allow themselves to die or be killed, while the wall of Fortress Europe is not nearly as concerned with keeping out violence. An article from the Wall Street Journal, which has a strong history of advocating for open borders, writes that “unlike in the U.S. or Canada, ethnicity and national identity remain closely intertwined in Europe,” and gives the example that “melding Europe’s Muslim communities, which often are extremely devout, into Europe’s pluralistic, secular society is particularly tricky.” While I don’t believe that national identity is the sole reason for anti-immigration sentiment in Europe, this article helps to illuminate the sheer disavowal of responsibility and respect for human life by Fortress Europe.
By highlighting the similarity between people outside of the enclave in both Butler’s fiction and the real life enclave of Fortress Europe, another parallel is illuminated: the cause of instability. According to an article by the LA times discussing the immigration crisis, “the root cause of the crisis is instability back in the home countries and the lack of opportunities for people to work.” This goes for the Parable novels as well, but I’d like to narrow this “instability” down to the problem of privatization of governmental resources. While there’s an obvious correlation in the availability of jobs between the Parables and the countries that immigrants are fleeing, I think a less obvious connection is the privatization of public services. Certainly the police and the fire department in Parables have become a privatized resource—both require fees for their services and the police are likely to steal money from whoever called them. We see a similar privatization—or, de-publicization may be a better word—in Europe: Italy cut resources from its maritime search-and-rescue program from previous years even though it was predicted that 2015 would bring a record number of sea-faring migrants. Like I said, this is not necessarily a privatization, but is certainly a cutback on public services. The LA times notes that Zeid Raad Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, “praised Italy’s Mare Nostrum program that last year patrolled the main migrant routes and rescued hundred,” but “this year’s scaled-down version, Operation Triton, was ‘simply not fit for the purpose’ of saving lives in an escalating exodus.” This similarity cannot be taken lightly—while the public service cutbacks of the maritime rescue program are not nearly as serious as “the evisceration of everything public” in the Parables, It’s important to remember that “Butler simply takes existing helter-skelter and turns up the volume a few notches” (Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear).
With these similarities between the Robledo enclave and the Fortress Europe enclave in mind, I want to posit Acorn as a semi-permeable enclave with potential to solve issues with the traditional enclave and its “commitment to closure and totality.” I use the word semi-permeable not only to explain the state of closure of the enclave, but also to describe the wall itself: at Robledo, the wall was solid concrete, but at Acorn, the wall is made of mostly organic material—shrubs, cacti, agave, and trees. Furthermore, the wall does not completely encircle the community, and thus does not maintain the same commitment to closure and totality as does Robledo or Fortress Europe. The wall is not the sole reason for the semi-permeability of Acorn; Lauren established rules of citizenship which allow for much more mobility between the enclave and the outside. For instance, while Lauren is very cautious and puts a lot of effort into defending Acorn, she also welcomes outsiders into her enclave if they are willing to meet the stipulations of the community. And as always with Butler’s fiction, these stipulations come in the form of a compromise rather than demands. In exchange for a safe place to live as well as food and water, new community members must contribute the community by some form of trade or work and they must also help with community duties–finding food, guarding the enclave, and trading, among other duties. However, the greatest compromise at Acorn regards religion and political citizenship. While there was some pushback in class about Lauren only granting a political voice to those who adopt the Earthseed religion, and I certainly agree that it is not a perfect system, I see this as more of an act of sustainability and compromise than an act of religious persecution. The Parable series demonstrates that religion is a force that can both bring people together and divide them, and it’s important to note that Lauren doesn’t persecute over religion, she simply does not allow her community to be divided by religion. I must be clear that I am not advocating for any form of government that implements a system of religious control, but I am simply observing the effectiveness of utilizing compromise as a method for community building. Additionally, I do not view Acorn as a perfect community, and religious control is an issue that must be addressed; however, I do view Lauren’s system of compromise as an effective way to operate a semi-permeable enclave.
By viewing Lauren’s system of compromise as an effective way to deal with an enclave’s commitment to closure and totality, I think there are immediate implications with regard to the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean. And I think that comparing Butler’s fictional enclave to Fortress Europe raises an important question: if immigrants agree to accept the rules of a country in exchange for the protection of the state, why should immigrants be denied the right to a safer place to live? This comparison suggests that these issue with Fortress Europe must be considered human right’s violations. While I am certainly not allegorizing Robledo and Acorn to the immigration crisis, I think Butler’s fiction illuminates potential ways to solve the totally closed enclave and blur the distinction between “us” and “them,” thus providing a powerful model to solve real life issues with the enclave.