World Social Forum Tunisia: Between Atrocity and Fraternity

The fifteen years’ party of the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Tunisia was tarnished by a previous attack and by the migrant’s shipwreck some kilometers away from this country’s coasts in the following days of the Forum’s closure. However, with its own fragilities, the Forum proposes universal citizenship as a way of facing the drama of current migration –a result of fratricidal globalization. The crisis on fraternity is the most shameful fact that the current phenomenon of migration reveals. For that reason, acting as a space of universal fraternity should be a main objective for the WSF. And fraternity has to appear not only as a sentiment but as a reality becoming concrete through world policies like the universal citizenship –within a more just world. Por José Luis González Miranda SJ

1) Atrocity

The attack of the Islamic State to the Bardo Museum on March 18th was aimed at a sector of human mobility that is characterized by legal circulation: the tourists. The victims were from 10 different rich countries. April’s shipwrecks off the coasts of Tunisia have caused victims belonging to that other sector of human mobility which is not allowed to move freely: more than 1500 dead migrants coming from several impoverished countries. Do both atrocities have to do with the same globalization?

The attack led many participants to cancel their travel to Tunisia. For instance, the delegation Secours Catholique had invited more than 70 people and only 40 of us arrived. The organizers of the WSF talk about more than 50 thousand participants coming from 120 countries. But taking a look to the stands, the speakers in the workshops, and the festive groups present in the campus of El Manar University, it is possible to conclude that the Forum was predominantly Arabic. The presence of sub-Saharan Africa was evident too. Out of these two groups, the absence of Asia, America, and even Europe –except from France, who attended probably because of the francophone character of the host country–, was noticeable.

Against the atrocity of the attack, the Forum proposes the fraternity of dialogue. The year 2001 already showed the same double answer to globalization: it was the year of the first WSF and the year of the attack to the World Trade Center. But among the stands of the WSF in Tunisia it was possible to find an organization with posters of Gandhi and next to it another one with posters of colonels, majors, and mujahidin.

”Another attack is possible!” some would say paraphrasing the alter-globalization slogan. During all week, from March 22nd to 29th, the security measures took away the spontaneity and trust from the activities of the Forum. We could not go out unaccompanied. Secours Catholique provided each one of us with a cell phone and some groups were formed so everyone would have a person responsible for their security. The cathedral, less than a hundred meters from where we were staying, kept its doors closed everyday; we attended the afternoon mass by entering through a side door leading to the sacristy. The last day, the parish priest (an Argentinean) revealed us that right after the attack to the Museum the police had warned them about the possibility of terrorists attacking the cathedral. If he would have told us from the first day we had done what the gospel says: lock up in your room to pray!

2) Fraternity

More than a movement of movements, the WSF is a fair of movements. Each one chooses what he or she likes among the stands and thematic workshops: Free Trade Agreements, debt, climatic change, extractivism, migration, etc. ”Assemblies of convergence” gathering those interested in the same topics are organized during the last two days. But even in such convergence there is no unity regarding the expected outcome. Some, in order to avoid political manipulations, try to maintain the resulting shared experiences and the facilitation of contacts and alliances. Others, urged by social and political transformation, seek for agreements and global lines of action. Some accuse the NGOs of controlling the WSF to follow and keep the first model and some NGOs accuse the political activists of ideologically instrumentalizing the WSF.

This conflict was experienced with the topic of migration. We were asked, as the Jesuit Service for Migrants (SJM for its initials in Spanish), to participate with an exposition of the new migration policies in the region Mexico-Central America-USA. My first surprise was the extraordinary similarity between the migration policies that are imposed in different regions of the world. The border externalization that the United States carries out in the south of Mexico doesn’t differ much from that that Europe implements in the countries of Northern Africa. The new persecution to migration from within the sending countries (countries of origin), like the operations carried out by the police force of African countries in order to impede migrants’ exit beyond their coasts, is not that different from the way that the United States managed to mobilize the Central American governments against their own migrants: the operations of Honduras’ army in the country’s borders, a ”left-wing” government official in El Salvador threatening to fine the families who ”send their children away” or the three new military bases that Guatemala deployed in its borders to supposedly fight ”trafficking.

On the other hand, I was surprised by the similarity in associationist responses and the interest to learn from other regions. Some migrant shelters from countries of the Maghreb were interested in the Documentation Network from the Migrant Defense Organizations (REDODEM - Red de Documentación de las Organizaciones Defensoras de Migrantes) which coordinates in Mexico the database of 13 shelters for immigrants. Organizations of missing migrants’ families, whether African or Central American, show the same strength of those mothers who join together and show with hope the photos of their sons and daughters. ”Association or death,” shouted the poor workers during the First International. Like those organizations which fought not to be the channel of transmission for the political parties (the conflict between Bakunin and Marx), the popular organizations nowadays have to fight for their autonomy from NGOs if they want the migrant not to be only an object of study and assistance but a subject with a main role. Emir Sader, who is one of those who clearly accuses NGOs of controlling the WSF, asks, nevertheless, to give prominence to ”the Latin American progressive governments” as well as ”Syriza and Podemos.” In other words, 150 years later we are still between Bakunin and Marx. Examples of these contradictions were the Brazilian organizations gathered under a big tent –la Casa do Brasil– and whose sponsor appeared in posters and logos: Petrobras.

But there was a third similarity hidden among the colorful atmosphere of the WSF: human dignity. That same human dignity is the one that moves several organizations, since previous forums, to propose universal citizenship. Among those organizations we can find Emmaus International, the CCFD, the Organization for Universal Citizenship, etc. A universal passport would be a document to avoid being illegal and clandestine and also would relieve a big part of nowadays’ sufferings. Before, a step could be taken by giving continental or regional passports –as the existing European passport. It is demanded also that an International Conference of the United Nations on migration be carried out; this would lead to a participative process of writing an International Treaty for Migrants Rights and Universal Citizenship. All this is reflected in a document signed by many organizations and that now needs to be directed as a demand to the states. Ecuador, for instance, has agreed on carrying out this initiative at the core of the United Nations. Other organizations, some of them catholic, were afraid of a political manipulation and didn’t want the issue to be dealt with in the assembly of convergence on migration. Nonetheless, universal citizenship has already been proposed by John Paul II:

As a member of the human family, each person becomes as it were a citizen of the world, with consequence duties and rights, since all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny (World Day of Peace Message 2005).

And Pope Francis too assumes this position even before becoming a Pope. It is explained in the document of Aparecida (2007), where he asks the Church to deepen ”its pastoral and theological efforts to promote universal citizenship in which there is no distinction of persons” (Aparecida 414). This is also in the same vein of Pope Francis’ constant call to fraternity, as he showed when referring to the massive shipwreck in April 19th: ”They are men and women like us –our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war, seeking a better life, seeking happiness.

Universal citizenship is a political materialization of universal fraternity –which is frequently dismissed for being no more than a sentiment. It is said that only liberty and equality have been expressed in policies and laws but it is forgotten that also fraternity was expressed in laws (universal voting and abolition of slavery and death penalty) when for the first time that word came to be part of a Constitution (the French one in 1848).

3) 15 years’ assessment

15 years later it is relevant to ask ourselves how much the ”other possible world” once dreamed in Porto Alegre in 2001 has advanced. Two years after the first WSF, the Workers’ Party came to power. But now many people are wondering if this helped to make another world possible. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, one of the intellectuals of the WSF, makes a critical balance of this fragility: ”today’s world is more violent, more unjust and more unequal and many (including myself) think that the WSF should have been renovated during these years thus becoming more involved in the formulation of proposals and policies.” One of the eight founders of the WSF, Chico Whitaker (Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil), also affirmed that the International Council of the WSF –which is not an executive organism but one of facilitation– ”is totally lost in terms of proposals.” It is why the future of the WSF oscillates between those who are for a re-foundation that revises the travelled path and those who propose the creative rejuvenation along with the new indignados (outraged). The first group –where we find Chico Whitaker and Emir Sader– wanted the WSF of 2016 to take place in Porto Alegre once again. The second group, in which we find the group promoting a Montreal-based Forum, managed to convince the International Council to carry out the WSF in this city in August 2016. We don’t know if the slogan in Canada will be to refund or to reanimate. In any case, it will be the first time that the Forum will be done in a northern country; and that is a ”good sign of the renovation of social struggles,” says Chico Whitaker.

A few kilometers away from the WSF headquarters we find the ruins of Carthage, where Christian intellectuals from the first times like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Lactantius, developed a concept of radical fraternity as an announcement of another possible world –facing a Roman empire that was crumbling down. ”A Christian cannot even hate is enemies,” said Tertullian. The African theology today still uses such category of ”fraternity,” as Benedict XVI reminded in his travel to Africa (Yuandé, March 19th 2009).

But the mass grave that the Mediterranean is becoming –with scandalous shipwrecks a few kilometers away from where the WSF was taking place– tells us that we are far from such fraternity. Not only on the side of the ”enriched” who entrench themselves in global residential areas and observe how the impoverished sink but also on the side of the latter, who do not hesitate about throwing overboard other impoverished people only because they are Christians.

The crisis on fraternity is the most shameful fact that the current phenomenon of migration reveals. For that reason, acting as a space of universal fraternity should be a main objective for the WSF. And fraternity has to appear not only as a sentiment but as a reality becoming concrete through world policies like the universal citizenship –within a more just world. The shipwreck of all of us is at stake here.

  • This article was translated by Andrés Abril.