Judging by the overwhelming lack of interest in my previous posts dealing with Europe's humanitarian crisis caused by the attempts of over a hundred thousand desperate refugees to reach Italy from North Africa, the deaths of thousands of asylum seekers looking for a better life in rich countries are not something that many Americans care about, at least as long as the people concerned are not from Mexico or Central America.

Maybe this is because the story of refugees trying to reach Italy by boat in the Mediterranean by way of Libya is a very old one, at least for the dwindling number of people who still care about the origins of Western culture and civilization, instead of the latest ephemeral i-phone or android gadgets. But there are at least a few people left for whom Virgil's 2,000 year-old opening lines of the Aeneid, which has been and will continue to be around for a good deal longer than the latest apps, still has some meaning.

This is in relation to the tragedy taking place today in what the Romans used to call Mare Nostrum, and which, ironically, was the name of an Italian refugee rescue program whose discontinuance last year has led to even more drownings:

As Virgil wrote:

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris / Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit / littora,

"I sing of arms and the man who first came from the coast of Troy to Italy and the shores of Lavinia, a refugee by fate."

Then, in an immortal line which is meant to describe Aeneas, the legendary ancestor of the two brothers who were said to have founded Rome in 753 B.C., but could also well describe today's refugees coming to Europe from North Africa, Virgil continues:

multum ille et terris iactatus et alto

"He was violently thrown about on land and sea"

Why did this happen?

Virgil explains the cause as:

vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram,

"The power of the gods through cruel Juno's never forgotten anger."

But in contrast, to Virgil's attributing the troubles of his hero to divine power, the blame for the tragedies taking place in the Mediterranean is being attributed to more mundane causes. The European right wing, exemplified by Italy's Northern League and France's Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, blames the refugees themselves for not staying where they are.

Many others blame the smugglers, who are taking advantage of the refugees by loading them, sometimes at gunpoint, into rickety boats which are likely to sink and have already caused hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. Others blame the crisis, with a good deal of justification, on European anti-immigrant feeling and unwillingness to open the door to more refugees.

But, according to a recent Slate article. the cause of Europe's desperate humanitarian crisis is - Libya itself.

See Anne Applebaum: Why So Many Migrants Are Dying in the Mediterranean: The problem isn't poverty or even human trafficking. The problem is Libya.


Applebaum writes:

But now Libya has reappeared in the context of another story: the desperate mass movement of migrants...An oil rich country that should be a sponge for immigrants from Africa and Syria is instead serving as a staging ground for what are often suicidal journeys across the Mediterranean. Libya's human traffickers laugh at the idea that their nation's authorities could stop them."

She continues:

The open, undiscussed truth is that even as the crisis in Libya was unfolding, everyone knew that the Western effort was inadequate and that the European effort in particular was all over the place."

Comparing the Western failure to set up a stable government in Libya with similar failures in Afghanistan and Somalia, she continues:

"Instead of shoring up the central government, international policy seems designed to make it weaker."

Applebaum concludes:

"Before any problem can be solved, it has to be identified. Until Europe's leaders agree that Libya's failed state is the real source of the migration catastrophe, they can't even begin to think about fixing it."

In this sense, events in Libya can be considered to have changed since Virgil wrote his great epic poem. His concern was with the destruction of Libya (Carthage) by the victorious European (Roman) armies during the Punic Wars, two or three centuries before he wrote:

hinc populum late regem bolloque superbum / venturum exidio Libyae;

"A people vast in rule and skilled in war would come to destroy Libya;"

2,000 years later, the problem is not caused by European powers coming to destroy Libya, but by their failure to help it set up a stable government that can offer the refugees safety from ISIS and other factions competing for power in that country, as well as protect them from inhuman exploitation by the traffickers.

Does anyone see a parallel with the Central American children's' refugee crisis which caused such a commotion among anti-immigrant nativists in the US last summer, and may well do again this summer also? In the case of large scale refugee immigration, in America as in Europe, it is always easier to blame the victims of corrupt or failed governments, rather than the circumstances which cause the refugees to flee and look for a safer and better life elsewhere.