World Refugee Day 2018: Letter from Rome to Birmingham, 1963

Stories and News No. 1105

Dear Martin Luther King*,

From an insignificant sender to an example become myth, from my future to your apparently different past, from one nation surprisingly similar to yours, from one discrimination to another - so unconsciously identical, I think, from my often underestimated freedom to your unjust imprisonment.
Fifty-five years also divide us, but yesterday as today, being on the side of the oppressed ones, those who will not easily give you friends’ and relatives’ applauses, let alone percentage points in your political career or any field, it is not an easy road.
Yet today, like yesterday, injustice reigns. And just as today, like yesterday, we cannot remain idly seated and not be worried about what is happening.

You were right then, and you are even more in this hard time: everything that touches directly one, it indirectly regards all of us.
Nonetheless, even in my country the voices that on the contrary show restlessness before overly coherent manifestations and excessively exuberant marches, but your reply to the general apathy becomes further reasonable decades ahead.
You suggested an effective action, even if not violent, capable of causing tension in a society that is really not facing the problem.
Well, if despite your sacrifice, and many others like you, even now we are witnessing the return not only of slogans, but even governments founded on racism and intolerance, it means that we have to do infinitely more to dramatize the iniquitous society for too many of our fellow men.
You said you were not afraid of the world's tension, urging your contemporaries to do the same.
Well, you have no idea how much courage should be nourished, sustained and spread today in the land where I live.
Today as then, already, exactly.
Then, as we need to do today, you listened and rejected without hesitation the inevitable invitations to wait for the administrative answers, obsessively linked to the elections moment as the only solution to evil.
The weakness of this assumption echoes even more than from your own words, from the experience of each protagonist, or the simple appearance, inside the civil rights movement.
In other words, an unavoidable principle connatural to our own species, we may also read as the privileged groups rarely voluntarily give up on their privileges. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be asked by the oppressed ones.
For years and still today the discriminated creatures heard the word that is written as wait, but you should read as never, as delayed justice is equivalent to denied justice.
However, if on this topic, how it happened to you, someone dared to bring into play documents and regulations, rules and orders - in short, the much manipulated rights and duties of citizens, who still has almost intact consciousness and intellectual honesty cannot avoid recognizing that there are fair and unfair laws. And that your quote from Thomas Aquinas is more than ever valid today: Every law that raises the human personality is right. Every law that degrades the human personality is unjust.
As you remembered, we should never forget that every inhuman action that Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal.
Well, what is more degrading and unfair to define a human being as a clandestine?
If all this were not enough, the analysis that I appreciate the most in your precious missive concerns the so-called moderated people.
How sadly true is your reasoning, how bitterly it is here, now.
As you wrote about the Ku Klux Klan, I am also convinced that the greatest obstacle for refugees, migrants in general, or simply human beings, in their journey towards a dignified freedom are not the racist parties but the moderate citizens, who still prove to be more attached to order than justice.
Those who you defined as the defenders of a negative peace, incurable absence of tension, instead of pursuing a positive peace, with the indispensable presence of justice applied to everyone.
Their biggest mistake, as you rightly affirmed, is to live with a mythical concept of time, advising the suffering creatures to have patience, waiting for a better horizon.
The time to get up and go down to the streets to stay until there is need was yesterday.
This should make us understand once and for all how much it could be today…

*Martin Luther King wrote his famous letter in 1963, while he was locked up in a Birmingham cell, arrested for participating in a demonstration.


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