Letters | Sunday, 17 May 2009
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St Paul and immigrants

This letter was written to the Times in response to a letter by Henry Frendo (‘Parallels between St Paul and immigrants’, The Times, 30 April) but the editor decided this letter, countering and criticising Prof Frendo’s arguments, should not be published. I resent the letter a few days ago, but still failed to get it published:
Henry Frendo censors President Abela and Archbishop Cremona for comparing the story of those migrants who, unfortunately for them, end up on our shores to the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul. He maintains that the “analogy is historically inaccurate and strained.” The reason he gives is that, unlike modern migrants: “St Paul, ….was not and had no intention of being a migrant… Here, you had a one-off accident at sea where a shipload of ordinary travellers were caught in a storm and made shore temporarily.”
Apart from the fact that he is historically incorrect (St Paul was a prisoner; not an ‘ordinary traveller’), apparently the writer has no idea as to what analogies entail. An analogy does not involve things/situations that are exactly alike. “Analogies are resemblances between things of different types…the two things being compared are similar in some respects but …are not the same sort of thing (and) will have many different properties.” (Logic and its Limits; Patrick Shaw).
What the person making the analogy requires is that the two situations are similar in those aspects that are relevant to the analogy. This obviously holds in the case of Paul and modern migrants. In both cases:
• The Maltese face an unexpected and uninvited ‘other’;
• The ‘other’ has his own culture and religion (though this may not be the case today, since a good number of immigrants are Christian);
• In today’s Malta the other is considered as potentially a criminal and hence detained; in the case of Paul the Maltese faced a patented criminal who would eventually be condemned to death in Rome.
On the contrary, it is the contrast Frendo makes between Paul’s ‘legality’ and the ‘illegality’ of these immigrants which seems to be somewhat fallacious. His reasoning implicitly assumes a common context in relation to which the situation of the two (Paul and the immigrants) is considered. As a historian, Frendo should know that Paul lived in a cosmopolitan empire that comprised the entire Mediterranean, not in a world of nation-states. Hence, any comparison between law-abiding former, and the border-trespassing and law-transgressing latter is rather tenuous.
Moreover, assuming the comparison holds, Frendo’s argument seems to implicitly contain two further shortcomings:
1 – the belief that the problem of immigration is merely legal; a widespread but simplistic belief which would entail a simple solution – the legalisation of African immigration.
2 – the presupposition of the legitimacy of established international and political orders (Roman and actual); something that should not be taken for granted by any thinking person. On the contrary, I would expect an ‘intellectual’ to highlight the contradictions of established political orders; the primary contemporary one arguably being the fact that we are living in a world where the powers that be impose on third world countries the commandment to pull down economic barriers (and those who refuse to do so to protect any nascent industry are punished if they fail to comply), while urging them to erect walls to stop people (who after all may be considered an economic asset) from following the goods that are moving to the most affluent parts of the world.


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