The Mediterranean is composed of complex layers of people and cultures; it’s not neatly laid on top of each other as if it were a result of a geological process of sedimentation – there are cracks, spillages and fault lines that muddle it up.
Each layer exposes a riotous procession of invasions, migrations, trade and all that coming and going that has conspired to create the multi-ethnic, multi cultural and multi-religious societies that inhabit the shores of the Mediterranean.
The romantic view is that these societies have learned to live together over the millennia, either through necessity or good will, but history offers a less sentimental picture. Whilst it’s true that there are countless examples of peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups, it has always taken very little to upset the harmony – time and time again, the once familiar neighbours suddenly become enemies, they become the alien ‘them’ as distinct from ‘us’. Yet the concept of pure identity – be it ethnic or national – is deeply flawed. Those who glorify their impeccable and unique pedigree probably have ancestors that make mockery of it. A Phoenician sailor, a Greek settler, a Persian soldier, a Nubian slave, a Roman magistrate, an Arab scholar, a Jewish merchant, a Nordic horseman, an endless influx of ‘them’, woven into our societies’ fabric over time, who are they? They are ‘us’.