Italy's current crisis of Mediterranean migration and detention has its roots in early twentieth century imperial ambitions. Stephanie Malia Hom
's new book Empire's Mobius Strip: Historical Echoes in Italy's Crisis of Migration and Detention
(Cornell University Press, 2019) investigates how mobile populations were perceived to be major threats to Italian colonization, and how the state's historical mechanisms of control have resurfaced, with greater force, in today's refugee crisis.
What is at stake in Empire's Mobius Strip
is a deeper understanding of the forces driving those who move by choice and those who are moved. Hom focuses on Libya, considered Italy's most valuable colony, both politically and economically. Often perceived as the least of the great powers, Italian imperialism has been framed as something of "colonialism lite." But Italian colonizers carried out genocide between 1929–33, targeting nomadic Bedouin and marching almost 100,000 of them across the desert, incarcerating them in camps where more than half who entered died, simply because the Italians considered their way of life suspect. There are uncanny echoes with the situation of the Roma and migrants today. Hom explores three sites, in novella-like essays, where Italy's colonial past touches down in the present: the island, the camp, and the village.
Empire's Mobius Strip
brings into relief Italy's shifting constellations of mobility and empire, giving them space to surface, submerge, stretch out across time, and fold back on themselves like a Mobius strip. It deftly shows that mobility forges lasting connections between colonial imperialism and neoliberal empire, establishing Italy as a key site for the study of imperial formations in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Beth Windisch is a national security practitioner. You can tweet her @bethwindisch