Putting ‘Christ’ back into Christmas (but leaving migrants out at sea)

As for their geometric configuration: it is certainly no coincidence that all human civilisations, in one way or another, have always recognized the circle as a symbol for ‘eternity’… and, well, what do you know?

You know how it goes: every now and again, something comes along that suddenly – without warning – does to your perspective on Life, what your cat is probably doing to your Christmas decorations right now.

Crash, bang, tinkle! And just like that, from one moment to the next: the bits-and-pieces of all your previous convictions lie scattered all over the floor…

Now: it may sound like a curious cause for such a dramatic effect: but the example I had in mind concerns the European Union flag… you know, that perfectly circular constellation of bright golden stars, set against a dark blue backdrop (often as not, with Roberta Metsola’s head positioned directly in the middle…)

Now: personally, I’ve always had pet theory of my own, to account for that particular design. ‘Stars’, for instance, seem an entirely appropriate choice to represent the ultimate goal of the so-called ‘European project’: i.e, to forge a single political ‘union’, out of 28 (sorry, 27) different member states.

As visions go, it is certainly dazzling, and mesmerizing… But let’s face it: it is also every bit as attainable, as those distant stars that twinkle back at us from the dark blue heavens above (forever visible, yes; but forever tantalizingly out of reach...)

As for their geometric configuration: it is certainly no coincidence that all human civilisations, in one way or another, have always recognized the circle as a symbol for ‘eternity’… and, well, what do you know?

That is precisely how long the EU always seems to take, to come up with anything resembling a ‘common position’ on… well, pretty much any issue you care to name.

And this, I need hardly add, also explains precisely why that vision of a single European superpower remains so apparently unreachable, all these decades later. For if the European Union can’t even agree on, say, a ‘Common Asylum and Migration Policy’ – and even then, because each of its 27 member countries remains fiercely protective of its own sovereignty, as a nation state - then how can it ever hope to ‘unite’ over all such divisive issues, at any time in in future?

And yet, in the 20 or so years since a full-blown immigration crisis has been unfolding here in the Mediterranean: we have heard nothing but the same old promises, and the same old arguments, repeated over and over again…

… but all the while, the promised Common Asylum Policy remains (just like those ‘golden stars’) permanently beyond our reach… precisely because the entire discussion never seems capable of breaking out of the same old, endlessly-repeated, circular loop.

And oh my, what a coincidence: it seems that yet another, all-too familiar humanitarian crisis is developing once more, just a few miles off our coast: and once again, the pattern is indistinguishable from all the others before it.

In a nutshell, we are looking at the umpteenth, almost-identical situation, whereby a shipload of over 200 asylum seekers is left stranded out at sea… with one European port after another (starting with Malta’s) resorting to every excuse under the sun, to prevent them from ever disembarking on European soil.

As usual, there are minor variations here and there. This time, for instance, it is evidently Malta’s turn to play the “not-a-safe port-of-call” card… even if it remains the same justification that Italy has used so often, to close off its island of Lampedusa… (with the small, difference, of course, that Malta used to loudly complain about that sort of thing, when it came from Salvini…)

Either way, the pattern itself is nothing new. It starts with voluntary organisations (a German NGO named ‘Sea-Eye 4, in the latest case) feeling they have to step forward and fulfil all the international obligations that European member states have, very clearly, ABDICATED…

…and it carries on with a full-blown humanitarian crisis, evolving right here on our own doorstep, every other month or so: while individual EU member states consistently wrangle and bicker over how – if at all – those rescued migrants will be ‘redistributed’ afterwards…

… and OK, by this point you might well be wondering what the heck any of this has to do with the European flag (of all unearthly things)… but I reckon I’ve already answered at least part of that question.

Even if my own pet theory turns out to be woefully incorrect - and it does: woefully - it still remains more accurate (if I say so myself) as a reflection of the European Union’s current predicament. Faced with the reality that the same EU is hopelessly incapable of ever providing meaningful, EU-wide solutions – not even to a problem as serious, and recurring, as immigration - the very idea of an ‘Integrated Europe’ can only ever be passed off as precisely the sort of a starry-eyed flight of fancy, as represented by that flag.   

But that, I fear, is only part of the story. For it turns out that the same design actually represents something very different indeed. According to the European Parliament’s former President Antonio Tajani, the correct interpretation is actually that… wait for it…

“The stars on the EU flag represent the crown of the Virgin Mary, and the blue represents the colour of her mantle…”

And… Crash! Bang! Tinkle! That was the precise moment when that my entire perception of ‘Europe’, and everything it is supposed to represent, just fragmented into a million shards before my eyes.

Leaving aside that… in a flash, it suddenly made sense of that curious factoid I mentioned earlier (Yes, of course Roberta Metsola would be so desperately keen to get herself photographed wearing ‘the Blessed Virgin’s crown’, and draped in ‘Our Lady’s Holy Blue Mantle’! As political marketing stratagems go… it’s pure genius, really)…

But that was just an aside. The real problem with Tajani’s assertion is that: a) it turns out to be entirely accurate… at least, insofar as how the inspiration for that flag originally came about. (For yes, it is a historical fact that both stars, and colour, were chosen for that specific reason…)

And b)… it also conjures up a whole different perspective on the very nature, and purpose, of this entity that we call the ‘European Union’.

It is one thing, I suppose, to interpret that design the traditional way: i.e., that the choice of religious imagery represents a fleeting, iconographic nod towards the (private) Christian beliefs of its so-called ‘Founding Fathers’… and just stop there.

But what Tajani seems to be implying (and bear in mind that he made that argument, specifically in a Parliamentary debate about ‘Christmas’) is that the same religious imagery is supposed to actually MEAN something, too…   

In other words, that the European Union is not – as we might have been forgiven for thinking, by the way it generally behaves – a ‘secular political institution that was founded by people who just happen to have been Christians’… but that its entire ethos is somehow bound up with the fate of that religion, too.

So when Commissioner Helena Dalli came up with a completely inconsequential set of guidelines to explain (as one of her S&D supporters rather aptly put it): ‘How not to be an asshole to others this Christmas’… Tajani himself was among the many, many (right-wing) European politicians who - very predictably - interpreted it as an umpteenth attempt to “take ‘Christ’ out of Christmas”.    

Please note, however, that what prompted all this divine indignation, among so many of Europe’s Christian-crusader politicians, was… well, that same non-event that I have just described: in other words, a phantom, non-existent ‘threat’, to a festivity (religious or otherwise), that has no real place in any discussion about European politics anyway.

It was certainly NOT, however, the plight of over 200 vulnerable people – including a number of women (some of whom are pregnant) and children (some of whom need medical attention) - who have once again been left stranded out in the middle of the open sea… because not a single one of these supposedly ‘Christian-inspired’ EU member states, can ever bring themselves to agree on whose turn it is to actually ‘play the Christian’, this time round…

Looking at it from Tajani’s own viewpoint, though: what sort of excuse does that perspective even leave EU member states with, for steadfastly refusing to offer even the most basic shelter imaginable – like, for instance the inside of a detention centre – to vulnerable people who are clearly in distress?

And how does a ‘Christian’ politician actually explain the sort of policies that simply leave people in that predicament stranded, at the mercy of the elements? And at Christmastime, too… which, apart from being the (Ho, ho, ho!) ‘Season to be Jolly’…  also happens to be the coldest, roughest, and toughest time of the year to be stuck at sea?

Above all, though: how on earth do people like Tajani justify a contradiction of such blasphemous proportions… not to his own political grouping, the EPP; or or the Social democrats, or to the Greens… not even to themselves… but to none other than Our Lady herself?

Ooh, I don’t know. Somehow, I think my own (entirely secular) interpretation of that flag – despite being factually ‘wrong’, in every respect – actually paints the European Union in a much more flattering light.

For, if you remove religion from the equation altogether… it wouldn’t quite ‘excuse’ the EU for its manifest failure to ever really live up to its self-avowed Christian roots, no… but at least, it wouldn’t come across as quite so disgustingly hypocritical, either…