Sunday 17 February 2019

I see your true colours

This last week has once again opened the lid on the depth of hatred against African refugees which lies just below the surface of otherwise ‘decent’ people. I keep experiencing shocks of dismay every time someone I know starts venting on the issue. It has got to the point where I prefer to walk away (or not comment if it’s online) rather than start arguing in what I know will be a futile vicious circle where neither party will be able to convince the other.

Online comments have left me disturbed and flabbergasted as people unleash their true colours, claiming that this is about patriotism, when the bald fact is that they simply do not want blacks in Malta. Period.

And this could have all been avoided if the Prime Minister had chosen his words more wisely and not brought up the possibility of push backs at all. I feel he has failed to live up to the responsibility of his office in this very delicate issue because he has given permission (so to speak) to all those who have kept their feelings bottled up until now.

I’m not even going to call it racism; I’m going to call it a complete lack of empathy with other human beings who are ‘different’. This is what is scary about what I hear and read online and why his brinkmanship to force the rest of the EU to sit up and take notice, is very dangerous. Because this is not just about the Maltese who hate blacks; this is about the type of Maltese person who has absolutely no affinity with anyone unless they are exactly like him/her.

[We saw plenty of this ugly side of our national psyche in the election campaign as people threw derogatory adjectives around towards others purely based on their political affiliation].

Compassion stops as soon as the “others” are perceived as a threat – so it might give them a warm, fuzzy glow to send an SMS to donate a tenner to those who are starving in Kenya, just as long as you don’t bring them around here with their strange culture, pitch black faces and weird mother tongues.

It really speaks volumes about us as a country that on the one hand is bursting with churches, patron saints and religious festas, but has lost sight of what it really means to show basic human kindness to others. The blatant prejudice is pervasive throughout the country and not limited to the south of Malta either. Do you remember the ruckus which was raised when Muslims started praying on the Sliema front?

It has also become patently clear that whereas on a normal day we can be cheerfully at each other’s throats because of partisan politics, on this issue, PN and Labour voters have bizarrely joined hands across the yawning chasm which usually separates them. It is no coincidence, I think, that these are mostly the diehards – proving my theory that those who are fanatical about politics tend to be fanatical about everything.

Having said that, even some of those who claim to be open-minded and ‘liberal’ have demonstrated that, on this issue, they are anything but – because their allegiance to the Labour party comes before anything else. Or else they feel they must agree with everything Muscat does because – well,  just because they voted for him.  I find this attitude ridiculous because it is impossible to agree with every single decision made during a legislature, no matter who is in government.

Let us not be carried away either by the way the PN has latched on to this for its own ends.  Why was that judicial protest to stop the push back only signed by certain lawyers and not others? Well, because no other lawyers were aware of it, that’s why, and only found out about it through the media. A deliberate, calculated and cynical move no matter which way you look at it.

As things stand, it is depressing to realize that given a choice, most people see nothing wrong in pushing back the refugees to meet an unknown fate. What many are failing to grasp, however, is that if someone can speak so callously about other human beings just because of their skin colour, they can just as easily turn against others for a variety of other reasons: their politics, their religion, their lifestyle choice, you name it. Intolerance, once it is given the stamp of legitimacy, becomes uncontrollable.

In fact, it is already happening as I see Maltese people viciously  turning against each other, using names such as ‘traitor’ because they do not agree on how to handle the refugee issue.

Right now, as tempers flare, moderation is what we need, and a PM who speaks in the measured tones of a true statesman, rather than one who taps into the alarming underlying anti-African sentiments, stirring the passions of a people who are by their very nature very passionate and hotheaded.

National consensus on this is the best way forward if we truly want to put forward a solid case as a EU member state.  Bickering among ourselves is just wasted energy. And meanwhile, making it OK to speak in disparaging terms about other human beings is a reflection of just how badly we, as a nation, have completely lost our way.

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