Wednesday 12 December 2018

When it comes to crime and violence, one’s nationality should be irrelevant

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

I must have missed all the outrage on FB calling for all Dutch people to be deported immediately because they are “filth”, “scum”, “trash” and a myriad of other adjectives.

Oh wait, no, that is because the outrage never really happened. Once news emerged that the man who had allegedly slashed his Dutch girlfriend’s throat was not an Arab (as so many had immediately decided because of the way she was murdered), but that he came from the Netherlands himself, FB fell silent.

The racism based on skin colour and ethnicity is so rife in Malta that many think nothing of openly and publicly verbalizing outrageous sentiments which would be considered shocking hate speech in other countries. And no, this is not because other countries have become “extremely liberal” or “too politically correct” as some like to claim; it is simply because other societies have learned to their detriment that fomenting hatred based on race has solved absolutely nothing. It only leads to more hate, more prejudice, more violent clashes, more senseless wars.

Violent people are just that, people, and whether they are black, white, green or orange should not come into it. And yet, we keep pouncing on the nationality as if to prove something; it is being used as a tool to reinforce our own prejudices in order to claim triumphantly, you see, “they” are all the same! The problem is that the collective “they” keeps being spread over a larger and larger demographic, and we will soon find that caught up in this bigoted net, we will ultimately find those who are our friends and even those who are somehow related to us, even if just by marriage.

It is true that crime rates have increased all across the board, including by those who are not Maltese, but putting everyone in the same basket and denouncing an entire race or ethnicity purely based on the bad apples is doing no one any good. It is also leading to several incidents where false claims are being made, as happened last week with the alleged kidnapping and molestation of a little boy at Ghadira bay. The police were called in and the man was arrested.

Understandably, the news was met with alarm. But then, surprise, surprise, it has now been learned that apparently the woman who filed the report made the whole thing up. And why? Because the man ‘with black skin’ whom she accused of trying to kidnap her son, had taken her “usual spot” at the beach. On Monday, TVM reported that, after social workers questioned the boy without his mother being present, he gave a completely different account of what had happened and they confirmed that the so-called ‘abduction’ never took place, so the man was released. The worst aspect of all this is that the woman has been let off simply with a warning which is a completely unacceptable message to send for several reasons:

1. it means people can just accuse others of crimes simply as a form of revenge and get away with it because of racial profiling

2. it undermines all genuine cases of real crime because future cases will not be believed

3. it creates unnecessary panic and alarm, fuelling the already existing hysteria and bigotry against ‘the foreigner’

4. the situation can spiral out of control leading to even more tragic consequences if people embark on vigilante justice

I am not denying that crime is being committed by some foreign nationals; we know that it is, and it needs to be clamped down on. Just as a comparable number of crimes, ranging from petty theft to horrendous murder (such as the man who stabbed his aunt and mother to death in Gharghur) are being committed by Maltese nationals. The point is that, with a sudden spike in population because of a large influx of people from all over the world, you are bound to get a bit of everything in the mix – from those who are law-abiding, to those who are not. Then there are the ones you cannot predict. Who would have thought, for example, that an ordinary-looking young Dutch guy with a good job at an iGaming company would (allegedly) end up murdering his former girlfriend? That is not something that anyone could have foretold, but the reality is that dangerously violent men who snap because their girlfriend or wife leaves them, unfortunately exist everywhere. Nationality in this type of crime has nothing to do with it and if you do not believe me just google the stories of domestic violence victims from anywhere in the world. Yet, as soon as the story broke, the one question on everyone’s lips was: what was his nationality?

The nationality of the perpetrator seems to be the all-consuming question, rather than the motive, and this in itself points to a society which has become increasingly paranoid and xenophobic. Some newsrooms have taken the deliberate (and for me, wise) decision not to mention the nationality in the headline when reporting crime. The reason is obvious: when you have a swathe of people who base their knee-jerk reactions simply on a headline, all they need to see is Somalian, Libyan or Serbian and they go berserk. The story goes viral within seconds and FB practically self-implodes.

It cannot be stressed enough that the media need to use more restraint in the stories they are lifting shamelessly from FB, and resist the temptation of click bait, because it is like lighting a match in an already volatile situation. Most of all, there need to be more serious repercussions for those who file false reports so that people will think twice before making wild, inflammatory accusations based purely on a person’s nationality.

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