The Malta Independent 22 September 2019, Sunday

Racism is in our DNA

Noel Grima Sunday, 26 May 2019, 08:28 Last update: about 5 months ago

What is really surprising is that the initial reaction to the death of an immigrant in a country lane in Birzebbuga was sufficiently muted to be almost inexistent.

At first it was not all that clear that someone had been killed and there was even some confusion with regard to one of the people who had been injured, with some saying he was from Georgia.

Then slowly, slowly, things began to get clearer. First of all, the identity of the victim who, it seems, had gone to the Centre to be of help to newer arrivals. Then it became clearer that this was no accident, but in a way premeditated. The killing was deliberate, although not deliberately towards the victim. It was straight from Alabama and the KKK.

Then, again slowly, the reactions from NGOs started coming in. And then, last weekend, came the news that two soldiers were about to be arraigned and charged with killing for racist reasons.

That was, we might say, when the case became mainline. It completely upset the last days of the election campaign and the carefully scripted speeches by the leaders.

It is to the credit of the Police Force that they managed to crack this case (although the arraigned can only be considered guilty after being found guilty by the court). The evidence must have been hard to obtain in the context of a country lane at night. And whatever pressures may have been exerted before the arraignment, the police went ahead and did their duty.

Obviously, as happens in Malta and elsewhere, the country split into those who accused the AFM as a whole and those who defended it and reminded us of the many dangers soldiers face to rescue migrants.

That is all true but it is undeniable that racism has taken over a sizeable part of our country. To put things in the proper perspective, racism is ingrained in our country’s DNA, dating back to when the Order of St John financed vessels setting out to attack Turkish or Arab vessels, when there were many slaves in Malta, some kept by private individuals. Those who visit St John’s Cathedral can see slaves on the tombs of Grand Masters. It was Napoleon who banished slavery and set slaves free – but he could not eradicate the feeling of racial superiority which persists to this day.

There is a lot to say about the actions and reactions of the political leaders. We live in an unfortunate time when our two leaders are populists.

Adrian Delia has been complaining for months about migrants and foreigners crowding to Malta. When he spoke at Marsa and went to ring the bell of the closed police station the inference was clear: he was speaking about dark-skinned migrants.

Now, after the Birzebbuga murder, he did condemn the murder but only, I felt, in very generic terms.

Joseph Muscat also condemned the murder. He had a coloured Maltese girl to explain that she is happy in Malta and said that, in the future, multi-cultural Malta, we must learn to accept diversity.

All true and good but this hardly tackles the issue.

The fact is that, for years, people have been allowed to express themselves in racist terms without any consequences at all. Racism is rife on the social media and unabated. It would not be a solution to create a police state where every comment on – say – Facebook is examined with a lens. So people have been allowed to get away with murder – until a real murder took place.

This is not just a Maltese issue: a look at Italy shows many similarities, not least the killing or attempted killing of black migrants. And in Italy, as well, political rhetoric has gone overboard, with the country closing all its ports to rescue boats and migrants being sent back to their country of origin. Here, too, we had irresponsible words on push-backs.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that Italy and Malta have taken more than their share of migrants and the process of assimilation and integration is slow, chaotic and under-funded. Our open doors have created a new underclass, a reservoir of unemployed, untrained and ill-paid mostly men, who are routinely underpaid and abused.

Hopefully, this murder will remain just one case.



Shelley and the giant

I want to add my twopenn’orth to the tributes paid to Shelley Tajar, including Marie Benoit’s piece last Sunday.

I was present at the Msida synagogue when Avigdor Lieberman, at that time Foreign Minister of Israel, came visiting. Lieberman, born in Russia, is a giant of a man with hard-line views. Shelley was minute and frail. Nevertheless, with a smile on her face she told him to his face (referring to an episode the previous day when Israeli soldiers boarded a Palestinian boat and people had been killed in the scuffles) that perhaps the soldiers should have put flowers in their rifles.


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