The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

When silence is obscene

Charles Flores Sunday, 31 May 2020, 10:39 Last update: about 3 months ago

I honestly hope that by the time this angry piece of sobriety (contradiction intended) appears, the issue of the screaming crisis of illegal immigration in the Central Mediterranean will have been solved or at least partially solved. Fat chance for that, I can hear many hiss as they let their hot morning coffee cool beside Sunday’s indulgence of a cupcake or pastizz.

It is not easy to come to terms with the current situation. Not while some 300 migrants are caught on board three Captain Morgan vessels desperately waiting for their sentence on what will be their future. These are people who have risked life and limb travelling across deserts, suffering the injustices of Libyan and NGO crooks and taking to dangerous waters in the hope of eventually reaching what they consider as heaven-on-earth Europe. Fat chance there too.


Europe itself is caught in the vicious stranglehold of Covid-19 and is hardly in a position to take a more than normal stance on the issue. Not while it is immersed in saving its own citizens from the dreaded virus and the economic shock it has caused and which will take the eurozone back into its original hole. There is something almost mystical in the situation. People who need saving by people who are trying to save themselves. It can also be callously funny at times, invoking the old popular Maltese ditty about the sea urchin-seller who fell into the sea, only for the oyster-seller to jump in to rescue him. The sea urchin-seller however managed to quickly swim back to shore while the oyster-seller drowned.

Tar-rizzi waqa’ il-baħar, 

Tal-imħar qabeż għalih,

Tar-rizzi tela’ jiġri,

Tal-imħar baqa’ fil-qiegħ.

What it most certainly is, obscene. For an organisation made up of no fewer than 27 member states covering an area of 4,233,262 square kilometres and a population density of 106 per square kilometre, it is absolutely incredible that no agreement can be reached to take in the 300 stranded migrants whom Malta, with a total area of 316 square kilometres and a shocking population density of 1,431 per square kilometre, has rescued in recent weeks. More strong-willed bureaucrats in Brussels would have solved this in an instant and not resort to sheepishly go round the Continent, begging-bowl in hand, in search of solidarity. Should all member states agree to accept an equal share of the migrants, it would mean taking in a mere 11 unfortunate souls.

Of course, should – as it should – take into account the element of fairness in burden-sharing, some will have to take more than others. No ifs or buts. This is a humanitarian issue, not a matter of sheer national competence. Malta asked the EU to intervene in April when it had no alternative to closing its ports to more asylum seekers as a result of its over-packed migration centres and the strict anti-pandemic measures.

As long as the current obscenity persists, the EU cannot be accorded any more credibility, if it ever had any. All the sweet talk has turned sour. All the good intentions have turned into frustrations. While the COVID-19 crisis, now subsiding, has understandably created unforeseen social and economic hurdles, diplomatic efforts for the relocation of the 300 stranded migrants cannot go on forever. Nor can Malta continue to hire private vessels (all of the State’s own already committed to rescue and security operations) to anchor outside its territorial waters while the EU machine stutters as it drains itself of fuel.

Perhaps granting each and every one of the stranded migrants citizenship and a ready passport for the first resumed flights out could help? Not likely, as that would turn the hundreds into multitudes, but then, extreme situations demand extreme measures. Certainly less obscene than keeping them afloat, waiting for EU compassion, like some miserable, unwanted cargo from a shipwreck.


Noise pollution pulp?

Malta’s noise pollution was immortalised by Lord Byron in his famous line “an island of yells, bells and smells” though there are those who insist that line is erroneously attributed to the great bard and that it actually came from a quote in David Niven’s autobiography, The moon’s a balloon. We may argue about who came first with those words, but there is no denial of the truth they still represent.

The “Byron” quip resurfaced mentally by the story of several Muslim imams in the UK wanting the privilege of calling worshipers to prayer – the adhan   through loudpeakers outside mosques, which they were allowed to do by way of encouraging Muslims to stay at home amid the Coronavirus quarantine, to remain the practice on a daily basis. While the local councils involved reported the lockdown move feedback had been “really positive”, eliciting only a few complaints, I very much doubt non-Muslims would accept the noise for the rest of their lives.

For all our surrounding, sometimes suffocating noise, I doubt we would too. Of course it is always more sensitive when such things are connected with the practice of religion. A similar ambience is created in many of our villages and towns on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, but that happens only once a year and certainly is no bone of social contention.

Muslim countries rightly have their own schedules, with the adhan broadcast no less than five times a day... no matter what. I remember taking part in a direct live TV transmission in Struga, a city in what is today officially known as North Macedonia, only for the broadcast to lose any semblance of quality when the loudspeakers from the nearby mosque started blasting the evening’s prayers and turning our sweet little poems about love and human solidarity into an incongruous cacophany. All in colour HD. I could see the poor programme director about to have a heart attack.


Corona commissars

How ironic that so many freedom-loving European countries have had to resort to the use of what is technically a Commissar to exert control on the public during the current Coronavirus pandemic. To have government ministers and civil servants dictating as to how many persons one can meet or not in a park is indeed frightening, albeit necessary.

Of course you have the political commissars, subject of many a Western media chuckle in the past, checking you out as you tip toe through the tulips...


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