Human Value

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The Authorities (capital A) have decided that the status known as Temporary Humanitarian Protection N(ew) – THPn in short – will no longer be renewed for what seems to be hundreds of migrants living in Malta. You may have seen stories in the press by now about Malta-born kids to Eritrean families who face imminent deportation thanks to such a decision. It does not matter whether these families are gainfully occupied, whether they are fully-paid up on their taxes and whether they have somehow integrated into our way of living – none of the above matters – they will not have their THPn renewed and this will mean their being sent back wherever they came from (if possible).

Prime Minister Muscat is quoted as having said that “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate immigrants who have been found to be here illegally.” It’s a matter of credibility then. There is already a bit of a fallacy there since the issue of legality had been dealt with pretty superbly under national sovereign law with the creation of this TPHn system – it is now, and only now, that the labour government has decided to change this state of affairs in line of the winds of change propelling the likes of Trump to the seat of power. Also, after all, the nation holding the rotating presidency of the EU must lead by example no?

There is a deeper issue at play here though. This is not your normal immigrant/refugee situation that falls under the black and white category of whether a nation is willing to take on the “burden” of life saving. The deeper issue is the value that we attach to humans – the human value – in our political field. If these were just souls wandering in on a dinghy and waiting the cynical sorting that goes on in such situations it would be a “simple” immigration issue. Instead we have discovered that these carriers of THPn permits might run into the hundreds (a very conservative estimate would be around 600). Most of them have settled in one way or another and are earning their bread in gainful employment

Suddenly the mass deportation of a substantial figure of Malta’s working population has direct consequences on the economic market. The more cynical among us might not have batted an eyelid when it came to deporting individuals straight off their dinghies of death. Instead we saw genuine concern by employers of these people who are set to live in a short limbo of uncertainty that will culminate in a loss of employees. This is not some trumped up figure of record unemployment thanks to an incucio between the GWU and government magicking thousands off the record books. These are real employments that risk being wiped off the fragile Maltese markets – and funnily enough it might finally give Maltese society as a whole a reason to care.

This news comes at a time when the Nationalist Party is trying hard to attract what we used to call SME’s to the fold with new taxation incentives – for those who behave a 10% tax. Numbers and money all seem nice as the PN and the PL vie for the title of champion of the  businessman. With the party in government selling off anything they can get their hands on, the PN opted to champion the middle ground in business terms and good for it.

What happens now though when the two parties notice that this move of cutting out completely the holders of the THPn will end up with a huge gap in the employment market that will not and cannot be easily replaced? Will we finally see some value in the humans that they are because they can be quantified as real contributors to the economy? Will we be cynical enough to take a step back (in the case of government) or champion their cause (in the case of the opposition)? Or are the winds of Le Pen, Trump and Geert Wilders too strong for comfort?

« Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no. »

– P.  Levi

The Arab Mosque of Msida

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Somehow it does not have the same appeal as the “American University of Malta” does it? It’s Arab, not American, it’s a Mosque, not a University, and its Msida… as in, since when does Msida have more appeal other than being a huge roundabout adorned by a garish monument and kiosks?  There still seems to be a more tangible and realistic demand for the Arab Mosque of Msida than for the ultra-fictitious American University of Malta. It may be because the latter is neither American nor a University and is only sited in Malta because the great salesman of Castille was conned into prostituting virgin land to a construction specialist from the Emirates. The former is required because there are quite a number of practicing muslims who have no place to gather for prayer.

When Germany started to feel the weight of the large influx of refugees from Syria and around, questions started to be asked of the neighbouring Gulf states and whether they too would be prepared to take some of the millions of displaced people. Saudi Arabia’s reply was curious. They would not take the refugees themselves but offered to help Germany integrate the muslims. By building mosques. In Germany.

Of course this was before the nightmare situation of the New Years’ Eve groping sessions from Cologne to Bielfeld to Hamburg. Even so, the Saudi proposal was met with disdain as it brought to life themonstrous menace  of a cultural invasion. Mosques are not exactly the top priority for building projects in Europe right now. Which is probably why France’s mosques held an open day on Saturday in order to allow non-muslims to see how they were really places meant for prayer and peace. Islam, the religion of submission  to the will of God (inshallah) is all about peace (salaam), they said.

Back to Malta. Some nutter with no idea of PR decided that the best thing for the muslim community to do in these times of high sensistivity and sensibility where cliches are shot as rapidly as a kalashnikov in the wrong hands was to organise an open air prayer meeting – of the kind Angelik does – in full view. The idea was to show how the muslims in Malta did not have enough places of prayer – the Paola mosque was not enough and using a garage to congregate is considered illegal.

Some questions do need to be asked though. The muslim community has grown considerably and there is probably a justified demand for a new place of prayer. Our constitution safeguards and respects the right of other religions and the freedom to worship is one of the fundamental rights that are recognised. The question of whether a new mosque is needed should be examined in this light – outside of the panic and fear-mongering linked with recent international events. It is not about us and them either. We are either a nation that is selling passports by the hundreds (and it has been made abundantly clear what creed and nationality are the major targets for this campaign) or we are not. These are Maltese citizens who happen to be muslim that need catering for.

Much fuss was made when it was suggested that the new Sadeen Not-So American and not so University of ODZonqor might require a mosque of its own given its target of 3,500 students. It’s not so funny now is it? The Slovaks have questionably closed their borders to anybody who is muslim – no muslim refugees. This questionable decision is not an option here. We are dutibound to look hard into our constitution and our core values and understand that a new mosque is necessary in order to guarantee worshiping rights to some of our citizens.

What is funny, or interesting, is that neither the developers of this land nor some new shady business partner from the Gulf have made contact with this government of plentiful opportunity in order to market a new deal. As I said in the beginning the Arab Mosque of Msida (or wherever the government might decide to sell land) is never going to be an attractive option. Which is a pity really, because at the end of the day the building of a mosque as a place for congregation for the muslim citizens of the land would actually be a clear sign that Malta’s constitutional values are strong and alive – that in this country you are free to worship so long as you respect others and respect the core values of the community.

Know your enemy

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The language of war has returned ever since the Paris Attacks. The French PM has not held back the ballistic rhetoric and insists on qualifying this as a war between France and Da’esh (they hate that name). In doing so, Hollande steps into the shoes of George W. Bush who similarly had declared war on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shortly after the sad events of 9/11. Ever since 13/11 (European calendar) Hollande has upped the tempo and has even resorted to invoking international clauses before the UN in order to intensify the attacks on Da’esh.

One thing that has really been getting at me ever since this war discourse has begun is the frequent reference to the facts of the Paris Attacks as though they are the first time ever that a European nation is facing terror and terrorist attacks. The modern generation of politicians seem to have a faint, or non-existent, grasp of the recent history of their continent. It would appear that it is the first time that a group of men opened fire on innocent civilians, the first time that bombs went off in a major European city, the first time that a sporting event was directly in the line of fire and – to add the events of the Russian events on the Sinai – the first time that a plane was bombed or hijacked by terrorists.

As if this historical distortion is not enough we have to also add the fact that the context of all this terror-talk is a Europe that is already submerged in fear-mongering in relation to the “threat” of immigration. The Paris Attacks occurred within the context of a major continental upheaval with regards to immigrants and refugees and we had no time to factor in the issue of continental values that was still very much unresolved at the time.

What do I mean by historical distortion? This is a generation of politicians that are used to selling their wares through very efficient marketing and rhetoric. They are used to manipulating facts and figures in order to infuse feel good factors. Just take a look at “Our economy is booming” Renzi and Muscat for a clear example of what is meant. These politicians are now faced with a concrete problem and have to seem as efficient as when they are trumping up figures to make their economy sound beautiful. So they tell us that this is a danger such as we have never seen before. In one fell swoop the deeds of the IRA, ETA, Baader-Meinhoff, Brigade Rosse and the PLO (and PLF) are vanished away.  According to the new rhetoric the bombings at Liverpool Street Station, Bologna or the shootings at Munich are just fiction.

Muhammad Zaidan (Abu Abbas for enemies) never existed. The governments of Thatcher and Craxi never had to deal with terrorist cells. No. Only now are we at WAR. The enemy is everywhere. That is what they want you to believe.

Does this mean that a terrorist threat from Da’esh should be ignored or is not so bad as they make it sound? Nonsense. What I mean is that this sudden linking of terrorist attack to acts of war has consequences that go far beyond dealing with them as the type of security threat that they really are. With the death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, we were told that he was very probably the mastermind behind most of the other attacks that occurred recently – or that were foiled. from the shootout in Verviers to the foiled Thalys aggression  – it was Abaaoud. When you read the facts that are available in terms of 70s and 80s terrorism it begins to look very likely that we are dealing with a cell of extreme terrorists.

This kind of cell is a bunch of individuals disgruntled with society in very much the same vein as a Breivik or your average US High School Shooter in the US. It is now also clear that they are raised and bred in Europe only to abscond to war zones like Syria to get “training” in much the same way as the Che Guevara’s of other decades rushed to zones of popular revolution. The “ideology” is an excuse or pressure valve justification to unleash pent up anger at a society that they claim misunderstands them. When they do manage to succeed with one of their plans to explode or kill that is when Da’esh steps in to claim ownership. Which is fortunate for Da’esh because, as they themselves claim in their newsletters, any action that is successful and perpetrated by anyone can be claimed as originating from them no matter how spurious the link is. This makes Da’esh look much larger and organised on the European mainland than it really is.

The flaws in European security relate to the inability to flag disillusioned individuals, the facility with which they can obtain weapons in a society that does not treat guns and bombs as liberally as the US and finally, the biggest flaw is looking for a massive organisation where there most probably is none. Da’esh’s hand in all this is ‘limited’ so to speak in obtaining a monopoly on fear. The ultimate aim for Da’esh is to provoke the “Us and Them” mentality – and they hope to recruit more than just a handful of misplaced youths with suicidal tendencies. That is why the war language serves Da’esh more than it serves your average European state.

It may sound crazy at this moment in time but I strongly believe that Europe – particularly the Union – has much bigger problems than the terrorism threat. The main issue here is the search for a Europe of Values with common intent. It is that Europe that failed to take shape when Giscard d’Estaing’s constitutional convention failed to deliver a clear definition of the Europe that we all want. It is only by defining what it is and what its values are that Europe can finally stand up and be clear about its position vis-a-vis the immigrants that are looking to it as a place of refuge or economic improvement. When we can tell refugees and immigrants who we are and what standards they must conform to then we can really wage the real war that counts. The war on ignorance and intolerance.

Before you face your enemy it is important to know thyself. Nosce te ipsum.

Cue Daboma, See Black

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Hindsight. It can be a good thing. With hindsight, and the help of a video filmed on the personal initiative of one of the RIU officers, the police union are trying hard to show that your average constable does not include racism or racial profiling when in the course of performing his duties. In an interview I caught this week (still cannot find the link) the union officer stresses that Daboma Jack was handcuffed for “only” four and a half minutes and that the procedure leading to his handcuffing can not be classified as “excessive use of force”.

The explanation given by the officer does go a long way to explaining why it takes two officers plus one from a specialised unit to immobilise a protesting “well built” (sic – fih ragel) person of dark coloration. Apparently no matter your coloration or build it will always take two officers to do the job – and this for your own safety. I am prepared to accept this line of reasoning: that if you have to immobilise and detain someone then the safest option is two officers who do so while taking care that you do not incur any injuries.

What is more worrying is the reasoning as to why it was deemed necessary to handcuff Jack in the first place. While I set aside my worries that the RIU arresting officer constantly addressed Jack in Maltese throughout the handcuffing procedure, issuing curt orders such as “wara”, “oqghod” and the like, I am more inclined to question what led to the suspicion falling immediately on Jack.

Who called the RIU to the scene? What kind of information was given to them upon arrival? What did the policeman who had been on scene until the arrival of the RIU tell the officers? The Union spokesperson seems to have blamed two factors that could have led to the unnecessary handcuffing. First of all it seems that Daboma Jack was very agitated (rightly so, the spokesperson adds), and secondly the crowd that was present (and the reference seems to be to the patriotic locals) did not help the cause much.

Four and a half minutes in handcuffs are four and a half minutes too many, even given the scenario as presented by the police union spokesperson. That our nation is still chock full with uneducated bigots who are ready to ride the wave of intolerance at any opportunity is a given that the strong arm of the law should by now have factored in whenever it makes an intervention. It hits strong at the core of the issue of tackling the possibility of racial profiling.

It’s either that or a descent to the law of the pitch-fork carrying rabble, so help us god.

The Statesman of the Dead

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They’re not gone. The boats full of hopefuls attempting the dangerous crossing are still there. We might have shifted our media attention to the new parliament but wave upon wave is still being intercepted – only yesterday a couple of hundred persons were to be distributed between Sicily and Puglia.

The problem remains notwithstanding the incredible show of caring and compassion that was put up by Europe’s leadership in the wake of  the 800 dead. I use my words carefully. It is Europe’s leadership and not the EU that is guilty of the dragging of feet and of an overall reluctance to deal head-on with the issue. Juncker tried hard to push the leaders into doing more but in the end the EU remains the sum of many parts and without the real determination of those parts to look the issue of immigration in the face we will not move on.

They’re not gone. We have managed simply to focus on one part of the problem that had hitherto not got the attention it deserved. European leaders chose to focus on the people smugglers. They are base beings who profit on other people’s misery. It is the 21st century form of slavery in many ways. The only difference is that the price paid is by the very people who are being trafficked and not by a European buyer. The Europeans stand aloof disgusted at the large numbers and threats to their integrity – rushing to the latest wagon prepared to brandish populist ideals.

Smuggling is part of the problem.  One German scientist observed that a flight to Europe from central and Saharan Africa costs less than the trips of death. Why don’t more immigrants use that route then? Simple really. Through legislation the European states have made sure that airlines are burdened with the “processing” of individuals before they even set foot on the departure gate. No visa, no flight – so forget processing for refugee status unless you are prepared to submit to the ordeal of trial by Mediterranean Crossing. In other words we (the Europeans States) force the immigrants into that route.

Processing centres in Africa? Just look at Spain’s underhand collaboration with Morocco in the case of Ceuta and Melilla.  Seriously? Meanwhile much of Europe mourns Italy’s abandoning of it’s earlier programs. They had begun to serve as a buffer zone. Renzi managed to make some noise thanks to the 800 dead and Joseph Muscat was quick to join the dance.

You had to be stupid not to realise that there is some sort of arrangement going on between the two. Muscat has arranged to “deal” with the dead while Renzi would transform Italy’s south into a showcase of the impossible nature of dealing with such a huge wave of arrivals. Muscat put up a show with the ignoble grandstanding surrounding the burying of the souls of the unidentified. Ah yes, unidentified. It really turned out that the bodies were only useful for the show for the media. When relatives turned up in the hope of identifying the dead they were refused access to the body. Human? Who are you kidding Joseph Muscat?

Some corners of the press were quick to hail Muscat’s roundabout turn in policy – from pushback to statesman they said. I don’t see how this latest cynical move qualifies as statesmanship. A hundred years from the Gallipoli campaign when Malta proudly stood up as the Nurse of the Mediterranean all Muscat has managed to do is transform our island into a supersized Charon, the ferryman of Hades.

One can only wonder what coin was placed in the mouths of the dead in order to appease our modern day Charon.

Panacea Mediterranea

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The power seems to be in the numbers. If it’s birds then we’re asking how many must be illegally shot before it becomes blatantly obvious that the season must close. If it’s votes then we’re interpreting results as best suits our party of choice – and it seems that everybody can be happy in their own way. If it’s migration then we must sadly count the dead. Yes, the power lies in and among the number of dead because the political situation is such that unless many die (and preferably in as tragic manner as possible) nobody will give a damn.

So a tragedy involving close to 900 souls just about made it to push the issue of migratory flows onto the EU agenda. The Council of Ministers (Foreign Affairs) is having an extraordinary meeting in Luxembourg as I type. We have reached the point (again, may I add) when (as a Union) realise that there is a huge problem at our doorstep. It is impossible for the nordic nations to continue to turn their noses away from the stench of floating dead (I would apologise for the graphic nature of the description but then again there is a bit of anger built up and words are my only weapon).

We must understand though that there is no Panacea Mediterranea. What we see is actually a symptom of problems that originate elsewhere. The sub-Saharan belt will continue be the source of migrants in search of a land that treats them better, that will provide them a sense of decent belonging and dignity. The story of Moses and the errant Israelites of biblical fame continues to repeat itself century after century with huge masses of humans being displaced from areas of uncertainty either because of natural disasters or human cruelty.

The migration flow will, like water, seek the easiest passage to flow through, and right now the easiest exit point is the chaos that is Libya. So long as the Maghreb nations are in chaos they will prove to be the choice transit point for these peoples who have been so reduced to desperation that even risking their lives to Triton the god of the sea becomes a no-brainer.

Politically and diplomatically an entity such as the EU has two different spheres that it needs to influence and assist. First should be the source of the migratory flows – the war and famine torn dark belly of Africa – and secondly the transit nations that are currently submerged in chaos. Heaven (and more practically Earth) forbid that Daesh take further control of these exit points because they will exacerbate the religious tension thrown into the equation (and fools are those who will fall for the trap deeming Muslim migrants as some form of Satanic reincarnation).

It’s a tall order and one that has to be placed into the geopolitical context too. The UK is facing elections soon. Greece is still menacing to play a Samson and pull apart the pillars of the EURO by forcing an exit. Economic recovery on the Old Continent is still way away from forgetting the word “austerity” (though it has been banned from the books). Getting the electorate to understand the importance of economic (and maybe military) intervention in the weak points of the migratory flows is no easy task.

There is no panacea really. What we can strive for is more respect and more humanity. Whether it is when we are discussing the issue and whether it is in our engagement (in our smallness) whenever we can. Demonisation of migrants who made it through does not help anyone and only further increases the tensions. Playing into the facile hands of the populists who would erect a big wall in the sea and forget the problem until it explodes in their face manifold in the future is neither here no there.

It’s a human problem. One that involves all humanity. Whether we like it or not.