September 2009


One can only imagine the euphoria people like Michael Gorbachev and millions of others felt as the Berlin wall began crumbling down. The physical demolition was no big deal, but the non-tangible need to fell ‘protected’ by it had for decades excluded the possibility that the wall might someday exist no more. The need for this protective curtain not only divided people, even families, but created bitter hatred and resentment towards those on the other side of the wall, whatever side of the fence one happened to be situated in. A hatred deeply entangled with ignorance and fear – the most dangerous cocktail possible – dangerous to the extent of igniting a full nuclear war.

 

Gorbachev, since his youth had realised that it was all a game. Like his friends he was a pawn on the East side, fed by the lies of Stalin and his followers, the biggest lie being that the Soviet Union was heaven when compared to the West. He also assumed, rightly enough, that something similar was taking place on the other side of the wall.

 

During his trips to the West (the first attempt at tearing the wall down) a quasi-insignificant incident showed him that had been right all way long. Shyly, a public officer asked Gorbachev to remove his hat. He was curious about something, and it wasn’t whether Gorbachev really had a big birth mark or not. The officer wanted to know if the Soviet leader had horns. Yes, real horns. It was a rumour many in the West had come to believe – Communists were children of the devil and they actually had horns on their head. A stupidity the result of the demonic blend of ignorance, hatred and fear. Luckily some people on both sides of the wall realised that the only solution was tearing the wall down.

 

Yet, though this is only modern history, we seem to have not learnt the lesson. We started erecting walls (physical, metaphorical or both) all over again. The most obvious, and devastating find themselves in Northern Ireland, Gaza, in the American-Mexican border, Iraq and last but not least the infamous Fortress Europe. While these walls, intended to keep away terrorists or drug dealers cause the same harm as the Berlin wall did, they are far from impenetrable. Their significance is only virtual. Like the false feeling of security an umbrella can give you if bombs are falling over your head, they achieve nothing positive. No wall will stop cocaine from going to the U.S as much as no wall will stop Hamas sending rockets to Israel. Yet these walls are making the Americans more sceptic towards the Mexicans, the Palestinians more bitter towards the Israeli.

 

What about Fortress Europe? True there is no real physical wall. However, refugees from the East and the South are still penetrating a wall of hostility and ignorance, coupled with next to useless border controls. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, we viewed the East with curiosity and passion. Africa with pity and awe as one of the richest, yet extremely troubled region ironically associated with poverty. Now, we view them both with fear and hatred.

 

To add insult to injury, another factor has cropped up – the fear (rational or not) of Islam. Fear that once again is blended with hatred and ignorance. Things get even more complicated is that Muslims, are not confined in Asia and Africa, as much as Christians are not confined in Europe and America. This wall could never become tangible. Where would one draw the line?  Thus we are building non-tangible walls inside Europe. Muslims are seen with suspicion even if they are European citizens. The fear non-Muslims an impact on these Muslims in Europe, they are becoming more of a closed group (another alarming sign).

 

Yet, the repercussions are even more severe. Muslim dictators and terrorists in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and most of all Pakistan are not at all happy, see the West with hostility. We are giving them valid reason to influence their people that we are bad, sadist, infidels. Remember the Communists having horns?

 

As if there are not enough walls, and the problems they create, the present Italian government is erecting another wall, this time between Christian Italians themselves. They want to divide the rich North from the poor South. They want people in the South, where prices are (have to be) cheaper be paid less for the same job. Policy is made so that as much as possible the Southerners remain in the South and Northerners in the North. More dividing lines. More fear hate and ignorance.

 

Before accusing me of moaning and groaning. I must admit I don’t have a solution for these tensions. I really wish I had. However I do have an indication, many leaders are unfortunately avoiding. Stop following Hitler’s and Stalin’s footsteps and start following Gorbachev’s. Replace walls with constructive dialogue. Learn from the success stories, not the failures.

 

Like the Cold war, this ‘war’ we are in could only be won by not being fought. Any other way is the equivalent of tragedy.

 

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I still can’t understand why I keep reading comments on the online version of the Times, especially on anything regarding black people. Some really nasty people seem to have made it a goal to repeat ad nauseum racist comments. They want to show clearly that they DO NOT, ABSOLUTELY NOT and repeat many times daily that they DEFINITELY DO NOT want A SINGLE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT in Malta (which for them is the equivalent to black people). They emphasise their point by typing such words every time in capital letters (since it is not possible to use bold and underline).
 
Now, these do not show that the majority of the Maltese people are heartless and racist. A look at the names gives a clear indication that about seven to nine people are responsible for these disgusting comments (two people, someone who signs in as l galea and another as Louise Vella astonish me to their serious commitment to the cause, coupled with their obsessive repetition of some words and phrases). I try to remind myself not to take these people (whom I imagine, suffer from deep solitude and boredom) seriously. However I was in a negative mood wasting my time reading this crap when I received an email from an old friend I hadn’t heard from for quite some time.
 
He’s French and was in Malta a couple of years ago working with youths on a non-profit EU project. A very friendly, charismatic person, respected by everyone who knew him, especially the youths he was working with. He also happens to be black, which is not that much of a coincidence since both his parents are black. Unlike what many Maltese people assumed, he is neither a legal or illegal migrant but a French citizen son of two French citizens spending a year in Malta as a volunteer.
 
We used to hang around a lot together while he was here, even went abroad in a seminar in Turkey together. He was the only black guy in a group of forty, but not a single person in the group bothered about that. We even cracked ‘racist’ jokes (such as smile when you’re in the dark so that we can see you) which he took with good humour since it was obvious there was no malicious intent.
 
He was only the only black person on the plane when we came back which didn’t seem to bother anyone aboard. However it mattered a lot to customs officials. Only some three or four people were searched at the Maltese airport. He was one of them. A coincidence? Maybe. What definitely was not a coincidence was the fact that while the others where just frisked and officers took a peek into their bags, my friend’s search took a whole hour. When he was ready he told us he was Ok but the expression on his face showed otherwise. Every single item in his bag was carefully inspected, while he was subject to an intensive and humiliating strip search, with a special emphasis on body cavities. The way he was talked to was a quasi-interrogation, and when it was clear that there wasn’t the slightest illegal thing about him, he was told he could go, no apologies whatsoever.
 
He still had a long time to spend in Malta, during which we enjoyed other social occasions together. Once again, most people never bothered about his skin colour. Yet he still left pre-maturely (after nine months) and the reason was the racist attitude of certain people such as bus drivers, people on the bus, together with a couple of passer bys who slowed their car to send their we-don’t-want-you-here message.
 
Seeing things from my (white Maltese) perspective, it is obvious that these not so pleasant people are a minority. From a thousand cars passing by, only one or two would pass such comments, only a couple of bus drivers did not stop on the stage as was their job (and, jokes apart, they had definitely seen him). However, if I put myself in his position, I’d have seen things differently. It is not the 999 cars who just went by that you notice, but the one that stopped so that the people inside can offend you, if you get my point.
 
Replying to his email I felt like sending an apology. But why should I? What am I to blame that some losers who happen to share my skin colour turned nasty? Or for a couple of artists who far from skateboarder style graffiti art paining, vandalise walls and billboards with misspelt racist comments (no blaks) and swastikas.
 
I owe him no apology. I’ve been a good friend. Yet I had to write this blog, mainly to ‘clean myself’ from the guilt I sometimes feel, which honestly I do not deserve.