I’m not a fan of political correctness. It is ridiculous how sometimes people go at lengths for finding the right word so that no one is offended. I remember when a couple of years ago, I was in a seminar and a speaker thought it offensive to say the word ‘black’ for a person who actually is black. After a lot of stammering he came out with ‘people with a dark complexion’. Ironically his argument was actually in favour of discriminating against the people he did not want to offend by calling them black.

Sometimes I went too far. I used to think that if a person in a minority group, such as a black person or a gay would not take offence if I used certain words such as ‘nigger’ or ‘pufta’ (faggot). I thought they would realise I was just taking the piss out of these labels and take it as a joke. Many times it was in fact like that. However, I had an experience with a black friend of mine with whom I joked a lot about his colour of the skin, as well as calling him a ‘nigger’. Once I realised he seemed distressed and asked him if he can realise I’m just joking. His answer way ‘I have no doubt you are joking, but that word (nigger) still hurts me. I was insulted by it so many times that even though I know you’re joking it still hurts’. From that day I always avoided such words. Not to appear ‘politically correct’, but because you never know what a person had been through, and an innocent word can hurt his feelings.

However, I find the word ‘illegal immigrants’ or worse still ‘illegals’, in the way they are being used as disgusting. Calling a person a ‘nigger’ is politically incorrect, however calling every person who comes from an African country as an illegal immigrant, no matter his legal status is both grammatically and more importantly legally incorrect.

There is no such thing as an illegal person. A person may enter a country’s territory illegally, but he could not come illegal himself. First of all because a person has the completely legal right to ask for protection from persecution in this county. If he had no option to escape towards protection except by crossing borders illegally, a person with a genuine need for protection has never committed an offence by crossing borders in the first place. About 50% of Africans entering Maltese borders ‘illegally’ are granted temporary humanitarian status (valid for 1 year unless renewed) while some 3% are granted refugee status (valid for 3 years unless renewed). This means that more than 50% of the people we refer to as ‘illegals’ (which unlike the word nigger, my word processor underlines with a red mark since it doesn’t even exist) in reality have all their documents completely in order.

Even so, the other 50% are not in the country illegally. Though they deserve no protection, the only reason they are still in Malta is an administrative one. Many argue things are taking too long to be processed, with which I fully agree. However, unless these people are hiding from the Maltese government they could not be considered as ‘illegal’.

What’s in a word? Here it makes a big difference. One cannot hold something that is illegal such as a dangerous drug or weapon. If I am caught with heroin in my house, I will have a criminal case open against me. On the other hand, unless he has escaped from an institution, if I have an African immigrant in my house (even if he has no protection status) I am committing absolutely no offence. And if take that person to a friend’s house, I am will never be accused of human trafficking. Doing the same thing with heroin would have been another story.

There are exceptions for this. If I shelter a migrant who has escaped from an institution, or who entered the country unnoticed and his presence is unknown to the Maltese government, I am in reality committing a criminal offence (as much as giving shelter to an escaped Maltese prisoner).

I prefer to call people by their name, not their legal status. However, if I have to use a catch all phrase for Africans who crossed borders illegally by a boat, I use the term irregular immigrant. The reason is not to be politically correct or not to offend anyone. The reason is to avoid confusion. Such confusion directly leads to racism and xenophobia, including violence and harassment. We are disgusted when a human being beats another, or an animal, say a dog. However it is quite acceptable that a person harms a drug or a weapon. By reducing a human being to the level of heroin or a gun we are clearly implying he could be treated like these dangerous objects.

How could have the brutality of the Holocaust have taken place? Hitler was a merciless murderer, you find people like him in every country. But how did he have so much support from his people while committing such crimes against humanity? Were the majority of Germans at the time all beasts? No, most were good people and wouldn’t harm a dog. However Hitler managed to dehumanise Jews and gypsies to the extent that people did not even view them like dogs. Not even like harmless objects such as tables and chairs, but as evil and dangerous objects like drugs and weapons.

 

The reply a Nazi officer to a German woman’s complaint towards him as he was beating a young child says it all. ‘He’s not a kid, he’s a Jew’.

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