December 2010


I come from a very devout Catholic family which has also accepted the fact that after I started asking questions and not given the desired answers I moved towards agnosticism and eventually atheism.

If I say I have suffered a lot of discrimination because of my lack of faith I would be lying. There have been some nasty comments and attitudes such as that of a priest who told a friend of mine that I’m not really an atheist but “supperv” (proud), and a guy who refused to play music with me after he learned I was not Catholic. However, nothing devastating.

Right now, I see a lot of intolerance towards Muslims, many times by people who never even bothered talk to a Muslim unless there was no other option (such as at the place of work).

This isn’t new.

When I was in Primary school, this same kind of intolerance (or even worse) was directed towards Jehovah Witnesses. The worst victims of this ignorance were the kids. For many they were considered a little more than lepers, waiting for the right moment to convert you towards their perverted beliefs. Nearly every house used to have a yellow sticker prohibiting people from these “sects” from knocking on the door. Our house had one too, however, at least I was never told these people are “evil” or “doing it for money” like many fellow kids in school were told. For me they were presented as “wasting your time” (which up to a certain extent was true since no one in my family had any intention of changing their religion).

Growing up and changing my own beliefs helped me get rid of my own prejudices (learned mostly from school) on people of this “sect”. So did my interest in learning about different religions. I must also admit that I prefer the attitude of Jehovah Witnesses than some Catholics. The few people I know who are members of this “sect” are true believers that do not follow the Bible only when it suits them.

While the stigma of being a Jehovah Witness has decreased (though definitely not abolished), today Muslims are the main victims. Like the case with Jehovah Witnesses, the main offender is prejudice, coming not only from parents and kids at school but international media. I won’t delve into that like I did in other blogs, but one thing all Muslims I’ve talked to about their beliefs and attitudes that seem to agree in is that “terrorists aren’t real Muslims, they can’t be. What they do is in direct opposition of the teachings of the Koran”

P.S When I’m using the word sect here it has nothing to do with the possible negative connotations of the word. A sect is nothing more than a religious minority within some particular religion.

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“bahnan wiehed iwaddab gebla”

As the world recession – caused by corporate greed – takes its toll over the people of Europe, one of the most noticeable things on the rise is protest. As people see their income being reduced and massive layoffs taking place while social benefits are being reduced, they are getting angrier. And rightly so. The problem is not anger but what one does with it.

Many times this is taking place in the form of violence, most notably but definitely not exclusively in Greece. Be it over students stipends, pensions or unemployment, more and more Europeans are taking the streets and having protests escalating to violence is becoming all the more frequent. Many times this is controlled by police who end up abusing their power. (For example the use of “kettling” is on the increase despite the controversy it caused since many peaceful protesters as well as passer-bys end up harmed).

From the law enforcement side, the only ethical solution is curbing the violence without the brutality. However, what I want to talk about is preventing the violence, rather than dealing with it. As much as I disagree with their violent stance, I also understand these people are not throwing Molotov bombs, breaking windows and burning cars just for kicks.

All hell breaks loose whenever the phrase “austerity measures” is mentioned. Obviously no one likes having his wage, stipend or pension reduces, or worse still ending up unemployed. However, it is not only that what is driving people towards violence. It’s the injustice.

While the “austerity measures” are taking place, the elite are not taking their share (which should be the major part) of the responsibility. Unfortunately for them, most Western European countries are democracies and even though attempts of media control sometimes not only take place but also succeed (Italy being most notable example), people are realizing this. Corruption is rife, and most CEO’s, bankers and politicians are immune from austerity. Knowledge of this, coupled with losing his job, turns an otherwise law abiding citizen into a human time bomb.

What about here in Malta? We haven’t seen political violence for decades and that is a positive thing. However, rather than protest what most Maltese are resorting to is grumbling and complaining – on newspapers, social media, schools and university and their place of work, even on bus stops. This seems to be giving politicians the impression that they can keep controlling and alienating the masses for ever. Thankfully we are not that stupid. Yes, thankfully, however there is a downside to this. The more and more we suppress the anger, the more it builds inside and the unexpected might easily take place at the most unpredictable moment.

We are still in time though. All that is needed is political will – loads of it actually. Politicians should first and foremost start by declaring a war on corruption. Not the usual farce, strong with the weak, but a real crackdown. This in itself will ease the financial burden on the Maltese people, but even more than that, it will also instill trust in politicians because weather they are realizing it or not, they are losing it (amongst other things, the number of non-voters in elections is on the increase). This will in turn have a soothing effect on the people as they start to realize something is being done. That at least, they are not paying for the mess created by the elite on their own.

People should also start taking the streets – non-violently of course. Venting one’s anger is not only healthy, but gives a timely warning to politicians that enough is enough.

Otherwise if the pressure on the human time bomb is too much for people to handle, it will detonate in a matter of minutes. In the wise words of a police officer, “bahnan wiehed iwaddab gebla” (it just takes one fool throwing a stone), before the elite wake up from their denial with visions of smashed windows and cars burning, coupled by the smell of blood.

When we speak about the issue racism, many people automatically link it with the issue of migration from Africa and Asia. No, it rarely is a question of legality and documents since it is only Arabs and black people that are targeted. In fact, as I had written in another blog, when a black student who was a French citizen left Malta prematurely because of racism, he was many times called an illegal immigrant or “Klandestin”. In fact, for some, the word illegal immigrant is synonymous with being black or Arabic.

What many fail to see is the fact that racism is an issue in itself, irrespective of one’s views on immigration. The issue has many aspects, but what I will focus on here is the emotional one. Racism hurts.

Lately, I had a conversation with a Somali who is still deluded that the American Dream is true. His naivety, honesty and above all the emotional pain in his eyes touched me deeply. “When I go to America, it will be different. There isn’t black or white there, they love you for who you are. Some people are good here but others think I am a criminal, even though they do not know me. And I’m not a criminal. I’m a good man”

I’m talking about a person who has a legal job and refugee status. Whether the Maltese government pays the Ghaddafi regime extortion money to keep African immigrants from coming into Europe is not the issue for him. Neither are rules and regulations on who can work legally or not. “My boss is a good man” he asserted (while we hear of many cases of exploitation of immigrants, this is not the first time I heard praise for their employers. I think it’s very unfair to put people in the same basket and this includes businessmen employing migrants).

My Somali friend’s main issue isn’t legal but emotional. Like that of many others. Many talk about being refused from entering nightclubs or other places of entertainment. It might tempt someone to ask “what’s the big deal”. It is a big deal, not because the individual isn’t going to cope without going to that nightclub, but because of the message it gives.

Another situation I sometimes encounter is seeing black people sitting in a bus and an empty seat besides them, while the bus is nearly full and people are standing. While I personally benefit from such a thing (remain standing, idiot, I’ll take the place) I can also imagine the personal pain inflicted on a clean person who sees people standing up rather than sit beside him, and the reason why is obvious.

In fact it is on public buses that I’ve seen the most overt cases of racism. Sometimes, buses do not stop when on a bus stop there are only black people. On one particular case, a bus driver was verbally aggressive towards a black woman because she gave him €0.50 and expected the €0.03 change for a €0.47 bus fare. Rather than doing what he should have done (give her the change) the driver started offending the woman “mhux bizzejjed qed nitmawkhom u nlibbsukom Haqq al Madonna, xiż-żobb trid aktar. Ha hudhom it-3 cents u mur hudu foxx il-liba razztek” The humiliation could be seen clearly on the lady’s face as she refused the change with as much dignity as she could muster and found a place.

Needless to say, people who commit such racist harassment do not represent the Maltese people. For example on the last mentioned episode I heard people whisper dissent for the driver, which could also be seen in their facial expressions, while a kind lady told the victim “poggi hawn sinjura u taghtix kasu”. Yet, aside from the bad reputation such people give to our country, many do not seem to realize the emotional pain these incidents inflict.

I am glad to be part of the Campaign Against Racism. I have met many Maltese people who show complete disagreement with racism and judge a person on what s/he really is rather than on the color of his/her skin. We will be focusing on many aspects and I find it vitally important that the emotional aspect – possibly the most painful and destructive – is not left out.

P.S While I’m not sure if I’m in accordance with laws on blasphemy and obscentiy I quoted the driver’s harassment word for word. To be honest, I don’t really care, when in reality such blatant abuse is being done in broad daylight and no one ever gets prosecuted.