August 2011

The Ivorians say it about the Mali’s, the Dutch about the Poles. The Indonesians about the Chinese, the Germans about the French. And the Maltese about the Somali. All in a one big chorus: THEY TOOK OUR JOBS:


Unfortunately few seem to realize that jobs are not charity. People don’t take jobs, they work them.


Putting that aside, has one noticed that in Malta when we talk about the Africans, the chorus has changed it’s words. Now the trend is: THEY TAKE OUR SOCIAL BENEFITS.


Obviously they are wrong. The first thing most African immigrants do after leaving detention is start looking for a job. And find it, because contrary to popular racist belief, most are hard working honest people who want to make a decent living.


Where most of tax money is going, isn’t in social benefits (which most Africans take for a very short period of time and in very small amounts). The bulk of the money is wasted (yes, wasted) in the long periods African migrants spend in “administrative” detention. Ironically, the “we’re paying tax money” brigade is usually on the forefront backing the government to keep migrants detained. Some even want to increase that period!


Yes migrants work our jobs. It’s been happening since the end of time. You just didn’t notice because it because they were white, stupid. It happens everywhere. Work is the primary reason why people migrate.


And guess what. Do these people know that there are some 1.5 million Maltese live in othe countries? And like the Africans in Malta, a few of them do happen to take social benefits for a while. But what the majority of these 1.5 million Maltese is doing is: TAKING THEIR JOBS.


Second only to the lack of concrete reason for the senseless violence, what was most striking about the riots in Britain was the extreme restraint the police used with the rioters and looters. Even myself, a strong believer in civil liberties and a hardliner against police brutality felt like screaming “what the hell are you doing, protect the people, they’re burning everything down and all you do is just watch


The lack of action by the police has also lead to the formation of vigilante groups of people trying to protect their areas. Once again, I’m generally against vigilantism, but how could I not approve otherwise peaceful people protecting their locality from burning?

This is all very strange, since the British police aren’t usually known for their softness. The most notorious tactic used by Britain’s police is known as kettling, used for the first time against people with a disability fighting for their rights in 1995.

Kettling involves a large number of police officers forming a cordon among the protesters and then tightening them up, many times for long hours without access for food, water, and fresh air.


This tactic, which has become closely associated with Britain’s police is a serious violation of Human Rights for many reasons. It is a type of collective punishment because if only a small section of the protesters are turning rowdy, all the rest have to suffer being in the cordon. There have also been many cases of passer bys being caught inside the kettle.


It has also been criticized for the fact that it is sometimes used pre-emptively with peaceful protesters and that rather than contain violence, the intention is mainly to deter people from going out to protest in the first place.


Some high profile cases where this was used in the UK, include the Mayday protests of 2001, the G8 summit of 2005, G20 of 2009 as well as last March during the anti-austerity protests.


While none of these protests was a full blown riot – at times there was no violence at all – by the time of writing (5th day of the London riots) not only kettling has not been used, but as everyone can see the rioters and looters are many times being allowed to do what they want.


Why have Britain’s police moved from excessive brutality practiced for the last 15 years, to this soft handedness in a matter of months? I don’t want to get into some conspiracy theory, but in face of such contradictions one starts thinking the absurd.


Is it possible that kettling and brutality have been used because all the other occasions, involved organized people demanding rights, while in this case this is just senseless violence? Since kettling usually provokes a backlash, is it possible that the police were instructed to turn non-violent people violent deliberately so that people justifiably demanding their rights come to be seen as violent thugs in front of the media?

Here, I won’t be discussing whether phobias of people (homophobia – fear of gays; xenophobia – fear of foreigners etc) are phobias in the strict sense of the word, whether they are the equivalent of fear of high places, or snakes. However, beyond the semantics, the crucial element here is what all these phobias have in common – irrational fear.


Many argue that fear of Muslims isn’t irrational, thus it’s not a phobia at all. I disagree.

Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders. If someone goes berserk because he sees a spider walking on the floor few will doubt whether this is normal behaviour or not. Probably the person next to him will pick up the spider and tell him “Look, it’s harmless”.


Yet, poisonous spiders do exist, some are even lethal. So do Muslim terrorists. Does this make the fear of my next door neighbour whose name is Mahmoud and doesn’t eat pork, justified?


Fear of “the other”, in this case the other being a member of a particular religion, has always existed. I don’t think that any religion in the world that hasn’t been feared one time or another exists. However, the spike in the fear of Muslims towards unprecedented proportions has a date: 11th September, 2001. What happened on that day is only partially the cause of the rising Islamophobia. The other part is what came after – the war on terror.


In order to justify the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan politicians in the West – especially George W Bush and Tony Blair – leashed a media campaign against Islam and Muslims. How could they convince the public to finance these two expensive wars if they couldn’t prove there wasn’t a real threat?


Blair and Bush were proved wrong, especially on Iraq. They have probably become two of the most hated politicians in the West, yet the damage on the reputation of Muslims was done. Needless to say, the Madrid and Londom bombings by Muslim terrorists continued to “justify” the fear of Muslims.


Why do I then continue to insist that fear of Muslims is completely irrational? Aside from reading scientific research (rather than sensationalist media reports) that shows that the absolute majority of Muslims oppose terrorism, I arrive to my conclusions by meeting and knowing Muslims personally, both in Malta and abroad.


The most significant was attending a conference on Islamophobia organised by the Federation of Young European Greens  in Turkey in 2007. Even more than the lectures and presentations, what really left most impact were the people on our group and the discussions we had. The following are three examples of questions asked and discussed in the group:


1) “If you disapprove of Bin Laden why don’t you, as a Muslim publicly distance yourself and denounce him?


Because if I do, I will be saying he’s a Muslim. He’s not. What he does is directly opposite to  the teachings of the Koran.”


2) “I’m gay, do you have a problem with that?


Do you think I hadn’t noticed? (laughter). We were joking on the roof yesterday, would I have done that if I had a problem? Come, here’s a hug”.


The next is a little conversation I had with a Muslim woman from Slovenia, wearing a veil. My answers betray a little fear and misconception I had:


3)  “If I am passing around and you see me dressed like this (points at the veil) and you are in difficulty, you had say, an accident, would you ask for my help?


Of course I would. What I would find difficult is if it was you who had an accident. I would be afraid to touch you because of your religious beliefs.


So, you would leave me dying, just not to touch me? What’s wrong with touching a person to save his life? I don’t know of any religion that prohibits that.”


Needless to say, I’m sure that Muslims who partially or completely disagree with these three people exist. However, I can honestly say I haven’t met one yet, and due to my interest in the topic, I’ve met a lot of Muslims since that seminar, with whom I’ve discussed these issues. I did meet a couple of Muslims who have a negative attitude towards homosexuals, however, I must also sadly admit that it wasn’t any worse than the attitude of some Catholics living in Malta.


Should an Imam calling for Jihad and retribution be feared? Definitely, and those countries (such as the UK) who dismiss such a call for violence as “freedom of speech” should start re-thinking their laws.


Should I fear Mahmoud next door? Of course not.


I have no idea how to get over the fear of spiders, but I think I do know how to overcome the fear of Muslims – by meeting them and knowing them personally