Dear Pete

This blogpost is an answer to a comment by a certain “pete” on another blogpost of mine https://robertcallus.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/beautiful-memories-anda-bitter-reality/ that couldn’t remain unanswered.

This is the comment:

 “I am an African, who have been to most part of the world, I arrived Malta in 2010 for a 2yr master’s programme. I personally chose Malta against England because most of my family and friends were studying in England, and i wanted something different, and when i saw that Malta was an English speaking country, and a strong Catholic society, i decided to come to Malta to study.

If you know about the Maltese educational system, you will know that foreign students pay a very high amount for studying in that university, for my master’s programme..i payed like 15,000 euros, not including my feeding and accommodation for that 2yrs. But during that 2yrs of my study in Malta, it was the worst time of my life. I witnessed all sorts of racist behaviors in the bus, on the street in the club, every were. One of such incident that got me mad, and tired of Malta, was one evening when my friend, also a black, who just graduated from IMLI ( International marine time institute), and we decide to celebrate in paceville. In one of the clubs (Bar Native), after checking our documents by the first security guard at the door, who happen to be a non-Maltese, to make sure we are not “illegal”, he allowed us in and at the next door we meet another security guard who happens to be a Maltese, without any reason or asking for identification asked us to go back, after we have been asked by the other security guard to go in, and when my friend tried to ask why we were been sent back after security check at the entrance, he said because you are not wanted here…and when my friend tried to ask why, he pushed him so hard that he lost balance i fail to the ground. In order to avoid any further problem i stepped in and held my friend, who was still recovering from the push. My friend being a lawyer, deiced that he wanted to take the case up, i tried discouraging him because i have heard of lot of stories regarding black people in Malta, even how some were killed without justice, but he insisted that he wanted to speak to the authority. So we went to meet some police standing close to McDonald in Pc, after explaining to them, they were very reluctant to take any action, and one of them finally said that “if some body does not want you in his house do you have to force your self inside”, and that was when i and my friend new that Malta is not a place for “black” people.

I have a lot of bad experiences in Malta,even on arrive from abroad, at the airport, i was subjected to unnecessary security search, all because i was black.

Don’t get me wrong, there is racism everywhere, but the difference between countries like Germany and Malta, is that the law is no respecter of nobody in the former, while in the later, the racism is more pronounce among the people who are suppose to protect the victims of such acts.
But thank God, today, all those bad experience are behind me now, and they did not stop me from achieving my goals of coming to that country, although i almost quieted, but finally i graduated as one of the best in my master’s programme and i have moved on with my life, but will never advice my enemy to visit Malta for anything.”

Dear Pete,

I refuse to believe that the Maltese (or most of them) are racist. Sure we have our racists and in certain areas they are more represented than in others. One of these areas is online, another is in the profession of bouncers (I hate to generalize and I’m sure there are non-racist bouncers but that does seem an area where racists are hugely represented. I also noticed that quite a few of the online racists happen to be bouncers, some of whom flaunt their own racist violence in public)

Obviously this doesn’t mean racists aren’t found in all segments of society. But what makes us look so different from the Germans for people like you? While you may be partly right in that the Germans are less overt in their racism I think the main reason is not that. I think the main reason is that until very recently we were a very insular society and when this changed, many people were shocked. (Change, even if it’s for the better always causes an amount of stress, especially when it’s quick).

In the past 15 years many things happened that changed this country from a dot in the Mediterranean where most were blissful of their ignorance to a more cosmopolitan and secular society.

In these 15 years, we joined the EU, while more ideas as well as people flooded in thanks to the Internet, cheaper and faster communications and travel, student exchanges, so on and so forth. Coupled with an increasing number of Maltese who emigrated, looking for better opportunities abroad.

And………

15 years ago you would barely see a black guy walk the streets of Valletta except for the occasional tourist or student!

This changed for the reasons mentioned above, but even more so due to the fact that we started having the first black African refugees.

Keeping in mind that our politicians only think up to the following election, the PN government backe then tried to defuse the shock this would have on the Maltese but putting the refugees in detention (which was indefinite back then which changed only due to a court sentence). It worked in the short run, in the same way alcohol helps you deal with difficult emotions – until it gets out of control.

Government tried to sweeten this with kind talk and flaunting Christian values about helping these poor people while the Maltese public only saw them behind bars or handcuffed jumping the queue at hospital so as not to waste the time of the officers.

We also saw the emergence of a far right movement. (Once again this exists in Germany too and is lately embroiled in controversy after it’s alleged links with the NSU terrorist cell). But unlike in Germany, in Malta this was a novelty. And when the mainstream politicians saw a firebrand leader’s ideas on exterminating Jews, hanging traitors and deporting all non-whites from Europe gaining ground around a relatively small but extremely fanatical and loud crowd, they panicked even more. And insisted even more on detention while calling the refugees a burden!

A vicious cycle.

The good news? Unlike racism, insularity is less ingrained. It changes both in individuals and even more across generations. Today, racism is far from gone, but I already see a big difference than say, 8 years ago where some people didn’t even sit beside a black guy on the bus.

And I strongly believe this will continue to change.

In politics, the word liberal has various meanings and is used to tag various groups, some of whose beliefs are nearly opposite each other (for instance some “liberals” in terms of economic policy happen to be very “conservative” in terms of civil rights issues).

I won’t get into the various definitions of the term. For the purposes of this article, by liberal I refer on issue related to civil liberties such as divorce, same-sex marriage, decriminalizing drugs, euthanasia and prostitution – and why I support each one of them.

Yes, one of the reasons is that I’m a “liberal”, in that I believe that people should have every right to choose how they live, unless it involved harming others. That is a fundamental principle, but I go beyond that.

The other reason is that I believe that human suffering should be reduced as much as possible. I believe that by being conservative or illiberal the law is creating unnecessary hardships on people whose actions are either completely harmless or at most, only harmful to themselves.

Decriminalizing drug use: Some people are able to use drugs (especially the soft ones) only for recreational purposes. They may or may not be harming themselves (this mostly depends on the kind of drug, the quantity used and how frequently it is used). These people are also breaking the law, they are criminals. Why? Why should a person be arrested, prosecuted and possibly imprisoned when he didn’t harm anyone else other than himself? Isn’t this an unnecessary cruelty?

Some, unfortunately become drug addicts. A few of these finance their addiction through a regular legal job or just happen to be rich. Others, especially (but not exclusively) women finance their addiction through prostitution which though not illegal in itself is still very likely to send you on the wrong side of the law (read below). Others resort to the crime of theft or drug dealing. Except for the latter, who are drug addicts harming? Why should these people be punished further for their own illness (I strongly believe drug addiction is an illness, I plan to dwell on this in another post) Do you imagine a cigarette smoker prosecuted for smoking and being addicted to tobacco? Why should a heroin addict (unless he commits crimes with victims) be treated any differently? Once again – unnecessary hardship, cruelty.

Prostitution: The simple act of having sex for money is not illegal. They couldn’t make that illegal, such a law would be completely unenforceable. However anything else from loitering to organized prostitution is. In other words a prostitute can – and does – get arrested from lingering in a dark alley with not many clothes on and cannot regularize her job. Which, I should believe should be a job like any other. She couldn’t have the legal protection entitled to other workers resulting in being many times the victim of abuse from either her employers and her clients.

Why? Just because someone decided it’s not immoral to sell shoes or pastizzi but lending your body is. And since they couldn’t make that illegal they made practically everything else that surrounds it. To make it hard, deliberately inducing unnecessary hardship and cruelty.

Same sex marriage: Once again who are the victims of married homosexuals? (That it can affect a happy heterosexual marriage is absurdly beyond imagination). Why is society giving a message to these people that they should be treated as second class citizens and that they should be satisfied with some half baked “civil union” law that gives them some rights but not as much as heterosexual couples? Why the unnecessary cruelty?

Euthanasia and suicide: Working in a home for the elderly I’v seen people in unbelievable pain that no amount of morphine can control or extremely sad situations such as losing all your loved ones, your privacy, your eyesight and both legs who still want to live. People who for various reasons – religion being the most common – believe that still, life is there to be lived until natural death. This is what they wish and this is what they’ll do. So far so fine.

However I’ve also seen people who think different. People who want to die. Including a person who literally pleaded with me to give him something that can make it all end. Yet, in our society, because people with a superior morality decided that “life utill natural death” should not only be a value but also a law, any kind of euthanasia and assisted suicide is strictly prohibited. You have to suffer until the end because we said so. Unnecessary hardship, cruelty. Why?

Is it too “liberal” to believe in a society where reducing unnecessary human suffering is also a fundamental value? Where people are only punished if they harm others, and not get whipped further because they have harmed themselves, or offended the strict moral code of some holier than though?

All has been said and done and Tonio Borg is the new Health Commissioner. He was elected by a democratic vote from MEPs themselves elected by EU citizens. I disagree with his political values especially on immigration and LGBT issues and if I was an MEP I would have voted against him taking the post. I’ll make no secret out it. (That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the good things in Dr Borg, such as the fact that during his entire political career he’s never been tainted with any hint of corruption and his good handling of the Libya crisis)

Some Maltese cheered, not necessarily because they agree with Tonio Borg’s values but due to coming from the backwards insular mentality the PNPL kept this country in. I win you lose. Alee-oo Alee-oo. Nivvota lejber halli nghajjru lil ta Gonzi wara l-elezzjoni! I think you got the dripth.

Pathetic, but it’s not these kind of people that bothered me.

The ones that bothered, I dare say even offended, me are the ones who called us Greens as well as the Liberals and some Socialists “intolerant” for opposing Tonio Borg.

Intolerant?

Commissioners such as Tonio Borg are not elected by EU citizens. They are nominated by a Prime Minister while the MEPs have to decide whether they approve them or not. Yet, like the MEPs and sometimes even more, the Commissioners are going to take political decisions on behalf of the European Union’s citizens.

In other words when they vote for a Commissioner, the MEPs have a duty to represent those who voted for them. Otherwise we can throw EU democracy out of the window – and prove the Eurosceptics right.

And this is exactly what we’ve done. The European Green Party (EGP), in complete agreement with Alternattiva Demokratika, felt that Tonio Borg could never represent the “Green voter”. Thus they voted against his nomination.

And lost. Tonio was voted in by a majority of the MEP’s. And like every democratic party we accepted the defeat. Like every democratic party, the EGP will work with the elected Dr Borg to what they believe is the best for the citizens of the European Union.

What’s intolerant about that?

Alternattiva Demokratika has many times claimed that there only cosmetic difference between the two large parties, hence the term PNPL. On immigration, this couldn’t be more true.

Many have the wrong impression that the PL are the tough guys on immigration while the PN are for tolerance, respect for human rights and Christian values. Bullshit. The only difference is they way they talk about it, the package. The policies are exactly the same.

The only “difference” is that while the PN talk about voluntary burden sharing with the EU, the PL talk about compulsory burden sharing. Once again, this difference is no difference at all for a very simple reason. Burden sharing is EU law and whether it’s voluntary or compulsory isn’t up to Muscat or Gonzi to decide. In fact, all parties in Malta, including AD, support compulsory burden sharing and consider the present scenario as unfair to the border states. But the reality is that many EU countries, already struggling with their own far right problems, will never agree with compulsory burden sharing. (Keep in mind that if such a mechanism is to take place, it would not have to cover only Malta where asylum seekers are a few thousand but also other countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy where they run into millions).

On issues that can actually make a difference for the immigrants and minimize the costs for the Maltese, such as revising detention policy and grant work permits instead of a permit to work, as suggested by AD, the position of the PNPL is exactly the same.

Same thing on the minimum wage controversy. AD is the only party for increasing the minimum wage. Yet, the PN managed to spin it that Muscat is the evil anti-worker pseudo-socialist that wants to freeze the minimum wage. Truth is, the PL are just against increasing it, which is the exact position of the PN.

These two examples, amongst many others, make it clear that unlike most other EU countries that have a variety of parties with different beliefs and ideologies in parliament Malta has less than two. Most of the time it just has one: PNPL.

When Mid-Dlam Ghad-Dawl (MDD) suggested that life sentences should be abolished, all hell broke loose. The organization started to be seen as public enemy No1 of law and order.

During the criticism of MDD, two main arguments continued to resurface. One of that was that a life sentence is a deterrent for serious crime and without it more such crimes will be committed. I don’t see much rational behind this. People who commit crimes of this scale, either premeditate their crime and have absolutely no intention of getting caught (thus whether it’s 20 years or life isn’t much of an issue for them, their attention is on getting away with it completely) or do so in a moment of passion or insanity and disregard consequences entirely.

However, since I haven’t studied criminology, I won’t dwell too much on this. I’d rather leave it to the experts.

My major concern is about the second argument against MDD’s proposal. That is: What about the victims?

It’s very easy to use MDD as a scapegoat to face the wrath of victims of crime and their loved ones, for wanting to abolish life sentences. But let’s be honest here. How are we really treating victims of crime?

Victims of crime, are used and abused by our justice system only to be dumped like shit when not needed anymore. They are the ones who not only have to face the consequences of the crime but also go to court a gazillion times to give their testimony, only for the case to be deferred and to give the evidence next time, and the time after. They many times end up on trial themselves, cross examined by defence attorneys so that their claims lose their value, or the responsibility of the accused is diminished. They are the ones who may fear the accused since the latter cannot be locked up for years until found guilty (thanks to our very efficient justice system some cases get closed more than a decade later).

And then what?

The wasted time and money to go to court, having to relive the crime over and over again, being grilled about something wrong you might have done and having your personal life splattered all over the media for what? A handshake and a goodbye.

AD has frequently suggested that there should be a fund for the victims of crime. Possibly funded by the same fines the criminals pay. Sure, money is not going to bring your loved one back, or make you forget the trauma. But at least, at the very least, you get some compensation.

Yet, what is being discussed in parliament? Whether we should raise the salaries of the judges. People who are partly to blame for this inefficient system that’s causing all this ordeal for the victims.

And please, before you point your fingers to an NGO making a suggestion, imagine if you yourself were the victim. What is the main cause of your suffering (apart from the crime itself)? Our rotten justice system that uses and abuses, or the possibility that the perpetrator might spend 20 years in jail, instead of life?

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

The war on drugs has failed. It isn’t DJ Chaos on Pirate Radio stating it but the Global Commission on Drug Policy. A think tank made up of former presidents of nation states including Switzerland, Brazil and Mexico and Mr Kofi Annan former General Secretary of the UN, amongst others.

http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

The truth, in lay terms is very simple. The profits in the drugs industry are so high that if there is a demand, there will surely be a supply. It is also abundantly clear that fear of getting caught isn’t affecting the demand for drugs.

It is not only academic studies that prove this, but also a little common sense. Why is it that in a country such Malta, where there is no classification between soft and hard drugs, only a very small fraction of cannabis users, use heroin too? Not only are both drugs equally illegal and carry the same penalties but for those whose bodies have not yet developed a tolerance for heroin, (thus needs larger quantities for the same effect) the latter actually cheaper than cannabis. Yet, most choose not to opt for heroin. It’s clear that it’s neither the legal deterrent nor the price that’s keeping these people away from it.

In spite of all this, governments in many European countries (or both government and opposition in countries like Malta) refuse to bulge an inch when they hear the word decriminalization.

Rest assured that the more the argument for decriminalizing drugs surface, the more will the scaremongers get hysterical that Malta will be infested with drugs. I’m sure that before decriminalizing all drugs in Portugal in 2001, there were scaremongers making the same claim. Truth is the exact opposite happened.

That said, it needs to be clear though that there is no quick fix solution for the complex problems caused by drug abuse. Portugal is not drug free. But the drug problem has diminished since decriminalization.

What’s going on in Portugal?

A simple overview shows that since 2001:

Use of cannabis has increased
Use of cocaine didn’t change significantly
Use of heroin has decreased
Total use of drugs has decreased

This is even more positive than it looks at face value. During the past 10 years, drug abuse in most EU countries has increased significantly. The increase in use of cannabis, was in fact in proportion of the increase in use in the EU average. In other words there is no evidence to show that this increase was brought about by decriminalization.

Cocaine is definitely the drug that is most on the increase in Europe, in some countries including Malta, at an alarming rate. Unlike most European countries, cocaine use in Portugal did not significantly increase since 2001 This is even more striking one considers that Portugal is the closest European country to the main cocaine exporter Colombia, and has a lot of historic ties with South American countries.

There are other benefits the Portuguese people have enjoyed since decriminalizing drugs such as a decrease in crime and certain contagious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C.

Decriminalizing drugs in Portugal, one of the most conservative countries in the EU block didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was part of a whole package of admitting that the war on drugs – the way it was being waged – had failed and honestly try to do something about it.

A Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (CDT) was introduced in every region in the country. Anyone caught with the possession of drugs (calculated as roughly the amount for 10 days of use or less) was no longer arrested. No arrest, criminal record or lawyer fees. Just a mandatory visit to his regional CDT in 72 hours. The CDT has the power to impose sanctions such as fines and community work, but that’s not its main aim.

The main aim of the CDT is to assess whether the individual is just a casual drug user or an addict, and proceed accordingly. The CDT also has the power to refer a person identified as an addict to either residential or non-residential treatment. However, unlike in a Court of law treating the person as a criminal, the CDT considers the addict as a patient and tries to act in his best interest rather than punish him. In fact, though legal advisors also form part of the CDT, it is mainly formed from health care professionals.

This system’s major successes are the following

1) More people in treatment. Being confronted by health care professionals within 72 hours was seen much more likely to lead a person to decide to start facing his drug problem seriously than being in the hands of law enforcement officers whose main aim is to secure a conviction. Which is exactly what happened.

(This was coupled with pumping more financial resources by the Portuguese government into treatment centres)

2) Less people were convicted with drugs, yet those who did were prosecuted for a total of a larger amount of drugs. Since the burden of arresting and convicting people with the personal use of drugs had eased from the criminal justice system, more resources were allocated for drug trafficking.

Classification of Drugs

Most EU countries have a system where punishment for the trafficking (or possession in countries where the personal use is still a criminal offence) of drugs varies significantly between hard and soft drugs. Malta is one of the few exceptions. Importing a Kg of cocaine will carry the same penalty as importing a Kg of cannabis.

This is not only unfair, but also absurd. Hard drugs are, nearly always, more expensive. Even heroin, which a beginner it is usually cheaper than cannabis, becomes horrendously expensive when develops tolerance for it.

When harsh sentences, for soft drugs (such as that of David Holmes who got 10.5 years imprisonment and a 23,000 fine for cultivating cannabis) are compared with equally harsh sentences for trafficking soft drugs, the courts are actually giving a clear message to would be traffickers: Don’t traffic soft drugs. They are much less profitable and if caught you’ll get the same punishment.

This is not speculation but a reality. Though authorities are not admitting it, we have a serious cocaine problem in Malta. Most violent robberies we hear about are committed by people under the influence of cocaine and/or from people needing money to buy more cocaine. This dangerous drug is being presented as a party drug and is abused regularly in places such as weddings and village feasts. Many young people are under the illusion that “it’s not that harmful”. Unlike cannabis users, most of whom use the drug only occasionally and during leisure time, most cocaine users don’t stop there. Many realize that cocaine isn’t just a “recreational party drug” when it’s too late.

The influx of cocaine could not be attributed solely to the lack of classification in our drug laws. The biggest cause is the fact that the cocaine industry (mostly in South America) is booming. Supply has exceeded demand and new marketing strategies are being used. Aside from branding it as a party drug, today’s cocaine is also cheaper.

The lack of classification is just adding insult to injury. It is making the drug more available something which, amongst other things continues to reinforce the idea that it’s just a party drug.

Lets Talk Sense About Drugs

The drugs aren’t coming. They are here and on the increase. Drug addicts are not one-offs, nearly every extended family has one.

Relatives of drug addicts know that they are ill. They’ve seen them vow a million times they won’t use anymore. They saw them flourish in a clean period only to lose all they have gained in a weak moment. They’ve seen them sick, suffering from withdrawals. Above all, they’ve seen them change from energetic youths to withering flowers. Some were lucky. They also watched their loved ones kick off their habit. Enjoying life once again, building again what they had lost.

Others had the misfortune of watching them die, in a vegetative state, or in jail.

Re-thinking the war on drugs will not provide a miracle cure – there isn’t. But as the success story in Portugal has shown, more people will start seeing their loved ones in rehab, and clean. And less people will have to visit their loved ones in prison, where rehabilitation is only a buzzword.

Re-thinking the war on drugs means that we stop calculating our success on just the number of convictions but the impact on people’s lives, because amid increasing convictions drug use and the problems it causes are not getting better but worse, substantially worse.

All it takes is political will. The fact that Malta’s politicians aren’t even addressing the failed war on drugs is either the result of laziness to make some research or cowardice to work towards the much needed change.

In the aftermath of the riots by Muslim extremists following the publishing of the “Innocence of Muslims” video on Youtube, one could see mixed reactions, on online networks and discussions.

While in Malta everyone condemned the violence, opinions still varied. On one side some implied the extremists’ responsibility was somewhat diminished because the video really was offensive and shouldn’t have been published. This was not only the reaction of the most vocal Imam in Malta but also that of non-Muslims who somewhat sympathized with these extremists because they would have opposed a publication that insulted their own beliefs. On the other side, some took the opportunity to blame Muslims in general and expected they should collectively be held responsible for the savage reaction of a tiny minority. A third view, held mostly by conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazis blamed Israel, (though what they really meant was Jews – once again, collective responsibility) for deliberately provoking the Muslims for their own ends.

I find all these views worrying. I believe that everyone is responsible for his own actions and only his own actions. In other words, the savages who stormed the embassies have only themselves to blame. No one forced them to do it as much as a girl wearing a mini-skirt isn’t forcing anyone to rape her. His choice, his responsibility. At the same time, the responsibility should be held only by the extremists themselves, not all Muslims.

What I noticed during all this saga is that there are mainly three sides who are trying to take advantage of the situation. All of them extremists and happen to be much more similar to their opposing sides than they would like to admit. These are:

1) The Zionists, who are most powerful in the US and Israel
2) The Muslim extremists whose stronghold is the Arab countries
3) The far right whose power, albeit limited, is on the increase in Europe

All side use “the other” as an excuse for their own extremism. The Muslim extremists use Palestine as an excuse to hate Jews. The Zionists use Muslim extremists as an excuse to hate all Muslims and justify invading Iran. The far right on the other hand, usually forms temporary alliances with one side or the other, depending on what their pet hate is (for instance while Malta’s Norman Lowell frequently praises president Ahmadinejad of Iran for denying the Holocaust, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands calls Israel “a beacon of light in an area of darkness and tyranny”).

If you exclude these three groups, there are the rest of us. Decent people who may disagree on where of freedom of speech should be limited, but are not motivated by hatred for one side or another.

The problem is that the three categories are trying to polarize people to their side by spreading hatred and fear of “the other”. This is extremely dangerous especially at a time where nearly all the world is suffering economic turmoil. Also at a time when a war between Iran and Israel is looming, a war that as Ahmadinejad himself is already threatening, may trigger World War III.

When it comes to these extremists, our role, (us being those who cherish freedom and democracy), should take only one stand, that is refusing to be dragged into any of the three sides.

And if, God forbid, a war between Israel and Iran breaks out, our role as peace loving people, is to pressure our governments to keep out of it. It will be crazy fanatics fighting crazy fanatics, and irrespective of whoever wins, the whole world loses.