If there’s one thing I’ve always struggled to stomach, it’s casual cruelty. Devoid of empathy, compassion, insight and, well, intelligence, emotional or otherwise, casual cruelty is what happens when people conclude that either their feelings matter more than any other person’s or that, somehow, they have the right to blurt out the first thing that pops into their minds. The problem is that we seem to have it in spades locally.

An example of casual cruelty is how many respond to tragic situations on social media. When the news of Pelin Kaya broke, I was shocked to see a couple of people asking what she was doing walking so late; even more wrote that she must have known the perpetrator.

These things were stated with little to no thought that her family and friends might read these unfair comments and, to my appalled ears, almost sounded like a justification for what had happened. Victim blaming has always been rife on this island but this was just a new level of unnecessary callousness with scary undertones for the rest of the population.

I was reminded again of this when I saw a post about Paulina Dembska’s temporary memorial picture being vandalised in Sliema. Apart from the fact that what happened to that picture is absolutely heinous at every level, I was disgusted to see several Maltese people commenting that a Maltese person couldn’t have possibly carried out the photo’s destruction because we are apparently above such things.

The racism and blindness to what is actually happening in this country are nothing short of breathtaking. Is it not a Maltese person who is accused of murdering Paulina, to begin with? We somehow always seek to act like the one-dimensional, smiling figures on the postcards they used to dish out of sunny Malta in the 1960s and 1970s, completely disregarding the fact that, almost every week, a life is taken in one way or another through violence, negligence or systems that don’t work.

The racism and blindness to what is actually happening in this country are nothing short of breathtaking- Anna Marie Galea

This continued, wilful sightlessness contributes in no small part to our buildings collapsing on innocent people and people who are meant to be behind bars thriving. How can you work on a problem if you keep pretending it does not exist? Is playing the ċuqlajta while the country burns not a form of cruelty in itself?

Instead of blaming our many failings on select scapegoats, it’s time that we started educating our young, emotionally and otherwise, about what it really means to live in a civilised country where equality, diversity, fairness and kindness should matter and where critical thinking is at the centre of what we say and do instead of just presenting our uninformed, unwashed opinions as the gospel truth.

We should also work to keep each other accountable. When someone makes it sound like a woman has somehow earned an awful fate because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time, or even with the wrong person, instead of just keeping our heads down, we need to start pointing out the dangers of thinking in such a sexist way.

The enemy is not some random bogeyman that ended up on this speck of rock by chance and circumstance; it is all those who refuse to speak up when confronted with ignorance and darkness and settle for shrugging their shoulders instead.

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