The ten thousand votes cast for far right parties in Malta in the recent European Parliament elections are depressing evidence that the number of people who hold racist views in Malta are on the increase. 

The social media comments following the recent murder of an Ivorian immigrant, for which two AFM soldiers are standing trial, are another alarming indicator of the upsurge of racism in Malta. 

Successive governments have tiptoed round the issue. But Malta’s widespread xenophobia and innate racism pose a serious peril to the country’s social stability and hegemony unless a government-led drive to rein them in is taken.

What we have seen in the AFM is, hopefully, only an isolated incident. The AFM has established an internal inquiry to examine whether Lassana Cisse’s murder and the shooting of two other migrants were isolated events or if there are xenophobic cells or affiliations with racist groups within the AFM.    

As an editorial in this newspaper put it: “In examining the reasons for this racially motivated murder, it is impossible to escape the fact that the AFM (and the other major disciplined force in Malta, the Malta Police Force) recruits its members from the community in which they have been brought up, educated and where they socialise… There is increasing anecdotal and research evidence to support the contention that the country suffers from both latent and explicit racism in its treatment of the thousands of black Africans who have been given asylum or protected status in Malta.” 

What has happened in the British Army may offer interesting lessons in how a disciplined force might take action to tackle racism. Last year a former corporal in a British infantry regiment was jailed for eight years for belonging to National Action, a far right group banned in the UK in 2016 after its members celebrated the murder of a Labour MP during the EU referendum campaign. 

He was linked to three other soldiers, one of whom was discharged from the Army, while the other two were disciplined internally and allowed to continue to serve.

In 2017, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a guide to spotting right-wing extremism in the army. The leaflet is entitled ‘Extreme Right Wing (ERW) Indicators and Warnings’. It was issued to all commanders to help them identify and root out far right extremists in the ranks. 

The leaflet identifies 20 traits that are said to be indicative of far right extremist ideology. The warning signs are grouped in such a way that only when personnel demonstrate a significant number of these signs are concerns to be aroused. Given the different history, culture and experience of immigration in the UK and Malta, some parts of the leaflet are not directly relevant to the situation here. But many are.

The increasing presence of African asylum-seekers in our society is now a fact of life

For example, for soldiers simply to ‘describe themselves as Patriots’ is, rightly, not enough to trigger concerns. But taken together with, say, ‘looking at opponents as traitors’, ‘using blatantly untruthful or incorrect references to immigrants or Islam’, or ‘talk of an impending racial conflict or Race War’, are factors which might rouse concerns that need to be followed up by commanders. 

‘Describing multicultural towns [in the UK] as lost’; ‘discussing the creation of white only communities’; ‘having tattoos or stickers and badges with overt or covert extreme right wing iconography’; ‘becoming increasingly angry at perceived threats to so-called National Identity’; or ‘claiming immigration is the root of injustices against vulnerable people’ are all deemed to be possible warning signs. 

The AFM Commander’s task in the wake of Cisse’s murder is to ensure any indication that racism or racist cells have taken root in the AFM is exposed and then ruthlessly cut out. The message from the Brigadier to his officers and men must be that racism has no place in a disciplined force of the calibre, and with the long history and traditions of service to the country, of the AFM, and any evidence of it among his men will be immediately stamped upon.

Practical steps, such as the adoption of a screening procedure to ensure that the AFM’s recruitment interviews include thorough character assessment tests which identify any signs of racial prejudice based on the British Army’s “Extreme Right Wing Indicators and Warnings” should be considered. 

The screening might focus on many of the tell-tale signs of racism already present in Malta today. ‘Migrants are taking over’; ‘Malta is facing an invasion’; ‘Malta should stop migrants from entering with their children and different religion [Islam]’; ‘this leads to fundamentalist Sharia Law punishments’; ‘Muslims don’t integrate’; and, the final clincher, ‘Malta for the Maltese’.

Above all, the AFM Commander must ensure that his officers’ and senior non-commissioned officers’ man-management, training and disciplinary procedures are reviewed to ensure any signs of racism are spotted early and nipped in the bud. The message must be driven home that discrimination on grounds of race is a crime which will not be tolerated.

There is increasing anecdotal and research evidence to support the contention that we suffer from both latent and explicit racism in Malta’s treatment of the 5,000 or so Africans who have been given asylum or protected status in Malta. 

The government’s efforts at integration have proved ineffective. It was therefore heartening to read the Archbishop’s and Auxiliary Bishop’s joint article last Sunday (‘Called to Inclusive Love’), in which they spoke bluntly that “we should ourselves take the initiative and continue building bridges which… extend beyond and above the abyss of racism, of all kinds of prejudice and fear of all that is foreign, that is, all forms of xenophobia”.

The Prime Minister has spoken eloquently and bravely for he was talking to core supporters who constitute many of those with the most deeply ingrained prejudices – of the imperative need for Malta to “strive for freedom from prejudice”, stressing that there had to be more focus on integration of migrants in Malta.

The increasing presence of African asylum-seekers in our society is now a fact of life. If the government, all political parties, the President, the Church and opinion-formers fail to take steps now to ensure by their attitudes that racism is stamped upon, we shall simply be storing up massive problems for society in the years ahead.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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