How can you hate – but horrendously hate – someone whom you have never met, cannot even put a face to the name and who in no way directly or indirectly affects your life, your society or your country? And how can you hate them so much that you publicly put down in writing the violent things you would do to them if you had the chance.

This is what is happening these days. A photo of a migrant seeking refuge on a boat – whoosh! – an outburst of loathing. An individual expressing herself in favour of gay marriage – splat! – a deluge of enmity. Everywhere you look, it feels like many are revelling and delighting in vomiting violent venom.

What is happening to us? Where is all this hate, this gleeful wish to physically harm others, stemming from? Why do we accuse people we don’t know of ripping us off our comfort and prosperity? Why are we living in a perpetual state of rage and resentment towards strangers? Why do we relish spewing and inciting violence? What is happening to our ‘friendly’ island?

It does not help that Facebook is altering the norms of behaviour. Before there used to be a clear distinction in the attitudes of children, of youths and of adults – the older they were the more restrained and dignified they would try to act. Now no more. All social media users are acting like teenagers sitting on benches in a playground.

They start off with taunts – minute descriptions of how ugly a person looks. I’ve been texted by people I’ve never seen in my life, to be told that I looked like a horse that needs to go to Palumbo to fix its gums (I promptly galloped to the mirror to check my teeth).

Then it goes up a notch, and the guns come out shooting imagined details about your sex life – descriptions of sex that include criminal acts spruced with homophobia and xenophobia. This quickly moves on to the highest form of abhorrence: direct threats such as “Shut up, haven’t you learnt the lesson? Do you want a bomb under your car?” It makes you come to the conclusion that many Maltese social media haters are closet criminals and bigots.

I was told I looked like a horse that needs to go to Palumbo to fix its gums

Unfortunately, sometimes these messages can be traced back to politicians or a party line. Let’s face it, our own Prime Minister and prominent politicians are actually members of these social media hate groups. When The Shift News revealed this, they did not even bother getting out of the groups. Instead of leading by example, our authorities are using their armies of social media trolls to hunt down people who dare express a different opinion.

We’re back to 1930s Europe – glorifying the power of hate. Hate that instils fear. You either fit in our mould, or else you’ll be exterminated.

It’s a relief that The Times of Malta has started a #stophate campaign to try to create awareness about the flood of hate speech that has swamped Maltese social media. Maybe it’ll make people think twice before they grab the megaphone, pour fuel and light a match on anyone who happens to be different.

But we need to go beyond that and understand the roots of this resentment because the hate expressed on social media is slowly seeping into our non-virtual life. And there’s a limit to how much more hate this microscopic island can take.

Ever since Donald Trump was elected as US President, I’ve been hoping against hope that Michelle Obama would challenge his seat at the next US presidential election. My hopes have been completely dashed now that I have finished her book Becoming. “I have no intention of running for office, ever,” she says.

No! Why?

“I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last 10 years has done little to change that. I continue to be put off by the nastiness – the tribal segregation of red and blue, this idea that we’re supposed to choose one side and stick to it, unable to listen and compromise, or sometimes to even be civil.” I did a double take when I read that; she could easily have been talking about Malta.

She goes on to say how hard it’s been for her now, to see all the work towards a more equal society being undone under the new president which “has left vulnerable members of our society exposed and dehumanised… I sometimes wonder where the bottom will be”.

I love her so much that I could simply keep on quoting, but I’ll just wrap up with her advice to fight the hate:

“I take a breath and remind myself of the dignity and decency I’ve seen in people throughout my life, the many obstacles that have already been overcome. I hope others will do the same. We all play a role in this democracy.”

Perhaps that’s the answer to all the current upheaval in the world: sticking to the basics of decency and dignity.
Twitter: @krischetcuti

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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