Two soldiers of the Armed Forces of Malta were last week charged with the cold-blooded drive-by murder of a migrant from the Ivory Coast, Lassana Cisse, as he was walking in Ħal Far with two other migrants, Ibrahim Bah, from Guinea and Mohammed Jallow, from Gambia.
Since the news of the arrest broke, we have witnessed the most spectacular of political theatre. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who only a couple of weeks before had said that garbage collection is for foreigners not Maltese, and who some months earlier had no qualms leaving migrants stranded out at sea rather than let them enter our safe harbour, all of a sudden reincarnated into New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
He channelled migrant love for the whole week, which also happened to be election campaign week. He got a black photogenic girl to share the stage with him; he gave speeches with the right pitch of empathy and anger; and eventually told us that the anti-black people mood on the island has now shifted, creating the perception that we’re all hugging each other now. If it was physically possible he would probably have even arranged to get the Barca Nostra boat from the Venice Biennale.
However, there is a difference between New Zealand’s Prime Minister and Malta’s Prime Minister. She’s been a beacon of authenticity in these increasingly populist times, whereas he is part of the band of populists doing everything for votes.
Have you noticed how the real story of Lassana’s murder has been painted over? Case in point: the two surviving migrants who were shot at from that white Toyota Starlet have been carefully edited out of this theatrical staging.
Why has no politician gone to hug them? The answer is easy: because the place where they live is not exactly camera-friendly. The only space these two migrants (who incidentally came to Malta in search of a better, safer life) can afford to rent is a kip which no politician would look attractive in.
Have the two victims been offered alternative accommodation after they suffered the trauma of not only being shot at but also of seeing their friend killed in front of their eyes simply because of the colour of their skin? No.
Have they been asked to address a political meeting? No, because they are traumatised and therefore cannot be scripted. Has the President reached out to them, after they appealed to him? No. He did not even attend the symbolic vigil held in Lassana’s memory last month.
It’s almost like the two surviving migrants are the perpetrators and not the victims, and yet it’s been a week of the government using this murder for sick political mileage
Have they been given help to at least get in touch with their families abroad? No, their mobile phones were confiscated on April 6, the day they were shot at, and till the time of writing this, more than a month later, they still had not had their mobile back.
It’s almost like they are the perpetrators and not the victims, and yet it’s been a week of the government using this murder for sick political mileage.
And meanwhile, no one has taken political responsibility. It would be unthinkable in any other European country for the minister responsible for the Armed Forces not to resign when his own soldiers are charged with committing a horrific murder like this.
But this no longer surprises us does it? How can the Prime Minister make any minister resign if his corruption-riddled top minister and Chief of Staff are still by his side? It’s so much easier to practice the impeccable art of shrugging off and gleefully ride out yet another scandal with a bit of theatre and dash of anger.
And in the meantime, the Opposition has been mute in its condemnation. It whimpered something about an independent inquiry and about the state of the AFM, and that was that. Of course, with a leader who week after week fanned the anti-foreigner sentiment, and with Net News running shameful anti-migrant news items, the Opposition too has to carry the can.
It was a week in which, pathetically, the leaders of the country played the blame game in television debates. “You started the xenophobia!”; “No you did!” – straight out of kindergarten. Both of them disgustingly forgetting that what happened is the serious matter of a father of three children killed and two others psychologically, if not physically, maimed for life.
The sickening truth is that both parties have pandered to the far-right sentiment of the Maltese character: people dislike migrants so, rubbing-of-hands, let’s talk their talk to get the vote. All the while forgetting that politics is not about vote scoring, but about humanity.
Murders like this do not come out of nothing. When in the EU referendum campaign of 2016 the Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a man shouting “Britain first”, hours before, that other populist Nigel Farage had unveiled a poster showing a long stream of migrants at the Croatia-Slovenia border under the slogan ‘Breaking Point’.
It’s obvious that Lassana’s murder too did not come out of nothing, despite the fact that politicians are now posing as outsiders, like they had nothing to do with the build-up of this sentiment, like the scandal does not belong to them. This has long been brewing, a murder waiting to happen.
Meanwhile, the sentiment about migrants is still one of no tolerance. Just because the Prime Minister suddenly changes his tune and his audiences clap, that doesnot mean that people out there are no longer saying “Ħaqqu. He should have stayed in his country!”.
It will take years to change the racism and xenophobia that has now set in. And to do that we cannot stage a quick theatrical makeover. We need to first accept that this is what we’ve become.
The head of SOS Malta Claudia Taylor East last week said that we are a caring society. Are we? I don’t see that a lot around me. Even I am scowled at and insulted, and I don’t even have black skin. “We are a caring society; we’ve shown that in our country over and over again,” she said. The only care I see us show time and time again is donating money when we’re in with a chance to win a washing machine or a trip to Disneyland.
I think that’s the problem. We have not come to terms with who we’ve become. We’re a bunch of angry islanders led by people who are unaccepting of people who look different and who believe that throwing money at life is what caring is about. It’s not. It’s the sign of a sick society. A society which breeds murderers out of people who should be protecting lives.
And the most heinous thing is that we’ve become so detached that we don’t even care that we all have Lassana’s blood on our hands.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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