The graphic scenes recounted by an eyewitness in Gozo last weekend should serve as a wake-up call to us all. The alleged severe beating of a Somali man by a gang of people in front of a cheering crowd can never be excused. Yet, one Facebook comment after another sought to justify the incident.
The attack itself, brought flashbacks of April 2019 when 42-year-old Ivorian worker Lassana Cisse was shot dead while walking with his friends in Ħal Far.
Last week’s incident sparked outrage only by human rights activists and a few others. Meanwhile, a number of loud keyboard warriors threw their usual tantrums of how Malta is being taken over by “il-barranin” and that “il-kbir għadu ġej”.
If that weren’t enough, we had an Opposition Member of Parliament enlightening us with his theory that this was the result of a hastened mix of cultures on our islands. Yes, a Member of Parliament in…Malta – the island state in the centre of the Mediterranean, which boasts a rich history of mixed cultures accumulating over thousands of years.
The most frustrating aspect which characterised the past few days, and the one which could have long-lasting effects on our society, was not the incident itself, or the nasty comments amounting to hate speech on social media. It wasn’t even Kevin Cutajar’s status, or his failed attempt at defending his indefensible comment.
It was silence. Shhh.
Silence from people in positions of influence. Silence from the Church. Silence from election candidates. Silence from Members of Parliament, barring a couple. Silence from the Opposition. Silence from Cabinet members and the government.
Beyond the incident itself and without going into the merits, the least one would have expected was a declaration of principle against violence and discrimination.
This is not and should never be political. But failure to stand up to racism and bigotry will lead to their rapid spread in society. Politicians on either side of the House should unite in their message and action to promote unity in diversity and to nip racism in the bud.
The Government’s document Towards a National Action Plan against Racism and Xenophobia published last year should serve as guidance. Quoting from this document: “The racially-motivated murder of Lassana Cisse Soulemayne just over a year ago is a tragic reminder of the consequences of indifference to hate speech and racism in Maltese society.”
Some argue that the results of the State of the Nation survey which showed that the majority is not in favour of multiculturalism serve as a reason for politicians not to speak out on the issue. If anything, these results put greater responsibility on politicians to show leadership, set the tone and control the agenda. We’ve done it on LGBTIQ rights, despite scepticism by many, and we must do it again. It’s not a question of choice, but one of human rights and the prosperity of our society.
The rise in racism, bigotry and far right extremism experienced in other countries should serve as a lesson so as not to repeat the same mistakes.