Each time I read some news articles, social media posts and most comments, a bit more of my faith in humanity is chipped away. Sometimes I fear that soon there will be none left. I struggle to understand why someone feels entitled to insult a person, wish them harm or worse.
I have tried to understand the reasons for this. I know that the world around us is changing more rapidly than ever before: our population, our economy, our technology have changed and now to make things even more fun we have a pandemic which has profoundly affected our lives. Change makes us anxious; we feel threatened and we tend to seek security. Something which happens during these times is that people feel a need to belong to one group and so they feel the need to categorise those who do not fit into their beliefs, narrative or narrow group as ‘other’. People perceive ‘others’ as a threat and they deal with them in none too pleasant ways.
Historically we have always had ‘others’, we were a colony. During the last World War our nation was divided internally with those working covertly to aid the Italians while the majority worked with the British rulers during one of the hardest periods Malta has had to face.
Later we found ourselves pitted against each other when one political party sought to alienate the other by declaring its voters as sinners and outcasts. The seeds for this had admittedly been sown by this same party decades before, the harm done was immense, never forgotten and as a nation we have still not healed.
We tribalize not just our politics, but also our feasts and local and foreign football sympathies among other things. Indeed, sympathy is too light a word to explain the intense emotions many of us feel about these things.
Social media has given people the opportunity to be seen and heard, they can be the star of their own clips, photos, and stories. They have been given a voice and what many have done with this empowering tool is attack anyone who they feel is ‘other’.
When before people would be cautious about voicing their bias and their prejudice, now they seem proud to provide testimony of their racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and a whole host of other harmful and hateful feelings.
Donald Trump and many far-right leaders have encouraged people to follow in their footsteps under the guise of freedom of speech, and confrontations towards the ‘others’ have spilt over to actual life. The immediacy and direct impact of media and social media enables and empowers their messages and of those of their ilk: this means that those susceptible are bombarded by messages of hatred constantly. People feel they can insult a person freely because of their sexuality, because their skin is darker, because of their gender or for whatever reason they feel threatened. And all this because of the systematic rejection and dehumanisation by those who seek to take advantage of the anxiety and fears of people. Locally we have had more than our fill of these types of people. They have felt no compunction at all about demonising, insulting and threatening those who they felt did not belong to their group.
Undoubtedly this hatred is still being fomented through certain politicised discourse even locally. We have politicians who use a rhetoric of other, we have those who use a strategy of fear, creating ‘enemies’ such as fellow Maltese, foreign workers, those be it local or foreign who threaten our values be they religious or otherwise. They create others through social and cultural constructs, and seek to make us view this ‘othering’ as the natural order of things. We also have a Church which persists in strengthening the perception of ‘otherness’ when it comes to sexuality, unions, persons who don’t adhere to the dogma it expouses and yes, still to this day politics.
This narrative of ‘l-anzjani’, ‘in-nisa’, ‘l-immigranti’, ‘il-persuni b’diżabbilta’’, ‘dawk bil-vizzju tad-droga/alkoħol’, ‘il-gays’, ‘it-trans’,’ is-single mothers’ and so many more ‘others’. Society is a whole, we all form part of it. Women, older persons, people who were not born here, people who were born here but whose skin colour is darker or lighter etc: ‘they’ may be one or more of these things but ‘they’ should not be defined by any of them. ‘They’ have been made into ‘others’ so many times by journalists, social media and by ourselves throughout our daily lives but in truth ‘they’ are us. How can we say that we want a better Malta and still have this type of discourse embedded within? How can we permit this to perpetuate?
We have had persons from an institution bound to defend the nation charged with the murder of a person whose only sin was to be an immigrant with a skin of different colour to theirs. How much of this is to attribute to the lack of education and respect to fellow humans coupled with a rhetoric of hatred and ‘otherness’?
Yet more recently a retired, older politician was given an apology in court after a person was charged for his hateful comments towards said politician on Facebook. Good for him and commendations for action being taken promptly, BUT many people locally have received the same treatment of insults and much worse, some of these victims being politicians themselves others just people from all walks of life. Do the perpetrators need to be taken to court? Can all the victims afford the time, money, and emotional toll? Why is there not something in place to nip this in the bud and ensure that those keyboard warriors are held accountable? Why are persons who feel entitled to confront and insult others out on the streets not prosecuted and fined with immediacy? Is hate so embedded in our society and culture that hurting our fellow humans is deemed acceptable?
I ask you to think about this carefully and also to ask yourselves whether you too have been guilty of this behaviour, because chances are that we are all part of this problem and that means we are all part of the solution.
About Dot Borg: Divorced, working mum, avid reader and sometimes angry writer. Loathes single socks, prone to bouts of road rage and selective amnesia.