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Tacit Genocides and the curse of a punitive morality

While they take delight in using any opportunity to attack each other, our MPs have kept their peace over what is being planned by Europe, under Malta’s Presidency, with regards to refugees coming from Africa. This does not only tell us a lot about those who represent us in Parliament, but on the serious crisis that there is in the shaping of our moral imaginary.

Simon Busuttil rightly took umbrage to Joseph Muscat’s almost non-existent criticism of Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees coming from a number of countries. However, Dr Busuttil forgot to mention that when Berlusconi kissed Muammar Gaddafi’s hands over a deal to push back refugees in 2010, while still an MEP, he reportedly argued that “[t]hose who criticise these agreements have no reply when we ask them who is going to shoulder the responsibility to take them. They want migrants to freely cross into Europe but then expect the southern countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta to take them. This is not an option.”

Many never bothered to see what was really happening thanks to Gaddafi. Indeed, we only realised what was really going on with these refugees after Gaddafi’s demise, even when many commentators were warning since 2009 that this was no real solution.

In The Guardian, Bill Frelick commented thus: “In building their friendship agreement, Berlusconi and Gaddafi seem to be regarding migrants and asylum seekers from other countries as expendable. The deal enables Italy to dump migrants and asylum seekers on Libya and evade its obligations while Libya gets investment, bolstered security infrastructure and acceptance as Italy's friend and partner.” 

In the same year, Human Rights Watch said “that the accounts of migrants who are arrested for trying to leave Libya raise serious questions about whether its actions to prevent departures, encouraged and financed by Italy, violate the right of anyone to leave any country (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 12) and the right of everyone to seek asylum (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 14).” 

To ask countries like Libya to monitor immigration, should be raising alarm amongst those who care for refugees

What is being proposed, following the jubilant Valletta Summit a year or so ago, is a bit more nuanced. However, to ask countries like Libya to monitor immigration, should be raising alarm amongst those who care for refugees. Of all places, Libya is the most unstable. Only recently, Malta’s Foreign Minister Dr George Vella (whom I regard as a very fair minded politician), reported with detailed alarm the dangers that approach the Libyan nation.

So, I find it rather strange that while commemorating the horrendous and shameful events of the Shoah—where millions of Jews were exterminated, together with thousands of Roma, homosexuals and other groups regarded as dispensable by the Nazis—none of our MPs dared mention the danger of a tacit genocide of refugees that could be unfolding with even more vengeance if somehow this planned strategy were to be enacted.

If one were asked why the Maltese are more likely to take moral exception to their Bishops appearing “lax” over divorcees, rather than on their politicians taking no real stand over another potential human disaster south of the Mediterranean, one cannot but reflect on how our moral imaginary has been moulded over so many years.

Upon reflection, one will also realise that our moral imaginary is more set to be punitive than formative, rehabilitative or compensatory. The fact that the Bishops recently found themselves in hot water because they decided to urge their parish priests to use common sense, love and a sense of mercy towards divorcees who wanted to take communion, it somehow indicates that many objectors in their flock but also amongst the priesthood itself, are more inclined to judge others than show mercy.

While the image of a butchered Jesus on the cross is an integral part of our moral imaginary, when it comes to the suffering of what the poor and the rejected are going through, many opt to look away and forget.

Stranger still, when suffering is showed on TV, many find it in their heart to give to charity. But doesn't all this effort to raise millions for the weak and the poor turn hypocritical when, as soon as they see a refugee approaching our land on TV, many are overcome by fear and hatred?

On International Holocaust Memorial Day, our honourable ladies and gentlemen did not seem to find it problematic to have Malta’s name being used in conjunction with the EU’s pushback plans by proxy. As in the Berlusconi-Gaddafi agreement then, such an agreement today would seem agreeable to many.

Neither do many seem perturbed by the fact that if this were to happen, it would be no different from when in WWII, the US, Britain, and other Western countries denied asylum to thousands of Jews like Anne Frank and her family, with the consequence that these refugees found their death in concentration camps like Auschwitz Birkenau.

Indeed, in those dark days, the West did take many Jewish refugees. But it is also an historical fact that while those fortunate enough made it to safety, often by bribing and demeaning themselves through borders, those who couldn't afford to, were left behind. If anyone thinks this is a thing of the past, ask a Syrian or Somalian refugee and he or she will tell you how they managed to reach relative safety.

So as one reflects back on the punitive ways by which many are all too quick to impose their moral slide-rules onto others, one cannot but add: So much for piety. So much for the prudish mentality by which some seem to claim a reserved place in Heaven. So much for those hypocrites who forget that Jesus Christ was not crucified exclusively for their capricious and judgemental souls. Rather he came to his cruel death because he fell victim to the same punitive mentality which he so publicly and vociferously condemned.

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