Egypt frees Al-Jazeera journalist
The Great White Lie
Zoto was ultimately killed, not just by kicks and punches, but also by a lie.
2 July 2012, 12:00am
But let's call him Zoto for another reason, too. To consciously dehumanize him... to reduce him to little more than a vaguely comical sobriquet one might associate more with a cat or a dog than with a human being... or better still, a cartoon character: as if it were not a person at all who was kicked to death last Saturday, but only a cast member of 'Southpark' or 'Family Guy'. And let's face it: it is slightly difficult to feel any genuine horror when confronted with the violent death of a cartoon character (though I concede that the same cannot really be said for dogs and cats, which tend to have monuments erected to them when subjected to comparable treatment).
In any case, 'dehumanizing migrants' is a charge very often levelled at the local media... and sadly, not without very good reason. It was after all our State broadcaster that once compared a wave of migrant arrivals to a corresponding bloom of jellyfish. I remember the original headline on PBS' 8 o' clock news, and to be honest it still sends a chill down my spine today: "Once again summer is upon us, and so is the season of illegal immigrants and jellyfish..."
Elsewhere I myself can attest that it is actually hard not to dehumanise such people when reporting their plight. How can you do otherwise, when your country's entire immigration policy is geared specifically towards reducing them all to the status of nameless, faceless statistics... and in fact refers to them exclusively through the universal language of mathematics?
You know the sort of thing I mean: '800 arrived in three boatloads on such and such a date'; '2,000 housed in so many detention centres', '28 immigrants relocated to six countries in four months'... and on it goes, a steady stream of numbers, numbers, numbers and more numbers, crunched out endlessly by the State's PR department.
And yet, even when stripped of all humanity and relocated to a fictitious, numerological dimension - the numbers alone still have the power to shock. More specifically they speak volumes about the futility of the system that cost Zoto his life, and many other people their sanity and human dignity... while also challenging the very basis upon which so much of our national prejudice is actually built.
Consider the following detail: before his re-arrest on Friday, Zoto had spent three years 'on the run'. This means that, following his first escape from detention in 2009, his whereabouts remained officially unknown for just over 1,075 days. In all that time he did not show up on any local radar - unlike us 'regular' folk, who betray our existence every time we receive a water and electricity bill, or apply for an Internet account, or pay our national insurance/VAT/income tax, or vote in a local council election.
Throughout all this time - at least before last Friday - Zoto was also very plainly alive: something that can only realistically have been possible if he found some form of employment, or at least subsistence, for at least part of the time he was at 'liberty'.
Even in this respect he proved one of a facless, dehumanised multitude expressed only in mathematics. Off-hand I do not know the exact number of people who find themselves in similar or identical straits... either because they were never picked up by the forces of law and order on arrival; or because they escaped from detention, and remain undetected; or because they are failed asylum seekers who cannot be deported to their country of origin for any of a dozen reasons.
It is probably safe to assume that some of these people will have migrated elsewhere in the meantime; but many others will almost certainly have vanished into the shadows of the black economy: living, like Zoto must have done, on the occasional odd-job here and there.
This is certainly what many vocal critics of immigration believe; and they routinely argue (on the comments boards of online newspapers, and on Xarabank and other gladiatorial media arenas) that these same people are 'stealing Maltese jobs', thus jeopardising the local economy to the detriment of us all. And yet, it was only a few weeks ago that a local newspaper (In-Nazzjon) ran a front-page headline claiming that there were currently more jobs on offer than there were applicants to fill them.
Faced with this contradiction, the question automatically arises. How can this even be possible, with an unquantifiable number irregular migrant workers busy snapping up all available employment opportunities? And if all such jobs are filled by immigrant workers... why isn't there a 10-mile queue of unemployed Maltese citizens outside the ETC offices?
The sad reality of their situation is that it had to take the violent murder of a Malian asylum seeker to illustrate the sheer dishonesty of the xenophobic anti-immigration argument. And it is a self-perpetuating dishonesty, too: the fact that Zoto was so brutally murdered illustrates that violent racism is clearly a reality in Malta. And why is violent racism such a reality in Malta... if not in part because of the unfounded fears that immigrants pose a threat to employment?
This in turn suggests that Zoto was ultimately killed, not just by kicks and punches, but also by a lie. And a great big whopping 'white lie' it is, too. A lie fanned relentlessly, both by the extreme right and the extremely stupid... because, just like the dehumanisation of migrants serves the purpose of making their subjugation more palatable, the groundless fear of minorities provides palpable benefits to those who would destabilise any given system, and seek to augment their own power and influence.
But it remains nothing more than a lie. Contrary to popular sentiment, Malta actually needs workers like Zoto... infinitely more than it needs brutes of the kind who kicked him to death. And yes, I know this will never be a popular argument... but since when has the truth ever been popular?