Kevin Cutajar’s Facebook post? It’s Malta’s entire racism issue, in a nutshell

Let’s look on the bright side. Now, at least one Opposition MP has spoken out about the need for a thorough rethink of our country’s entire approach to immigration...

Nationalist MP Kevin Cutajar
Nationalist MP Kevin Cutajar

OK, let’s get the basics out of the way first. There are couple of ‘Golden Rules’ you get to learn pretty darn quick, whenever writing about (or simply observing) Maltese politics in action.

The first is that... Maltese politicians never, ever ‘say the wrong thing.’ No indeed: it’s always a case that their words – no matter how foolish or ill-advised – are somehow ‘misinterpreted’, ‘misunderstood’, or ‘taken out of context’.

The second is that... well, it’s almost the same, but in reverse. Maltese politicians always (but ALWAYS) ‘say the right thing’ – but only ever when they happen to be in Opposition: and therefore, no longer able to translate that ‘right thing’ into any form of ‘action’... and when, in any case, that sort of responsibility actually falls on the party in government, and not themselves.

And yes: I know it’s not exactly the first time I’ve outlined this same pattern of behaviour, in the past. But there is a good reason for repeating it, you know. Taken together, those two ‘Golden Rules’ tell us pretty much everything we need to know about how politics actually functions – or, if you prefer, ‘malfunctions’ in Malta; and sometimes, they can even speak volumes about certain individual issues, too.

In Kevin Cutajar’s case, for instance: they seem to do both in equal measures. But wait... I’ve raced ahead of myself slightly, haven’t I? So... let’s rewind a little.

Kevin Cutajar? For the purposes of this article, all you really need to know (if you don’t already) is that: he’s a Nationalist MP who caused a minor social media uproar this week – actually two, but let’s not race ahead of ourselves again – by posting a ‘controversial’ Facebook comment about an alleged racist assault... which he later felt compelled to delete.

As for the incident he was actually commenting about... that, too, took the form of a Facebook post: this time, an eye-witness account describing a truly horrific act of racially-motivated violence, that allegedly took place in Mġarr (Gozo) last weekend.

According to this version of events, a Somali man was savagely beaten up by some 15 locals, and then thrown into the sea. But perhaps the most upsetting part was that this incident allegedly took place ‘in front of a crowd of 100 cheering people’.

And this adds a whole new dimension to the affair. Suddenly, we are no longer talking about an individual ‘racially-motivated crime’: which – no matter how serious (or, in this case, disgusting) – would remain a single, isolated criminal offence, to be dealt with accordingly.

No: on top of that, we are now also talking about an entire culture of violent racism that exists in Malta and Gozo... and we know it exists, too: not, of course, just because ‘a crowd of around 100 people’ would actively applaud such a despicable, cowardly and homicidal act... but also because...

... well, it wasn’t too long ago that a crowd of a lot more than just 100 had openly applauded the racially-motivated murder of Lassana Cisse: a 42-year-old from the Ivory Coast, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2019.

And OK, they might not have physically witnessed the murder as it happened... still less, responded to it by actually ‘clapping and cheering’ (in fact, I suspect that most reactions would have been somewhat different, under those circumstances).

But the way people commented about that crime? The countless public expressions of open, undisguised, and equally brutal racism – often also verbally violent – aimed not just at Cisse himself, but at all Malta’s African migrant population as a whole?

Some of those comments were very literally the Facebook equivalent of applause, you know. (There is even an emoticon for ‘clapping hands’... and I saw it used quite a lot.) But in the interest of brevity, I’ll just quote one that I remember off-hand, and stop there.

“Good: that’s one less n***** roaming our streets...’

So, to return to that Mgarr incident: what matters a lot more than the precise details, is what the event tells us about the general (and, let’s face it: very, VERY racist) mindset that prevails among a not-insignificant chunk of the population.

That, in a nutshell, is the context in which Kevin Cutajar posted his comment (and in case you’re wondering why I went into so much detail: well, just look up ‘Golden Rule Number One’, above...)

And his exact words were: “I absolutely do not agree with ugly scenes like this. But the rapid mixing of cultures in the last years, shows us that Gozo is not prepared for this [multiculturalism], and how such haste in mixing cultures does not help...”

And... Ker-BOOM! Thus began the first Facebook War over ‘what Kevin Cutajar posted’: with nearly all the outrage coming from the direction of activists, NGOs, academics, journalists, etc., who are in any way involved in the migration scene 

from a purely humanitarian perspective. Once again, I will limit myself to just one quote, this time by lecturer Andrew Azzopardi (to be taken, naturally, as emblematic of an entire deluge of similar online comments): “Cutajar is practically blaming the alleged victim in an argument with

practically racist tones and innuendos...” So... what happens next? Why, Golden Rule Number One springs into action, of course. Cutajar immediately responds by claiming that his words were ‘misinterpreted’... and – after deleting the original post – uploads an explanation of ‘what he really meant’.

Ready? Here goes: “What I tried to say, but which unfortunately got misinterpreted, was that what happened yesterday shows us the ugly reality of the lack of social inclusion...”

And... Ker-BLAAM! That proves to be the trigger for round two of the Facebook War: only this time, the attacks are coming from more than just one direction.

It’s not just the ‘activists and NGOs’ who are entirely unimpressed by the ‘clarification’ – for reasons I shall come to in a sec but now, Cutajar is under fire from the radical, anti-immigration brigade, too: who, at the best of times, don’t like hearing politicians using words like ‘social inclusion’ and ‘integration’... and who, in any case, would probably have been among that applauding crowd anyway (if not physically in Mgarr, then virtually on the social media).

And yet... what, exactly, is the difference between the first (‘misunderstood’) comment; and the second which was supposed to ‘clarify’ it?

Hard to say, really. One complains about the ‘hasty’ (and therefore, presumably, ‘unplanned’) way in which the intermingling of different ethnic or cultural groups has all along been managed; and the other bemoans the lack of ‘social inclusion’ (which, by definition, implies a better strategic approach to precisely one and the same management problem).

It’s a bit like the age-old conundrum about ‘whether the glass is half-empty, or half-full’: whichever way you look at it, it doesn’t actually change the amount of liquid in the glass...

And in this case: whatever your cause for offence – whether it’s Cutajar’s perceived ‘racism’ (or, at minimum, ‘insensitivity’); or whether it’s his call for an integration policy that raises your hackles – it doesn’t actually change the truth, or otherwise, of what Cutajar himself originally said.

Yes, Dr Cutajar: these are indeed the  ugly consequences of a country which entirely lacks a strategic plan for the integration of different ethnic communities. I mean... after all, it’s only what NGOs such as Aditus, the Integra Foundation, JRS, IOM Malta, Moviment Graffiti – not to mention newspapers such as this one, by the way: and The Times, and The Independent, etc. have been trying to tell successive governments of Malta for literally decades now...

And... well... what do you know? That takes us directly to Golden Rule Number Two. Interesting, isn’t it, that a Nationalist MP would suddenly wake up to the problem of Malta’s culture of violent racism (not to mention its ‘lack of social inclusion’) only now – i.e., when it is the responsibility of the Labour government to address such matters – and not at any point throughout the 20-something years the Nationalist Party was in power itself (during which time, it had also devised the entire infrastructure that still manages – or, if you prefer, ‘mismanages’ – Malta’s migration policies to this day...)?

This, incidentally, is what I meant earlier, when I said that those two rules tell us everything we need to know about Malta’s political dysfunctionality.

Why don’t we have a proper integration policy in place, anyway? Isn’t it at least partly because the need for such structures only ever occurs to Maltese politicians, when it’s someone else’s job to actually come up with one?

And isn’t that also why the Labour Party used to criticise Nationalist governments so very much, over this very issue, in the past... only to adopt the same policies itself, the moment it came into power? (which, extended into the future, also suggests that both Kevin Cutajar himself, and the Nationalist Party as a whole, would likewise promptly switch from ‘opposition’, to ‘government’, mode: the moment – unlikely as it appears, right now’ – it ever gets back into power itself...

Small wonder, then, that the same old core problem would remain unaddressed for so long.... when the underlying pattern of political behaviour has very clearly not changed at all...

But still, let’s look on the bright side. Now, at least one Opposition MP has spoken out about the need for a thorough rethink of our country’s entire approach to immigration...

... so what more can I say? I await, with bated breath, the unveiling of the PN’s new immigration policies, in its next electoral manifesto.