No smoke without fire

200 men of one, minority, religion ‘praying’ in front of the place of worship of the majority religion in a country does not augur well for good community relations, however legal their action may be

The world is this year commemorating the death in 1616 of Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish novelist, poet and playwright whose best-known work, Don Quixote, is considered by many to have been the world’s first novel. It is perhaps due to this fact that some MaltaToday reporters known for their appreciation of culture, have taken of late to tilting against windmills, an idiom in the English language that means attacking imaginary enemies and derives from that famous episode in Cervantes’s Don Quixote, in which the hero attacks windmills which he imagines are giants and gets unseated from his sturdy steed for his troubles.

In the Wednesday, 24 February, 2016 issue of MaltaToday, one of the paper’s best writers sets out an uncharacteristically convoluted case to demonstrate the error of my ways. To do this he claims that I use statistics from the 1970s, which I do not; that the latest statistics I make reference to refer to the 1990s, seemingly overlooking that the latest statistics I use in actual fact refer to the first decade of the 21st century; and so on and so forth. To top it all he says that ‘all’ can see that what I am driving at is “that there are more Muslims than any other denomination currently in Malta’s prisons.”

Like his colleague who a couple of weeks earlier opted to leave out the critically-important word ‘some’ and proceeded to construct an imaginary windmill to tilt at, this other MaltaToday reporter fails to tell his readers that what I actually wrote was that “…the crime rate for Muslims is much, much higher than it is for the general population if we take prison inmates as a proxy indicator.”

Indeed, in my article I proceeded to say that “…this would seem to indicate that at one in five the proportion of Muslim country prison inmates in Malta is even higher than the UK where one in seven prison inmates is Muslim in contrast to the one in 20 Britons in the general population who is Muslim.” In overall terms it would seem that some MT reporters may need to brush up their reading skills but I thank them for prompting me to endeavour to do better. I shall leave it up to readers to decide on how rigorous or otherwise my writing is.

I must nevertheless admit to an oversight of my own. In citing extensively from Formosa et al’s 2012 report entitled Foreigners in Maltese Prisons: Spanning the 150-year Divide, I inadvertently overlooked to point out that the paper dealt exclusively with ‘sentenced offenders’ and left out entirely the category of pre-trial or untried inmates on which the MaltaToday reporter bases much of his case in an effort to rebut my arguments. As a result, Formosa et al’s claim regarding sentenced prisoners that “North African foreigners, mainly Libyans… have dominated the scene since the 1970s…” retains its full potency.

(Incidentally, out of interest, I did look up the State Department report cited by the reporter and although I encountered the reference to 20% of the prison population being in pre-trial detention, I was unable to find any indication in the report that “Of these, the majority – nearly 100% – are foreigners,” as the reporter claims, although I stand to be corrected. A look at the more exhaustive Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics, admittedly for a year earlier, namely 2013, indicates foreigners in Malta’s prison made up 61% of pre-trial detainees.)

I would now like to address what the MaltaToday reporter considers to be the ‘real problem’ in my ‘analysis’, namely the use of statistics relating to sentenced prison inmates as a ‘proxy indicator of crime’.

An EU glossary defines a ‘proxy indicator’ as “A variable used to stand in for one that is difficult to measure directly” and given that Maltese statistics are at a relatively early stage of development and the pertinent authorities are often reluctant to divulge information one is left with little choice, although I accept that it is a technique which is fraught with difficulties. As a consequence I look forward to the MaltaToday reporters who seem to feel very strongly about this matter using their not inconsiderable investigative skills and resources to demonstrate to readers once and for all that Muslim-majority nationals are not overrepresented in our ‘correctional facility’ and that we may proceed to sleep easy at night.

The reporters concerned will, nevertheless, probably have their work cut out for them because reports from across Europe, from countries much further from Europe’s Southern border than ours, make for very sober reading. In the UK, Muslims make up around 4.8% of the population but nearly 15% of the prison population. In ‘multicultural’ France, where Muslims constitute around 8% of the population, Muslims account for 60% of the prison population; while in Spain, where they only constitute around 2.3% of the general population, they account for an extraordinary 70% of the prison population. Have all these people been wrongfully sentenced and imprisoned? I am more inclined to think that there is no smoke without a fire.

I teach a course on Al Andalus in which I seek to do justice to a culture, which in its heyday outshone anything the West had to offer and when Islam was a beacon of learning, tolerance and trade, but those times are long gone.

In a 5 July, 2014 article, The Economist spoke of the ‘tragedy of the Arabs’ and declared that “Islam, or at least modern reinterpretations of it, is at the core of some of the Arabs’ deep troubles. The faith’s claim, promoted by many of its leading lights, to combine spiritual and earthly authority, with no separation of mosque and state, has stunted the development of independent political institutions” and concludes that “…only the Arabs can reverse their civilizational decline, and right now there is little hope of that happening.”

Are we going to allow ourselves to be dragged down the same path towards chaos or shall we re-assert our right to decide who comes into our country and who stays out? I decide who comes into my home so why should we not be able to decide who comes into our country and eject outsiders who are here illegally or who transgress against our laws?

I am writing this on Sunday and I have just read a MaltaToday reporter’s claim that I have a hidden agenda, an accusation frequently bandied about when reporters run out of ammunition. I would, as a consequence, like to take this opportunity to own up and publicly confess to indeed having a hidden agenda and it is to bequeath to my children and my children’s children a safe country where they may continue to live unhindered by an invasive mindset that threatens to choke our most precious freedoms.

Some contributors, typically people who have only been away from this island on the occasional couple of weeks holiday, have taken to harping on about ‘the fear of the unknown’ but the problem is that the danger is clear and present and it is they who insist on sticking their head in the sand, intent on ignoring it. 

By-the-by, the MaltaToday reporter has finally taken the plunge and has labelled me a ‘right-wing extremist’, which is regrettable not because it hurts my feelings or anything of the sort but because he demonstrates that he has no idea of what he is talking about and what right-wing extremism or any sort of extremism for that matter is really about and capable of. But it is not extremists of one sort or another that the MaltaToday reporter should be weary of but the reaction of ordinary citizens. He seems totally oblivious of the backlash that uncontrolled migration could provoke amongst a majority that feels or is made to feel threatened and the serious and tragic repercussions that such a backlash would have for all, but particularly for members of the minorities already living among us peacefully and lawfully.

As with much in life it is often a matter of perception. Two hundred men, women and children of any faith praying together can never be perceived as threatening but two hundred men of one, minority, religion ‘praying’ in front of the place of worship of the majority religion in a country does not augur well for good community relations, however legal their action may be.

1492 is best remembered in Spanish history as the year that Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas but it was also the year when the last Muslim foothold in Spain was retaken by the Christians and when Jews were given the choice of converting to Catholicism or being expelled. Less well known is the event just over 100 years later, in 1609-1614, when hundreds of thousands of Moriscos, Muslims who had officially been baptized but who in secret continued to practise their faith and were viewed as a potential fifth column, were expelled. It has happened before and it could happen again unless we thread carefully but I shall stop here and defer to the judgment of MaltaToday’s readers as to whether my writings are those of a ‘right-wing extremist’ or not.