From ‘no rule of law’ to a military state...

We are now brought to a truly overwhelming irony: Who will now complain, when the sight of armed military patrols – so reminiscent of
the 1980s, by the way – becoming an everyday reality once more?

I normally hate the expression ‘careful what you wish for’. It is one those trite clichés that is just too easy to resort to: a little like ‘easier said than done’; or ‘if you’re in a hole, stop digging’; or (my personal favourite) ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’. Really? You mean it is possible to ‘cross a bridge’ at any other time? Well, if that’s the case... why bother with the bridge at all? It should be equally possible to just get to your destination immediately, without having to even move an inch...

But you know how it is. Odious as such clichés may be, there is a reason they became clichés in the first place.  

They tend to succinctly summarise an entire situation in just a few words, in a way that everybody can instantly understand. And the one that captures the zeitgeist of the moment is undeniably ‘careful what you wish for’.

For the past few weeks, some people out there have been ‘wishing for things’ very loud and very aggressively. And now that they’re about to get what they’ve wished for so much, something tells me they’re not going to like it one tiny bit.

The rule of law. It’s what you all wanted, right? It’s what you all went complaining about to every available international forum that would listen: painting this perfectly safe little country of ours as if it were some sort of ‘hellhole’, in which people were too afraid to even poke their noses through their own front door...

And now, just look at the result of all those childish demands. Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia has just announced that the Armed Forces will be “helping the police by carrying out patrols in problematic areas such as Marsa, Birzebbuga, Paceville and St Paul’s Bay.” You know, because ‘Marsa, Birzebbuga, Paceville and St Paul’s Bay’ have suddenly become so lawless and dangerous, that even the police themselves need goddamn army protection...

For the past few weeks, some people out there have been ‘wishing for things’ very loud and very aggressively

Protection from what, exactly? Pickpocketers? Shoplifters? Drunken street-brawlers? Those are the crimes that top the list of offences committed in those areas, you know. According to the most recent Malta Crime Report (2016), Paceville has five times the average crime rate as the rest of the country... and 90% of it is accounted for by petty crime.

Nor has there been any noticeable spike in violent crime in any of these areas – or any other part of Malta, for that matter. If you exclude domestic violence (which is sadly on the increase), the same stats indicate that violent crime has actually dropped in recent years. The 2016 report showed a 5% decrease in cases involving bodily harm (the category that includes murder).

Naturally, I don’t exclude that this trend may have been reversed in 2017; even so, however, looking at Malta’s actual crime data from the forensic, clinical and detached perspective one would expect of a crime investigator... our ‘violent crime’ statistics pale to insignificance compared to the national statistics of other European countries.

Yet alone of all European countries (except possibly Spain, for its own idiosyncratic reasons) little Malta now feels the need to employ the full force of its military capability, to cope with an entirely imaginary epidemic of street crime. It would almost be comical, if it wasn’t so deeply tragic. (As a matter of fact, it reminds me of that scene in ‘Police Academy’, when Cadet Eugene Tackleberry uses his Magnum .45 to get an old lady’s cat out of a tree.)

But seriously: how did we even get into this astonishing state of hyper-reality in the first place? Because this sort of nonsense has no place in the real world, you know. It is not ‘normal’, by any stretch of the imagination, for a country that has no major military conflict (internal, external, or of any kind whatsoever) to resort to its army to patrol its own streets. 

It is only normal in places like the Occupied Territories in Israel... where the security issues are a widely known and undisputed fact... or in countries where there are separatist elements, or some other kind of threat that requires a military response. (incidentally, that seems to include places like the Molenbeek district, in the heart of Brussels).

And this, in turn, points us in a very clear direction. That is PRECISELY the impression all this moaning and groaning about ’the rule of law’ has created. All the people who flocked to international institutions to complain about the total lack of any law and order in this country... for all the world as if we were a Somalia, or a Libya, or a South Sudan... helped perpetuate the outrageously false perception that Malta is some kind of ‘failed state’ that can only hold itself together through military force.

Why? Perhaps because some of them genuinely do feel that way – in which case, I would recommend a visit to a psychiatrist (paranoia is a real condition, can happen to anyone) – but mostly, because that false impression fits neatly with the political script those people were so unwisely peddling.

And I need hardly add that all those international institutions – including several supposedly reputable European news agencies – swallowed it hook, line and sinker.  For around two months now, we have been routinely portrayed as (and criticised for being) a ‘failed state’.

‘Failed state’, my foot. Oh sure, our institutions could work a little better at times. Yes, of course there are systemic problems that need to be ironed out. But, for crying out loud (sometimes, I wish the English language had a more suitable equivalent for ‘Gieh [email protected]%&$!’)... in other ways, this little country of ours has also been a phenomenal success, you know.

Other countries that declared Independence at roughly the same time have been engulfed in civil wars ever since; some have slid into brutal dictatorships, or into a state of parasitic dependence on their former colonisers, or just fizzled out altogether.  Malta might have disappointed in some respects... but bloody hell, let’s give ourselves a bit of credit for a change. This country has held itself together pretty darn well, as far as I can see. And for all its undeniable flaws, our justice system is far from dysfunctional.

I would say Malta actually has a better track record in judicial independence than some of the countries which now criticise us over the ‘collapse of our rule of law’. And yes, you can still see some of the bandages, and a few of the more recent wounds are still bleeding profusely.

The people who claimed they ‘got scared every time a car drove past their front door’ will be able to sleep more easily at night

But come on: the people talking about Malta’s justice system as a ‘failure’, have evidently never been to a country where the rule of law has indeed collapsed. Those countries are usually recognisable by the number of army patrols at every street corner, including – or especially – in their main tourist areas. And oh look:  that’s exactly what we’ll be soon seeing here, too: not because our situation is in any way comparable to any of those countries... but only because the Maltese government is responding to the imaginary fantasies of a bunch of clearly deluded individuals, instead of addressing the reality on the ground.

This brings us to the truly overwhelming irony in all this. Who will now complain, when the sight of armed military patrols – so reminiscent of
the 1980s, by the way – becomes an everyday reality once more?

Who will point out that this initiative is completely and utterly disproportionate to the actual crime-fighting needs of the country (not to mention also embarrassing and absurd)... and above all, who will sound the alarm, when it becomes apparent that all this extra (unneeded) ‘security’ will de facto translate into a loss of civil liberties in this country?

Well, it can hardly be the same people who were foolish enough to demand this madness in the first place, can it? After all, the people who claimed they ‘got scared every time a car drove past their front door’ should be the very last to complain. They’ll be able to sleep more easily at night, knowing that an entire regiment of armed military personnel has been employed to chase out all those monsters from under their beds...

And the very last thing these people can complain about, is the undeniable fact that ‘militarising the police’ is the first step every country that ends up as a dictatorship will have taken. Yes, indeed: they have given the Maltese government the perfect excuse it needed, if it wanted to turn Malta into the very thing they themselves had been campaigning against. A military state. So now, if any of them so much as sneezes something that sounds like criticism of the ‘army patrols’ measure... Joseph Muscat can simply turn around and say: ”What, isn’t that what you all wanted? Isn’t that what you’ve been shouting at the top of your voices about for the past six weeks?”

And he’d be perfectly right. The ‘rule of law’ brigade has defaulted on any right to complain about what may well turn into Malta’s biggest ‘rule of law’ headache in the future. Luckily, however, not all of us made this fundamental mistake (some of us even tried to raise the alarm beforehand, and were shouted down for our pains. But no matter, some of us are used to taking it on the chin...)

So I will conclude with a small entreaty to Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia.  Dr Farrugia: please tell me you’re joking. The Army has better things to occupy its time with than patrolling Paceville to apprehend petty thieves and drunk teenagers. They already play a vital role in crime detection and investigation... which they perform well, despite their limitations... so please do NOT succumb to those idiotic demands, by turning Malta into more of an international laughing stock than it already is. Fond regards, etc.

As for everyone else: I hope you’re all nostalgic for the good old 1980s, because – no prizes for guessing whose fault – that’s where we’re all now heading. Fast.

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