Letters: 25 October 2015

Racism and bigotry not patriotic at all

I fetched a dusty old Oxford English Dictionary to look up ‘patriotism’ and ‘racism’. Much to my surprise I could not notice any link between the two. Strange, I thought, especially since lately a number of self-styled ‘patriots’ give the impression that by default the meanings of both words walk hand-in-hand with each other.

I looked up the word ‘bigot’. Now here one could easily see traits that could also be attributed towards racism but no link whatsoever with ‘patriotism’. So technically, if loving my country dearly is the only requirement needed to be considered a patriot, then I believe I fit the criteria well enough. And all without having to rant out racially demeaning and hateful slurs at refugees.

My little ‘word quest’ might all seem a bit comical, but in reality it is the unfortunate truth of how many ‘patriots’ have butchered what it purely means to be devoted to one’s country as a means of unleashing their inner prejudice and utter hatred towards those of different ethnicities whom they regard as inferior.

As a result, many have stripped away at any shred of humanity and referred to asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries as ‘parasites’, ‘animals, ‘those people’ and what-not, while insisting that the ideal solution would be to let them all drown in our seas or else send them back to their deaths in their own countries. 

I’m not one to generalize and I acknowledge the fact that believing in stronger enforcement of border control and deportation of migrants does not automatically brand one as a ‘racist’ or a ‘bigot’. Engaging in discriminatory acts which attempt to degrade or antagonize a particular group of people is racism. The dehumanization of children such as Aylan Kurdi, dying on our shores is racism. Dangling an Ethiopian man eight storeys high, all day in the sun to paint a building for a miserly pay is racist.

People who believe in compassion towards asylum seekers and in the diversity of different cultures should not be labelled ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘haters of our own country’. Disposing of a refrigerator in a protected valley is unpatriotic. The destruction of our own natural environment through irresponsible development is unpatriotic. Opting for partisanship over the national interest is unpatriotic. Not knowing the words to your national anthem is not very patriotic either.

Generalization hurts all parties involved. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed this sentiment perfectly recently when he dismissed an Islamophobic man who ‘accused’ President Barack Obama of being a Muslim during a Donald Trump rally. Powell’s response was “The correct answer is he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?”.

And there you have it. Xenophobia, Islamophobia and bigotry scrapped in the garbage where they belong.

Last week I was delighted to see our Prime Minister following in the footsteps of Angela Merkel at United Nations and urging the international community to “share and shoulder the phenomenon of mass migration with both legal channels and instruments to deal with the crisis”. It’s truly remarkable to see what a long way he’s come from his unlawful attempted pushback just two years ago. Amazing what a little something called public opinion can do.

Indeed I wish most of his supporters who rallied harshly in favour of pushbacks would make the same sort of rapid advancement on the topic as he did, but alas

After years of seeing the immigration crisis mounting to the point it has reached now, many citizens in Europe feel discouraged, because it is discouraging to see the indifference of most European leaders. This probably explains the rise of new far-right parties across different European countries, a chilling echo of the 1930s.

The greatest threat to our “way of life” is not migration. It is the lie that some human lives matter less than others. Irrelevant to where one stands on the issue of immigration, the need for unity and co-operation not only between nations, but also individuals has never been greater in recent history.

I’m no idealist when I say that a clearer path to stability will not come anytime soon through isolating ourselves, lacking compassion and manifesting hatred, but more so through looking past one’s ideological differences and acknowledging the human being in those seeking a better life.

Jamie Vella, Via email