Losing our humanity

It is vastly more important to decide who we want to be as a country, than to reflect on those who inhabited these islands before us

A long time ago, there was a very special island... inhabited by a friendly people who would go out of their way to help stranded sailors and even their prisoners – so the story goes. Of course, there is another version of history, involving deceptive lights luring ships to their doom so they could be plundered... and despite the fact that our local claim to the story in Acts is historically dubious at best, it remains a noble goal – to be more like the Melita of Acts than the Malta of history.

It is vastly more important to decide who we want to be as a country, than to reflect on those who inhabited these islands before us. A large measure of that exercise involves how we relate to foreigners; to those who are not ‘us’ but show up among us. Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m referring to illegal/irregular immigrants, such is only one part of the picture. There is a much larger view, encompassing all who were not born here – the EU citizens, and other nationals who live and work here, and who arrived regularly.

Malta has a reputation. Not of being anti-foreigner per se, but of having two rulers by which the foreigner is measured separately from the native. This reputation is nowhere more prevalent than in the courts, where the impression is that foreigners are treated more harshly (see Daniel Holmes). Over the last weeks, a number of judgments have done nothing to reduce that impression:

A senior Maltese priest, attempted violent indecent assault... three months suspended; a Maltese man convicted of fraud... four years’ probation; a Romanian begging in Valletta... 10 days’ jail; an Italian and a Turk, violently resisting while drunk... six months suspended and over €4,000 fine each; a Saudi-born Italian living with a woman who prostituted herself... six months effective jail term; a Polish girl out of her mind, naked, and hiding in a garbage truck... 10 months suspended.

Other than the obvious disparity in sentencing severity, these cases have another level connecting them – the lack of a social conscience. Whilst the Maltese young man committing a very serious crime during a prior suspended period was given leniency due to the loss of his brother 20 years ago, no such consideration was given to any of the foreigners.

What social good does it do to put a 64-year-old beggar in jail? He’ll be fed and housed for 10 days and then released back onto the street. Whilst most comments on his case viciously condemned the ‘foreign scum’ – and, yes, I am fully aware of the problems of criminal begging groups – the unifying factor was a lack of concern that his could be a simple social case. Did the police investigate to see if the man was just down on his luck, or mentally ok?  No.

Many things need to change to correct this path. Our courts lack unified sentencing guidelines – a severe discrepancy which opens up this situation. Cases take years to hear, forcing visitors to plead guilty. Our police need better training and investment in things such as mandatory body cameras... and yes, to weed out any bad apples also. But above all, we – as a society – need to change our attitude; to investigate, not assume; to help socially, not prosecute needlessly.

YHWH told the Israelites in Leviticus that “The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself” (19:34) and “There will be one law for you, whether a foreigner or a native citizen” (24:22).  Jesus of course furthered that, telling us to “love your neighbour as yourself”.  Yes, the world is a complex place, and situations can be complex, but let’s not lose our humanity and become callous to those in need among us; instead, let us truly apply the same law equally and with a social conscience.

David Pollina


A scandalous auction

In his lifetime, Jesus adhered to God’s prohibition against “graven” images.

How would he react if he had to witness the residents of Mgarr bidding up to €14,000 in an auction – with the approval of the parish priest – for the dubious “privilege” of carrying a “graven” image of his mother – a typical example of Maltese kitsch?

Jesus would respond by denouncing the “graven” image as idolatry, and he would equate the auction-bidders at Mgarr to the money-changers at the Temple.

John Guillaumier

St Julian’s