Behind a Digital Burqa

Though the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe interests me a lot, I didn’t really follow the debate on whether the burqa should be banned or not. I believe the issue has been polarised by anti-Muslims who use it as an excuse to create fear of Muslims as well as by Islamists who want also want to create the fear that “they want to take away your religion”

I sympathise with neither.

On the issue itself, I think both sides have a point. When it comes to the rights of women, I’m completely against the ban. I believe a woman should be free to go out stark naked or fully clothed as long as she’s not coerced to do so.

On the other hand there’s the issue of security. Could a person use such a garment to hide his identity when committing a crime? Should someone be allowed to enter a bank if even her face is not recognizable? I think the answer is obvious.

There is a place however, where hiding your identity is completely permissible and it’s being done left, right and centre. This place is the Internet.

The example I will bring is also on the issue of Muslims in Europe (and the U.S)

I find this video completely disturbing and believe it is a threat to national security much more than a woman wearing a burqa.

First of all, the statistics are wrong – completely. If I get the numbers of how many Muslims are in Europe and how many children they have randomly from a bingo-bag, I’ll probably be more accurate.

Needless to say the speculation on those numbers on what will happen in 30 years time is pure fiction.

This video has already been seen more than 13 million times.

What I find most disturbing about this video is that we don’t know whose done it. All we have is a nom de plume “friendofmuslim”. Worse still, comments on the clip are disabled. (there are dozens of video clips like this on Youtube, made by different anonymous people since the statistics between one clip and another contradict themselves).

I am against censorship in general. However, one does not only have rights but also obligations. And here, the obligation is that you own up to the lies you are saying. If I start squandering Tom, Dick and Harry, I can be taken to court and ordered to pay damages.

This is only possible because my identity as author of this blog is public knowledge. On the other hand, who knows who the heck is “friendofmuslim

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You Get What You Vote For

One thing is sure about the political atmosphere in Malta – there is a serious general distrust on politicians.

Can one blame the Maltese citizens for this? Isn’t it completely understandable that while people are losing their jobs and finding it hard to make ends meet they only see incompetence and greed from most of our elected politicians?

Corruption (with or without the hard evidence), increased income for MPs and ministers, contractors admitting they finance both parties, religious fundamentalism, lack of respect for democracy, and now the latest – chronic absenteeism from Parliament from about half its members – are the main causes.

Yet, while everyone is complaining these same people keep getting elected, election after election. Why?

Before I got involved in politics I used to believe that incompetent people and parties keep getting elected because what I call “the ancestors syndrome”. That people vote for the party/candidate that their parents and grandparents used to vote for. Needless to say, these voters are significant in number. Yet I don’t believe that’s the main reason why we keep on electing the greedy, the incompetent and the fundamentalists.

The other reason is perks. One may not agree with a politician (or more likely doesn’t even have an clue on what that politician stands for), yet he votes him in because he found him a job, helped him jump the queue in the Hospital waiting list or helped him get a promotion.

Such things are not even an open secret anymore. They have ceased being a secret. Some people talk openly, even brag about the benefits they gain by befriending politicians.

What many fail to ask is: Why should I go to a politician to get a job? Why do I have to wait months to get a necessary operation done in the first place?

True, there is a recession going on. But I don’t believe for a minute that it’s the only or even the main reason our standard of living is so low. Millions of Euros are lost due to bureaucracy, graft and mismanagement. To pay MPs who don’t even bother attending Parliament.

Can this change? Yes, and the only solution is to stop voting in the greedy, the corrupt and the incompetent in our parliament.

If you want change, you have to vote for it.

Drugs and Denial

One of the major problems professionals working with drug addicts face is denial. Most people attending treatment for drugs find it hard to admit even to themselves that they are addicts, even if their addiction has literally wrecked their lives. These professionals have become too familiar with statements starting “I do have some kind of a problem with drugs, but …..” The second part of the statement could be a million things such as “I’ve never been to prison or a mental asylum”, “I have a University degree” or even “the real problem is my partner, if only s/he understood me better I would stop using drugs”.

These addicts do realise that something is going wrong in their lives and that in some way drugs are contributing to their problems, but the professionals also know that real progress starts when these addicts can say “My name is Joe and I’m an addict”, and really believe it.

Amid both global and local experts claiming that the war on drugs has failed both the Maltese government and the opposition are behaving like these addicts. They don’t believe there’s anything really wrong in the present system. Like the addict that admits that he does somewhat have a bit of a problem, they don’t deny completely that a problem with drugs exist in our country. They can’t. Nearly everyone has an addict in his extended family.

Yet if someone hints that what we’ve been doing all along might have to be reformed, they categorically say “No way”. Even if that someone happens to be Dr George Grech, the clinical director of Sedqa. Unfortunately cheap populism is not allowing a mature debate on this issue.

Unless we take our heads out of the sand and put drug reform, which may includes implementation of the proposal of Dr George Grech concerning the decriminalisation of certain drugs for personal use, on the table we can’t move forward on this escalating problem. Pretending everything is going on fine, when in fact it isn’t, is no different behaviour than that that of the addict that thinks he might somewhat have a problem, but it’s not a real issue. It’s useless having experts as George Grech and then ignoring their proposals.

 

Robert Callus

Fear of the Vaccine

An increasing number people in Malta are refusing to take the vaccine against the H1N1 virus. This is worrying, very worrying. I won’t enter the specific merits and dangers of the virus or the vaccine but the socio-political connotations of this.

Let’s face it. Like many other Europeans, many Maltese are losing their faith completely in elected politicians. While this can lead to more serious things such as civil unrest in the longer run, it is having also immediate consequences. The scepticism about the vaccine is one of them.

What many are asking is: Has the vaccine been tested enough? Is there a lot of scaremongering about H1N1 just to sell a product? In whose interest is the vaccine being given? Those of the pharmaceutical industry (one of the most notorious on an International basis) or mine and my health?

The BWSC saga definitely doesn’t help. Allegations (of corruption) on their own may mean nothing in a Court of Law. In the Court of Public Opinion it is different matter. Many people have strong suspicions, or even certainty that public interest (our health, environment and tax money) has been compromised for the profit of the few.

It seems that even having elected MPs taking the vaccine in front of a camera is not enough to convince people to trust authorities that the chemical injected in their body is in their own interest.

Do you blame such people when they’ve been lied to over and over?

The Difficult Road to Equality

Around the world, a percentage of the population are transgender since they feel that the sex that was assigned to them at birth is not congruent with their gender they identify with. Malta and Gozo are no different than the rest of the world, and a small percentage of the population have difficulty with identifying with the sex that corresponds to their sexual organs.

In 1994, the Maltese Law Courts introduced the possibility if changing one’ sex on the official documents if a person who suffered from gender identity disorder had undergone irreversible sex reassignment. A number of transgender persons requested this change in documents by going to court and after presenting a certificate of the irreversible surgery, a medical expert is appointed by the court to physically examine the person verify the surgical procedure. This in itself continues to discriminate against post-operative transgender persons because it violates their human dignity and does not allow the possibility of self-identification.

Since 2008, I have accompanied Joanne Cassar to court for her Constitutional Court Case against the Public Registry where she is requesting for her right to marry a person of the opposite gender. After two years of court sittings’, deferred sessions, a psychological profile assessment, and sitting at the back of the court room in support towards Joanne and many other transgender persons ….finally a judgement was called.

Throughout these two years, I was without a doubt that the Public Registry had violated Joanne’s human right when her marriage bans were not issued. The strong belief did not come about from thin air, but it is based on the fact that the European Court of Justice had already ruled a judgement in favour of a transgender person from the United Kingdom, and the benefits of being a citizen of an EU member state is that such a judgement cannot be disregarded in the member states.

It is every person’s human right to choose to marry and form a family, and this is enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. Should the Public Registry appeal this recent decision taken by Judge Ray Pace , the case continues for the final stage of appeal at the Maltese Constitutional Court, however European Court of Justice case law cannot continue being ignored by the Maltese State and although the path to victory may be longer, the result is positive for my friend Joanne and the members of the Maltese Transgender Community.

 

Colette Farrugia Bennett

Asking Questions and Demanding Answers – Greens in Parliament

As the youth section of the Green Party, one of our ambitions is to have members of the Party in government, especially through a coalition. However, while this is what every Party aspires for, even more than that, we find it of utmost importance that we have Green MP’s, even if not in government. There is a lot a Member of Parliament can do, that activists can’t. One of them is asking the right questions and demanding the right answers.

 

I am writing this just after reading an article in the papers about Dr Adrian Vassallo (PL) asking the Home Affairs Minister, what happened on the issue he himself had raised on pornography being available for tourists in hotels. Obviously very few people care about such a non-issue. However, the point is that Dr Mifsud Bonnici had to reply to Dr Vassallo’s question. He tried to be evasive as much as possible but he did state that the Police are investigating into it. Needless to say Dr Vassallo will sooner or later raise the issue again as to how the investigations are proceeding.

 

While Dr Vassallo is fighting windmills, and most MP’s ask a lot of superficial questions, I’m sure that a member of Alternattiva Demokratika would not only ask more relevant questions, but also demand non-evasive answers.

 

A clear example is the power station extension controversy. While the PL had a precious opportunity to ask direct, non-open ended questions and demand specific answers to what is really going on, they just turned the issue into a farce. The issue turned into whether a PN member of parliament wanted to say yes, but happened to say no. Was it a genuine mistake or the Nationalist MP actually wanted to say no? A Freudian slip, or maybe it’s because he had been drinking before the vote? Obviously, the PN rebutted with equally ridiculous answers – that even a Labourite MP wasn’t clear in her vote.

 

Do we really care about that? An Alternattiva Demokratika MP will not offer favours or jobs to friends and their friends. However the electorate can be promised that a Green MP will not ask how many tots of whiskey a rival MP has drunk. Or whether tourists are allowed to watch pornography on their Hotel Television.

Corruption: The Most Underrated Crime

As young boy I remember my father mentioning the word korrotti (corrupt). I used to laugh at him thinking he was saying karrotti (carrots) in slang. I was too innocent to realise he was talking about a heinous crime that has become so much socially accepted we’ve learn to live with. A crime which has different implications according to the merits for each situation. Nearly always they are dead serious. A crime that makes trafficking of drugs as well as humans across borders possible, that is the main cause for famine in third world countries as well as being usually implicated in projects ruining the environment. An act so powerful than was not only one of the main factors of bringing down the USSR, but together with fanatic Nationalism is the reason why neither Russia nor most of its former satellite states ever really recovered. (A saying in Russia goes: After Lenin we had de-intellectualisation; after Stalin de-stalinisation; but after Brezhnev we never had any de-corruptisation).

Corruption has such a devastating effect because it infiltrates every sector of society, and hinders law enforcement as well as any real reform, be it economic, legal or environmental. How can one, for example stop human trafficking when the traffickers move innocent people across borders for purposes of slavery if the former haven’t got protection from some of those who are meant to be there to protect the victims? Why would dictators leave thousands of overworked humans live with less than 2$ a day if multinationals were not pumping them millions to turn a blind eye?

Despite all this, compared to other crimes, on both a local and international level we rarely see people convicted of corruption, and when we do they rarely get serious penalties. I attribute this to mainly two reasons. First of all, corruption is invisible. Unlike a small time thief or even a bank robber, those most responsible do not break into houses themselves, or hold a gun towards a person’s head. Though they might be responsible for thousands of deaths, they are rarely if ever seen with blood on their hands. Due to this, their crime seems a minor one. It rarely creates public outrage. It has become socially acceptable. Lately we’ve seen the violent attack on Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi. The perpetrator, Massimo Tartaglia, a person with mental health problems, is seen as one of the most dangerous people in Italy. We’ve all seen the blood on Berlusconi’s face. Yet, in reality, Tartaglia’s crime is a minor one compared to the six charges against the same leader. The latter’s charges of bribery are easily forgivable. They left no blood or broken noses. At least not directly.

The second reason while corruption rarely sees the light of day is that the corrupt are usually wiser than the common thief. We believe that a person bribes another for only one reason – getting from him the particular thing he wants. Yet there is another, less obvious albeit more sinister reason. The big time corrupter not only gives a bribe to the small time corrupt, but knows it. Now that you’ve taken your bribe you are an accomplice. Maybe you accepted a small cheque to close your eyes for a seemingly innocent deviation from the law. However if the person who bribed you is making big dirty money, from say drug trafficking, you are afraid to report him. If you do so, that little cheque you accepted will come to light. And the higher he is, the more he can harm you for your little escapade. You are now under his thumb. You might be disgusted with what he is doing, your guilt feelings might be killing you, yet you have to remain silent. Otherwise he’ll ruin you.

If we, as a society make a genuine effort against corruption we might not stop it, but we could give it a very significant blow. I suggest three simple steps:

1) Realise and convince ourselves this is a serious crime hurting ourselves and our society from every angle possible. The aim of this article is towards this step.

2) Refuse it. Many of us will have one or more opportunities to accept bribes, no matter how small they are. If we categorically decide to refuse any bribe we will not only doing what is legally and morally right but we are free. We are under no ones thumb.

3) Enforce the law and increase punishment. This is only possible if the first two steps are accomplished. If we as a society realise how serious this is, even to the extent of letting its crackdown affect our voting in elections, rather than run after the Party leader that makes the most charismatic speeches, the law makers will start putting it on their agenda. We can only do this if we are free from it ourselves.

(While following these steps will definitely harm this malady, other measures have to be taken. A case in point is a clear and enforceable Whistleblower Act.)