Nationalism is on the rise and it does not bode well. In recent months, there has been a new wave of nationalism and patriotism that transcends political allegiances.
This is not only about racist and xenophobic sentiments voiced in Malta (and elsewhere) every time national leaders fabricate a ‘migration crisis’. Nationalism is also manifesting itself in the rhetoric countering accusations levelled at the state of democracy in Malta.
After journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017, the ‘anti-Daphne’ crowd that thrived in calling her a “witch” and who wanted her out of the way (remember the #DaphneBarra hashtags?) are now the first to rebuke accusations that Malta is a tax haven, a mafia State and that the rule of law and institutional independence are seriously compromised.
These accusations, frequently coming from foreign journalists and politicians are often dismissed as baseless and exaggerated, not only by Labour supporters, but also by others who swap their liberal and conservative caps according to their own personal agendas.
Inexplicably, these neo-patriots insist that Malta’s democracy is no different from any other country. Imperfect but completely acceptable, they say, and anyone who disagrees is a traitor.
Needless to say, the most worrying form of nationalism is the one that fuels anti-immigrant sentiment. How can people be proud of Malta’s actions in recent weeks? Stopping NGOs from saving people at sea, treating the very same people who save lives as criminals and suggesting that people rescued at sea should be repatriated to Libya were they are raped, tortured and killed in concentration camps partly funded by European countries.
The most recent European migration ‘crisis’ is entirely fuelled by sentiments of nationalism which are best expressed by far-right and reactionary political leaders such Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini.
During the recent migration summit, European leaders warned there is “no migration crisis, there is a political crisis”. They referred to statistics that showed the number of arrivals had been slashed to a fraction of what they were in recent years. The fact is that the Mediterranean receives 0.07% of migration flows worldwide.
It is in the interest of populists like Salvini to manufacture a crisis to score political points. His “Italians First” rhetoric is clearly inspired by Donald Trump’s “America First” and the “Hungary comes first” rants of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
Malta is not immune to such rhetoric with the discourse used by prime minister Joseph Muscat and his army of followers being identical to that used by Salvini and other far-right parties in Austria, Germany, France and other parts of Europe.
The easiest thing to do is to close Europe’s doors for whoever is seeking asylum, but these people have rights as much as everyone else. This includes the right to seek asylum and protection, and the right not to be returned to Libya and other countries where human rights are non-existent.
Human life comes before short-sighted national interest but the values of solidarity and respect for human rights are now relegated behind opaque sentiments of patriotism and nationalism. Malta is a paradox where people beat their chests for ‘the rights of the unborn,’ but not for them to have a chance at life if the mother happens to be black and heading to Malta on a boat.
Since the beginning of the year, over 1,200 people, including new-born babies, children and women have perished in the sea around us. Yet, there is no outrage.
Instead, we proudly defend our government’s inhumane decisions. Instead, we call for togetherness in the face of the incoming wave of asylum seekers. Instead, we boast about defending our culture while waving Brazilian, German and English flags for the 2018 World Cup in the comfort of our homes. Instead, we defend Malta’s state of democracy and insist that all is well because the situation is not worse than the one in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey – that situation was not created overnight, and the warnings that Malta is heading in that direction cannot be ignored.
If nationalism continues to flourish in Malta, as it is doing elsewhere, we could end up in bigger mess than the one we face. The hate directed at asylum seekers is dangerous, and not only for the people who are risking their lives in their pursuit for a better life.
Today it’s black asylum seekers or Muslims, tomorrow it could be third-country nationals working in Malta. And the day after that it could be me and you, and to paraphrase the German anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, there will be no one left to defend us.