Friday, June 08, 2007


On the front page of last week's Guardian is a photo of about a hundred refugees clinging to fishing nets in the middle of the sea. Their boat sank halfway between the north coast of Africa and the south coast of Europe. A Maltese fisherman let them hang on to his fishing nets for three days while he towed them in. Fifty seven people 'disappeared' during these three days, said the paper. The fisherman said, 'It was my obligation to help them but I couldn't let them come aboard, these strong men might have overrun the boat'.

What I can't get over is how easy people find it to dehumanise refugees, at the same time remaining insistent that this sort of treament of people who are different only happened 'a long time ago' (i.e. Nazi Germany) or 'in more barbaric cultures' (i.e. female circumcision, Abl violence, African superstition). Our (I mean Western) barbaric treatment is done for a reason, therefore is entirely different.

I was affected by the fisherman being Maltese. I tend to romanticise my father's native country. Despite having been their during a huge rally for the right to unfettered shooting (Malta is responsible for the virtual extinction of many migratory birds that fly from Africa to Europe) during which men marched through the street with guns destroying centuries-old fortifications, despite their entrenched patriarchalism, homophobia and deep Catholic superstition, my concept is of warm, open, friendly, relaxed people who take long lunches and nap in the afternoons, and walk with their families through the warm narrow streets after dark.

We're all lovely to the people who look like us.

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