Let’s start with the facts. At least the facts as have been told to us so far.
Two soldiers shot dead a black man they did not know. One of them said the reason was the man was black.
We are being told, by the President no less, to stay calm and not rush to conclusions. The Prime Ministers says an investigation has found Malta is a safe place to live, which is a rushed conclusion if ever there was one.
The official story is ‘there’s nothing to see here’. This does not reflect the character of our law enforcement agencies, our government, even ourselves as a people. This is a freak, isolated incident, like rain from an unclouded sky. It’s sad but there’s no reason to think this will happen again.
And, the official story goes on, those who criticise the government for this occurrence are instrumentalising the murder, exploiting the victim for their political ends.
Look, that’s just bullshit. It was bullshit when Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed. The official story then was we could not yet determine that she was killed because of her work. They actually still run with that line hinting at matricide when their backs are firmly to that wall. Alfred Degiorgio and his gang are not quoted by interrogators as giving any form of reason for that killing so they can make up any possible alternative to the obvious.
When Lassana Cisse was killed a few weeks ago, Joseph Muscat tried the same line. Do not rush to the conclusion this was racially motivated, he warned. But one of the arrested has confirmed our immediate suspicion. Lassana Cisse was killed because he was black.
Now here are some conclusions that I argue are perfectly legitimate. Soldiers are officials of the State, entrusted with a monopolised access to weapons so they can protect us. These two turned their guns – given to them by us – on us.
The government understands that when it is entrusted with the monopoly on violence it has a very delicate responsibility to ensure that power is not wrongly used. It was on this occasion.
This is not a freak incident. This is a failure of the State to ensure it has the right procedures, training and structures to ensure our soldiers do not run riot on our streets killing people they do not like for whatever reason – because they’re black, because they’re annoying journalists, because they don’t support Joseph, because they write bad things about other soldiers, because they owe them money, whatever reason a trained and armed soldier might have to use the power lent to them in the service of anything other than the protection of people who live here.
Look, mistakes happen. Failures happen. But there’s a context that is seriously worrying the government and their fear of contagion shows in their mad rush to control the narrative of this bloody disaster.
Joseph Muscat’s government has driven the army to ruin with a serious of actions and policies that have stripped its ability to manage its own people.
Let’s not be naive, racism is not new to the army. We’ve had incidents before, though none of them, that we know, amounted to cold blooded murder. God knows what happens out at sea but this is no time to imagine even worse than the horror in front of our eyes.
And, let’s not be naive, anecdotally there’s a suspected correlation between being interested in marching around in a crew cut and military fatigue and right-wing notions ranging from discipline by a strong State to compensation for perceived weakness through vigilante action.
I don’t want to represent soldiers or the army in a cardboard stereotype. No doubt many soldiers enlist out of a sense of public duty, a sense of love of community and patriotism, a willingness to take personal risks to protect others.
But they’re trained to be capable to harm when they need to and that training should be accompanied by discipline, patriotic loyalty that can distinguish between fevered adulation of Joseph Muscat and love of country and fellow country women and men.
The cliché is that with great power, comes great responsibility. The army is expected to restrain itself with professional systems, experience, knowledge and training. It is expected to adopt an institutional memory that teaches it to fit in a democracy, under civilian authority, in defense of the community as a whole and all who live in it.
Instead we know from a consistent succession of independent reports that Joseph Muscat’s government has imposed utterly incompetent political commissars without a day of military training to take decisions on promotions, recruitment and discipline.
They have decapitated the entire officer class replacing the upper ranks of the army with cronies they promoted multiple ranks at dizzying rates.
Joseph Muscat spoke today of the ‘ethos’ of the army and how this is not properly represented by the two men we are told killed Lassana Cisse. What ethos? Ethos is not decided by policy or by short-sighted political intervention. Ethos comes with self-awareness of an institution with its own history, dignity and memory.
I’ve been told today, after commenting briefly on these arrests, that I’m speculating. Perhaps. There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? And that is an independent, public inquiry outside the control of those most invested in an exculpating outcome.
The Prime Minister spoke today of an “ongoing” internal investigation. Investigating internally does not answer the questions I am asking and we should all be asking if we have any concern with the risks we run having living among us armed people willing to shoot people they don’t like.
An ‘internal investigation’ assessed the incident when the chauffeur of Manuel Mallia shot at someone in the street because it was quicker than filing a police report to complain about the quality of his driving. That was supposed to be a freak accident. But is it not massively freakish that driver worked for the Minister who first planted political commissars that screwed the army over?
An independent inquiry into the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia is still ruled out, officially because that might come in the way of the ‘ongoing criminal’ investigation. But we are not to worry. That murder, we are told, does not represent Malta. This is not what we’re like. If you don’t believe that, you can tell yourself no one will need to bomb you in your car if you don’t write articles in the press criticising the government.
Now an ‘internal investigation’, which is still ‘ongoing’ has ‘concluded that Malta is a safe place’. That’s the Prime Minister announcing today the conclusions of an internal investigation that had started hours earlier and was still ongoing when its most important finding was announced by the Prime Minister.
2/3 There is an ongoing internal investigation along with other security services, to determine whether these are isolated, rogue individuals, or part of something wider. The conclusion of this investigation shows that Malta is a safe place for everyone, and it should remain so.
— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) May 18, 2019
Some people who really hope the Prime Minister is not covering up something very serious and very dangerous here, explained to me the Prime Minister was speaking of two distinct investigations. The ‘ongoing’ investigation was the internal one looking at circumstances and that wasn’t finished yet. The concluded investigation was concerned with the two soldiers being arraigned. But how can a criminal investigation find in its conclusions that Malta is a safe place to live? How is that a question that investigation would be asking?
No. This is a case of desperately seeking to impose the narrative that could get the government off the hook. If you don’t believe this is a safe place to live you can tell yourself that if you’re not black you should be OK.
But why believe that now? How can you believe you will not find yourself in some category that suddenly finds itself in mortal danger at the hands of armed criminals, weaponised or at least enabled by the State?
Did Joseph Muscat send two soldiers to kill a random Ivorian in Birżebbuġa? Of course, not. Asking that rhetorical question is intended to use ridicule to stop in its tracks the line of questioning the Prime Minister should be facing.
Did Joseph Muscat fire experienced army chiefs and replace them with his unqualified, low-ranking cronies? Yes.
What can you expect when as a matter of policy you break down any sense of rules, of restraint of power, of accountability of those with power – whether that is the power to contract energy with Azerbaijan or the power to carry a side arm? Chaos. The breakdown of the rule of law.
I can understand people who at this terrible episode ask how we have allowed our racial prejudices to bring us to this? I often write here about how dangerous political discourse indulged in by our politicians is and how it causes other more dangerous people to feel empowered by that discourse. We’ve had Norman Lowell a long time, but push-backs of people at sea, apartheid of employment with rubbish collectors and ethnic cleansing in Marsa are relatively new mainstream policy developments.
Yes, racial hatred and racial prejudice bring us to a very dangerous place. But if we think those are the only causes of this murder (and others that may follow) we have another thing coming. Add to the prejudice the fact that we have put guns in the hands of poorly trained officers in law enforcement agencies – the army, the police and so on — whose mission is saluting the Great Joseph and whose idea of the rule of law is as self-serving, as discriminatory, as partial as it is for the party leader that got them their job in exchange for their worship.
You ignored the warning when a journalist was killed for doing her job. You will ignore the warning when a man is killed for being black. There will be a point when there’s no one left to warn you.