Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 23 August 2009
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Bile and prejudice

Why oh why am I not surprised? The girl who claims to have been roughed up by the police in July – an allegation the Police Force also tried to cover up this week, though I suspect they’re regretting that now – just happens to be a “Slimiza”.

In a manner of speaking, naturally. (For that is what being a “Slimiza” is really about – it’s just “a manner of speaking”, that’s all). Truth be told, she is not actually from the town of Sliema, or at any rate does not reside there at present. And that’s about all I’m willing to divulge for the time being, as I have met and spoken to the girl in question, and apart from sharing with her a certain “manner of speaking”, I can also confirm that she is very frightened indeed.
Absolutely terrified, in fact. And who the hell can blame her? I can think of great big hulking bodybuilders who would crap their pants if exposed to even half the intimidation and humiliation this girl claims was meted to her at the St Julian’s station last July. Oh and kindly note I am using words like “claims”, “alleges”, etc, for purely legal purposes alone, and not because I doubt for even half a second that she is actually telling the truth.
No, siree. Her version of events rings far too many bells in my mind to really warrant any serious suspicion. It is altogether too similar to about a thousand other cases of execrable police conduct I have witnessed in my years frequenting St Julian’s – mainly directed at Slimizi – to simply dismiss as a bout of paranoia. And besides, what on earth would possess a girl like that to expose herself to such risk?
But articles are articles, and for the purpose of all the usual legal disclaimers, what we are dealing with remains ostensibly an allegation.

So what was behind this latest case of alleged ape-like behaviour by the St Julian’s police, you might ask? Was the girl involved in any nefarious criminal activity? Was she pushing drugs? Did she at any point pose a threat or danger to the four (that’s right: FOUR) police officers despatched to have her arrested?
Nothing of the kind. Officially, the girl’s crime was to step onto the sand at St George’s Bay with a tiny little dog in her bag. But of course that’s only the “official” (i.e., bullshit) reason. Thankfully we don’t have to look very far to discover the underlying reality: in fact, like the thundering idiots they truly are, the four police officers involved – five, if you include the token policewoman, present for no other reason than to pre-empt accusations of illegal arrest – have kindly told us themselves, and in their very own words, too.
The girl, you see, is “Tal-Pepe”.

Ah yes, the ultimate crime. And unfortunately I have to add that the vast majority of people in this country of ours will no doubt agree wholeheartedly with the police on this one. The reason this girl was subjected to grossly indecent and violent treatment had nothing to do with any crime committed by herself – still less by her dog – but everything to do with her level of spoken Maltese. It did not quite much up to the lofty expectations of the glorious Malta Police Force, you see. She was less than word-perfect in her native tongue. There was too much of a hint of “Inglizati” in her accent. Individual words or expressions may not have sprung to mind precisely when bidden, resulting in awkward silences and painful pauses, and so on, and so forth and so fifth.

To be honest I could go on like this all day, for I’ve been guilty of precisely the same crime on countless occasions. Which also means that as far as the untold Maltese multitudes are concerned – you know, the ones who publicly boast how “Catholic” they are, and then secretly exult when 75 (jaqq!) Eritreans die in untold misery out at sea – the police could be perfectly justified in harassing, humiliating, beating and belittling me, not to mention... wait for it... even mistreating my dog – just because they don’t like the way I talk.
Honestly, if I hadn’t been rendered absolutely immune to feelings of outrage at animal cruelty in this country over the decades, I would be tearing down the walls in sheer ire and indignation at this most heinous and gruelling of details. Sadly, however, I have encountered so many instances of brutish behaviour in my brief and unillustrious career as a Homo sapiens sapiens – targeting my own species as well as others, I might add – that such revelations now leave me cold.
So back to the girl’s offence. She is “tal-Pepe”: that rather quaint, ill-informed and ultimately ignorant way of describing the fact that her first language is actually not Maltese, but English.

Oh, and before I forget: apparently, she is also an “qahba”... though having said that I confess I am a little curious to know exactly how the police came to this particular conclusion. Did they pay to have sex with her? Do they know of others who did? And besides: if being an “qahba” is against the law... what’s stopping the police from taking action against the ones who ply their trade so publicly in various parts of the island?
Not, mind you, that I think they should. In fact, I must say I have never fully understood our national revulsion towards prostitution to begin with. What is a prostitute, anyway, if not a working woman whose profession exposes her to occupational hazards of the kind few of us would even be able to imagine, still less put up with on a daily basis? As far as I am concerned, they ought to be awarded the Midalja Gieh ir-Repubblika for sheer bravery... and not put up with public scorn and opprobrium from a troop of semi-literate baboons.
Besides, as I seem to recall from my distant duttrina lessons... wasn’t a certain Mary Magdalen also an “qahba” in her time? So by the same token that has since reduced the word to an insult: shouldn’t we be reviling her name and dishonouring her memory, instead of showering her with praise and adulation every Sunday?
Strange, I must say, how what was perfectly acceptable to Jesus Christ in his own lifetime, should be so offensive to the people who claim to be his followers today. But then again, I suppose blind prejudice was never really meant to make much sense, now was it?

So let’s just stick to the “Pepe” part. I have to admit, I have no real problem with the term. Few people can claim to be more “Tal-Pepe” than yours truly. I was born in the Blue Sisters hospital, then raised within the shadow of Stella Maris Church (or up the road from the Gelateria Lungomare, depending which landmark means more to you), and guess what? A lovely place to live it is, too. In fact, I wouldn’t change by provenance for any other in the world – no, not even Mogadishu – and what do I care if 90% of the country thinks I deserve to be violently murdered for much the same reason? (I mean that literally, by the way. Such is the extent of prejudice we Slimizi face all the time). Screw ‘em all, I say. Every last, ignorant mother-tonguer of ‘em...

But there are limits to everything in life, and personally I draw the line at the police. The police, you see, are not there to reflect national prejudices, or emulate the behaviour of the people they themselves are supposed to arrest. Quite the other way round, I would have thought: the police are there to protect people like that girl precisely from such violent and uncouth displays of churlish bigotry. And for this reason alone, their responsibility is greater than everyone else’s put together.

Or so I would have thought. But it doesn’t seem to work that way in practice. In practice, this “offence” is deemed so trivial that the Justice and Home Affairs Minister has had nothing of any substance to say about it at all. Not only that, but we were first told that the incident never even took place; and it was only after it became evident that it wasn’t going to ‘just go away’, that they finally consented to actually investigate.
And the more I think about it, the more sense it suddenly makes. After all, she’s only a “Slimiza”; an “qahba”; a “Tal-Pepe”; a “bicca zibel”; a “mignuna”; a “tajba ghal xejn”... It’s not as though she’s a human being, or anything remotely worth the paperwork.


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