When a 67-year-old man is blown to pieces in broad daylight in the heart of a touristic neighbourhood, it makes you wonder. Is this acceptable? Is it inevitable? Should we come to terms with the fact that the school run can sometimes witness something so gruesome? Or is there something we can do about it?
This was the third car bombing this year. It was the ninth since 2010. Each incident was met with shock, but not outrage. Outrage would have manifested if the bombs weren’t so well targeted. If yesterday’s car bomb exploded next to a school van and killed dozens of children as collateral damage, we would have been up in arms.
But when a bomb simply takes out the person for whom it was intended, we sit back, share images of the crime scene with each other on Whatsapp and gossip about what sort of life the victim must have led: drugs, human trafficking, diesel smuggling, mafia…
We interpret the incident through our individual worldview. This must be the Sicilian mafia, we say. Their restaurants are just a front to money laundering and dodgy deals. This is Maltese gang violence, we say. Retaliation for another incident the police have yet to solve.
Or the most ironic under the circumstances: “What do you expect from St Paul’s Bay/Bugibba? All those foreigners…”
Others seem to explain the rise in incidents in terms of economic growth. Maybe it is just the natural extension of increased GDP: more people fighting over more money.
“When a bomb simply takes out the person for whom it was intended, we sit back, share images of the crime scene with each other on Whatsapp and gossip about what sort of life the victim must have led.”
But what we don’t seem to be asking ourselves is whether there is something we can do to change the situation. Must we sit back and watch as “people known to the police” kill each other off? Must we wait until one of these car bombs accidentally takes the lives of more innocent individuals? Or can we do something to reduce the chances of these incidents happening in the first place?
Our first reaction is always going to be helplessness. We don’t know the intricacies of the gangs committing these acts of violence, so how could we possibly do anything about it? That’s the police’s job, we say, conveniently forgetting how poorly resourced they are to do it.
But just because you can’t solve the problem doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution.
There is a huge black market in Malta, fuelling most of this violence. In 2015 alone, prostitution and illicit drugs accounted for €24 million, according to official NSO figures. Who knows what the real figure is?
And what if we add smuggling to the list? Human trafficking, diesel smuggling, contraband of every kind…
Whichever way you look at it, there is an epic amount of shady business at the core of this type of violence.
In the legitimate world, if somebody screws you over in business there are legal means of redress. You can go to court, write a police report, or get your lawyer to send a legal letter. But when somebody has screwed you over on an illegal drug deal or some dodgy act of smuggling, you are forced to retaliate outside of the realms of the law.
“Every joint you smoke, every line of coke you snort at a friend’s wedding, contributes to a cycle that ends in car bombs.”
And this is how the cookie crumbles. Every joint you smoke, every line of coke you snort at a friend’s wedding, contributes to a cycle that ends in car bombs. If you indulge in prostitution, you are paying taxes to criminals.
Also culpable are those who insist on keeping the supply and demand to all of these things exclusive to the gangs committing this violence. Next time you argue against the legalisation of drugs or prostitution, remember that you are defending the business territory of gangs who are happy to blow each other up in the street.
Even our immigration policy is lining their pockets. While we argue over whether or not to give refugees legal, safe passage, immigrants hand over their life savings to dodgy traffickers, continuing to fuel this cycle of criminality.
Legalising these industries won’t solve the problem either. Cigarettes, alcohol and diesel are all legal and yet, criminal gangs find ways of importing illicit versions of these too. Here the problem is slightly different but we can still be part of the solution, on a more individual level.
Every time we try to save 35c by buying unstamped cigarettes, or we find somebody to sell us cheap fuel, we are also contributing to this negative cycle of criminality. Every time somebody at customs turns a blind eye to a trader he knows, he’s doing a disservice to the rest of the island. He is lining the pockets of people who might one day decide to trigger a car bomb in a busier part of town and kill one of his family members.
Our lack of discipline and laissez faire attitude towards corruption, tax evasion and screwing the system are all contributors to this culture where criminals are made stronger and more powerful.
If we benefit from this culture, even in the smallest of ways, we are being accessories to the crime we witnessed yesterday and the many more that will follow.
The question now is this: Are we bold and brave enough to take action before the situation get worse? Or are we going to do like ostriches and pretend these are just things we must sit back and accept?