Baħ­nan!

With the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sched­uled for 8 Novem­ber, I delved into some quotes from past US elite. I have picked three. I will deal with the re­cent lo­cal shock­ing “baħ­nan” com­ment in a while.

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Bar­bara Bush, wife of Ge­orge HW Bush and mother of Ge­orge W Bush, ap­peared on Good Morn­ing Amer­ica in 2003 to dis­cuss the con­se­quences of the US war with Iraq. When asked about how much tele­vi­sion she’d been watch­ing, the for­mer first lady replied “none…why should we hear about body bags and deaths…? It is not rel­e­vant. So why should I waste my beau­ti­ful mind on some­thing like that?” These com­ments – shock­ing enough as they were – couldn’t have come at a worse time, as she made them just as the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was mak­ing the de­ci­sion to ban news cov­er­age of dead sol­diers’ home­com­ings. That aside, it’s a shame the for­mer first lady’s beau­ti­ful mind couldn’t take the time to hear about body bags and deaths – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that both her hus­band and her son were largely re­spon­si­ble for those dead bod­ies in the bags.

Henry Kissinger re­ceived the No­bel Peace Prize in 1973 for ne­go­ti­at­ing a cease­fire in Viet­nam. He was Sec­re­tary of State un­der both Richard Nixon and Ger­ald Ford, and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor. It is this short CV that makes the fol­low­ing quote shock­ing. Dur­ing an ar­gu­ment with Gen­eral Alexan­der Haig, Chief of Staff un­der Pres­i­dent Nixon, Kissinger re­port­edly stated that “Mil­i­tary men are just dumb stupid an­i­mals, to be used as pawns in for­eign pol­icy.” Now these words are aw­ful enough as they are, but the fact they were said by some­one who had sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over the US mil­i­tary and for­eign pol­icy makes them even worse.

I trust you too find these quotes shock­ing.

How­ever, the quote from Theodore Roo­sevelt, the 26th Pres­i­dent of the US is a ray of light and an eye-opener. Dur­ing his speech at the Pro­gres­sive Covenant with the Peo­ple in 1912, Roo­sevelt stated that “Be­hind the os­ten­si­ble gov­ern­ment sits en­throned an in­vis­i­ble gov­ern­ment ow­ing no al­le­giance and ac­knowl­edg­ing no re­spon­si­bil­ity to the peo­ple.” Gov­ern­ments the world over aren’t just swayed by the de­mands of the peo­ple, but also by large cor­po­ra­tions and the priv­i­leged few who roam the cor­ri­dors of power. Politi­cians tend to pri­ori­tise power and profit over the needs of their ci­ti­zens.

Theodore Roo­sevelt was spot on. This sounds fa­mil­iar in the cur­rent lo­cal con­text.

Now let me come to the “baħ­nan” com­ment.

In the mega stage-man­aged press con­fer­ence in front of the Au­berge de Castille, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Joseph Mus­cat – flanked by Mr Louis Grech, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Prof Edward Sci­cluna, Min­is­ter for Fi­nance – saw fit to la­bel the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion “baħ­nan”. The well­groomed and dressed-for-theoc­ca­sion sit­ting be­hind the Prime Min­is­ter laughed it off, oth­ers mur­mured com­ments to the per­son next to them while oth­ers re­mained silent, per­haps baf­fled by the PM’s com­ment.

To make mat­ters worse, hours later the Prime Min­is­ter de­nied call­ing Dr Busut­til “baħ­nan”, de­spite video ev­i­dence to the con­trary. In­deed, ev­ery­body is sus­cep­ti­ble to mak­ing mis­takes.

Pub­lic fig­ures have to ex­er­cise a lot of cau­tion when they speak.

Peo­ple in pub­lic life are trained not to re­act in­stan­ta­neously. The Prime Min­is­ter, a sea­soned me­dia per­son, is no new­comer on the na­tional stage and could have eas­ily brushed aside any ques­tion he didn’t want to an­swer dur­ing a planned press con­fer­ence in­tended to por­tray the ben­e­fits of the 2017 Bud­get. How­ever, he pur­posely opted to re­tort with a dis­parag­ing com­ment.

One can hardly be­lieve it was a slip of the tongue.

It was highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate of the PM to call the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion “baħ­nan”. No won­der many have lost their sense of re­spect to­wards any form of au­thor­ity. If the PM can call the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion “baħ­nan”, then why can’t we call a po­lice of­fi­cer, a teacher, a med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner, a judge or a cleric, or any­one else for that mat­ter, with sim­i­lar dis­parag­ing re­marks?

Shoes were thought to bring good luck. This myth re­lates to the Mid­dle Ages when footwear was ex­pen­sive and the com­mon prac­tice was to be­queath your footwear to mem­bers of the fam­ily. Un­less you use slip-ons, ev­ery now and then a shoelace is bound to break. Su­per­sti­tion has it that a bro­ken shoelace is thought to be bad luck. And per­haps, this is what it was this time. Af­ter all the hype and pos­i­tive eco­nomic fig­ures thrown at us, our ex­pec­ta­tions were high. Yet it seems the shoe laces broke. The mid­dle class got noth­ing and the vul­ner­a­ble very lit­tle. Tough luck!

The Malta In­de­pen­dent Tues­day 25 Oc­to­ber 2016

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