An Afghan wedding
Over the course of the past 16 years, during which the war in Afghanistan against Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban has been fought, often enough, tragic casualties included wedding parties.
In 2013 Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US has bombed at least eight wedding parties since 2001. That makes a stark connect between ordinary life and politics, with war as the most brutal form of aggression especially when the victims are innocent people celebrating a happy family event. It means that no matter where you are and what you are doing, you do not have the privilege of excluding yourself from the decisions and actions of others and the possible consequences, whether or not you live under a corrupt regime.
Yet here in Malta, we think we can be selective about circumstances and attitudes around us. When we go to a wedding, dressed up and fancy, ready to mix and mingle and enjoy a relaxing time at the pleasure of the bride and groom, we become one homogeneous group. If there are people of different political backgrounds at the same bash, then there is a tacit agreement not to talk politics and to just talk about football or business or the family. Should there be no conflict of interests in the crowd of wedding guests, then there is a long, hot discussion about Joseph Muscat’s/PN’s latest results. The cultural trend is basically to avoid confrontation at any cost and that outside our own interests, we should not need to interfere or criticise any individual or policy.
But just as Afghan, Palestinian or Israeli weddings can end in disaster, can we afford to live in detachment, removed from the reality of potential threat and harm around us? People here go to great extent to protect their family and their family name and go through life under its shelter. Mothers do not often tell their sons they are wrong to do what they do. Fathers pretend that all is excused by business and it cannot be helped if the son-inlaw has frauded the family. We live in not just a “Barilla” perfect family but a complete vacuum of relationships.
When, in the middle of all this comfort and ease, someone or something comes along to expose the truth or question a smug and arrogant attitude, all hell breaks loose and there is nothing else to do but shout “Witch” or wallow in self-pity and depend on likeminded friends and enemies to stand by our good name and defend the accepted code of conduct by ostracising the one who merely shone a light on the mask on your face.
The reality is that politics can be a part of life and death and much of what comes in between. It is not just cocktail party banter and we are not simple idiots who chase after a hot looking leader or their spouse or partner, like the next reality star. There has to be some weight to our choices and forming those opinions is important and of benefit to you and to society around you. That is where information has value.
It is true, that, in the past decades the bench mark for political debate was none-other than Xarabank – with every respect to it, as it is up to us to evaluate its content – but now that Peppi Azzopardi was domiciled, even the little challenge that the programme offered is neutralised. Which leaves us with an occasional debate with the interviewer on a stool and the subject on a wobbly chair, spinning beneath him, rehashing the conversation he had at last Saturday night’s wedding.
The leaders’ debate at the University received much the same treatment earlier this year before the election. The debate offered by students is poor and unimaginative and has had no impact on society to speak of. There is some activity by NGOs in the environmental sector and one new group has been set up with a view on bringing issues to our attention that need it such as rampant corruption. They are looking for financial support and should get it because they are alone, as far as I know, in demonstrating with direct action.
The only little window of hope is in the wider travels that students and some grown adults are making. Venturing further than the Manchester-Arsenal match or San Siro has led to some expansion of the mind and sensitized people more to the cultural and social differences and similarities between nationalities and the impact of behaviour and choices. The commitment made by journalists, groups and organisations to contribute to political debate is also something you can become aware of when travelling abroad or by simply following such programmes on foreign TV.
But very often, all it takes is a short walk through Malta International Airport to bring back the folklore of the island. We just go on missing the wood for the trees as we reject and repel any criticism or attitude that makes us uncomfortable.
It is seriously time for Malta to grow up and to stop sheltering under convention. The immature and regressive culture has gone past its sell-by-date. Now we think that because we have embraced all the liberal views and are just short of legalising drugs, abortion and euthanasia, that we do not need to give any importance to those little slips of character that have resulted in debts of millions of euros which are unsecured. And when we learn of how our leaders were busy taking commissions and transacting deals to journey that illicit money to a foreign country where it can suddenly assume a new nationality, we are “yeah, uh, illallu, u ijja”.
With the trial run all tested and tried, how then can we turn to the next guy and say that he should not be of the same mind? That would need some major discernment and weddings are not places for thinking about the heavier things in life. We are here to be happy and boast about our latest acquisition. The general trend is, if this leader or other public figure, can in any way contribute to my assets, then where is the problem?
Where is the problem, indeed? Perhaps it is in the wedding party that got blown up or the child whose father has dodged the bullet. If we are not going to take corruption and personal failings into account then we are never going to evolve beyond a dirty, mediocre, even regressive and childish society.
Naturally, it does not mean that we will hound persons or societies for their behaviour or political leanings but it does mean that we can judge them on that account and see if it is normal that we elect them to power and whether it will benefit us and future generations to support a particular position or not. It is essential that we keep an open mind and not be conditioned by manners or populism.
The more we lower our standards and favour a thuggish and abrasive mentality, the further apart we grow and honest support will be something that will take decades to restore, if at all. Relativism is dangerous and unproductive and leads to long lasting damage of our society, our environment and our economy. Let us all make a conscious effort to realise we are not alone and cannot afford to elect failed leaders from whatever party. Let us enable ourselves to make a difference.