Don’t cry for me, Malta

It has never hap­pened to me be­fore. I have been writ­ing reg­u­lar news­pa­per col­umns since 1976 and it has al­ways felt like the most nat­u­ral thing to do.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

need­lessly un­der­mined the valid points and spot-on ar­gu­ments.

I have writ­ten nu­mer­ous tributes to ex-me­dia col­leagues who passed away, most of them men­tors of mine through the years, like An­ton Cas­sar, Tony Mon­ta­naro, Charles Abela Mizzi, and Paul Carachi. The hideous na­ture of Daphne’s de­par­ture, how­ever, left me help­less, mo­tion­less and an­gry, as it af­ter all did to the rest of all de­cent cit­i­zens on these Is­lands.

Yet, I mar­vel as I write this morn­ing, for I thought I would still be un­able to do so, hav­ing even con­tem­plated giv­ing up al­to­gether. Some­how, three days on, the writ­ing bug has crawled back to the sur­face and is will­ing me to of­fer these thoughts.

Sev­eral years back I had my own very brief newsprint al­ter­ca­tions with Daphne but I cer­tainly wouldn’t de­scribe ours as a love-hate re­la­tion­ship. Only on one sin­gle oc­ca­sion I went for the jugu­lar, or what I pa­thet­i­cally thought was the jugu­lar, and I was im­me­di­ately ac­costed at the time for do­ing so by the late vet­eran jour­nal­ist Lino Spi­teri, who had also had his dif­fer­ences with her. Who didn’t, any­way? He warned me against ever be­ing per­sonal. I took my former edi­tor’s ad­mo­ni­tion to heart, even go­ing to the ex­treme of writ­ing a sort of apol­ogy in my next col­umn, which hap­pened to be in a Mal­tese lan­guage Sun­day paper.

But all these thoughts and mem­o­ries of course mean noth­ing to­day. Vig­ils and com­mem­o­ra­tions are OK by the stan­dards of the liv­ing; the de­parted, es­pe­cially in Daphne’s case, would prob­a­bly want it dif­fer­ently. Very much in the spirit of Ar­gentina’s Evita Peron, Daphne would tell the rest of us, if she could: “Don’t cry for me, Malta. Just do some­thing about it.” More than some­thing is be­ing done, thank good­ness, as the Prime Min­is­ter’s speech in Par­lia­ment last Wed­nes­day con­firmed in a most im­pres­sive way.

Some peo­ple have been talk­ing about legacy. It cer­tainly should not be the legacy of ha­tred and venom that some­times were per­pe­trated by her, against her and around her, but one that pays trib­ute to the courage, the tal­ent and the re­lent­less­ness of her mis­sion. Cer­tainly words like “war”, “re­sis­tance” and “peo­ple in the streets” not only do not help, but ac­tu­ally cre­ate a neg­a­tive so­cial am­biance rem­i­nis­cent of the sad late Seven­ties and early Eighties when, oddly enough, bombs were also fea­tur­ing at a time of hotly dis­puted in­ter­nal change in the Op­po­si­tion party. I hope no one in his right mind would want that to­day.

Peace­ful protest against such a vi­cious crim­i­nal act is a right that can­not and should not be de­nied, but when it is be­ing bla­tantly used to prop up du­bi­ous lead­er­ships and as a way of lur­ing peo­ple’s psy­che away from the cur­rent sense of well­be­ing, let alone threat­en­ing the na­tion’s vi­brant econ­omy, then it be­comes friv­o­lous and dan­ger­ous.

Many will con­tinue to in­ter­pret Daphne’s words in print and on­line the way it suits their own in­di­vid­ual or po­lit­i­cal con­science. I am do­ing that here too, lest any­one thinks I am try­ing to por­tray an im­age of per­sonal spot­less­ness. The last one to vie for saint­hood would have been Daphne her­self. It is why I have dared us­ing the Evita id­iom on the sit­u­a­tion. She would have liked it too.

Trump cul­ture

With the United States and Is­rael declar­ing that they are of­fi­cially with­draw­ing from UNESCO, the United Na­tions’ cul­tural body which the Amer­i­cans them­selves had helped found in 1945, it is now ob­vi­ous Don­ald Trump is work­ing his way into fur­ther iso­la­tion. But then, a man who doesn’t care about cli­mate change and the en­vi­ron­ment can hardly be ex­pected to have any cul­ture.

Like a spoiled brat when he finds him­self in a mi­nor­ity within his street gang, the United States has al­ways used the threat of with­draw­ing its fi­nan­cial mus­cle and diplo­matic back­ing to in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the UN it­self, FAO, the IMF, the World Bank and, now in real terms, UNESCO. This time it cites “the dis­tor­tion of his­tory” and res­o­lu­tions that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion per­ceive as anti-Is­raeli, as a cue to its (and, not sur­pris­ingly, Is­rael’s) with­drawal from the world’s cul­tural body.

While so do­ing, the US has had the temer­ity to say it has cho­sen to re­main in the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a non-mem­ber ob­server state “in or­der to con­trib­ute US views, per­spec­tives and ex­per­tise”. Iron­i­cally, it has put it­self in a lesser po­si­tion to that of the Pales­tinian Author­ity at UNESCO when, much to Amer­i­can and Is­raeli cha­grin, it be­came a mem­ber of the or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2011 at the in­vi­ta­tion of a vast ma­jor­ity of in­de­pen­dent world states.

This is not say that the US and Is­rael are not en­ti­tled to their views and of­fi­cial stand­points, mostly based on an­cient his­tory that is both in­ter­pre­tive and mis­lead­ing. But opt­ing out of or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­sti­tu­tions that, warts and all, con­tinue to of­fer a united and demo­cratic per­spec­tive to global is­sues is not the an­swer.

No, thanks?

We heard it ear­lier, quickly sti­fled by the lo­cal Imam at Kordin. Now Ger­man In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere has whipped up the is­sue within his own party and its al­lies when he de­clared “I am ready to dis­cuss the is­sue of whether we should in­tro­duce a Mus­lim pub­lic hol­i­day.”

The ques­tion of Mus­lim pub­lic hol­i­days in so-called Chris­tian states con­tin­ues to arouse so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ten­sions, with many peo­ple cry­ing out “No, thanks” in an in­stant wave of in­dig­na­tion, and many oth­ers in­sist­ing the re­al­ity of huge Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties needs to be recog­nised by way of nurturing in­te­gra­tion.

The de­bate will hardly ever to stop as na­tions ev­ery­where change and mix. One look at ev­ery ma­jor foot­ball club’s lineup will show that. The prob­lem is that while a Mus­lim foot­baller who chooses to do his pre-start-of-the-match prayers pub­licly on the pitch to­day no longer raises an eye­brow, if a Chris­tian foot­baller were to do the same in a Mus­lim sports arena, he could be risk­ing his very life.

Back in Ger­many, CDU mem­ber Wolf­gang Bos­bach was more to the point in his re­tort, in­sist­ing that “even though ev­ery­one in Ger­many has ev­ery right to cel­e­brate what­ever re­li­gious hol­i­days they want”, the is­sue of non-Chris­tian pub­lic hol­i­days is “a dif­fer­ent is­sue”. Per­haps wiser still was his quip that con­di­tioned it to “when Chris­tians will fi­nally have the same re­li­gious free­dom in all Mus­lim coun­tries as Mus­lims in Ger­many”.

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