Sex, money and let’s not rock the boat

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Mark A. Sam­mut

Pol­i­tics is a hard, stress­ful oc­cu­pa­tion and many politi­cians ask them­selves why they are in it. Some that they want to change so­ci­ety and do some­thing for the com­mon good, the def­i­ni­tion of “com­mon good” ob­vi­ously be­ing as elas­tic as it is idio­syn­cratic. Stress for a politi­cian can be cre­ated by past ac­tions, by prob­lems at home, by the other side’s dirty tricks, strong di­ver­gences of opin­ions with one’s own side, and pos­si­bly the politi­cian’s own re­ac­tion to all this.

Too much stress can be lethal, so cau­tion is ad­vised, as noth­ing is more pre­cious than one’s health. Then, of course, there are those who are hav­ing the time of their life. Just con­sider Kon­rad Mizzi – de­spite ev­ery­thing, he still wants to con­test the next elec­tions.

Stop nod­ding at the Panama shenani­gans

There is some­thing ex­tremely wrong with this gov­ern­ment. It is more than rot­ten, but I can­not find the mot juste yet. We are not alone to have this feel­ing. At least two Min­is­ters – Evarist Bar­tolo and Ed­ward Sci­cluna – seem to be some­what em­bar­rassed by the shenani­gans go­ing on at the top lev­els of the coun­try’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

With the Prime Min­is­ter’s Chief of Staff and what could be Joseph Mus­cat’s equiv­a­lent of Madame du Barry mess­ing around with se­cret com­pa­nies in se­cre­tive ju­ris­dic­tions, big busi­ness, en­ergy and all that, it is a mys­tery how only Min­is­ters Bar­tolo and Sci­cluna seem em­bar­rassed.

Worse still, Dr Mus­cat’s fluffi­est Min­is­ter not only seems not to be em­bar­rassed... he ac­tu­ally seems to be en­joy­ing the ride.

Now I know for a fact that Owen Bon­nici can be finicky if he wants to. At the same time, he can also for­get the woods com­pletely and just look at the trees, or vice versa, he can ig­nore the trees while em­brac­ing the view of the woods. He is quite in­tel­lec­tu­ally ver­sa­tile.

But in the Panama Shenani­gans Saga, Min­is­ter Bon­nici is be­ing too in­tel­lec­tu­ally ver­sa­tile. Not only did he not keep his dis­tance from the two hon­orary Pana­ma­ni­ans, but he also en­gaged – as a per­son of trust no less – the mas­ter­mind be­hind the en­tire im­broglio! Brain Tonna, of the in­fa­mous Nexia BT out­fit, has been en­gaged, at €5,000 a month, as a per­son of trust by Min­is­ter Bon­nici. Un­be­liev­able.

The fi­asco (for a fi­asco it is) was even a Reuter’s news item. Ap­palling.

One has to ask to what ex­tent the web is tan­gled.

And one has to ask whether we the Peo­ple are also com­fort­ably numb, un­able to re­alise the un­told dam­age be­ing done to the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion.

But for the mo­ment, per­haps Min­is­ter Bon­nici should stop nod­ding at the shenani­gans and start be­hav­ing with some­thing sort of close to dig­nity, in­spired by the likes of Min­is­ters Bar­tolo and Sci­cluna.

As for these two Min­is­ters, up­right cit­i­zens ex­pect more of them if they are to re­tain the think­ing pub­lic’s re­spect. They should voice their con­cern loudly not whis­per their dis­ap­proval sotto voce. Oth­er­wise, un­less they re­ally start putting Malta first, we might be­gin to sus­pect that theirs could be noth­ing more than mere pre­tence and os­ten­ta­tion.

Where is my tongue?

I have seen on Face­book that there is a group of un­de­terred cit­i­zens who are voic­ing their con­cern. They want to pro­tect a morsel of land called Tal-Qares some­where or other in Mosta. The rea­son why? Be­cause it seems there are some ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains on the land. Mean­ing? That it should not be de­vel­oped.

Now this seems to me com­plete and ut­ter mis­placed pi­ous clap­trap. If we were to pan­der to the silly in­stincts of all the hoity­toity tree-hug­ging do-good­ers who have a soft spot for ar­chae­ol­ogy and all that non­sense, we would be halt­ing the progress and devel­op­ment of this coun­try. We can­not af­ford that, can we now? We need to build, higher and higher if nec­es­sary, ex­pand the swathes of con­crete, more con­struc­tion, more con­struc­tion ma­te­rial dumped into the sea, more eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, more GDP, more wealth. That’s the way for­ward.

Hey, stargaz­ers, leave ’em kids alone! All in all, it’s just an­other brick in the wall!

Se­ri­ously though...

Do find the group on Face­book and give them your sup­port.

In the mean­time, don’t for­get that this af­ter­noon there is a pro­life man­i­fes­ta­tion start­ing from Castille Square in Val­letta at 3:30pm. Do turn up. The coun­try needs less Ne­olib­er­al­ism (a by­word for en­vi­ron­men­tal and moral degra­da­tion) and more de­cency.

Lib­eral Fas­cism

A cou­ple of weeks ago, writ­ing in an­other news­pa­per, my friend Ranier Fsadni men­tioned the col­lo­quial use of the ad­jec­tive “Fas­cist” by “some of the Mus­cat gov­ern­ment’s crit­ics”.

I have of­ten re­ferred to Dr Mus­cat’s gov­ern­ment as Ne­olib­eral. I have ac­tu­ally de­voted an en­tire chap­ter of my book LAqwa fl-Ewropa to an­a­lyse its Ne­olib­eral char­ac­ter. I have of­ten said that I think the cur­rent strain of Lib­er­al­ism is Fas­cist. So, here goes my friendly come­back.

In­deed, there are at least three ways of us­ing the term “Fas­cist”.

There’s the first way, which is his­tor­i­cal. I cer­tainly do not mean that (to use an Amer­i­can ex­pres­sion) Prime Min­is­ter Mus­cat is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Prime Min­is­ter Mus­solini.

There’s the se­cond way, which is, as Mr Fsadni pointed out, col­lo­quial.

“Fas­cist” can be used as a term of abuse, a by­word for “au­thor­i­tar­ian”, or even “con­ser­va­tive”. Let’s bor­row an ex­am­ple from pop­u­lar cul­ture: a scene from Carlo Ver­done’s 1980 com­edy, Fun is Beau­ti­ful ( Un Sacco Bello in Ital­ian). Mario voices his worry that his son is not think­ing about hav­ing his own fam­ily, and, what’s worse, he has found a girl­friend who is cer­tainly not fam­ily ma­te­rial. Fiorenza, the girl­friend, re­torts that she has al­ready spat in her own fa­ther’s face and warns Mario, “Be care­ful, fas­cio, it would take me noth­ing!” To which Mario an­grily replies, “You’re call­ing me fas­cio? Me? Lis­ten here, lit­tle tart, I’m not a Com­mu­nist like this [he raises his left fist] – I am a Com­mu­nist like this!! [he raises both fists]”.

That’s the term of abuse, in its col­lo­quial man­i­fes­ta­tion.

But then there is the third mean­ing, which is the mean­ing I have in mind and refers to the in- her­ent con­tra­dic­tion of in­tol­er­ant lib­er­al­ism.

Just a few ex­am­ples to il­lus­trate my point, all of which you can de­scribe as “Fas­cist”, even if they take place in democ­ra­cies.

In­cred­i­ble as it may sound, a few days ago Ger­man kinder­gartens were given a brochure in­struct­ing as­sis­tants on how to iden­tify girls com­ing from far­right fam­i­lies: they usu­ally wear dresses and braids. The kinder­garten as­sis­tants were told how to deal with the chil­dren’s par­ents in order to avoid fur­ther dif­fu­sion of far-right ideas. One crit­i­cism to this ap­proach was that it re­sem­bled too much the modus operandi of the Stasi, the se­cret po­lice of the for­mer East Ger­many (a Com­mu­nist State) which used to spy on peo­ple. What the crit­i­cism meant was that the ap­proach was “au­thor­i­tar­ian”.

But let us look at ex­am­ples from “fic­tion”. Equat­ing the ten­dency to­ward law and order to “Fas­cism” is a theme which ap­peared in movies and nov­els up to some time ago. Con­sider the beau­ti­ful 1970 movie In­ves­ti­ga­tion of a Citi

zen Above Sus­pi­cion, a po­lit­i­cal satire on the au­thor­i­tar­ian prac­tices of the po­lice force in a demo­cratic State (Italy), in­clud­ing the morally dis­taste­ful prac­tice of keep­ing records on all the ho­mo­sex­u­als liv­ing in a city.

Then con­sider Manuel Vázquez Mon­tal­bán’s noir nov­els, which he started writ­ing in the 1970s about the Span­ish de­tec­tive Pepe Car­valho, a for­mer CIA agent and for­mer Com­mu­nist, whose girl­friend is a pros­ti­tute in Barcelona. In one of these nov­els, we find the Dutch Po­lice keep­ing files on ev­ery­body... in The Nether­lands, of all places, the avant-garde per­sonal free­dom haven par ex­cel­lence.

Then con­sider Alan Parker’s 1982 movie, Pink Floyd – The

Wall, and the in-your-face use it makes of fas­cis­toid im­agery to crit­i­cise the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the pop mu­sic in­dus­try, both hap­pen­ing in Bri­tain, the mother of lib­eral democ­ra­cies.

Some nine years ago, I was think­ing to my­self that the Lib­er­als had stopped be­ing lib­er­als, be­cause you ei­ther had to agree with them or they would “ex­com­mu­ni­cate” you. What kind of lib­eral does not tol­er­ate con­ser­va­tives? I de­duced that it had to be a Fas­cist Lib­eral. I went through this rea­son­ing on a flight to Lon­don, and – in a clas­sic ex­am­ple of syn­chronic­ity – when I ar­rived in Lu­ton, I found a book in the air­port book­shop called... Lib­eral Fas­cism by Jonah Gold­berg.

It had been a New York Times best­seller the year be­fore, clearly demon­strat­ing that many peo­ple were feel­ing un­easy with what lib­er­al­ism had mor­phed into. I bought a copy and de­cided to adopt many of Mr Gold­berg’s views on Fas­cism.

Law as a tool of cul­tural hege­mony

Un­like the orig­i­nal in­car­na­tion, the new Fas­cism, the Lib­eral vari­ant, is soft. It does not gas, or oth­er­wise dis­pose of you in a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Nonethe­less, it is as in­tol­er­ant as its pre­de­ces­sor.

Be­cause it be­lieves, yet again, that the State is om­nipo­tent and that it should, softly this time not harshly, reg­u­late as many as­pects as pos­si­ble of the life and think­ing of its cit­i­zens.

Fas­cism is the el­e­va­tion of pol­i­tics to the level of re­li­gion and the at­tempt to make ev­ery­body be­lieve in and prac­tise the tenets of that re­li­gion.

Just con­sider the French law ban­ning and pun­ish­ing at­tempts to dis­suade women from hav­ing abor­tions. How can this be a lib­eral law? Abor­tion is a lib­eral “achieve­ment”. But – and this is the big con­tra­dic­tion – to con­serve the “achieve­ment”, the Lib­er­als have to adopt Fas­cist tac­tics and pun­ish con­ser­va­tives who dare openly to dis­agree with the lib­eral stance and act upon that dis­agree­ment.

In other words, ev­ery­body has to be lib­eral. Or else they are pun­ished by the Lib­er­als and the laws they en­act.

Take the case of Chap­ter 567 of the Laws of Malta (it’s two years to the day since it was en­acted). This is the gen­der iden­tity law and it pun­ishes (both a fine and im­pris­on­ment are con­tem­plated) not only “con­ver­sion prac­tices” if ap­plied to “vul­ner­a­ble per­sons”, but also the ad­ver­tise­ment of such prac­tices. The def­i­ni­tion of “vul­ner­a­ble per­sons” is so wide that it could in­clude any­body.

Ev­ery­body has to be lib­eral, be­cause the State has so de­cided.

I think that when ev­ery­body is obliged not to rock the boat and to ad­here to the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy (or else face crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment), we can safely talk of Fas­cism. In this case, Lib­eral Fas­cism.

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