Archive for July 2010

The Regressive Society II

If there is something this nation truly excels in, it is regression. Well, there's apathy too - but I shall speak about that later on. Admittedly, these blog-posts are akin to the insufferable rants of the poignant armchair critic but this regression I speak of is so stifling and in-your-face that a rant or two is the only thing you've got to help you wind down. I see that fellow blogger James Debono is suffering from similar symptoms and has already coughed up the good old cyber-rant to keep his cool. Sir, I salute you. But believe you me, unlike the British, I don't crave disappointment (kudos to Bill Bailey whom I salute also).

Monism, intolerance and close-mindedness

If you know any better terms which summarise this country's relationship - legal, political, social and cultural - with freedom of expression, other than the above, please let me know. I'm a bit of a legal-beagle and thus far I have yet to see a more concise, yet all-encompassing, interpretation of the right to free expression than that expounded by the European Court of Human Rights. First of all, the Court so declared on countless occasions, that without free speech there is no democracy:

“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment.” (Lingens v. Austria 1986, par. 41)

Second of all, whereas limitations or restrictions of this right are permitted, especially when it comes to the dissemination of hatred and violence, these must be interpreted narrowly:

“Freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10 (art. 10), is subject to a number of exceptions which, however, must be narrowly interpreted and the necessity for any restrictions must be convincingly established.” (Observer and Guardian v. UK 1991, par. 59)

But the best interpretation I've seen was given as early as 1976 (folks, that's 34 years ago now):

The Court’s supervisory functions oblige it to pay the utmost attention to the principles characterising a ‘democratic society’. Freedom of Expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10, it is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society. This means, amongst other things, that every ‘formality’, ‘condition’, ‘restriction’ or ‘penalty’ imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.(Handyside v. UK 1976, par 49 - emphasis added)

And there I was, thinking that the above judgements would in some way apply to us or would be recognised by the State's institutions - especially by the judiciary. No, instead we had plays banned; musicians, authors and editors arrested and arraigned; television producers fined and prosecuted; books placed under lock and key at University of Malta because of their "immoral content" and more. When I learned that Stitching, the play banned in Malta, was classified as 14 and over in Edinburgh I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This pretty much indicates that censorship has become the rule and free speech the exception. If this is not regression than I don't know what is.

The rise and rise of Jingoism

Not only have the racist comments and political rhetoric against asylum seekers persisted but now it seems we have adopted a policy of selecting which of the immigrants get to stay and those that get turned back to the Libyan hell-hole on the high seas - the armed forces, of course, acting as judge and jury in this affair. This is not only a clear violation of the Geneva convention but also of basic human rights: the right to asylum and refuge - all the more so now that UNHCR offices in Libya have been shut down by Muamar. These policies are government-endorsed and hence do not merit any inquiry or investigation. The opposition, through its silence and tacit acceptance of such policies, is equally guilty and is therefore in breach of its own statute. I am appalled by such actions and consequentially ashamed of my country.

The moral crusades begin

Out of the blue, the controversial politician known as JPO, submits a private members' bill on the introduction of divorce...something PL should have done since Muscat got elected leader in my opinion. But this basic civil right is still a taboo for moral crusaders, primarily the Church, and we can expect that all hell is going to break loose now that the bombshell has been dropped. I fully agree with the Church's right to express itself against divorce and its right to put up billboards advocating against its introduction (although "Id-divorzju Alla ma jridux" is pathetic). What scares me are the members of parliament, the majority of which I believe, are too confessional, close-minded and scared shitless of losing votes, to vote in the interests of the growing minority who need divorce to start afresh and close a chapter on past mistakes. This is why I have begun to question whether endowing our 69 honourable men and women with the power to introduce this right is the right thing to do or sheer folly. Also, will the Church speak up against the ill-treatment of asylum seekers by the State or is divorce more worthy of divine condemnation than playing with the lives of human beings?

The icing on the cake: Apathy

In conclusion, it seems that we've become a country of intolerant, close-minded, moral-crusading jingos but nothing could be more saddening and disheartening than our growing apathy towards this state of affairs. I refuse to acknowledge that the above adjectives define my country and who I am by virtue of my nationality. It certainly isn't what I want for Malta - this is not the Malta I want to live in. You know, a particular politician once said that he wished Malta and the Maltese could be more like Iran and the Iranians when it comes to upholding moral values. To my knowledge several thousand Iranians, mostly students, fought and died for their rights and to end a fundamentalist dictatorship. In Malta it seems like we don't even care about anything any more. Fellow peers and students have come to believe that protesting is worthless and solves nothing and are afraid that it will be tainted by partisanship so best just to shut up and ignore. At least there are those few who have the guts to act and are a beacon of hope such as the Front Against Censorship, whose funerary procession symbolising the death of the arts I shall attend next Saturday.

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