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It’s a right, not a provocation

Flowers, candles and messages placed at the Great Siege Monument following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The government’s actions to suppress freedom of expression and the right to protest in the country were not met with the rage you’d expect in a democratic nation. What’s most alarming, however, is the enthusiastic support a fascist administration enjoys.

It is propped up by dedicated hate groups, committed trolls, bent institutions, partisan media and an impotent police force. And it is cheered on by a majority that would rather defend the corruption of those they elected than speak for the rights of all.

I’ve tried so far to explain it all away as a product of Malta’s past and the resulting tribalism. I’ve even suggested it may be a consequence of a rigid and uninspired education system that does not foster or even brook dissent or independent thought.

There’s something else bubbling away beneath the surface that motivates the acidic, poisonous vitriol and energetic, fervent hatred.

Yet while these factors play a large part in it all, I cannot help but feel that there is something else bubbling away beneath the surface that motivates the acidic, poisonous vitriol and energetic, fervent hatred, which characterises so much of the drivel from government’s apologists.

It has begun to feel increasingly less like the majority of the Maltese are sleepwalking into the abyss, and more like they are wilfully running at it, wide-eyed and eager.

There’s a confrontational, almost self-destructive lust in the air. They’ve regressed to a decades-old bi-partisan rivalry and are desperate to take this fight to its aggressive end.

Perhaps one of the strongest indicators of this has been the accusation from so many of the commentators that the vigils every month at the monument are a “provocation”.

Comments beneath a news report shared on Facebook.

A provocation to do what exactly? A number of people commenting suggest that the harmless flowers and candles are an intentional insult aimed at producing a response “so that they (the activists) can then act the victim”.

Which begets the question: a victim of what exactly? Flowers, candles and pictures produce no victims (unless you suffer from hay fever) and there are people in that crowd every month who already are victims – they’ve lost a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend, and an unwavering brave voice that spoke for them when they couldn’t.

So while most of the Western world recognises that activists are not trying to provoke a retaliation, but a response – in this case from the government, by posing a question that will not otherwise be answered – the government lackeys do not.

They are chomping at the bit to exact disproportionate retribution for a manufactured slight, in order to silence the loud colours of the flowers.

This sense that, “if you push me far enough, you’ll get what’s coming to you” is familiar in other scenarios, such as domestic violence that has led to so many women abused and killed unnecessarily.

In this specific context, the desire to see offence or provocation in something as innocuous as flowers and candles is a pretext for a darker, ground-zero, end-game thinking that may also be familiar to you.

It shares that sentiment which motivated militant Jihadis to murder journalists at Charlie Hebdo for merely printing a picture that they didn’t like (remember Joseph Muscat joining European leaders to condemn that attack?).

It’s not dissimilar to that which pushed a neo Nazi to drive his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, killing a protestor whose ideas he didn’t agree with.

It’s the same group-think that forced Salman Rushdie into hiding. It’s similar to why Anders Breivik opened fire on a Labour party summer camp in Norway.

It’s not what any of their victims were doing so much as the ideas they represented, of which they are contemptuous.

It has begun to feel increasingly less like the majority of the Maltese are sleepwalking into the abyss, and more like they are wilfully running at it, wide-eyed and eager.

And what about the provocation by the government, tasked with protecting citizens’ right to protest and voice their demands, moving instead to suppress that at every turn?

And here we come back to the crux of the matter: It feels less like so many Maltese are ignorant of European values, and more like they simply do not like them. Perhaps they’re still loyal to Joseph Muscat’s campaign against the EU, never mind that he’s drooling for a job there.

Truthfully, we’ve no reason to think otherwise. With the Justice Minister (no less) justifying the removal of the protest memorial, and with the government indiscriminately selling backdoor passes into the EU to less than savoury characters; with MPs picking fights with MEPs on social media and refusing to meet visiting EU delegates; with Labour’s long history of Euro-scepticism to Alfred Sant’s refusal to denounce Viktor Orban in the European Parliament recently; and with the V18 Chairman being recognised as the little bully that he is by his European counterparts – it all feels a little like Malta is at a crossroads now.

It is a battle for ideas, fought with flowers, candles, and vigils, and fought with drums and chants, but it is a battle for Malta’s future.

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