“Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Voltaire’s 1765 warning against gullibility holds as true today as the day he wrote it. Though his words at the time were primarily directed at religious beliefs, which had led so often in human history to horrific religious wars, persecution and bloodshed, his message has been proven again and again, in politics, in racism, in criminality and in daily life.
And in Malta, where blind devotion to the Catholic faith has given way to blind devotion to a political party, Voltaire’s observation couldn’t be more appropriate. Reading this week’s court reports on the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, accused of masterminding the plot to assassinate Daphne Caruana Galizia, the horrific, gut-wrenching details took me right back to that dreadful October day in 2017.
The shock of Daphne’s murder, of the hideous lengths her assassins were willing to go to in order to cover up their crimes, was compounded a million times over by the reaction of so many of the general public.
Since the 2013 general elections that put a gang of criminals into office, Labour party supporters had been being fed a constant stream of absurdities, of irrational, illogical explanations for the criminal behaviour being exposed almost single-handedly by Daphne. Incredibly, this mass of people, more than half the population, was swallowing the obvious lies and cover-ups being fed to them, along with the exhortation to hate and attack anyone who dared criticise them, but especially and most viciously, Daphne.
The assault on Daphne was deliberate, sustained and intended to turn her into a figure of hate in the eyes of Labour supporters. And of course, they obliged. The gullible masses became Labour’s army of disarray, using tactics reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s attack on Jews, writing vitriolic posts and comments online about Daphne, her family, her friends and urging like-minded haters to do the same. They simultaneously defended their political puppet masters from accusations of corruption and theft, even in the face of rock-solid proof of wrongdoing.
The gullible rabble, content and righteous in their own ignorance, unashamed of their naked envy, loathing and greed, are what enabled Joseph Muscat and his criminal cabal to hijack the entire country and its institutions. It made the open expression of visceral hatred somehow acceptable, at least to its peers, and created an environment in which no-one was off-limits for attacks, from Daphne’s own sons to vulnerable young activists and disabled political opponents.
When we think of gullible people, we often feel protective of them. Being easily fooled, they’re vulnerable and deserving of tenderness. But as Voltaire so wisely pointed out, anyone willing to believe absurdities is just as easily led to commit atrocities. And Malta’s seething pool of gullible idiots has proven this time and time again.
Indeed, they have “believed” so many blatantly obvious lies and absurdities, such as the ludicrous excuses around the Panama Papers revelations, the Electrogas scandal, the shady Pilatus Bank operations, the unforgivable Vitals hospital contracts, the Montenegro wind farm, the sordid connections with the Azerbaijan regime, that it’s clear they are actually complicit in their own deceit. They’re choosing to believe the absurdities being served to them by their political heroes, even those thoroughly and publicly disgraced on both the national and the international stage.
Tragically for Malta, the gullible rabble is not made up of the easily-fooled, and therefore forgivable, innocents the word may imply. It’s an entirely different species of gullibility that we are cursed with: the deliberate acceptance of lies as truth, following the example of such luminaries as Edward Scicluna and Evarist Bartolo. Previously regarded as intelligent, accomplished men, they somehow allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by their colleagues in Cabinet, offering their supporters an oven-ready excuse for not having acted honourably during Muscat and co.’s ongoing eight-year crime spree.
And if someone like Scicluna can get away with claiming he was deceived, that he didn’t know what was going on, then Tom, Dick and Harry in the street are certainly justified in “believing” the lies they were fed.
Complicit gullibility is as false as it sounds. And yet close to 75% of the Maltese electorate are guilty of it. The PN’s three-year foray into the politics of populism only got as far as it did because there are a large number of PN supporters who are as unprincipled and as willing to be “deceived” as their Labour counterparts. The 2017 election result proved beyond any doubt that the majority of Maltese are perfectly happy to accept corruption, especially if, when cornered, they can claim they were deceived, hoodwinked, tricked into believing the absurdities that to the rest of us are so obvious.
And the biggest lie of all, that those at the very heart of government were not involved in Daphne’s assassination, despite the obvious and overwhelming evidence that they were, is proof positive that no matter how low, no matter how heinous, no matter how vicious the acts of their political masters, the majority of Maltese people will still choose “gullibility” over accountability. Because everyone has to eat, right?