The political apparatus of hate

When it comes to the latest democratic outrage by Labour’s media arm — the charge of sedition made against the Opposition, the Church, the media and a civil society organisation — it’s easy to focus only on the hypocrisy of the apparatchiks. We should however focus on the apparatus.

‘Hate speech’ is not just about the venom. It’s also about the fact that it’s rhetoric, an established way of speaking, not just a bunch of words that slip out the wrong way. It’s an entire language that categorises as enemies those who are merely democratic opponents, or critics, or simply people whose difference seems threatening.

Being a language, it’s not just about what the speaker says; it’s also about what his audience is likely to hear and do about it.

Obviously, we shouldn’t be fooled by Karl Stagno Navarra’s claim that his programme’s specific highlighting of a single journalist — Lovin Malta’s Tim Diacono — was simply an inadvertent slip-up. How could it be? Film editing is never a slip.

Nor should we miss the fact that Stagno Navarra didn’t regret his venom against the Opposition, the Church and Repubblika. They’re still enemies of the government by his book.

That diatribe is part of rhetoric established by the programme, a pattern that would be picked up by its target audience. Why else was no one surprised that ‘the media’ was slipped into the cabal of enemies of the people? Because they’ve long been primed to think that.

Likewise, Miriam Dalli, a senior minister, is fooling no one when she says that, although she was participating in the TV programme, she didn’t immediately realise what was wrong because she didn’t catch who Stagno Navarra was referring to.

Minister, you didn’t need to know which individual he was referring to. It was enough that he referred to ‘the media’ — in a country where one journalist has already been assassinated, and where the Caruana Galizia public inquiry has already documented how other journalists have been harassed. That’s what you let pass.

And it’s nice to see you implicitly endorse the argument that the Opposition, the Church and Repubblika are enemies, not opponents or critics.

As for the Labour leader, Robert Abela, he pulls off the near-impossible: looking worse than Stagno Navarra. At least the latter has offered a weasel apology. Abela retracted but never apologised for calling Caruana Galizia’s sons, effectively, enemies of Malta (on a matter where the courts, police investigations and the public inquiry have all since vindicated them).

Meanwhile, Abela presides over Labour’s online army, its colonels on the public payroll, stoking anger against government critics, including journalists.

To dwell only on personal hypocrisy, however, is to play along in a self-defeating game. The problem is not limited to personal shortcomings. It’s systemic.

Labour has anger simmering in its base, furious against its own fetid corruption. The Party deals with the anger not by quenching it but by redirecting it against others: from the golden oldies — Daphne, Simon Busuttil, Richard Cachia Caruana, the Church… — to the contemporary critics.

It is an apparatus that runs from the oral (such as coffee mornings and that interesting institution, ‘tombla u high tea’) to the broadcasting media to the social media. A group is selected and declared an enemy; then a single individual or two is made to represent that group, identified by face (and, sometimes, with personal details given out).

The results: The targets are intimidated. There is a chilling effect on speech. The individual might persist but everyone who might speak up thinks again.

Even if the Labour machine remains within the bounds of the law, the risk remains that a hothead, acting on his or her own steam, but incited by the partisan machine, will take matters into their own hands. It’s not just a theoretical risk. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

Make no mistake. When it comes to hate speech, what matters is not what is in the speaker’s heart. A gun for hire need feel no hate; the issue is whether the bullet hits the target.

No single definition of hate speech has won consensus but the disagreement lies around the legal boundaries. The essentials are clear. Speech can be offensive and contemptuous without being, legally, hate. The salient legal feature of hate is that it endangers the safety of its targets: either because it could incite others against them, or because it makes them feel so unsafe that they become afraid to exercise their democratic rights (the chilling effect).

When, in January, Donald Trump incited a crowd that then vandalised the Capitol, nothing he said was illegal (according to CNN’s legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin) and no case against him would stand up in court. He certainly said nothing about violence. Trump is even said (by some former aides) to have been upset by the crowd’s actions. But that didn’t matter. What did matter was his political irresponsibility, in the first place, in egging on a crowd that was likely to overreact.

Here in Malta, we have a political party, in power, that systemically acts in a dangerously irresponsible manner. The Caruana Galizia report documented the systemic nature with respect to one target. But we continue to see the machine relentlessly in action.

Regret for this action, condemnation of another, and promises of a temporary ceasefire are insufficient. Labour isn’t a fully democratic party until it dismantles the apparatus of incitement.

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Jools Seizure
Jools Seizure
9 months ago

No one seems to realise that this is exactly how the Rwandan genocide started: a couple of radio commentators inciting hatred against a section of the population. Before they knew it everything spiralled out of control with over 1 million people killed. In Malta we’re treading dangerous ground. As you said, it only takes one hothead and who knows what might ensue. The typical reaction is that these things wouldn’t happen in Malta … yeah right! One thing that has not been mentioned is the lack of moderation of comments left on online newspapers.

9 months ago

Good article Ranier, you hit it on the head, unfortunately the pencil necked bed wetters who are the Labour politicians will totally ignore your comments and you will be classed as joining the “enemy”

9 months ago

Wouldn’t believe a single word uttered by Donald Trump. Or Robert Abela for that matter. Kolla tfal ta xitan. It’s so very, very easy for them to lie. We’re not always fully awake and aware and often let their deceitful lies slip by.

What an honest version of KSN would have said is:

1.      Robert Abela has totally grabbed Angelo Gafa by the balls.

2.      Both Robert Abela and Angelo Gafa should RESIGN immediately.
Abela has his dirty fingers everywhere: courts; police; tax authorities and all regulatory bodies.
He is not any decent person’s Prime Minister. He’s a personified insult hiding behind smooth talk and geeky smiles.
He is a tragic insult to the citizens of this small nation. Including those who blindly worship him or support him in any way.

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
9 months ago


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