Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated five months ago. Days later I sat shell-shocked in the Strasbourg Plenary of the European Parliament listening to an outlandish debate. The topic was the brutal killing of a person whom I saw daily at University for four years. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I kept recalling the image of Daphne’s boisterous boys running around. Their mum, then a fellow student, would bring them with her on archaeological visits in the Maltese countryside. Those boys, now men, stood in the same plenary that very same morning. It was for a ceremony commemorating the ludicrous, untimely death of their mother. If five months later I am still reeling, I can only begin to imagine how they and their family must feel.
But this post is not about Daphne. Plenty has been written about her, either extolling her virtues or damning her pen. I’m not qualified to enter the fray. My emotions would get in the way. No, this is about us, Maltese, and our apparent collective inability to reason in any coherent way, to focus on what truly matters and to rise, even for just one moment, over petty party-politics.
The facts that don’t matter
Objectively, as a nation (Daphne’s close relatives excepted), there are only three facts that should matter concerning the killing of Daphne:
- That a Maltese journalist has been assassinated in a vicious, cowardly way on Maltese soil.
- That the assassination carries all the hallmarks of a pre-meditated hit by organised crime.
- That the only logical reason why Daphne was assassinated is that she was uncomfortably close to some kind of truth –possibly related to organised crime– and someone commissioned her silence.
In the face of these facts I would expect the whole country to unite in rare show of solidarity, sending a clear, ringing message that we do not tolerate such an act. Not on our soil, not on our watch and certainly not on one of us. Instead, like everything else on this damnably polarised island it has become only about party-politics.
While Slovakia, another European country where a journalist recently suffered a similar fate, reacts with the most massive show of public support since the Velvet Revolution, in Malta we bicker about whether a few flowers and a couple of pictures go too far. Go figure!
Judging by the colour
If you are not Maltese, you may struggle to understand the concept of a society honed to interpret whatever one says as an indication of where party loyalties lie. I grew up with so-called “street leaders” compiling dubious lists of whom you and your family vote for. Children at school would know “what colour” I supposedly was even before the school year started and years before I had the right to vote. In this kind of environment, those who do not want to push the bandwagon of one party or another have only one choice: to keep silent for fear of being misunderstood, or even worse, having their arguments hijacked by blinkered partisans. It is as parochial as it gets. And it has been getting worse.
In Malta it is incomprehensible to declare not having any party loyalties. It is inconceivable that one’s loyalties would simply lie with one’s country, with Europe and with the human race. If you open your argument with this disclaimer, people will nod in assent, but in their eyes you can see that they are processing what you are saying according to their pre-determined judgment. ‘Sure you maintain that there should be a memorial for Daphne, aren’t you a Nationalist of ‘pre-Delia’ disposition?’ or ‘Of course you criticise the idea of a memorial, your whole family is Labour, you only see red!’
People who in their pre-formatted minds perceive you as belonging to the opposite clan will tilt their heads, reply at a tangent and just keep back from agreeing with you. You might be putting forward the most logical of arguments, but they would never honour you with their agreement. God forbid that they might admit, even remotely, that the others might be right. If on the other hand, you are judged as being from the same group, they will lower their voice, come closer and engage, while furtively looking over their shoulders. That’s how I grew up. In a place where you cannot simply put forward an argument that stands on its own. It has to be ‘in favour’ of one party and ‘against’ another. Party loyalty, in Malta, is the measure of all things.
We Maltese have many great qualities, but the ability to think independently and logically has bypassed the genes of many Maltese passport holders (the ones who have it by birth I mean). And I’m sure that if you are a Maltese reader you are already taking my last statement as a confirmation that I should be a Nationalist, since only a blue-blood can openly be sarcastic about Malta’s passport scheme. Right?
She was divisive
When the Charlie Hebdo journalists were so unscrupulously murdered, I changed my Facebook profile to “Je suis Charlie” and started following their page, like millions of others. It was not because I agree with what the publication says. Indeed, it is quite the opposite on many occasions. But that doesn’t change the fact that, as a European citizen, I will never condone the assassination of a journalist (or anybody else for that matter) on European soil. My show of support then, no matter how tiny, was not in favour of Charlie Hebdo’s style of journalism but against the notion that killing could ever be a way of taking away the freedom of speech.
Yes, Daphne was divisive. Very. I admired her pen, her doggedness and her incredible courage but there were also plenty of times when I disagreed with what she wrote and winced when I considered that her tenacity verged on the vindictive. (There! He’s Labour!) But to use Daphne’s divisiveness as an argument against condemning her murder in the strongest and most unequivocal of manners is tantamount to saying she deserved it. And that is vile, crass and puerile. Yet, that is what many of her co-nationals are doing: using her journalistic style as a reason to shove her killing under the proverbial carpet. Of course she was divisive. Everyone whose writing is worth the paper it is printed on is divisive. If you have an opinion you are divisive. If we had to take away all the memorials and monuments to people who were divisive we would end up with none. Who wasn’t divisive? Dun Mikiel Xerri? La Vallette? Archbishop Gonzi? Borg Olivier? Dom Mintoff? Do you honestly think that all the people to whom we erect monuments and memorials were peacemakers and never hurt a fly? The question is not how divisive a person was. The question is what that person stood for and, in the case of Daphne and others who were victims of assassinations, the way they died.
This is the main reason why I believe that there should be a permanent remembrance of Daphne’s assassination. (I knew it! Nationalist scum!) Not a monument to her personal qualities, not a political rally point for the disillusioned, but a clear, physical reminder that we are one nation, with sound principles, who will not tolerate heinous crimes to go unpunished.
Alas, since clearly we are no such nation, we should indeed scrap the idea. The rest of the world has been more united in its determination to remember Daphne.
A choice where there is none
Many Maltese feel as if they have a choice in the matter of Daphne’s assassination. They can demand that justice is done or stay silent. They can be in favour of a memorial, against one or say nothing. As a matter of fact they don’t. Even if, like me, you grew up loathing the idea that your opinions could be twisted by political bullies, silence is worse. If you have nothing to say about the killing of Daphne, you are either stupid or a criminal. And if you sneak out in the middle of the night to remove banners calling for justice, it means justice makes you feel uncomfortable and then you are clearly the latter. (That settles it, he is PN!) A decent citizen has no choice but to stand up to those who so brazenly silenced a journalist by blowing her up. If you don’t, next time it could be your daughter, your neighbour or someone else you love. And who will you expect to stand up for you then? Your political party?
I, for one, want to have the freedom of asking for justice without being interpreted as making a political statement. I wish my fellow Maltese would understand that it is ok to be angry when a person you knew and a co-national gets blown up by criminals. It is ok to hold institutions accountable and to ask them to do their job impartially. It is why they were created in the first place. In some parts of the world they have a word for it: D-e-m-o-c-r-a-c-y. It is not a betrayal of any politician or any party. In any case, no politician deserves political mileage or clemency from the murder of a journalist in the line of duty –and I would argue the same if it were a ONE or a NET journalist that were terminated in such a cowardly manner. (I’m confused now, he must be ‘Alternattiva Demokratika’ or voted for that Marlene-woman!).
Of sinners and saints
While the murder of Daphne does not make her a saint, it certainly makes sinners of the rest of us. Our society is wholly responsible for what happened. To demand that our institutions do justice and hunt down Daphne’s killers and those who commissioned the assassination should only be a first step. If we truly love our children, things should go further and deeper. Our society has created an environment in which someone feels bold enough to blow up a journalist. We have done that by closing an eye to small, venial contraventions and partaking in the spoils and by putting our heads in the sand when larger digressions do not concern us directly. And before any of my fellow countrymen and women get on their high horses, I have an honest question to ask: how many Maltese, above voting age, haven’t heard the name of at least one baron who reputedly built an empire on dodgy money, be it drugs, prostitution or corruption? If you haven’t, you have been living in a parallel reality or you are an expat. But if you have, you need to ask further: if we all have an inkling of who these people might be, why is nothing being done?
Daphne’s murder should not be sidelined as just another ‘unfortunate incident’, or relegated to another ace in the political poker game. It is a spine-chilling wakeup call to the criminal forces that operate just under the surface of our society; they allow us to go on with our lives as long as we allow them to operate in peace. The surest way to kill a journalist is to consign his or her voice to oblivion; to make sure that their names and what they wrote are forgotten. Just like the ancient Egyptians, all you have to do is chisel their names away as heretics.
And the fastest way to kill a democracy is by murdering its journalists.
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Photocredit André Corrado