Brincat’s opinions might be a load of BS… but so was the ensuing ‘outrage’

Now: like all good dictionary definitions, this one is sufficiently vague to account for a certain ‘flexibility’, in the way the word is actually used

Phyllisienne Brincat sparked outrage, as she said that illness and disabilities stem from the original sin of Adam (Photo: TVM)
Phyllisienne Brincat sparked outrage, as she said that illness and disabilities stem from the original sin of Adam (Photo: TVM)

Something tells me we might need to update all existing dictionaries, to reflect how the meaning of certain words seems to be changing, even as we speak (quite literally, this time).

Take ‘outrage’, for instance: which the first random online dictionary I found, defines as: “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”

Now: like all good dictionary definitions, this one is sufficiently vague to account for a certain ‘flexibility’, in the way the word is actually used.

For example: it would certainly be no exaggeration to assert that Malta (and indeed the rest of the world) was ‘outraged’, by the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. Likewise, there was undeniably an outpour of ‘anger and indignation’ (though not necessarily ‘shock’) at the more recent Benefit Schemes/Driving Licences scandals.

But while both those sentiments can justifiably be described as ‘outrage’… I think we can all safely agree that the former reaction was ‘extremely stronger’ (in every sense of the word), than the latter; and also, that there was infinitely MORE to actually be ‘angry, shocked, and indignant’ about, back in 2017.

And this also means that – subconsciously, at least – we all recognise that ‘outrage’ itself comes in all sorts different shapes, sizes, and colours… depending on (and, more importantly, PROPORTIONAL TO) the nature of whatever is causing it, in the first place.

Nor is this the only connotation that we ‘take for granted’, when using that word. We can also instinctively tell the difference between ‘outrage’ on a purely personal level… and outrage on a ‘nationwide’ scale.

Again, both the above examples certainly qualify as ‘nationwide’: albeit to different degrees. But the personal sensation of ‘anger, shock, and indignation’, that might arise among INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE (as a rule, when confronted by something that somehow challenges, or ridicules, their own most cherished beliefs)…  that is – or should be – a different matter altogether.

Because this point, we have crossed a significant threshold, that is just no longer ‘accounted’ for, by the above definition.

To put that another way: last I looked, it was only ever the nationwide – rather than the purely personal – ‘outrages’, that actually got themselves ‘reported in the press’… (and even then: for the very simple reason that those are the sort of ‘outrages’ that actually have CONSEQUENCES, for the rest of society.)

So again, we find ourselves facing same old question of ‘degree’. How ‘consequential’ does an outrage actually have to be, before it can be considered newsworthy enough to even report?

Well… take a look at these snippets from this week’s papers, and see for yourselves:

“Shock as popular singer links disability to 'original sin' in TV interview”

“Phyllisienne Brincat sparked outrage, as she said that illness and disabilities stem from the original sin of Adam”

“Phyllisienne Brincat's claims slammed as 'atrocious', 'disgusting' and 'hurtful'.”

And… OK, fair enough. There certainly WAS a lot of ‘outrage’, at Brincat’s outspoken expression of what seem to be her own, personal religious beliefs (to which – unless there’s something I’m not quite seeing, in all this – she is fully entitled, according to the Universal Charter of Human Rights).

But then again: what ‘degree’ of outrage are we talking about here, exactly? Reason I ask is that – and I freely admit that this is just a generalisation, based on my own (somewhat restricted) view of ‘public opinion’ – I’m seeing just as many comments ‘defending’ Phyllisienne Brincat for expressing those views, as ‘condemning’ her for the same reason.

In fact, you could almost say that the vast majority of public reactions, so far – with a few exceptions I’ll come to in a sec – somehow managed to do both those things, simultaneously.

And rightly so, I might add: because it is perfectly possible to disagree - and vehemently, too! - with any given opinion, or belief… and yet, also defend the right of other people to both hold down, and express, that very same view. (And not just because ‘Voltaire said so’, by the way; but because I happen to be doing it myself, right now!)

In this particular case, however… there are other reasons to suspect that at least some of all this ‘outrage’, is actually misplaced.

Let’s start with the specific context, within which this ‘Born Again Christian Singer’ [Sorry, Ms Brincat, but I’ve given up on typing out your full name, every time…] actually said those ‘offensive, hurtful’ remarks.

This is from our own report: “In an episode [of chat-show ‘Popolin’] that featured debates on religion, the show's host, Quinton Scerri questioned Brincat, a self-described devout Christian, about what she [had] stated while cameras weren't rolling concerning a connection between disease and original sin.

“Brincat reiterated her claim that, in accordance with the Bible, mankind was doomed when Adam and Eve introduced sin into the earth, and that illness occurs due to this form of sin.”

Now:  a few operative words/phrases immediately leap to the eye, there.

Starting with – dare I say it – the name of Quinton Scerri’s chat-show itself: ‘Popolin’. (I mean… honestly, though: what the hell did they even expect, when openly inviting every ‘Tom, Dick, and Henrietta’ out there, to just blurt out their private opinions, in public?!)’

But then, there’s also: ‘what she stated while cameras weren’t rolling’ (so… if you don’t mind me asking…  why make her repeat it while the cameras WERE rolling: unless your intention was precisely to CREATE the sort of ‘outrage’, that you would afterwards be so ‘scandalised’ about?)

And lastly: ‘Brincat REITERATED her claim that…’ (Ah! So this is something she’s said before, right? And oh, look! There was another ‘outrage’ the last time, too! My, what a coincidence…)

In any case: I could go on, but… let’s face it, folks. We all already knew EXACTLY what Ms Brincat’s beliefs were going to be, long before she was even asked the first time.  And they’re not just ‘her’ beliefs, by the way: it’s what ALL Born-Again Christians - and probably quite a few other denominations I’ve never even heard of - also believe (and are usually quite happy to tell you so, to your face: especially, if you’re the one actually ASKING them to...)

And yet, some people out there expressed not just ‘anger, shock and indignation’, to hear the same old thing repeated for the umpteenth time… but even accused Brincat herself of (directly or indirectly) ‘committing a crime’.

The current Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability, for instance, described Brincat’s comments as ‘hate speech’. And the former Commissioner, Oliver Scicluna, posted: “I have no intention to attack Phyllisienne because I believe and want to keep believing she is a good woman, but I cannot not comment… When we ridicule a person with a disability, especially when they do not always understand we are mocking them, according to many this is atrocious… Saying that someone with a disability is the fruit of sin is another atrocity.”

Most interesting of all, however: Public Broadcasting Services - which (as The Times naughtily reminds us) ‘aired the show that Brincat was a guest on’ – “publicly dissociated itself from her comments: ’What Ms Brincat said goes against the values we promote as a national broadcaster’, PBS said…”

… which, I suppose, raises the inevitable question: “Then why the bleeding hell did you even give her a platform to air those views, publicly: especially when you ALREADY KNEW precisely what she was going to say?!”

Having said this, though: there is still nothing really ‘wrong’ with any of those comments… insofar as (like Brincat’s) they represent ‘expressions of personal opinion’.

But there are a couple issues here that I, too, cannot ‘not comment about’.

One: the same Oliver Scicluna who is now reluctant to ‘attack’ Ms Brincat – apparently on the basis that: a) he knows her personally; and b) ‘Awww, she’s such a sweet lady!’ – was also the one who reported a certain ‘Luke Mihalic, 29, from Naxxar’ to the police, over a Facebook meme which ‘mocked Down Syndrome sufferers’.

OK, let’s pause there for a second. Are the two scenarios entirely comparable? Perhaps not: in the sense that Ms Brincat seems to have been expressing a genuine (albeit nauseating) ‘personal belief’… while Mr Mihalic was poking (equally nauseating) fun at people with disabilities, merely for its own sake.

Other than that, however: the two cases do have a lot in common. Judging by the fact that Luke Mihalic actually posted that (admittedly very tasteless) joke online… it is evident that he himself either found it genuinely ‘funny’ enough, to be worth sharing; or (likelier, I should think, given that the Facebook group was called ‘Uncensored Jokes Malta’) he firmly believes that he has at least the RIGHT to post it… even if just as an act of ‘defiance’, against what he considers to be ‘censorship’.

And I would even venture to add that: Luke Mihalic probably ‘believes’ in either of those things – and there could be other possibilities – every bit as ‘fervently’ (or ‘blindly’) as Ms Brincat believes in her own interpretation of the Bible.

So… erm… can anyone explain to me why Ms Brincat got away with just a barrage of (mostly personal) ‘outrage’… while Like Mihalic was convicted of ‘misuse of computer equipment’, and fined a scarcely-even-believable… E10,000!!! [Yes, folks, you read that right: ‘TEN THOUSAND SMACKEROONIES!!!!’].

Now THAT is what I call an ‘outrage’, myself. So like I was saying earlier: maybe it’s time to update all those obsolete dictionary definitions, once and for all…


Clarification by Oliver Scicluna

"I wish to make it absolutely clear that I do not know Ms Phylisienne Brincat on a personal level, I never spoke to her and I never interacted with her in any way. The opinion which I stated on my facebook page, which was referred to in Mr Vassallo's piece stems from my firm belief that people are fundamentally good, so I simply choose to attack the argument and not the person. However, at the end of the day, everyone is accountable for one's actions.

Mr Vassallo also had a dig at me by attributing to me a certain degree of hypocrisy by comparing this case with the one I reported to the police three years ago when I was Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability as was my duty. I confirm that at the time I filed a report as was my duty and that it was not filed on a whim but after careful consideration,  investigation and gathering of proof which was eventually used in court. I believe that the current commissioner is also being prudent yet equally resolute in her approach. I hope this would be balm to Mr Vassallo's 'outrage'."