‘Political terrorism’? ‘War on the judiciary?’ Get a grip, people…

And let’s face it, folks. I think we’d all much rather be living here in Malta (warts and all), in 2024; than in Salem, New England, at the height of the 1692 century witch-hunt craze

Guys, look: I know there’s an election coming up in a few weeks’ time (even if, in light of recent events, it has become something of a side-show, really); and I also know that ‘Maltese elections’ are generally regarded as a good excuse to simply ‘part company with all sense of logic and proportion, for anywhere up to eight or nine weeks’.

But still. There’s a limit to how far you can take leave of your senses, before - how can I put this nicely? – it starts to show that you’re actually cracking up, FOR REAL!

Take, for instance, all the words that have been been so carelessly bandied about, since the conclusion of Magistrate Gabrielle Vella’s magisterial inquiry last week. Prime Minister Robert Abela went as far as to describe the timing – if not the actual inquiry itself – as an act of ‘political terrorism’, no less!

Looking back, this seemed to have fired the starting pistol for a whole barrage of equally absurd exaggerations (often as not, from people who should equally ‘know better’, all things considered.) First off the mark was Opposition leader Bernard Grech: who started out by (justifiably) criticising Abela for using the ‘T-word’… only to immediately use the exact same phrase himself, to describe the Prime Minister’s own faux-pas.

Erm… I could almost stop there, couldn’t I? Sorry, but if it’s so utterly ‘condemnable’ for the Prime Minister to accuse the judiciary of ‘political terrorism’… then why is the same expression suddenly ‘acceptable’, when used against the Prime Minister, by his political adversaries? (At the risk of coming across as somewhat naïve: it almost makes you think there are ‘different rules for different parties’, doesn’t it now? Hmm…)

But that was just the start. Bernard Grech seems to have also set the template for how the rest of the entire country would likewise respond. At the time of writing, I have literally lost count of all the unions, confederations, associations, NGOs and civil society groups – from the Chamber of Advocates to the Ghaqda Studenti Tal-Ligi, and beyond! – which have come crawling out of the woodwork, to express their own ‘shock and horror’ at Abela’s (admittedly awful) choice of words.

And somewhat bizarrely: they all seem to be quoting from the exact same handbook, too. Just look at some of the week’s headlines, and see for yourselves:

‘Financial Services’ bodies slam attack on judiciary…’

‘More than 200 academics condemn attacks on judiciary’

‘Robert Abela must publicly apologise for attack on judiciary’

‘University student organisations unequivocally condemn attack on judiciary’

See what I mean? It’s almost like the chorus of bird-song that greets my ears at around 6 o’ clock each morning (only a lot less pleasant to wake up to, naturally). It starts with one solitary sparrow, tweeting feebly in the distance; and next thing you know, you can’t even hear yourself think, above an auditory onslaught of pure, unadulterated TWITTERY….

But like I said at the very beginning: seriously, guys. It’s all starting to sound a little hysterical, now. Especially when you also consider that: well, this is not exactly the first time that Robert Abela has chosen a hopelessly unsuitable word, to describe what turned out to be… well, something else entirely.

That goes for his other ‘soundbite-of-choice’ in this campaign: ‘The Establishment’. Sure, the word may have its own specific dictionary definition, and its own connotations within a specific context, and all that… but we all know perfectly well (because Abela told us so himself) that he was actually referring to the ‘same establishment that conspired to bring down Adrian Delia as PN leader, in 2022’.

In other words: the so-called ‘Blue Heroes’… whose only claim to being ‘establishment’, is that ‘they may-or-may-not have once been able to pull a few strings, here and there, within the power-structures of the PN’.

There: not the same thing at all, is it now? And viewed from that angle: can anyone even deny that this magisterial inquiry was indeed the fruit of the efforts of those people: when some of them (the members of Repubblika, to be precise) were the ones who actually kick-started the whole shebang, in the first place?

But oh well. That, as we all know, is that Robert Abela meant to say… but what he uttered instead was: ‘The Establishment’. And before you know it, the entire country is locked in an endless, pointless debate, about the precise dictionary-definition of that single, solitary, misplaced word…

… instead of what we should really be discussing right now: i.e., the contents, and implications, of the magisterial inquiry itself.

Which naturally brings us right back to the whole ‘political terrorism’ business. Once again, it is painstakingly clear what Abela really had in mind, when using that particular expression…. and as far as I can see, it should also be pretty damn clear exactly WHY he deliberately chose the most inflammatory invective he could possibly muster, too. (I mean, look at this way. If you were Prime Minister: wouldn’t you much prefer the people to be talking about your own ‘poor grasp of diction’… rather than a magisterial inquiry that has already claimed one of your most senior Cabinet Ministers; and which also has the potential to bring your entire government down? Bit of a no-brainer, wouldn’t you say?)

But back to what he was actually talking about: which even emerges from one of the news reports I quoted above: “[when asked to clarify his comments] Abela reminded that a few months ago, he had warned against a ‘particular investigation’ being used to disrupt next June’s elections.

“Abela further stated that if it is true that the inquiring magistrate concluded her inquiry into the hospitals concession on the day that candidates could declare their interest to contest next June’s elections, then he was ‘obliged’ to speak in the manner that he did.”

Simply put, then: what Abela described as ‘political terrorism’ turns out, on closer scrutiny, to be nothing more than ‘doubts about whether the magistrate in question may-or-may-not have been a teeny bit overzealous, in concluding her report on precisely the same morning that the June 8 election campaign began, in earnest.’

Now: for what it’s worth – and because it would cowardly of me not to add this, having come so far - my own take on the timing is… somewhat different from Abela’s, as it happens.

Personally, I find it highly unlikely that – with so much pressure already on her shoulders – Magistrate Vella would have been unprofessional enough to allow her own judgment to be in any way ‘clouded’, in the way suggested by Prime Minister Abela.

At the same time, however: in her place – and having already taken four years, on the same inquiry - I would (rightly or wrongly) have probably considered leaving it just a few more weeks, until the election was safely out of the way, before actually setting the judicial machinery in motion. If nothing else, to avoid even the mere SUSPICION of possible political motivations…

In any case, however: that’s not what happened, in practice; and, well, one of the consequences is that – rightly or wrongly, once more – this has opened the door for precisely the above to happen. Like it or not, an element of suspicion has indeed, and indisputably, been ‘added to the mix’.

So while the words Abela chose (deliberately, no doubt) to describe that reality were certainly ‘condemnable’… the reality he was alluding to is nonetheless TRUE – in the sense that thousands (possibly, tens of thousands) of people out there genuinely share the Prime Minister’s misgivings – and as such, it will not be altogether so easy to dispel, as Abela’s ill-advised words.

And this brings me directly to the rest of the country’s reactions – especially, those coming from entities purportedly representing the legal profession itself.

For reasons already outlined, it is one thing to condemn Abela’s use of the ‘T-word’, in this particular context; but it is something else entirely, to suggest (as many people seem to be doing, in comments) that Abela is equally wrong to voice his own doubts, about the possibility of… oh, let’s just call it: ‘Political Manouevres in the Dark’. You all know what I mean.

The former can, I suppose, be legitimately described as an ‘attack on the judiciary’… but personally, I shudder to even imagine the consequences, if we were to extend the same definition to even genuine doubts and suspicions, concerning any given legal decision.

For if it turns out that – for fear of ‘interfering with the autonomy of the judiciary’ – we cannot even so much as question the logic (and yes: possibly even the motives) behind any judge or magistrate’s ruling, in any case…

… then we’d be in exactly the same situation that Arthur Miller had warned us about, with his play ‘The Crucible’: specifically about the harrowing consequences, when an entire community allows its judgement to be temporarily clouded by (then as now, politically-motivated) mass hysteria…

“Is every defence an attack on the court…?”     

And let’s face it, folks. I think we’d all much rather be living here in Malta (warts and all), in 2024; than in Salem, New England, at the height of the 1692 century witch-hunt craze.

You know: just another ‘no-brainer’ to add to the rest…