But it’s not ‘your Malta’, is it?

I feel a lot of sympathy for poor old Nas: who came here all smiles and enthusiasm for what he took to be an undiscovered island paradise...

Nas Daily
Nas Daily

I had never heard of Nuseir Yassin – that would be ‘Nas Daily’ to the 5.7 million followers of his vlog – before his recent irruption into the Maltese political circus. And I still don’t know much about him today... other than that he seems, to all outward appearances, to be the sort of well-meaning and genial chap you wouldn’t mind having an occasional social chat with (though not, perhaps, every single day...)

But man... is he naive, or what?

I mean that in the nicest way possible, promise. ‘Naivety’ is not, in itself, a negative characteristic. It implies a stage before the loss of innocence...  when the very concept of ‘malice’ or ‘nastiness’ is still alien to one’s general outlook on life. From this perspective, I feel a lot of sympathy for poor old Nas: who came here all smiles and enthusiasm for what he took to be an undiscovered island paradise... only to find himself brutally eviscerated by the dark, sinister forces that constantly tear this country apart in opposite, irreconcilable directions.

It’s a bit like watching an angelic, chuckling little toddler having fun building sandcastles with his bucket and spade... slap-bang in the middle of a minefield. You almost feel you have to cover your eyes...

Having said this, there is also a natural limit to naivety. Little children are generally considered ‘cute’ when they misunderstand or misinterpret the complexities of adult nastiness. The same mistake, however, is slightly less ‘cute’ when made by grown-ups who are – for better or worse – plugged into the global media circuit... who have the power to influence literally millions of people around the world, by talking into a camera for a minute a day.

That was my gut feeling immediately upon reading his (now infamous) slogan: ‘Oh, My Malta!’ Even without taking into consideration the actual context, you can already detect a certain linguistic ingenuousness in the wording alone. Is Nas even aware of the implications of the English expression, ‘Oh my’? I myself made reference to the same usage in a recent article – written before I’d even heard the slogan – where I quoted a famous line from ‘The Wizard of Oz’: ‘Lions and tigers and bears... oh my!’

Even a small child would understand that the words ‘oh my’, in that configuration, do not exactly denote ‘enthusiasm’ to come into physical contact with any of those wild animals. Quite the contrary: they suggest fear, apprehension, and a general feeling of unease. So, to return to that unfortunate slogan: all you have to do is simply move the comma up by one word – squeezing it between ‘my’ and ‘Malta’, instead of ‘oh’ and ‘my’ – and in an instant, the entire significance is turned on its head.

From an exuberant show of appreciation for this country, it suddenly becomes a stern admonition spoken by an angry parent: ‘Oh my, Malta... you’ve really done it now, haven’t you’?

But that little linguistic detail – crucial though it may be, when choosing the words of a slogan (and, what’s more, insisting it should be adopted by the Malta Tourism Authority) – pales to insignificance when compared to the more glaring underlying issue. ‘MY’ Malta? Since when can someone who just parachuted in here out of nowhere, from one day to the next – evidently without any real knowledge of this country at all; still less of the entire Natural History Museum of skeletons buried away in its closet – talk about Malta using the first-person possessive pronoun?

And please note, that’s not a reference to Nas Daily’s identity as a ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider’, who has no business to be speaking out on internal affairs which are none of his concern. Oh, no: I’m not advocating a return to the ‘Foreign Interference Act’, or anything like that. The way I see it, Nas Daily is a citizen of the world like everyone else... and Malta happens to be part of the world, too (though it’s a fact we very often choose to overlook). That, to my mind, is justification enough for Nas Daily, or anyone else, to identify with our country as much as he likes, and say so in whatever words he chooses.

BUT... well, just look what happened next. No sooner did that doomed slogan enter the public domain, than it was instantly applauded and adopted (for political purposes) by the Malta government and all its supporters; and just as instantly derided and lampooned (sometimes with a ferocious savagery that took even me by surprise) by the forces at work to bring that government down.

Next thing we know, Nas Daily himself complains that his words were ‘appropriated’ – ‘appropriated’, please note – by both camps: by government, as a rallying cry to mobilise the grassroots ahead of a controversial mass-meeting next Tuesday; and by Civil Society Network (or whatever) for the clean opposite reason.

And all along, the slogan itself says: ‘Oh, my Malta’. Erm... do I even need to point out the (oh, so predictable) irony? Isn’t it bleedingly obvious by now, that this is not a country any one person or entity can possibly claim as his or her own? That it is a tortuously (and unnecessarily) divided country, over which neither side – nor any of the other, equally divided subsections of society – can possibly claim rightful ‘ownership’?

‘My Malta’, indeed. ‘My left foot’, more like it. At least, that would be honest: I KNOW my left foot is my own... because it’s right there, attached to the end of my left leg. Can I say the same thing about my country? Can anyone reading this, right now? Go on, try it: ‘Oh, my Malta!’ Does Malta feel any more ‘yours’, just because you said it was? If so, where’s the attachment? Where is the national equivalent of the ball-joint in your left ankle, that makes your left foot a natural extension of the rest of your body?

Institutionally, there is nothing that can serve that (ahem) pivotal purpose at all. The Presidency was supposed to have had that effect... but it’s difficult to achieve in practice, when: a) all but one of Malta’s past Presidents were hand-picked directly from the trenches of political warfare, and; b) efforts to undermine the Presidency, as a national force for unity, have been so ultra-successful over the past 40 years.   

There was a time (spanning centuries) when people might have pointed towards the Catholic Church. But with the Archbishop now doubling up as an unelected Opposition leader, it seems to have willingly relinquished that vocation of its own accord. Meanwhile, all the country’s autonomous institutions, supposedly regulating various sectors at an arms-length from party-politics, have (for different reasons, and to different extents) failed spectacularly in that endeavour. There is not a single one left that has not been accused of cronyism, of political infiltration, of having been ‘hijacked’ or having abused its powers for ulterior motives.

Our entire institutional set-up, it seems, has been left to drown in an ocean of suspicion and subversive unrest... with the result that there is simply no single entity of any description that can possibly serve as a rallying banner for national identity.

There is simply no single entity of any description that can possibly serve as a rallying banner for national identity

Incredibly, we have now even allowed this canker to infect the arts, too. First, the ‘National Orchestra’ was booed at and hissed for performing a concert for the Prime Minister – a naff idea to begin with, I’ll admit, but still: it’s the ‘National’ orchestra... couldn’t we have given our penchant for self-effacement a rest, just this once? Then, it was a no-holds barred attack – again, with a surprising degree of ferocity – against Joseph Calleja, Malta’s ‘cultural ambassador’, for the grave crime of failing to share one subsection of society’s deep-seated, obsessive hatred for the prevailing political status quo.

Where does that leave us, in terms of things we can all converge upon and say – all together now, in perfect harmony, with no discordant notes – ‘this is ours’?   

I can’t see a single thing that might fit that description. Not even one.

But I can see several things that all the various subdivisions seem to feel are ‘theirs’... but no one else’s. Which brings us back to the possessive pronoun in that slogan. When we talk so naively of ‘My Malta’... is it an ‘exclusive’ sort of ownership we’re talking about? Is Malta ‘mine’, in the sense that it’s ‘private property’? Now, get off ‘my’ land, before I set my dogs on you...?   

Sure as hell feels that way nowadays. For let’s face it: Malta cannot simultaneously ‘belong’ to any of its citizens at all (still less all of them at once), when those same citizens are hell-bent on claiming a full-scale monopoly over every last square inch of it, to the exclusion of others who have just as much right to the same identity... the same sense of belonging... the same right of participation and association in all of Malta’s cultural, social and political spheres.

So, to Nas Daily who came up with the slogan; and to the opposing forces that both appropriated it for entirely dishonest purposes... sorry, but no. This is not ‘your’ Malta. Nor is it ‘mine’, ‘his’, ‘hers’, ‘theirs’, or (least of all) ‘ours’. This is a Malta that no longer belongs to any of us... because we all willingly relinquished ownership of it years ago.

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