Midnight in the garden of good and evil

Did the PN genuinely believe the truth in the Egrant allegation, when it so unwisely hitched its entire fate to that one issue? Or did it just shrug its shoulders and say: ‘Who the heck even cares if it’s true or not?

It has been illuminating – if not occasionally amusing – to sit back and watch, popcorn in hand, while various pundits and opinion-formers trip up in their own efforts to grapple with the fall-out of the Egrant affair.

I have now lost count of journalists and columnists who, until just a couple of weeks ago, had all contributed to the narrative depicting Joseph Muscat as ‘automatically guilty’ of an alleged crime, in the absence of any proof (and, what’s worse, in defiance of the sacrosanct principles upon which our entire justice system is built)... but who now scramble desperately to rationalise their earlier opinions in light of the inquiry’s conclusions.

With a few solitary exceptions – i.e., the incurable party diehards, who (let’s face it) will simply never acknowledge any ‘truth’ that is somehow detrimental to their own party: not even if it whacks them in the face with a baseball bat – most of these media pundits now admit they had been wrong to assume the truth of the allegation in the first place.

What follows from that admission, however, tends to vary in proportion to the amount of pride being swallowed.

Some (like Ranier Fsadni, writing in The Times) go on to instinctively defend former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil: arguing, inter alia, that there is no reason to suppose he was aware of the deceit, when he threw his party’s full weight behind the claim in April 2017; and – somewhat more bizarrely – that the Egrant deception remains a lesser whopper than the frame-up of Pietru Pawl Busuttil in the 1980s. (In other words: ‘Yeah, sure it was a lie... but ‘their’ lie was bigger than ‘our’ lie. Nya-na-na-na-na!’)

It would probably be a waste of time to counter those arguments point for point: but there is a generic rebuttal that has to be made, if we are to properly understand the dynamics of what has just occurred.

Consider, for instance, how very differently the ‘presumption of innocence’ principle is applied to Simon Busuttil today, from Joseph Muscat over the past year. When no proof existed, Muscat was assumed by thousands to have been ‘guilty as sin’... for no other reason than being the leader of the Labour (as opposed to Nationalist) Party.

Yet now that proof of an orchestrated frame-up has emerged, the same people who were so quick to act as Muscat’s judge, jury and executioner – until two weeks ago, at any rate – very generously extend the maximum possible benefit of the doubt to Simon Busuttil.

To be brutally honest: in my 20-odd years of writing about Maltese politics, I have not seen a more blatant, conspicuous and quite frankly nauseating example of typical Maltese political double-standards in action.

If you’re Nationalist, you’re not only ‘innocent until proven guilty’... but remain innocent even after guilt is established. If you’re Labour, it’s the clean other way round: no amount of evidence will ever exonerate you of any crime you are ever accused of. You remain ‘guilty as charged’, no matter what.

The question to ask at this stage is: why? Why cling to that hopelessly discredited equation – i.e., “Nationalist = right, Labour = wrong” – even after the PN has been so dramatically proven to be (at best) mistaken?

There are, of course, as many answers to that question as there are pundits/gurus to contradict their earlier positions.

To me, however, the best answer came directly from Simon Busuttil himself, several months before the original Egrant allegation even emerged. In January 2017, he told a gathering of the party faithful that the upcoming elections will be “a fight between good and evil... The fight is not between red and blue but between good and evil, the truth and the false...”

And to be fair, that astonishing, reality-defying assertion did not originate from Busuttil himself. Echoes of the same thought-processes can be discerned in his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi’s observation – before the 2013 election – that ‘under the Nationalists, one is proud to be Maltese; under Labour, one is ashamed...”

It would be interesting to know how ‘proud’ Gonzi feels of his party today, now that it has been caught out trying to overthrow a legitimate government on the basis of a lie.

But no matter: even that instance cannot be defined as the first case of the PN’s extraordinary ‘superiority complex’. The same delusion was also evident in its resounding pre-1987 battle-cry, ‘Is-Sewwa Jirbah Zgur’.

Maltese being the flexible language it is, you could translate that as ‘truth’ and/or ‘justice’ - but also ‘righteousness’ – ‘always prevails’. Inherent in that absurd belief-system is an element of self-flattery that is too dangerous to ignore.

My experience on this planet, such that it is, has taught me never to trust people who openly align themselves with the ‘forces of good’.

They are far worse than those who openly align themselves with ‘the forces of evil’... even if just for the reason that the second category quite simply does not exist, and has never existed, within any political system anywhere in the world.

Oh no: to be in politics is, by definition, to be seduced by the automatic righteousness of one’s cause... from which it follows, sure as day follows night, that anyone with any other political opinion must perforce be ‘evil’.

Paradoxically, the same goes for Labour, too. Eddie Fenech Adami’s self-righteousness in the 1970s and 1980s was counterbalanced by Dom Mintoff’s quasi-Messianic appeal as ‘Is-Salvatur Ta’ Malta’.

Then as now, there was a sensation among his followers that Mintoff could likewise ‘do no wrong’... or, worse still, that any harm he might have inflicted was somehow ‘necessary’ within the greater scheme of things: it was automatically ‘legitimised’, in the name of the ‘common good’

Hence the historic perversion of that Biblical motif: ‘min mhux maghna, kontra taghna’ (he who is not for us, is against us). It is the sort of logic that can only hope to make sense against the backdrop of that grotesquely anachronism, which holds that one side is by definition ‘morally superior’ to the other.    

I mean... do I even need to spell out the danger in that sort of reasoning? The same blind faith, coupled with the same self-righteousness, has been responsible for the some of the greatest and most reprehensible evils ever perpetrated in human history.

It reminds me of the attitude of the Spanish conquistadores in South America during the 16th century: who baptised natives before slaughtering them, to assuage their conscience that the ghastly atrocities they were committing somehow enjoyed the blessing and approval of God himself.

Not to play the part of spokesman for God Almighty, or anything – it’s a bit difficult, when you don’t actually believe in his existence – but I somehow doubt an all-loving, all-merciful deity would have shared their violent enthusiasm for torture and murder.

Especially when you consider that the Aztecs themselves had used much the same reasoning to justify their own appalling appetite for human sacrifice; and, indeed, when every other atrocity ever committed in the name of religion, anywhere in the world, always came complete with the same proviso: i.e., it was the ‘will of God’, performed by the ruthless, homicidal arm of a bunch of cut-throat brigands.

Such, I fear, is the consequence of simply assuming that you are always right, where others are always wrong.

It leads to the automatic justification of any amount of crime or wrong-doing... on the basis that, in the bigger picture, the ‘end’ always justifies the ‘means’.

It’s like the stroke of midnight in the garden of good and evil: that fleeting moment in time, where both those incompatible forces somehow manage to briefly co-exist

Applied to this scenario, and... well, I suppose it all depends on how much ‘benefit of the doubt’ you are still willing to bestow upon a discredited political party. Did the PN genuinely believe the truth in the Egrant allegation, when it so unwisely hitched its entire fate to that one issue? (And if so: on what basis, exactly? Proof? There wasn’t any.)

Or did it just shrug its shoulders and say: “Who the heck even cares if it’s true or not? The only important thing is that the ‘forces of good’ – i.e., us – overthrow the ‘forces of evil’ – i.e., them – in a final, Armaggedon-style confrontation”?

Now that the dust from that conflagration is beginning to settle, we can all see that it doesn’t really matter which interpretation you choose.

Both, in the end, are underpinned by the same delusion: if you are firmly, unwaveringly convinced that you are performing God’s will on earth, you will always find an excuse – no matter how preposterous – to justify the evil that you do.   

The only difference made by the enquiry inquiry is that we can all now see – or at least, those of us who take their blinkers off for long enough to actually look – that it is, in fact, a delusion. The ‘good versus evil’ motif had been stretched far, far beyond the strain it could possibly ever hope to bear... and two weeks ago, it finally snapped.

It’s like the stroke of midnight in the garden of good and evil: that fleeting moment in time, where both those incompatible forces somehow manage to briefly co-exist. Before that moment, it might even have made a certain sense to align oneself with ‘good’ against an imaginary ‘evil’.

Afterwards, however, to continue clinging to that delusion becomes a self-defeating absurdity.

If what we were fighting all along really was a ‘battle between good and evil’... and if, as Eddie’s mantra reminds us, ‘the truth will always prevail’... well, who can now claim to have been on the side of ‘good’, and who on the side of ‘evil’?

Luckily for the people who would likely be too ‘ashamed’ to answer that today: don’t worry, you don’t have to.

Egrant answered it for us all: the stark truth is that neither side can ever claim to occupy the moral high ground again.