The Devil came down to Bormla...

If the Devil really did exist… which initiative would he consider more worthwhile? Precipitating a global catastrophe costing millions of lives… or indulging in a little sneaky voyeurism in Cospicua?

Maybe we did need a couple of good ‘Satanizmu scares’, to remind us all that the Devil lives in the ever-fertile imagination of superstitious Maltese politicians…
Maybe we did need a couple of good ‘Satanizmu scares’, to remind us all that the Devil lives in the ever-fertile imagination of superstitious Maltese politicians…

God, when will I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut? This, for instance, is something I wrote just three weeks ago: “There hasn’t been a good old-fashioned ‘Satanizmu’ scare in quite a while now. Yet it feels like only yesterday when parents of schoolchildren were routinely warned about the ‘Satanic influence’ of anything from Heavy Metal, to Harry Potter, to Yoga, to Marvel Comics, to Barney the Purple Dinosaur…”

Well, the ink had hardly even dried on the page, when… not one, but two ‘good old-fashioned Satanizmu scares’ suddenly just materialised in a flash of fire and brimstone… as though my very words had nudged Satan out of his self-imposed retirement, and got him to start paying attention to this little rock of ours again (like he used to so often in the old days.)

The first incident involved an unnamed 18-year-old man from Cospicua who allegedly (the case is in court as we speak) exploited an older woman’s belief in the Occult to cajole her, her daughter, and at least one other woman to “perform sexual acts against their will, [and] violent indecent assault on a person who was unable to resist.” The same man is also charged with “holding the women against their will and forcing them to perform acts contrary to their decency, slightly injuring them.”

In court, the prosecution maintained that the victim’s belief in Satanism had exposed her to ‘control’ by the 18-year-old man. “[…] the mother has a hobby of practising the occult. The control would happen because the accused would play on her superstitions by saying that she had opened the door to the devil. He took advantage of her. He would use a particular voice. This was all done to satisfy the man’s sexual fantasies…”

So much for case number one (I’ll come back to it in a sec). The second, much more publicised case involved MP Edwin Vassallo’s decision to share a news item about how a group of Satanists were injecting bananas with HIV-infected blood, in order to transmit the potentially life-threatening disease and cause a worldwide AIDS epidemic.

Hmmm. Now, I’m no authority on Satanism, or anything… but no prizes for guessing which of those two stories I find the more disturbing (with or without any belief in the Occult). Is it the story about an affable (though, let’s face it, slightly daffy) politician who fails to spot the difference between fact and fiction… and gets mildly lampooned as a result? Or is it the other story, which so graphically illustrates the precise (and very real) dangers of this kind of superstition in the first place? A story which involves abduction, rape, and the power to force others to commit crimes against their will...

No two ways about it. The Edwin Vassallo interlude was, at best, a little comic relief in an otherwise drab and dreary political landscape. The Cospicua incident, on the other hand, is a Dario Argento horror film just crying out to be made. It contains all the key ingredients of pure terror: for even if you reject the occult inferences out of hand… even if, like me, you believe in ‘The Devil’ about as much as you believe in Father Christmas, or the tooth fairy… what remains is still pretty horrific by any standard. We are still looking at crimes which were real enough to end up in court.

Even I, sceptic that I am, will freely confess to finding that kind of story truly frightening. Satan doesn’t even have to come into it at all: as this case clearly indicates (subject to all the usual ‘innocent until proven guilty’ provisos, naturally) there is a level at which devils and demons don’t have to actually exist, in order to wield real power over people. Mere belief in their existence – in and of itself – is enough. Everything else is taken care of by human (as opposed to demonic) agency. In other words, we are talking about real crimes committed by real people, on the basis of belief – real or feigned – in the supernatural.

How freaking scary is that?

Yet just look at how those two cases have been portrayed in the media… and especially on the social media. OK, I can more or less understand the disproportionate attention given to Edwin Vassallo, because his gaffe was also clearly offensive to real sufferers of HIV/AIDS, and contributed to a global culture of ignorance and misinformation about that particular disease.

Besides, Vassallo is a seasoned PN politician, and – like it or not – he actually does represent a sizeable chunk of grassroots support for that party… and not just that party (Labour has its own equivalent mindset, both within the party and among its supporters).  So yes: it is not just imaginary devils that can wield unwholesome influence over others. Politicians influence people, too. So, when supposedly serious politicians, militating within supposedly serious parties, start acting and sounding like 19th century vampire hunters… people are fully within their rights to be alarmed. It is, in fact, a serious political problem in this country: probably far more serious than most would admit.

To put it another way: if the Devil really did exist… which initiative would he consider more worthwhile? Precipitating a global catastrophe costing millions of lives… or indulging in a little sneaky voyeurism in Cospicua?

But by the same token, I would expect the other case to be accorded the same social media treatment… even for the simple reason that there is a political connection here, too: albeit less immediately obvious.

It seems to have escaped most people’s attention that one of the lawyers defending the Cospicua suspect is Jason Azzopardi: a Nationalist MP, former minister, and currently shadow minister for the environment.

Well, this is what he said in court last week, while wearing his other hat as criminal lawyer: “Neither I nor my colleagues have ever met such a case in over 22 years […] It requires particular attention because the occult is involved. This was not a mere hobby, an exorcist had been summoned and had to celebrate Mass in the property. Objects flew, voices in strange languages were heard. The root of the claims is this and this is why there are certain injuries…”

Yikes! This is getting scarier and scarier by the minute… though right now, I’m undecided which part of it terrifies me more: is it that the man who said all that could be responsible for a key area of government policy tomorrow? Or the fact that the magistrate even allowed such outrageous arguments to be made at all, without holding Jason Azzopardi in contempt of court?

For starters, just look at the sheer number of positive affirmations contained in those two sentences alone. ‘The occult is involved’. ‘Objects flew’.

‘Voices in strange languages were heard’. And, most bizarrely of all, that the sum total of those extraordinary, bewildering statements is: ‘the root of the claims’…

Er… what? The ‘root of the claims’ is that… ‘objects flew’? What objects, anyway? Broomsticks, perhaps? Or bedknobs? And while I’m at it: what century does Jason Azzopardi even think we’re in?

And please note: I’m not asking on the basis of Azzopardi’s evident belief in the occult. Oh, no; as far as I’m concerned, he can believe all that nonsense as much as he likes (and that goes for Edwin, too). No, I’m asking because… the charges his client actually faces include rape, indecent assault, holding people against their will, and causing them to slightly injure themselves. Without in any way prejudicing the case itself, it can be safely said that those are pretty serious charges by any standard. One of them alone could land a man in jail for quite some time.

So, as far as I can see, the ‘root’ of this case is no different from the root of any other alleged crime: it is the claim that illegal acts were perpetrated by a human being. That is what the court has to establish in this case: not whether an ‘exorcism’ ever took place at the suspect’s residence… still less reports of ‘unidentified flying objects’ in the inner harbour area…

Yet here we have an experienced criminal lawyer (also a veteran politician, viewed by some – I’d wager that includes himself – as a potential future prime minister) arguing in court that this case is ‘special’, because… there’s ‘the occult’ involved. The hidden hand of the Babaw…

I assume, then, that Dr Jason Azzopardi will now have to convince the court that his client is innocent, because: a) the Devil really did come down to Bormla, looking for a few souls to steal… and; b), the Prince of Darkness decided to use his nefarious, Satanic powers… not to start World War Three, or inspire another Holocaust, or anything like that. No, just to get a kick out of watching a dirty threesome between a Bormla mother, her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend…

No offence, but suddenly Edwin Vassallo’s argument sounds a lot more convincing. Even if the methodology was flawed (apparently, you can’t get AIDS or HIV from eating blood-soaked bananas), there is still a certain Satanic logic in trying to start a killer global epidemic. To put it another way: if the Devil really did exist… which initiative would he consider more worthwhile? Precipitating a global catastrophe costing millions of lives… or indulging in a little sneaky voyeurism in Cospicua?

But wait: we’re still at compilation of evidence stage. When the trial begins in earnest, Dr Azzopardi will have to also convince the court that the Devil achieved his aims by: a) ‘speaking in strange languages’ (let me guess: he must have got the idea from John Cleese in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’)… and b), by… um… ‘making objects fly’.

So that’s how you get a young Bormliza to do whatever you want in the bedroom these days, huh? By ‘making objects fly’. Small wonder we keep hearing of so many stories of domestic violence from that particular part of Malta. ‘Have sex with me this instant, or I’ll throw the TV out of the window…’

And there we all were, assuming that there were grave, complex socio-political reasons to account for this phenomenon. Only now do we suddenly discover it’s been the work of the Devil all this time… that sneaky little pervert…

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be making fun of things like this. This is, after all, a serious political problem. People who think like this still occupy prestigious positions, and can still heavily influence national legislation. So who knows? Maybe we did need a couple of good ‘Satanizmu scares’, to jolt us all out of our complacency… to remind us all that the Devil not only exists, but is alive, and well, and here among us all the time… living for all Eternity in the ever-fertile imagination of superstitious Maltese politicians…

 

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