The death of social responsibility

According to the various ‘obituaries’ that would follow, Mintoff was either a superhuman idol who could absolutely no wrong whatsoever… or else a monster equally incapable of doing any good.

Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna.
Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna.

Reactions to Dom Mintoff's death last week should give us all pause to think.

In a few words, what they have illustrated is that political hatred and violence is by no means a thing of the past. On the contrary it is alive and kicking... though for what reason is not immediately clear.

Different reactions to the passing of Mintoff - reactions which ranged from the dangerously unhinged on one extreme, to the outrageously revisionist on the other - have served to remind us all how easy it is for political tension to flare up, even in an age when many people (perhaps naively), thought that such days were by now firmly over.

Yet the immediate aftermath of Mintoff's death was to immediately polarize the country into two completely incompatible extremes.

According to the various 'obituaries' that would follow, Mintoff was either a superhuman idol who could absolutely no wrong whatsoever... or else a monster equally incapable of doing any good.

Any reasonably intelligent observer - even if he or she knew virtually nothing about the man whatsoever - would immediately detect in both extremes a blatant exaggeration, if not a downright distortion of the truth.

But this only points towards the most worrying aspect of the current political malaise that has now clearly gripped the country. Few indeed have been the voices urging caution in the face of a wave of openly expressed hatred and hostility. Most people on either side have in fact done the opposite - they have welcomed this apparent renewal of unadulterated political hatred with open arms.

This cannot be healthy; indeed it cannot even be sane. Nor is this the only symptom of a country that is now visibly parting company with reason.

On one level, there is no real doubt surrounding the event that precipitated such a deluge of verbal violence in the first place. It was Mintoff's death; on this we can all agree.

But what remains unfathomable is the root cause of the hatred and division itself. It cannot be put down to any action or decision taken by Mintoff himself, for the man had ceased to play any active role in Maltese politics 15 years before his eventual demise... and his most contentious political period was 15 years earlier still.

If we are still fighting over events of 30 years ago, all this would mean is that Mintoff's successors - including all PN administrations ever since - have been simply incapable of taking the country forward. How can the blame for this be laid at a dead man's door? The very idea is absurd. It leaves us with the bizarre notion that Malta is currently embracing a period of political unrest merely for its own sake... as though it is the thrill of the fight, and not the cause for which one is fighting, that actually interests the antagonists on either side.

Indeed, there is no logical justification for the sort of publicly anger we have seen in recent days.

Yet one does not need to look very far for a political justification for such madness.

Considering that so much of the present atmosphere of political tension has been artificially engineered by particular individuals (all of whom stand to lose a very great deal with a change of government), one can safely conclude that it serves a very specific electoral purpose to keep Malta's culture of political violence alive for as long as possible - longer even than the circumstances which once aggravated such tensions in the first place: the ancient controversies of the 1960s Church-State clash; the wave of violence that claimed lives in the 1970s and 1980s; the 'perverse' 1981 election result... even the subsequent dispute concerning EU accession.

All these issues, like Mintoff himself, are now very firmly dead. Yet the tension they once provoked lives on, artificially kept alive to suit the private purposes of a handful of unspeakably irresponsible people.

This does not just run counter to reason and ordinary human intelligence. It also poses an unacceptable danger to society: not least that part of society that has absolutely no interest in plunging Malta once again into a phase of violence that may at any point transcend the verbal and instead take on physical form.

We ought to know this from recent history alone. Both Malta's most prominent civilian casualties of political violence - 13-year-old Karin Grech, killed by a letter-bomb addressed to her father in 1977, and Raymond Caruana, shot through the front door of the Gudja PN club in 1986 - were ultimately innocent victims caught in the cross-fire of a war in which they themselves played no part whatsoever.

Likewise, if violence once again rears its ugly head, its future victims may also prove to be innocent bystanders... killed or maimed by bombs or bullets, as has happened so recently in the past. This in turn will be hardly be the fault of Dom Mintoff, or anything he once represented,. On the contrary: it will the fault of those people currently delighting in spreading a culture of hatred and violence... and they will be held to their responsibility.

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