Wednesday 13 December 2017

values

Can we please drop the myth about who has the most values?

This aricle first appeared in Malta Today

Every time I think I might start looking at the Nationalist Party in a different light, someone says something which immediately puts my back up again and reminds me why it so often succeeds in grating on my nerves.

We all have our trigger words which make us see red, and for me that word is ‘values’ (or morals, or words to that effect). You see, for as long as I can remember, the PN has championed itself with lots of self-congratulatory pats on the back that it is the party which upholds (Christian) morals and values the most. Everyone else (for which read, anyone who does not vote PN and specifically, Labour voters) is basically a heathen, a pagan, and in the days of the years-ahead-of-his-time, anti-clerical Mintoff, probably something resembling Satan as well.

And that, right there, is what I have a problem with; because that kind of generalization is quite simply not true. I don’t know about you, but I have a wide spectrum of relatives and friends with as many different kinds of opinions on topical issues and religious (and political) beliefs as you can imagine. We agree completely on some things, sometimes uncannily so, and yet can disagree passionately on others and have long, heated arguments until we finally agree to disagree. But what I have noticed is that, human nature being what it is, the concept of what is right and wrong is often very fluid and subjective. For example, I know people who used to frown disapprovingly and gossip disparagingly about those who are ‘living in sin’ – until their own kids did the same thing and then they suddenly became very understanding and indulgent, dismissing the matter with a wave of their hands and an “oh well, what are you going to do? Times have changed.” You can extend that example to all sorts of other scenarios which used to be taboo for Maltese society, but which now are met with barely a blink of an eye.

Needless to say, the right vs wrong conundrum transcends political party lines, which is why I get very irritable when I keep hearing the myth that it is only the PN (and by extension, its supporters) who are “righteous” people who are always doing “the right thing”.

I think this all originated from Mintoff’s legendary fight with the Church which created the perception that all those who supported him, likewise had a resentment against the Catholic religion which for a long time had acted as a mighty fist which kept everyone (presumably) in check. And yet what is often overlooked is that in the 60s, the majority of people (including Labour supporters) were still very devout. The dilemma faced by PL supporters was precisely this: how could they hold true to their beloved faith when the Leader of their party was locked in an outright war with the Church and its hold on the country? Many were torn and I think those of that generation still are so today, as they struggle between wanting to hold on to the religion they were indoctrinated in which gives them solace and comfort, and the very real prejudice which festered and grew because of the socio-religious conflict.

Even right up to the 1980s and the infamous clash which Labour Leader Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici had with Church schools, you still had Labour supporters who were aghast at just how nasty it all became. Many of them had their children in Church schools, but the political backlash soon forced them to pull them out and place them in state schools instead – either that or pretend to be PN to avoid the collective wrath of a class full of PN supporters’ children glaring at them in hostility for supporting a man who wanted to close their schools.

Mixing religion with politics has always ended up in rather a sticky mess, and that is still the case today. So when the new PN leader Adrian Delia invoked the usual Christian values mantra in his first public speech, I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu, which is highly ironic considering that he was elected on the slogan of doing things in a new way. At the same time, I can also understand the political strategy which has led him to choose this tack: he is keenly aware that he needs to gather the support of those who don’t like or trust him, and the only way to that was to pitch a certain kind rhetoric at them which he knew has disappeared from public discourse. He was appealing to the conservative core of the party, many of whom are adamantly against the range of liberal laws being introduced in quick succession by a Labour Government. Let’s face it, from a country which was basically run according to the diktats of the Catholic Church, we have now gone to the other extreme where new legislation is practically been forced down our throats before we have had time to know what hit us, or to seriously discuss all the social implications.

However, where I think Delia faltered was in (yet again) depicting those who vote PN as some kind of special precious species who are a cut above the rest, and that they, and they alone, care about the direction Malta is heading in. According to news reports, “Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia accused the Labour Party of wanting to attack Maltese values and to turn the country into a soulless state…He insisted that the Nationalist Party – “a party made of Catholics and real Maltese” – had always been on the right side of history, unlike the Labour Party.”

Can you hear that noise? That’s me grinding my teeth in exasperation.

The truth is that civil liberties such as divorce and gay rights were long overdue, and that the social fabric had already changed before the laws were finally put into place in 2011 and 2014, respectively, to catch up with a nation which by then had already become more secular. If gentlemen’s clubs, and an economy based on eGaming and construction greed are examples of a ‘soulless state’, let us not forget that these were around under PN administrations too. The selling of passports – at first deemed so appalling – has been embraced by all, with hands of every political hue grabbing a slice of the pie.

In the same vein, how can we not remark that the very same people who were positively scandalized about the Panama Papers and the Egrant allegations have gone on to openly support Adrian Delia, who is himself being accused of similar shady dealings? It’s either always wrong, or never wrong, and you cannot espouse your claim to ’values’ only when it suits your political agenda

But it is also true that the swiftness of the cultural changes have shocked the heart of Maltese society to its very roots and it is not just PN supporters, but also Labour supporters, who shift uncomfortably at the prospect of the legalization of marijuana and prostitution. Abortion, surrogacy and embryo freezing are also highly volatile issues which cannot be introduced with a snap of the fingers but which need to be discussed properly, while looking at all the ethical issues involved.

Where I think politicians on the whole lose sight of reality and the complexities of human beings, is when they forget to factor in that their policies cannot be taken on board in one bulk package, expecting us to agree with everything that they say just because we may have given them our vote once or twice. So just like Labour should not take it for granted that we will applaud just to appear cool and liberal, so too does the PN have to avoid falling into the trap of depicting itself as some kind of exclusive club where everyone is brimming with piety.

Personally speaking, I can be quite liberal in matters of freedom to live one’s private life as one pleases, but there are other areas where I draw a red line.
When it comes to children I can be positively draconian because I feel that minors need our full protection as much as possible.

All this reminds me of a disturbing conversation I once was involved in, about a young man who comes from a “good family” (whatever that means) who was involved in a punch up outside a nightclub. The victim’s head was bashed in, so the charge was attempted murder, but all I kept hearing was what a shame it was to have this all splashed in the papers since the perpetrator’s mother was a very holy woman who attended a prayer group. I’m afraid I lost my cool and ended up arguing that perhaps there should be less attention to prayer groups and more attention to raising kids not to be violent thugs.

Because, ultimately to me, that’s what it all boils down to. Kindness, manners, decency and principles which do not waver according to the way the wind is blowing. And no political party or politician can tell me this group of people have those intrinsic “values” in abundance while that group of people are basically amoral savages. You get all kinds, everywhere. It’s as simple as that.

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