The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

Tribal allegiance

Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 08:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

Group loyalty is a kind of tribal warfare that is entrenched in our national culture. Take, for example, the village festa that pits one patron saint against the other in the same locality. Or an international soccer match that divides the nation into two main rival groups of fans supporting either English or Italian football clubs (for want of a Maltese club ever making the grade).

True to our feisty Mediterranean temperament, opposition between the two tribal groups runs passionately deep. The rivalry is intense, and the battle lines are drawn. Those leading the assault derive great pleasure from the knowledge that their long-standing rival has crumbled and is now the loser. There is joy in kicking someone when they are down.

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For it is not enough to emerge victorious and savour the moment. The adversary must be insulted and humiliated. With their arms raised up in triumph, they hurl a barrage of coarse vulgarities at their adversary, as if they are performing some sort of indigenous ritual after a major battle. And the losers take a perverse pleasure in not giving the victors the satisfaction of knowing that they are licking their wounds.

Strong group loyalty manifests itself consistently even in the House of Representatives. Our political parties are stuck in rigid tribal boundaries, trapped in a mindset that will be hard to change. Those who lead our nation often engage in tribal warfare masquerading as the intellectual elite. They make long, convoluted arguments deliberately intended to confuse the electorate, that many times, allows them to get away with their lies.

Some members of the House continue to bring this country into disrepute because of their incompetence, arrogance, and tribalistic attitude (anything you can do, we can do better). The majority are weak yes-men and women who always agree with their political chief and hide behind the illusion of a united party. When a handful recently mustered enough courage to definitively stand up to the boss, they were harassed and labelled as traitors by their own party members.

Politicians, mainly those sitting on the government benches, show true mettle if they perform well whilst being kept constantly on their toes. Since freedom of the press is one of the most important principles of any democracy, journalists and editors should be given the chance to question the government’s modus operandi. The real challenge is obtaining replies to their questions especially when a government is not generally open and forthcoming.

They have so little respect for the intelligence of the public that they think that they can hoodwink every one of us with their continuous rhetoric and deep-rooted tribalistic arguments to cover for the manifest, unapologetic corruption in high places. Not all people are sheeple, but we are not holding our breath waiting for them to wake up and try to change things. It is remarkable how they will continue to vote mindlessly no matter how badly they have been shafted by the party they support.

Meanwhile, the tribes are out with their pitchforks on their favourite battleground which is the social media and they are ready to impale anyone who dares to express a different opinion. They are the latter-day bullies, channelling all their energies into challenging each and every opponent to what has regretfully degenerated into a virtual fistfight. Talk about tribalist agendas!

The political climate in this country has always been so polarised, so divided, so tribal, and it will continue to literally tear families and lifelong friends apart. Pertinent in its timing, the virus of discontent has been reactivated for the umpteenth time within the structures of the Nationalist Party. The contagion has now spread like the proverbial wildfire and it is too far gone to be halted.

It is no secret that the Opposition to the current government is woefully ineffective in its current form. The internal rift between the so-called factions is rendering it powerless to confront the current regime. Every attempt to bridge the wide gulf that separates both sides failed miserably. On top of that, the government enjoys a parliamentary majority large enough to ride roughshod over everyone else’s opinions.

Despite the awful reality, many of its members still live in hope, especially now that several prospective candidates seem to have thrown their hats into the ring and are vying to become the next leader of the opposition. Although there is no turning back, it still remains to be seen whether the party members will be able to make a fresh start under a new broom and work together for reconciliation.

A strong and effective opposition is vital to a healthy democracy. Therefore, the Nationalist Party in opposition should be the essential component of a democratic society that examines the functioning of the government and keeps a proper check on it. Keeping up the fight to fully restore the rule of law, press freedom, and basic human rights may help to salvage our sinking international reputation.

Tribal loyalty may be one of the ways we define who we are and where we come from. It may even be a sign of tribalist thinking advocating strong group loyalty. Some of our politicians who entertain delusions of grandeur thrive on it.  But in the grand scheme of things it is of little consequence. Quite unlike the Moneyval grey listing that still hangs oppressively in the air.

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