The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Playing to the gallery

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 24 October 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

... is relatively easy. The Government is accusing the Opposition of promising everything to everybody. This because Opposition Leader Bernard Grech unfolded an excellent all-inclusive vision for an alternative government. Because it's all-inclusive, the Government reacted by saying "everything to everybody". But this game is easy. Had Dr Grech been less inclusive, the Government would have counterattacked by saying that the Opposition lacked vision or similar nonsense.


All said and done, the Government's is just hot air. And, frankly, it's getting tiresome. Is this what democracy is all about? Is it about us-and-them rhetoric and fomenting tribalism? Playing the pseudo-avuncular persona he has embraced upon assuming the highest office in the country, the President - who sometimes reminds me of Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show - preaches about national unity. But the Government plays this silly game of "we are better than them", providing the people with a lot of circus and bread, tribal fanaticism, and no plausible long-term strategy for the debts piling up on future generations while GDP has begun to drop. Is this what universal suffrage had to deliver? This lowest-common-denominator, soap-opera style of politics?

So GDP drops, grey-listing is a real problem, the country's reputation has gone to the dogs and here we are listening to the people's representatives on the Government benches telling us that their side is better than the other. Because, you know, if in the future - close or distant - your belly starts aching as you find it difficult to put food in it (note for the IQ-challenged: this is called hyperbole, it's a literary device) tribalism will feed you.

Let's stop this nonsense and start addressing the real problems facing the country.


Cannabis: the intention is not to increase cannabis consumption

In one thing Labour is surely way way better than the Nationalists and that's grandiose posturing. It is an integral part of the party's corporate identity; the idea that the leader is the Anointed One who therefore has to lead an extraordinary organisation. I think this Messianism was not created by Mintoff but he certainly crystallised it, thanks to his undeniable charisma and an acute understanding of international relations. Alfred Sant - who disliked this Messianism - once (I think during the 1998 crisis) called Mintoff a "Bonapartist". Because of his dislike of Messianism, Dr Sant wasn't idolised by Labourites and was, as a necessary consequence, a leader always on the verge of not mustering enough support. Joseph Muscat understood this and not only milked but also force-fed the cow of Messianism.

The Messianic trait is still alive in Labour, and is manifested in its grandiloquence. Listen to Robert Abela's boasting and Clyde Caruana's bragging and it's as if both gentlemen think of themselves as Messiahs.

(As an aside, I predict that Mr Caruana's high IQ and Dr Abela's reaction to it, will be the reason for serious tensions in the not-too-distant future.)

But let's not digress. When you subject it to scrutiny, the boasting turns out to be nothing more than a vol-au-vent, a shell completely empty on the inside.

They keep harping on how good they are, how great their administration is, how lucky the Maltese are to have Labour in power, and then not only is the GDP shrinking (i.e., the economy has begun a downward trend) but our country lacks - and the Government seems unaware of the need to remedy the lack - a geological authority and a forestry authority.

Two newspaper items stuck me recently. Geologist Peter Gatt - the one who, it would seem, is being harassed by the Government through one of its agencies - has been insistingly repeating that the country needs updated geological studies and a Geological Authority. His latest call for this state entity - that every normal county has - came in the wake of the planned Malta-Gozo tunnel. Dr Gatt is arguing - convincingly, it seems - that the county cannot seriously be planning a tunnel dug in the bedrock of the Gozo channel when it doesn't have a proper picture of the rock structure down there. I think he is right.

Then a biologist wrote an insightful piece on afforestation projects drawing the attention of both public and authorities to the perils inherent in radically changing habitats by planting thousands of trees. Now, I'm no expert, but I am intrigued by the observations made by this scientist and as a citizen expect the Government to take these things seriously.

I heard no reaction from the Government to this biologist's reasonable arguments. Because, it seems, grandiloquence, posing, and point-scoring are more important than doing what the country really needs.


Bonnici & Borg

Ministers Owen Bonnici and Ian Borg are similar in one important aspect. I mean, they are dissimilar in their approach to the Muscat years: Dr Bonnici was a gullible supporter of the disgraced Prime Minister, blindly believing and repeating all the hogwash Muscat bare-handedly threw at the electorate. Dr Borg, on the other hand, was more astute and circumspect. If intelligence were an earthquake, Dr Borg would cause more wreckage than Dr Bonnici. Since politics depends only in part on intelligence, it's difficult to say who cause more damage in real terms.

I mean, consider their approach to law-making - and in this they are very similar. Dr Bonnici is promoting the Cannabis Madness Law and Dr Borg the No to Private Car Use strategy. Both base their approach on what they wish to achieve. Look up their public statements. These ministers who formed part of the Muscat cabinet, a cabinet self-defined by a hands-on approach, tackle their missions from an angle based on intentions. They constantly refer to the goals they wish to achieve - as if the expression that the path to hell is paved with good intentions didn't exist.

Dr Bonnici - who should have been baptised Eugenio - said  that the intention behind his law is not to encourage cannabis consumption. Well one certainly hopes not! But intention is not the scientific way to approach law-making. It would be better if he were to quote scientific studies showing that lenient cannabis laws don't encourage more consumption. Otherwise, he's just a waste of political space, and Labourites would do better to elect somebody else in this place.

Dr Borg, though clearly more intelligent, said that the intention behind the metro project is to discourage the use of private cars. I haven't heard him quoting any study that analyses the psychology behind driving a car and taking the public transport. Such studies exist and most, if not all, of them constantly show that the car is always preferred to public transport. Some of these studies are related to the underground system in New York and the impact of automobile marketing on the demand for the underground.

The country needs scientific bases for government decisions, not populist initiatives that turn out to be white elephants (but also means to line pockets in some cases).


Mark Camilleri

Mark Camilleri's new book has "Gonzo journalism" written on its back cover. And he said he expects arrests to be made on the basis of his book. Delusional.


I See Life

I must congratulate this youth group for their project 'Grant a Wish', aimed to aid children in need by donating their Christmas gift. By "children in need", the group means children from various institutes including families residing in shelters or utilising the support services of 'Dar Tgħanniqa T'Omm' and 'LifeLine'. I think the initiative deserves all the support possible. I See Life can be contacted on [email protected].



Similarly, I must congratulate psychiatrist Mark Xuereb for his initiative Kriżi, a suicide prevention application designed for persons facing crises offering access to free therapy.


My Personal Video Library 

I had watched this movie as a kid - a pirated VHS somebody had lent my father, but one's childhood memories are often nebulous. Recently, I watched a video on YouTube asking why there was no Italian Nuremberg after the war; they mentioned the "Pacification of Libya" operation, that spanned from 1923 to 1932, and I suddenly remembered that movie from my childhood, Omar Mukhtar: The Lion of the Desert.

This 1981 movie was controversial in its day, in the US because it had been co-funded by the anti-west Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and in Italy because in their view it cast their army in a bad light. As a matter of fact, the movie was still banned in Italy as recently as 2009.

Omar Mukhtar is the story of the final months in the life of Libyan resistance fighter Omar Mukhtar, a leader of the Senussi tribe that had been waging guerrilla warfare against the Italian occupiers for some twenty years. The Italians tried all possible strategies to subdue the resistance - including the use of poisonous gas, concentration camps, summary executions - but the Libyans were stubborn. On one occasion, the Italians captured Omar Mukhtar, subject him to a trial in a kangaroo Court, and hang him the next morning. His legacy: "I will die but those who will come after me will continue the fight." (Possibly this line convinced Qaddafi to foot the bill for the movie...and in a sense he was right, as ultimately the late Libyan Dictator, who was shot dead on October 20 of 10 years ago, managed to convince Italy to pay Libya €5 billion as compensation for colonial abuses.

I disagree with the Italian coldness towards this movie. They have to admit that the Fascist governors of Libya were psychopaths who saw the  subjugation of the Libyans as a sure way to career promotion. But the movie shows there were Italians of conscience, like the colonel (played by Raf Vallone) who was sincere in his reproaches at the non-observance of international conventions and in his attempts at rapprochement, the lieutenant who told his superiors he hadn't signed up for butchery and was then shot in the back by one of them, and the Captain who, defending Mukhtar during the trial, drew the ire of his superiors by actually doing his job conscientiously and offering a legally compelling argument why the Court had no competence to try a prisoner of war as a rebel.

The movie treats the Italians like all movies treat the Italians: they are, essentially, good people, with only a minority being villains. The trope of the Italian as a kind-hearted, simpatico mammone is too strong to eleminate. Needless to say, there are stronzi among them, and because of the stereotype, you are shocked to the core when you meet one or more exemplars.

Be that as it may, the movie is shot as if it were a Western . You could replace the Libyans with Injuns and the Italians with cowboys, and the gas with Winchesters and Colts and it would look equally fine. I think this is no coincidence, as the director - the Syrian Moustapha Akkad - trained with the legendary Sam Peckinpah; you can see the influence in every shot. It's a movie replete with battle scenes, the script is intelligent, and the moral difficult to disagree with. 

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