Guest Post: The identity crisis in our stars

You might have probably come across a couple of articles fuelling rumours that there should be an election held in November or December. In no way does this article pursue the merits as to why or when there should be an election. However, there are a few things which must be added from recent observations which should be contemplated further before even considering the course of an election.

Like any common person, sometimes after I check into my computer at work, I pop on the major news portals to see what is going on in the national and international scene. Sometimes I’ll make the biggest eyeroll ever, while other times I am barely surprised by the events before me. However, the more time passes and the more I participate in the real world, the more I realise certain things which are more than meets the eye.

It is no secret that Malta and a good majority of its people indulge in the political culture that we have (whether with pride or with immense discontent). It’s almost as if support for a particular party is sometimes a part and parcel with one’s identity, a label carried around which determines every single path which you will pursue in your life. While I might have my own preferences, I also have a mind of my own. There are many things that we disapprove of with both political parties, however, sometimes, the more you follow both sides, the more you realize how much there is more than meets the eye, not just with regards to the party, but with regards to us, as the followers, too. Now, whether that is in terms of common factors, common differences and room for improvements, I will divulge here:

We all have an identity crisis

Hear me out on this one first. I see progressive, open minded, liberal people who represent individual freedom and topics which are often of malcontent to the Maltese electorate, who are behind or support the Nationalist Party, a proud party who is very much married to its Catholic Principles and who won’t be divorcing them anytime soon (no pun intended). Then on the other hand, you might have people who consider a Labour Party leader, present or past, to be an almost pious form, and yet, have principles which dismiss any form of progressive discourse. 

Before pointing all our fingers to the parties, as the saying goes ‘charity begins at home’, it also starts from us, the people. We should put it upon ourselves to be involved and have no shame in being open to information and the idea that we might take a different standing on some issues. It’s when we start from here that the issues in this contribution might be mitigated to some extent. Where we do not know, we should discuss and read. Where we do not agree, we should listen and respect, not harass and demonise. Where we can do better, we must remember that the criticism we are getting is constructive, rather than obstructive.

Where we do not agree, we should listen and respect, not harass and demonise.

Taking a position that differs from your party can be seen as an act of treason

Throughout history, treason has been seen as the most heinous crime one can commit against the state. This is shocking because, although having a different opinion is necessary in a democratic society, most often, in our culture, a differing opinion is treated as being at par with the crime of treason.

This goes hand in hand with everything else in this contribution.

Let us use abortion. It is no secret that abortion is still very much classified as a ‘taboo’ in this country. This year, when Hon. Marlene Farrugia proposed her Bill in the House, this caused content and dissatisfaction with a lot of people. However, I also viewed it as a test. It was a test to take a position and what stance the major parties would take in view of such a topic.

At the time, the Nationalist Party stayed loyal to its Christian Democratic principles and dismissed advocating for the subject in anyway or considering decriminalisation of the blanket ban on abortion. However instead, set out to propose better sexual health policies which would mitigate the need for an abortion. The Labour Party on the other hand, took an ‘on the fence’ position, stating that such a topic should not be monopolised by the political parties, but rather left in the hands of civil society, in an approach that respects different thoughts, opinions and that is free of stigma. At the same time it reinstated the Prime Minister’s position against legalisation of abortion, however failed to mention decriminalisation in its position.

Too often, people are named and shamed, even harassed, for taking positions which are different to what the party takes in general. The problem in this is serious in that it limits free thinking and suggests a sense of ‘allegiance’. While I can understand that it might be inherently true in practice that no single issue is worth making the team fight between each other, the way things are done at present do not promote free thinking or mature conversation.

When you see an average debate between party politicians on       the national network, a common tactic I see is grilling (as they have every right to) on a subject which might differ from the rest of the parties and even if you barely show that you might not be on the same page, but yet in the same book, it will be used  as a way to show some sort of disbelief and scandal that you might even dare to not share all of the same thoughts as your party and thus, making it to be a petty popularity contest on issues with the simple aim of fear-mongering.

Let us take a foreign example: Jill Ruckelshaus. A prominent speaker on women’s issues, pro-choice and advocate for the U.S Equal Rights Amendment, and yet, very much a Republican. The Republican Party’s position on abortion in the 70s, was moderately conservative, compared to their present position. Yet this did not stop Ruckelshaus from advocating for what she believed in and supporting her party, the party of Lincoln.

We can learn a lot from Ruckelshaus, we can learn that being outspoken about issues that are closer to your heart is never a bad thing or that they make you any less ‘Republican’ than your colleagues. Ruckelshaus spoke up with pride, and no one from her side had an issue about this. We can learn that despite having candidates who have the same ideas, however, differ on a very few other issues, we should not shut them out completely, but we should welcome them with open arms and be willing to learn and teach each other. After all, that is the key to successful relationships, personal and working – by being open and willing to teach and learn from each other.

The two-party system divides rather than unites

I remember children in my primary school preaching their love for ‘Gonzi’ or ‘Sant’, and yet, not having the slightest idea what they were on about. What a way to start them young.

This was once a question in the Systems of Knowledge Intermediate examination, way back then, on the reality of the two-party system and to provide arguments for it or against it. Back then, as a teenager, I did not care much, but I can now realise the significance of the question in reference to our country.

I have pride for my country; however, I also cannot stand the political culture that comes attached to it. One factor, common no matter the party leading the Government at present, is the divide that the two-party system brings along with it. This isn’t a common sentiment, however in a country where political tribalism is very much the norm, one can understand why this observation needs to be brought back to lifetime and time again.

And yet, there is nothing we can do about all this, because it has been so deeply ingrained in some of us, that we know no other way.  We can stay pointing fingers all day, possibly even exploring sociological reasons for this, but from what we see around us, the people I interact with and the experiences I and others have experienced, the stupor we so proudly live in is not one which we should be inherently proud of, if anything, it’s something we should wake up from.

Of course, there are others who cannot care less and treat each other like a human and/or stranger, with your own stories to tell, with so much to offer and your enigmas and surprised, while at the same time, fighting for causes which they believe in, immaterial of political attachments. Maybe, this moral imagination is something we can all learn from.

I think as a concluding remark, not that I need to add anything, is that what most people want is the bare minimum. A country which sees you for what you truly are and that those around you welcome you, not for the colour you were born into or quantify your worth based on your beliefs, but rather, embrace you immaterial of this.

Maybe I should have gone for a different title, Being Open-Minded: An Obituary.

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Frans Camilleri
Frans Camilleri
2 years ago

One cannot be open-minded in Malta. It’s simply a ruse to hide your true beliefs. At least that’s what the highly committed would say. Any views which are not within the mainstream dictated by the two parties are frowned upon. The whole system stinks, and it starts in the early years of education when students are drilled and grilled, rather than encouraged to think for themselves, be creative, and demonstrate independence.