Saturday, 28 May 2011

Independent: J'accuse: Thoroughly modern Malta
22.5.11 by Jacques René Zammit

It's official. It's no longer about divorce. Saturday's referendum is about rubber-stamping Malta's new Identity Card. Think of it as a visit to the ID Office the next time the authorities decide to renew most expired cards. Think of Lady Malta in the queue waiting to get her photo taken and digitally added to the spanking new card. She's moved on since the last photo and is eager to look her best when the guy behind the camera tells her to say "cheese" − and we get to decide what she'll be wearing for the next few years: will it be Lady Malta in an ghonnella or will we have a Thoroughly Modern Malta?

"Yes, because if marriage is what I have in mind, love has everything to do with it." Those were the words of Millie in the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie back in 1967 when marriage and values were quite the talk at the dawn of the modern era of the western world. Hollywood could still carry the responsibility of present day pageant with a vocation to educate, and 10 years had passed since Cecil B. De Mille's monumental The Ten Commandments. Since 1967, most countries have come to terms with the idea that divorce legislation is "normal" − almost a fundamental right. At least the right to divorce is recognised by almost all states on the face of the earth bar the Philippines and Vatican City. Yep, you read that right. Malta is not included in the list because foreign divorces are recognised in Malta, as you probably already know.

Say cheese

But if it's not about divorce then what? The drumming up of support by the IVA movement is more than a passing clue. The emphasis is not on the divorce question itself (which is important) but on the emancipation of our society. It is about the recognition of the role of free will in our society. As I wrote (and as Bertu pictured the idea perfectly) last week, we are coming to terms with an important decision that is more about ourselves than about others but that at the very same time will have an impact on every other person.

Lady Malta in an ghonnella represents Malta in the nanny state. She is the Malta of "because they told us so". She implies an option where our life decisions are not based on our free will but on the diktat of "those who know better for us". She is the Garden of Eden with the fenced off apple tree. For people like me it implies a moral failure of an abysmal kind. Every person voting for NO and the lady in an ghonnella is admitting that he or she is incapable of making a mature informed choice when faced with a dilemma − whatever code of values they subscribe to. I don't mean to imply that his choice for NO is immature. I mean that his NO translates into a decision to renounce his free will and hand over his right to self-determination to others: the Church, the conservatives, the busybodies − whatever.

Thoroughly Modern Malta scares many people. They have called it a leap in the dark. It is not a matter of courage or machoism. It is a lifestyle choice. The leap in the dark for them means that they are worried that there is a Playboy magazine on the shelves because they cannot resist taking a peek. They are worried that if divorce is available they will succumb to some irresistible urge to destroy their marriage. They are the people who will not allow a play to be performed because they do not like the content (even if they would not watch it themselves). The fear of the leap in the dark is actually the fear of letting go of mummy's hand and venturing out into the adult world. Thoroughly Modern Malta is about emancipation.

Evil v good

I've decided to vote because I cannot let this opportunity go by. This referendum has transcended our obsolete political party system insofar as content goes. It is a choice for the future of our country. Let's deal with the parties after we've dealt with the referendum. Whichever way it goes will be a clear message to both parties − we'll watch them handle the hot potato afterwards. What worries me is that the new trenches that have been formed (see post "After the Dust Settles (I)" on will lose their momentum once the decision is announced. I am worried that a major cause that is crying out for representation and leadership − the cause for change − will allow the PLPN thread to reabsorb them and mollify their needs.

There is much that needs fixing in our society. News from the courts this week stood out with items about abuse, rape and violence within the Maltese family − absence of divorce notwithstanding. From the animal world we saw the massacre of storks and a dog being buried alive after being shot in the head. The incident between Pastor Manché and the LBGT community highlighted issues of tolerance that we tend to ignore in this day and age. Pardon my sixties corniness but I have to ask: Where is the love?

The Others

Next week's vote is crucial. A column is way too short to enter the fray of the pros and cons of the arguments − there's the blog for that. We can comment on the style of the debate and its outcomes. There is no doubt that the forthcoming vote is about much more than divorce legislation. It is a moment of truth for the country.

It is a decision that goes beyond even the secular v religion. Basically, we are choosing between emancipation and submission. The YES vote means we want emancipation as freethinking individuals who are ready to take responsibility for their future choices. The NO vote means we accept that there are others who know better than us and, more importantly (and in my opinion more damaging), that we know better for others too.

If the NO vote wins the referendum next Saturday will the last person to leave the country please turn off the light.

I don't subscribe to this point of view

It would be such an ignorant thing to do

If the Others love their children too... (Sting. The Russians) will be travelling on the "cheap flights" sponsored by taxpayers (with special thanks to The Sunday Times of Malta editor) and will be voting YES on Saturday... because I love my neighbour as myself.

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