Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Times: Falzon’s medieval jibe?

Sunday, October 28, 2012 by Mark Sammut, Valletta

I think Mark Anthony Falzon’s article, ‘I too have a moustache’ (The Sunday Times, October 14) about the ‘Mellieħa Gay Jibe’ case is misleading.

Clearly, the wording of the sentence – “l-insinwazzjoni li forsi l-imputat seta’ kien ‘gay’, waqt li ma hemm xejn ħażin f’dan, forsi f’moħħ l-imputat u ċ-ċittadini l-oħra tal-lokal, dan m’huwiex wisq aċċettabbli” (“The insinuation that perhaps the accused was gay, while there is nothing wrong with this, perhaps for the accused and the citizens of the locality this is not very acceptable”) – indicates an element of doubt, which works in favour of the accused.

The prosecution admitted provocation; through no fault of his, the accused was adjudged after eight years; his conduct sheet was faultless; he cooperated fully with the police; he was not charged with attempted murder but with grievous bodily harm: in sum, the legal points seem settled.

This Dr Falzon accepts. But then he deems “medieval in tone” the court’s consideration that in contemporary villages, comments on sexual orientation might (forsi) elicit strong reactions because of a sense of having one’s “objectified honour” impugned.

For Dr Falzon, “Mellieħa” is a “land’s end place” rather than the epitome of the “village”. The sentence clearly referred to the village-town dichotomy which is found all over Europe. Perhaps (forsi) townsfolk do not feel provoked if they are called gay, whereas perhaps (forsi) villagers are.

What I find objectionable is not Dr Falzon’s analysis of the sentence, but his claim that “it’s fairly well established that codes of honour and shame tend to be strongest in parts of the world that the State has for one reason or other failed properly to penetrate”. Let me quote from FH Stewart’s Honour (University of Chicago Press, 1994

“There is an [...] obvious deficiency in the anthropological literature. A large part of it, both ethnographic and theoretical, deals with honour among the peoples of southern Europe, even though honour was of great importance in the Germanic world and is the subject of an extensive literature.

“Pitt-Rivers’ descriptive work on honour in an Andalusian village is an early example of [the anthropologists’] method; his approach was adopted later by many others. One of the main drawbacks of this method is that it makes it difficult or even impossible to distinguish between the author’s own ideas and those of his subjects.

“Pitt-Rivers [...] writes that ‘honour [...] is explicitly recognised only in the countries of southern Europe’. But this is simply untrue. Honour is, for instance, explicitly mentioned in article 443 of the Belgian penal code (l’honneur); in article 261 of the Dutch penal code (eer); in title of chapter 5 of the Swedish penal code (Om ärekränkning); in article 267(1) of the Danish penal code (aere); in the title of chapter 23 of the Norwegian penal code (ærekrænkelser), as well as in most of the articles (246-54) that make up the chapter; [...] and in article 177 of the Swiss penal code (l’honneur) [...] And this is by no means a complete list.”

So much for the mantra that we Southern Europeans are “primitive” because our “pre-modern” societies adhere to an “unreformed Christianity” and hold to “amoral familialism”! Much of this smacks of racism.

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