Thursday, 22 November 2012

Mammoth Lies and Pleistocene Porkers

It's said that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will eventually  take it as the truth - and true to form, the ultra-conservatives are out in force trying to prove it true today, the day after Tonio Borg managed to scrape through to his post as European Commissioner responsible for health and consumer rights. They are trying to convince people through repetition that the objections to his nomination were due to his religious beliefs, that these objections went against the EU's spirit of diversity, and that his eventual acceptance was a victory of common sense over partisanship and intolerance.
In fact, these statements seem to be trying to prove not only the aphorism above, but also the saying that some lies are so farfetched that some people might believe them, thinking nobody could possibly make something like this up.
The fact is that none of the objections to Tonio Borg were based on his religion - in fact, both of his predecessors were also Catholic, and this did not pose a problem. However, unlike them, Tonio Borg has a list of political actions in which he used his position to impose his extreme views on others. Things like his attempts to prevent same-sex couples inheriting property, his vote against divorce after the population had voted in favour in a referendum, and his participation in a campaign to entrench the anti-abortion laws in the constitution - laws which, in Malta, do not permit abortion even if the woman will die without one. Certainly these are issues that are influenced by Tonio Borg's religious beliefs, but the objections were not against his beliefs, but his willingness to use his position to impose them on everyone else.
Tonio Borg managed to get his post by reassuring the European Parliament that his behaviour henceforth would be different, or - to use his own choice of word - he has evolved, in reference to his past opposition to equal rights for gay people. That's a good sign of course - though obviously he will be watched very closely for any signs that he's going back on his reassurances. The moment he does, the commission could be heading for a major clash with the parliament - and could even result in the commissioner being forced to resign - for the second time in a row.
It is also worth looking at how Tonio Borg managed to win approval. Far from being a victory of common sense over partisanship, it was the other way round. The EPP, of which Tonio Borg's party forms part, voted en masse to approve someone from their own team, while the socialists allowed a free vote - so in fact it was a victory of petty partisanship over common sense. Common sense would have been to select someone who is not so extremist, and who would have passed muster with no controversy or doubts, which we have proven perfectly capable of doing with our past candidates. In the end, partisan politics won out.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Joe Borg's essence of vileness

Poison Bottle
In his weekly column on The Sunday Times, Joe Borg, a priest, put up one of the vilest piles of lies that I have seen in a while, reminiscent of the kind of writings the Nazis used to publish about Jews.

The subject of this invective is Tonio Borg, Malta's nominee to fill the post of John Dalli as EU commissioner responsible for health and civil rights. His nomination was greeted with surprise and dismay by most Europeans - the man is one of the least competent to take on the job. Since the commission he'd be responsible for includes responsibility for the rights of gay people, racial minorities, women and so on, why would the Maltese government put forward someone who is openly homophobic, who has tried to entrench Malta's anti-abortion laws into the constitution and whose decision to repatriate immigrants when there was clear evidence they were going to be tortured on arrival made international headlines? To me the answer is simple: The party wants to pave the way for Simon Busuttil to take over as second-in-command (so he'll be in place to take over from Gonzi should the party suffer a humiliating defeat) so Tonio Borg must go - and this is his farewell gift. However that is speculation on my part and not what this discussion is about.

According to Joe Borg, the only thing standing between Tonio Borg and his seat in the commission is an "anti-Christian secularist lobby". That this is a lie is made obvious by the fact that both of Tonio Borg's predecessors were Christians and neither of them raised these kinds of objections. In the case of ex-commissioner Joe Borg (a different person), it was because he was in charge of agriculture and fisheries - so no concerns about civil rights there - and in the case of John Dalli because whatever his personal religious beliefs, he demonstrated that he was quite capable of keeping apart his duty and his faith. Tonio Borg is different. He has a badly tarnished record of using his position to impose his beliefs on everyone else. If any sense of fairness prevails, he will be thanked for his application and sent back with a "next candidate please". Joe Borg (the priest again) lies about the reason for the objections - he says that the objectors are against him "because he espouses Christian values". That is only true if homophobia, sexism, racism and breaching basic human rights are "Christian values". Joe Borg digs deeper into his innate hate and vileness to compare secularists to suicide bombers as well as the far right racists. He forgot to mention that we're also responsible for storms and epidemics, sold our soul to the devil and eat babies for breakfast.

He then goes on to say how Christians (who make up BY FAR the biggest religious group) are poor persecuted people - in the west, and especially in Europe! I kid you not. Actually he was repeating the pope's brainfart there. He claims that secularists (whom he calls anti-Christians) "discriminate against Christians in public roles by requiring them to act against their conscience". Maybe he should ask the clergy in Pakistan, who are constantly lobbying for the country to be made more secular. I don't blame them - they get discriminated against, so they want more secularism - they know that secularism guarantees freedom of religion and a level playing field. But in Malta and Europe, where they are a majority and frequently enjoy a privileged position for historical reasons - where THEY are the discriminators - they think that being prevented from perpetuating their traditional discrimination is in itself a discrimination against them. He thinks that Christians have a right to harm gay people, or suppress women, or discriminate against religious minorities and if they're not allowed to do this, they're the victims. The truth is that if you occupy a public office which gives you certain authorities, you may not abuse your position to push your personal ideologies. If you are a marriage registrar, your job requires you to check the papers and rubber stamp the certificate. If you're a racist you are not permitted to refuse to marry someone whose race you don't like. Similarly if the law of the land says that gays can marry, if you're homophobic you are not permitted to deny marriage to a same-sex couple simply because you personally don't believe it should be done - even if you can pull verses from your preferred book of religious scripture to support your point. If you want the job of commissioner responsible, among other things, for gay rights, and if you've publicly expressed - in parliament - the view that same-sex couples should not have the same inheritance rights where property is concerned - among other things - then yes, you should expect some very pointed questions in that area and if you don't live up to expectations you should not get the job.

So it all now depends on whether Tonio Borg can convince the EU that he was joking in the past when he resisted allowing same-sex couples access to housing, when he tried everything to prevent women from having access to abortion, when he sent escaping migrants back to the torturers. If he can convince them that he is now pro-equal rights vis a vis women, gays, people with a darker skin than his own etc., then maybe he'll get the job. Of course he might disappoint Joe Borg if he sets aside the "Christian Values" of homophobia and so on, but then it's not a Maltese election he'll be contesting next.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Not Voting?

I'm seeing lots of people recently declaring that they're not going to vote - and this is of course, their right. However many of them think that this "sends a message".

It doesn't.

The only people politicians listen to are voters, or future voters - but not non-voters. You won't get politicians going door to door in hotels full of tourists, or schools. If you tell them "I'm not going to vote" they'll move on to the next person because, as far as politicians are concerned, non-voters are non-entities.

Not voting means that you're willing to let others choose for you. You may be as disillusioned as hell with our current batch of politicians, and I don't blame you. Ultimately however, we are going to have a parliament and a government and it is going to be formed from those candidates whether you make a choice between them or not. Even if only 0.1% of the Maltese electorate turn out to vote, there will still be a parliament and a government.

So, if there are any issues that you care about, find out about where politicians stand on those issues, and vote for those politicians that are closest to your own position. Don't expect to find many politicians that match your own likes and dislikes perfectly. Elections are not about finding someone who's perfect but finding the best choice out of what's available. Individual candidates can make a big difference - as shown by recent events. And if they do come knocking on your door, make sure that they know which issues you care about, and that this is going to affect your vote. Having a parliament that has lots of MPs that agree with your most important issues increases the likelihood of getting a parliament and government that disappoints you less next time round.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Violence, Marriage Breakups and a decline in morality

This is a response to Lino Spiteri's article on The Times yesterday.

Why is violence on the rise? A few days ago we had a group of people caught beating up a man while surrounded by reporters, cameras and so on. They got a paltry €60 fine. A couple of days ago a man was charged with cutting open a man's face from forehead to lips - he got just over €100. Yesterday, two men chased down a man for "
flirting" with a woman who was their relative. The police arrested and charged the victim because, during the chase, he ran over and damaged a car. No mention was made of actions taken against the aggressors. This leniency for violent crimes clashes with the draconian sentences meted out to anyone caught growing cannabis - an activity that causes nobody any harm. Examples like this serve to erode the public's confidence in the courts, which in turn may lead to the more hot-headed of them to not bother with the courts to seek redress over clashes with other people, and take matters into their own hands.

As far as marriage breakups are concerned, I know of no simple answer. This of course is happening everywhere in the world. It could be a result of a more hectic lifestyle which leaves less time for one another, or a culture where the couple are more concerned with getting than with giving, or increasing financial and other stresses. Another reason of course is that there no longer is the same kind of social stigma associated with marriage breakups - especially if there aren't children involved. Of course this only means that, in the past, many couples continued living under one roof long after their marriage was ended, merely for the sake of appearances.

I certainly agree that the police should be equipped with "non-lethal weapons" to give them a middle-ground between a stern voice and a deadly weapon. However we should be careful that, first of all, most "non-lethal weapons" are in fact "less likely to be lethal weapons". Many such weapons can and do kill - so we must look beyond the manufacturers' brochures. Secondly, we must ensure that our police do not abuse of them simply because they are non-lethal. In recent times we've seen photos from abroad of police officers using pepper-spray in the faces of protesters who were seated and posing no danger to anyone.

As for the concept of God, people are simply realising that there is no link between morality and gods or church. Cases like last year's divorce referendum and the current debate on IVF have opened people's eyes to the fact that the church's morality is highly flawed - and that their own sense of ethics is superior to the church's, which remains mired in dogmatic rules based on a book of stories from the iron age. Of course it's irrelevant today. It's been irrelevant for centuries. Morality, on the other hand, is not. It's only the source of that morality that has changed.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Litany of Hate

Sometimes it seems that, when things are too quiet around here, the Gozitan bishop Mario Grech decides to stir things up a little.

Last weekend he decided to take a swipe at the family. Not just any family of course - the one consisting of one man married to one woman, with children is perfectly ok. In fact it's the only one that is a family at all according to Grech. No other relationship is a family. If the couple are unmarried, they and their children do not form a family. They're just a group of people who live in the same house - a household. Same with all single parents, all widows and widowers, all same-sex couples (with or without children), all couples who were previously married. In fact, since a critical feature of all families is "procreation" between the man and woman, and since Mary supposedly remained a virgin all her life, I suppose the "Holy Family" must now be renamed to the Holy Household, because they do not meet the bishop's qualifications for a family.

Keep in mind that this is a pastoral letter, which - if my memory serves me correctly - is read out during mass at all churches that fall under his clutches. Imagine a child hearing this declaration from the bishop that he/she and his/her parents are not a real family because mummy and daddy are not married, or a single mother who performs almost superhuman feats to feed and clothe and care for her children getting this verbal slap on the face as she is told that hers is not a family. They're just people who happen to share the same address.

However this is not merely quibbling about the definition of the word "family". Grech also insists that the state should not give equal legal/civil rights to any type of "household" that does not match his personal definition. He describes as blind those political, economical and media institutions that give equal recognition to these other "households".

Is it possible that the bishop does not have someone to go over these letters before he sends them out from his reliquary? Oh wait he does - the letter was jointly written with the chancellor, one Salv Debrincat. Nicely done chancellor.

This attempt to redefine the family to this supposedly ideal mold is an attack on every other family - and these are not a few. It is hurtful, it is wrong, and I'm sure the bishop and chancellor know this perfectly well.

In fact many may have noticed that this was not the only attack on the family carried in the same Sunday paper. On the same paper we've got other attacks from two other priests, Paul Chetcuti and Joe Borg. All are out with guns blazing, attacking the idea that a family can consist of anything other than one man and one woman with children. Coincidence? I think not. I think they are either setting the stage to undermine the cohabitation law that the government promised to table soon, or are trying to turn society against same-sex couples in order to reduce the chances of gay marriage or civil unions being introduced to Malta. In either case, this is a case of attacking and hurting and harming people - and to what avail? Will married heterosexual couples with children be happier knowing that elsewhere, a childless couple will be denied state recognition as a family? Will their marriage be stronger in the knowledge that two women or two men will never be granted the same legal and civil rights as they are? No. So why these diatribes? Could it be that the only thing they are protecting is the church's collective ego? Let these people suffer as long as the church doesn't have to admit to a mistake until it's unavoidable. Maybe after 350 years, like Galileo.

Our constitution says that the church has the duty to teach what is right and what is wrong. This pastoral letter shows that the church is either incapable or unwilling to perform this duty. Somewhere along the way, the church has lost track of what is right and what is wrong - if they ever knew - and the time has come to get rid of this article from our constitution and establish a proper wall of separation between church and state.