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.