Malta’s socio-economic progress during the last few years has been outstanding. We have experienced a strong economic growth and historical advancements on the civil rights front. On the other hand urban planning, governance, and our road infrastructure did not enjoy the same fate, at least not yet. However, those are not the only areas which did not keep up with the pace, and while they will in the future they will not be the subject of today’s Article.
Two particular issues have highlighted how while liberal values and civil rights have enjoyed a huge leap forward when it comes to legislation, this is not necessarily the same within society. Specifically I am referring to the parliamentary debate about the introduction of same-sex marriage and the “incident” involving a poster depicting a version of the last supper where the Eid meal was substituted for unhealthy fast-food.
The Road Behind
Just six years ago, the Maltese parliament was still reluctantly debating the introduction of divorce legislation after a hard fought referendum saw the Pro-Divorce side emerge victorious by 14,576 votes . What most seem to have forgotten (or not even noticed in the first place) is that the sentiment of the majority in that chamber did not coincide with that of the electorate. After all these were the same politicians sitting still on the co-habitation bill despite having promised it back in 1998.
A lot has changed since then, and Malta has gone from being the last country in the world to have introduced divorce to topping the ILGA-Europe LGBTIQA equality rankings for two years in a row. Following a change in Government in 2013, Malta introduced full-rights civil unions, the most advanced gender identity bill in the world, abolished conversion “therapy”, removed censorship and finally even legalised same-sex marriages.
The Socio-Political Script has Flipped
While in 2011 we had a conservative political establishment holding the country back from civil-rights legislation it was craving for, nowadays we have a political leadership pulling the country forward into uncharted territory perhaps ahead of its time. Personally, I am very happy to see my country at the fore front of civil liberties and (sometimes) leading the way rather than being always a laggard, but I am a Liberal Atheist. I am fully aware that not everyone shares my views and opinions on these matters; and while I firmly believe human rights trump pretensions to interfere in other people’s life based on unproven dogmatic beliefs, it doesn’t mean the opinions and feelings of conservative people should be ignored.
Pre-electoral declarations by the Nationalist Opposition that they would support same-sex marriage might have given the false impression that civil rights issues, LGBTIQA issues in particular, were not a source of controversy anymore. This might be true for the current political establishment, but not necessarily the case amongst the people who elected them. Conservative people did not magically vanish in the last five years, only their political representation seems to have.
The Storm in a Teacup Which Could Have Burned US
Another issue which led to conservative sentiments rearing their heads up was the marketing stunt of a fast food establishment whereby a re-interpretation of the last supper depicted Jesus and his disciples feasting on burgers, pizzas and shakes. A section of the Maltese public did not take kindly to this as they perceived this a disrespectful towards “the Lord” and an insult towards the Catholic faith. The businessmen had every right to put up that kind of advert, on the other hand Catholics were equally entitled not just to be offended but also to voice their anger, and indeed they did – giving the perpetrators of the marketing ploy exactly what they wanted.
However, while Christians had every right to be angry and vent their frustration online; there was a red line which should not have been crossed. Enter the self-proclaimed “Maltese Patriots” to save the day by vandalising the controversial poster and tearing off the image of Jesus Christ. The so-called mainstream media took the bait vehemently denouncing and mocking the uncouth backwater “patriots” threatening freedom of speech, while defending the “poor innocent victims'” right to free speech; giving the latter the free publicity they craved for while making the former look like heroes in the eyes of their supporters.
The commercial poster offered no valuable social commentary or cultural enlightenment whatsoever. It was just a cheap publicity stunt to garner cheap publicity for an overpriced low quality commercial offering. A follow up interview with the owners of the establishment in question surfaced them as the self-centred greedy intellectually-devoid culturally-deficient narcissistic entitled privileged snobs that they are. Yet the so-called mainstream media fell for it hook line and sinker, proving that despite all their fancy rhetoric they are no more discerning than the bigots they ridicule or the commoners they scoff at.