Keeping vilification law is about power politics

We shouldn’t allow the Nationalists to scaremonger their way into power at the expense of our freedoms.

‘Beware what you wish for’. Or so the trusty old saying goes. And the second that wishful thinking turns into reality, it’s hardly what one really desired. Political ideals are one such example: once materialised, they create the opposite desired results.

Countries that aspire to join the EU hope that becoming part of the common market will eventually create more economic possibilities and, by implication, more opportunities to become wealthier as a nation.

But in this current atmosphere of nationalism and ruthless economic competitiveness, many Europeans are failing to remember that Europe is not only about the market, but it is also about solidarity, freedom and social justice.

To be free is one of the most cherished political values in Europe and this freedom can be experienced in the form of speech, through art or the ballot box to name but a few.

This freedom may offend people, and disappoint others, but you should still be able to bank on the right to enjoy it. Surely, the ideals of the Enlightenment live strong in Europe, and hopefully, right-wing populist governments which curtail the right to speak freely for the sake of “the national security” like Hungary’s, will remain the exception in Europe.

Surprisingly, Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil thinks that the criminal penalties against the vilification of religion should remain in force for the sake of our “national security”. Never mind the new leaf: from Lawrence-Old-Regime-Gonzi to Simon-the-Young-Busuttil… the aspiring Europhile who descended from Belgian paradise to turn a new European and liberal page for the PN now has the party looking ‘eastwards’ towards Hungary.

Once again all the untruths about Bill 113, the removal of the vilification of religion, have been sloganised for the masses, this time around for partisan reasons.

Busuttil is not being truthful when he says that vilification of religion will lead to violence because, in fact, incitement to violence against religious groups is illegal and will remain so. Bill 113 also amends article 165 of the Criminal Code, increasing to a higher degree the penalty for serious crimes against religious communities.

The arguments for criminalising the vilification of religion are completely illogical. Busuttil was quoted as saying that “you may have the right to insult, but not the right to vilify”. Now, a thesaurus might surely disagree with Busuttil’s apparent ambiguity over the definition of terms, but after all, for power-hungry politicians, illogical arguments have often proved to be fine so long as they are populist enough to serve their interests.

The play on words, the scaremongering, the patronisation, the authoritarian value of defending an abstract concept such as religion by law are all traits of this tiring conservative charade – a charade which, candle-like, is gradually getting darker and burning as it nears its end.

After all, this is power discourse in its simplest form and Busuttil’s rhetoric is as vacant as any supposed justification of the limitation of freedom of speech.

Busuttil’s argument is a true example of how a paradigm of power invokes a violent threat to justify its own position.

What he failed to envision when campaigning for Malta’s accession to the European Union was that we would actually adopt or rather strengthen our European values, one such value being freedom of speech.

So allow me to be clear again. No one is proposing religious antagonism, and the absence of a “vilification law” does not produce religious antagonism.

In the European ideal, citizens may be offended with what others say or write about their beliefs, and this right to offend is a given right.

The State should offer equal protection to all different racial and religious communities, but the State should not privilege your beliefs and protect them from satire, caricature or any other form of communication because beliefs such as religious and political beliefs are abstract concepts.

We should be cautious of politicians who want to limit our right to criticise freely established religious beliefs in a subjectively “vilifying” manner with an overriding clause of “national security”.

What Busuttil is saying is that if elected, artists and authors would once again experience censorship trials similar to those held under the previous Gonzi administration.

As it happened, the government had then appointed minister Mario de Marco, the ‘good cop’ in the story, to appoint a commission to report on the reform of censorship laws.

Then a civil servant was brought in to water down that report and have a ‘report of the report’ presented to the public.

We shouldn’t allow the Nationalists to scaremonger their way into power at the expense of our freedoms.

Let’s not forget that those crying foul over the decriminalisation of the vilification of religion aren’t defending religious communities, but instead defending the hegemony of the Church which is reflected in various political, social and organic aspects of our society and this hegemony has always served the interests of the Nationalists and played a big part to consolidate their power.



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