There is a paradoxical nature to Maltese acceptance of others, that underlies discrimination based on political identity. The outcast is the one who questions the economic homogeneity of Maltese society. The ultimate other is a person who criticises the neoliberal system adopted by consecutive Maltese administrations.
by Francois Zammit
Collage by the IotL Magazine
In Malta, very few people self-identify as extremists in any shape or form. Although Norman Lowell, the Holocaust-denying leader of a Nazi-style Imperium Europa, received a total of 8,335 votes at the European Parliament elections in May, the influence of the two major parties remains unrivaled. Malta has not seen mass white supremacist marches and attendance of rallies organised by Moviment Patrijotti Maltin is rather low.
From an ideological and economic perspective, the major political parties espouse a centrist brand of politics, as do Alternattiva Demokratika and Partit Demokratiku. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that supporters of these political parties would be adherents to moderate and centrist political viewpoints. However, this assumption could not have been more wrong.
It would be logical to assume that supporters of Malta’s major political parties would be adherents to moderate and centrist political viewpoints. However, this assumption could not have been more wrong.
Every time the infamous ‘GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!’ or ‘LEAVE IF YOU DO NOT LIKE IT!’ is fired up at somebody, a shiver should go down every sane person’s spine, because there is nothing remotely moderate about these veiled threats. In fact, such verbal attacks normalise right-wing extremist worldviews that accept only a homogeneous version of reality which treats any form of dissent as a crime.
Followers of international politics will agree that Donald Trump’s rhetoric is brash and belligerent; his repertoire includes incitement to violence, mocking people with disability and sexist discourse against women. The danger of this type of message and language is that it is easily adopted and rehashed by those who maintain these harmful values.
Even more alarming is the fact that the President of the United States gets away with such behavior since this example encourages racists and sexists to follow in his footsteps with confidence. In simple terms, if Donald Trump can say it, so can I. Such logic justifies expressing any kind of racial, sexist or other discriminatory views openly online and in public spaces.
In the atmosphere of hostility and exclusion, the other—anyone deviating from the belief system favoured by right-wing extremists in power—can be targeted and forced into submission, silence or forced to leave the country. The other is not a fixed category. It changes accordingly to political and social realities, but always following the same adverse principle: the other is the one who does not blend in. The one who sticks out. The one who does not comply with the established ‘norm’, whatever qualities may come to exemplify it in various times and societies.
Here, in Malta, the official political discourse is supposedly one of tolerance and acceptance. Changes in the laws have guaranteed equal rights for all genders and sexualities. Minorities, whether ethnic or religious, are also protected by the law, and at times, have been co-opted by the political class. Therefore, with the exception of isolated claims made by Adrian Delia as leader of the PN and views of minor political exponents, the major political parties in Malta have endorsed a language of tolerance. (This is not to say that there are no political fringes vehemently attacking persons deviating from the imagined, traditional Maltese identity. However, these groups and their supporters still seem to be a minority, still making minor inroads in the political arena.)
In Malta, the other is no longer the racially or gendered other, but the person who disagrees with and dares to challenge the allegedly uniform public opinion.
Following this train of thought, it would be logical to conclude that if everyone is tolerated and accepted, claims to leave the country and leave the Maltese in peace should also be isolated voices in the wild; however, this is far from the truth. Increasingly, the call to leave Malta—either to go back to one’s country (whatever that means) or to move to another country, if one is not satisfied with living here—has also been normalised.
There is a paradoxical nature to Maltese acceptance of others, that underlies discrimination based on political identity. The other, is therefore no longer the racially or gendered other, but the person who disagrees with and dares to challenge the allegedly uniform public opinion. The outcast is the one who questions the economic homogeneity of Maltese society.
Any claims that criticise the neoliberal system adopted by consecutive Maltese administrations, are considered as dangerous and a threat to the success of Malta. Anyone who dares to criticise Malta’s economic policies is branded as a traitor and not fit to be part of Maltese society. People, who dare to question the sustainability of the Maltese government’s pro-business approach, are identified as the other. These others are undeserving of Maltese citizenship nor should they benefit from the fruits of Malta’s economic growth. Therefore, the hostile discourse goes, they should pack up and leave.
So what is the Maltese paradox and the neoliberal paradox in general? All identities are tolerated so long as they promote and glorify the values of economic growth at all costs.
So what is the Maltese paradox and the neoliberal paradox in general? All identities are tolerated so long as they promote and glorify the values of economic growth at all costs. In other words, the ultimate other is a person who stands for social justice. Anyone who declares that neoliberal exploitation of people or resources is unethical and unjust risks facing expulsion because national identity is constructed around a nation state’s ability for exponential economic worth. Therefore, groups like environmental and social justice activists are considered as enemies of the public. According to these terms, national identity is superseded by economic identity, perpetuated by both PN and PL.
Supporters and exponents of the major political parties may not be formally extremists, however, their worldview only accepts a premise of a uniform, homogenous identity—one based on neoliberal economic values—and therefore tolerates no dissent. By proxy, groups and individuals opposing these values become undesirables who should seek other spaces to inhabit and thrive.