We must not give up on those who seem to be on the other side of the fence—after all, I too rallied behind Lowell in the past and I changed since then. And so can others.
Collage by the IotL Magazine
In the mid 2000s, when I was in my early teens—13-14 years old—I got particularly attracted to Norman Lowell and remained a hardcore fan of his until the age of 16. Right now, I almost cannot believe that I supported him with so much zeal. This story is both a confession and a reflection on the way I related to the world back then.
How I Became a Fan of Lowell
Initially, I began listening to him as a joke. There was a website called Malta Fly where he regularly featured in interviews. This website gave him a lot of exposure. Some of the topics he spoke about sounded weird to me at that age. But he certainly intrigued me by speaking about nature and other stuff, which you may not immediately identify as right-wing.
I found him charismatic and entertaining to watch. The way he argued and how he pulled jokes was hilarious and thrilling. As a rebellious teenage boy who was fed up of the church, I found his anti-Church and anti-clerical position captivating.
As a rebellious teenage boy who was fed up of the church, I found his anti-Church and anti-clerical position captivating.
In retrospect, I think I was so thrilled by Lowell because he seemed different. He stood out against the backdrop of the usual PN-PL partisan nonsense—an anti-hero of sorts. I come from a family of Labourites, on the one side, and Nationalists on the other, and all of them are staunchly partisan. So I grew up hearing both sides—with one fuming over how Mintoff fucked Malta up, and the other praising him for saving it. Eventually, both versions had drained me emotionally and begun to look like extensions of each other. Lowell, on the other hand, offered a counter-narrative.
Sure, there was and still is Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) but, unfortunately, they looked quite boring, especially next to Lowell and especially back then. AD just did not sound attractive. It appeared plain, underwhelming and hesitant while Lowell seemed cool. Supporting him was an act of rebellion.
I went to some Imperium Europa meetings. Once, on Victory Day, September 8—at the age of 14 or 15, one of the youngest members of the cult—I attended his speech and met Norman Lowell personally. I was deeply into it: visiting Imperium’s website, reading their forum. A friend of mine also had a thing for Lowell—in fact, our conversations were often about him.
Thinking about the topics that attracted me to Lowell, I recall that migration was not my major concern. I wasn’t particularly bothered by a civilisational threat that migrants supposedly pose to Malta; what disturbed me most was the effect of globalisation. The prospect of all places losing their character and becoming identical frightened me. Lowell touched upon this topic which resonated with me.
I wasn’t particularly bothered by a civilisational threat that migrants supposedly pose to Malta; what disturbed me most was the effect of globalisation.
Now I see matters of identity from a different perspective, but I can understand why people are concerned about it. I also understand that the blame for this state of affairs should not be put on immigrants.
The real threat is not the people who come by boat, but investors dressed in suits, arriving in limousines to VIP networking conferences. Why are the millionaires a threat? Because it is their decisions and their financial power that bring about the destructive changes that reshape the world. Businesses that may appear beneficial to Malta at face value are in reality ruining it: the raising costs of housing, for example, is the outcome of the global elite’s presence—including Malta’s own version of this —and not the migrant workers.
Do not underestimate the danger of the extreme right: they masterfully tap into fears, anxiety and resentment that many people cannot describe. In 2006, when the boats started arriving to our shores, the visual aspect of these arrivals struck me. When you see a boat with hundreds of people onboard, you can get a sense of invasion, if not a threatening feeling.
The media certainly has a role to play here. The footages of boats only exacerbate the existing fear of ‘invasion’. Do we see millionaires arriving in their private jets? Nope. We do not know their names, they are completely out of sight, which is why we are not very bothered by their presence—we do not even think about them in the first place.
How It Changed
Seeing through Norman Lowell’s bullshit didn’t happen overnight. I never woke up in the morning and thought I didn’t like him anymore. It happened gradually.
I admit that I never completely bought into certain arguments. Yes, I might have repeated after him “shoot them at sea!”, but I did it mainly to show off. It felt rebellious to say these things and so I did. However, when I met people of colour face to face, I did not feel any hatred towards them. In fact, after having met a few migrants in person, I realised that my hatred wasn’t towards individuals. I was angry at something bigger which I couldn’t fully grasp.
After having met a few migrants in person, I realised that my hatred wasn’t towards individuals. I was angry at something bigger which I couldn’t fully grasp.
A few years later, when I was a 6th form student at Junior College, I chose a sociology course and that was the beginning of my awakening. Before that, I was trapped by anti-semitic conspiracy theories that blame Jews for all the world’s troubles.
As part of the sociology course, we studied Marxist theory—something both Lowell and I back then considered as an arch enemy. Lowell hated Jews and Marx was a Jew so I too felt almost obliged to hate Marx. Ironically, I found Marxist theory stimulating and even thought it provided a creative reading of the world that I was so angry at.
At Junior College, I became part of a student organisation called Moviment Indipendenti (MI), where I met different people and was exposed to different ideas. Since MI had become another way to move beyond the PN-PL frenzy, the role of Norman Lowell as the only source of dissent in my life also began to lessen.
At the same time, I was working at a restaurant and one of my co-workers was black. At first, I did not want to talk to him, but we had to communicate since we worked together. And after a while I grew into feeling comfortable around the guy. I understood he was a person like me, just of a different skin colour. All in all, it was confusing: I was still listening to Norman Lowell while I had this person, whom I was supposed to hate, in front of me. The guy was not stealing my job—both of us were doing the same shitty job!—he was even helping me.
The disparity between my personal experience, what I had learnt at the college and Lowell’s propaganda challenged me to reconsider where I stood. That was the moment when my admiration for Lowell significantly weakened.
The disparity between my personal experience, what I had learnt at the college and Lowell’s propaganda challenged me to reconsider where I stood.
Later, at the university, my social circle changed—I became acquainted with different people and was reading thought-provoking books. The sociology course and reading helped me to finally identify the root cause of my indignation—free market capitalism otherwise referred to as neoliberalism. Then I met activists from Moviment Graffitti—the former enemy, the people at whom Norman Lowell lashed out a couple of years earlier. Judging by the arson attacks on the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Imperium’s threats were not mere words.
Ultimately, I realized that the world was a much more complex and interesting place than I had made it out to be in my early teen years. Teen age is hard on its own. Puberty, identity crises and seeking acceptance can push you towards embracing extremely violent ideologies because they give you an illusion of strength. But by the age of 19, I had completely severed all ties with Imperium Europa. In a nutshell, I became more ‘open’ and compassionate —that, too, made me a happier person.
On the Failure of the Left
Looking back at my teen years, I realise that what attracted me most in Lowell was a show of strength and audacity. I believe the left no longer succeeds in attracting as many people as it did decades ago because it softened up. All of its past courage is gone—now it just whines. Supporting left-wing ideas no longer feels bold and exciting enough to be a powerful protest against the status quo.
On Censorship and Hate Speech
It may sound controversial, but I disagree with censorship of far-right ideas. More barriers to the freedom of expression make the right even more appealing to some sections of the population. More censorship only proves them right. It makes people like Norman Lowell appear like a true alternative—a threat so powerful that the existing order rushes to silence it. A much better alternative would be to challenge bigotry with creative and inspiring arguments.
On How to Encourage Solidarity
I believe that, at the moment, the left does not have a good strategy on how to challenge the rise of the far-right. Instead of acknowledging people’s fears and debating them, many leftists simply want to bash them into silence and in so doing we are pushing people away even further.
I hold that, in actual terms, apart from hardcore Nazi sympathisers, very few people are racist. White supremacy does not serve the regular Maltese, it only favours the elite—a tiny minority, whose interests Imperium Europa espouses. Working class people have nothing to gain from it. In fact, Lowell openly despises ordinary Maltese—he calls us ġaħan.
Although some people could be chanting racist slogans, they should not be brushed aside without any consideration. After all, some of them could be on the losing end and leftist ideas about class and exploitation may resonate with them. We must not give up on those who seem to be on the other side of the fence—after all, I too rallied behind Lowell in the past and I changed since then. And so can others.
The author cannot reveal his identity for the fear of being identified and targeted by the followers of Imperium Europa.