Incorrect view of colonialism

Aleks Farrugia (February 7) is right in holding that colonialism (in Malta or wherever) should be debated. But I am very much afraid that far too many current writers on the subject are trying to do this with the wrong end of the stick in their hands. That end is sometimes incorrectly called “revisionism”, simply because what are used in this process are supposedly “new” or “different” perspectives (or even possibly new data) which, according to them, should bring about a totally new stance to what was in fact simply “history”.

While several US academics often refer to history in terms of their held position that “history is bunk” others will choose to cite George Santayana’s famous “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

And so one goes immediately for the jugular and pointedly asks how correct it is to assert that parents who choose to only speak to their children in English are engaging in some form of effort to sustain the undeniable fact that Malta was once a colony forming part of the then British Empire. Just as much as imported foreign workers will remain linguistically and culturally handicapped if they continue to live and work here without ever making any effort to learn how to speak Maltese, similarly so will be the fate of Maltese children who in their homes are only spoken to in English.

But, hold on, is all of such practice by these Maltese parents part of some “wrong” penchant, or of some conscious practice, of perpetuating colonialism? It certainly was, and will remain, only sheer idiocy that which thinks or argues that in some way telling such people to stop engaging in this (admittedly, in fact, very funny) practice is encouragement or perpetuation of the colonialist mentality. In similar vein, simply because we correctly still have a statue of Queen Victoria in one of Valletta’s main squares this is not to be equated as the country making any case for perpetuation of the colonialist mentality.

Statue of Queen Victoria in Valletta.Statue of Queen Victoria in Valletta.

It is simply having a record (like a page in a book) similar to what we have in so many other places (even Valletta’s bastions represent such historical reality),  a factual recording of yet another reality of Malta’s auspicious history.  With the same sort of yardstick or mentality we may indeed start engaging in the wreckage of so much that is, in fact, the truth about Malta’s history, including our Catholicism.

While it is true that collective memory, properly stored and recorded and analysed, should remain a treasured part of our national identity and reality (see how our national language is evolving in this context, even often blessed by silly officialese) it is, in my humble view, important that we do not go overboard with illusions that “we need to decolonise”.

In his important book Africa since decolonisation (2021, Cambridge University Press), Martin Welz makes the point that the colonial powers (and these were French, Belgian, Dutch, etc. as much as they were British) hoped for more than they could or actually achieve. In similar vein, nationalist movements hoped for more than they could achieve and, indeed, those supporting democratisation often also hope for more than they could achieve.

(Should I, as an observant economist, also hold that those working to improve socioeconomic situations hope for more than can actually be achieved?)

All of this does not mean that visionary people (and, indeed, I include Farrugia and my friend Charles Xuereb as such) do wrong in urging for more debate on our history.

On that yes but, please, let’s simply stop debunking all of the truth revolving around our having been a colony. Even many of our fellow EU member states have stopped doing that (a cursory stroll in Rome’s Villa Borghese will illustrate this point). 

Colonialism, with all of its rights and wrongs, is factual historical truth. What should be strongly resisted, of course, are any attempts to reimpose it. Ask the Ukrainians.

John Consiglio – Birkirkara

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