Laura Pitel, the Financial Times’ Turkey correspondent, in her March 23 commentary wrote about an initiative organised by Hakan Altinay, of the Istanbul-based Global Civics Academy. This online academy is also a member of the United Nations Academic Impact.

In Istanbul the academy is organising workshops for young people with radically different backgrounds and political beliefs. Conservative Muslims and devout leftists are brought together after committing themselves to listen to each other. It seem that this strategy works as some bridges are built.

Pitel considers this initiative as a way to combat the increasing polarisation in Turkey.  The heading of her commentary was, in fact, “if polarisation is a poison, let conversation be the cure”.

Polarisation is a malady increasingly affecting many countries. Pitel refers to the problem in the US and in European countries. But the disease knowns no boundaries. One can add, for example, Brazil. The Supreme Court’s decision that former President Lula has to serve a prison sentence for corruption was met by many pro and anti-Lula rallies. On the other hand polls show that Lula is in pole position for the presidential elections that will be held later this year.

There are similarities as well as great differences between one country and another. For example Jenny White, an anthropologist teaching at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, says that she finds the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency highly disconcerting as negative similarities with Turkey are on the increase.

Polarisation in Malta is also on the increase. Anger and mistrust between different groups are on the rise. The “us” and “them” mentality is being fomented. The “others” are not just people with a different point of view but are evil people. The “others” are the enemy that must be destroyed. It is more common now to describe political opponents as traitors. The phrase “enemies of the people” has been resurrected together with “tixwix” which should be complemented by an iron fist. Discourse against journalists is becoming more aggressive. Threats fly around.

The social media have become fertile breeding grounds spawning more and more polarisation. It is ironic that these media, whose raison d’etre should be the enhancing of communication, are more and more becoming the prime disruptors of communication. Insults, personal attacks, vulgar language, blatant lying are the order of the day on many social media networks. People parrot the slogans, innuendoes and directives of people in a position of political power who pull the strings while pretending to be whiter than white.

The social media have become fertile breeding grounds spawning more and more polarisation

Many have not only lost the art of conversation but the ability of engaging in decent conservation. People are entombing themselves in silos with those who think and talk alike. Today technology is making this easier. We can entomb ourselves in restricted Facebook or WhatsApp groups in constant contact with those who have ideas similar to ours.

Really and truly, sectarian isolation is one of the dangers of increasing polarisation.

Could AŻAD together with IDEAT jointly organise workshops similar to those being organised in Turkey by Global Civics Academy? Or would it be better if such seminars were organised by the President’s Foundation or civil society?

It would be a mistake if such workshops were touted as a panacea. They are not and will not even be positive if organisers use them to try and paper over the cracks of increasing polarisation. The polarisation demons that assail us have to be clearly named before they are shamed. Their roots have to be identified.

But dialogue and conversations are always better than silence and monologues. Meaningful conversation with those with whom we do not agree is definitively part of the solution. Hurts can be healed and anger tempered. The agora and not the silo is the way forward; the only way forward.

Let the conversation begin as it can be part of the cure.

Positive reduction

Eurostat’s latest statistics about the decline in the number of Maltese living in the risk of poverty is welcome news indeed. In 2016 the figure was down to just over 20 per cent. This is a full four percentage less than 2013.

The decrease is more positive when one considers that the European average is 23.5 per cent. The government is promising that the statistics for 2017 will be even better. One hopes that the government’s target will be reached. The ever increasing rent rates would probably be one of the main stumbling blocks.

Without diminishing the importance of this achievement by the government, it has to be pointed out that the present statistic means that 87,000 Maltese are living at the risk of poverty. The number is still staggering. The fight against poverty should be ongoing till that figure is decimated. The government has a very important role to play. But so does civil society.

Everyone should take a front line position in the fight against poverty.

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