Recently I was watching a film during which the dialogue between two characters ran something like this:
“I don’t believe in God, no one’s ever seen him.”
“Do you doubt gravity?”
“What’s that got to do with the existence of God?”
“No one’s ever seen gravity, yet you don’t doubt its existence.”
“We don’t see gravity but this (he drops a pen) wouldn’t happen if it didn’t exist.”
“The same is with God. It’s his working that speaks for his existence.”
Now here I don’t want to get into arguments about the existence of God, but this short dialogue reminded me about something more mundane that came up during a radio discussion with host Andrew Azzopardi.
The discussion was about Maltese language, during which I made the point that Maltese parents switching to English to speak to their children was a residue of colonialism.
What inspired this article, though, was Andrew’s immediate response: whether in this day and age should we keep bringing up colonialism.
After all, most of today’s parents weren’t even born when Malta got its independence.
This argument is often brandished against the few who still dare to maintain that the colonial chapter in this country hasn’t yet been closed. The assumption is that the effect of colonialism simply washed away with the passing of time. After all, 60 years is almost a lifetime since the British signed us off their disintegrating empire. That, the assumption goes, should have been enough to end the colonial chapter in Maltese history.
The fact that a large segment of the population was born post-independence and barely give a cent’s thought about colonialism should be interpreted as a clear sign that it’s over and done with.
While our forefathers experienced colonialism on their skin, for my generation, and even more so to the younger ones, that’s a story from the past. To us, who grew up in a country run by the Maltese elected from the Maltese, it’s we who are writing our own story, without any ‘foreign interference’.
In my last article two weeks ago, I wrote about ‘forgetfulness’; well, there it is again – forgetfulness. The strange notion that it’s enough to forget about things to make them go away. Perhaps we should adopt ‘forgetfulness’ as our national sport, it’s one we pretty much excel in.
To be fair, it’s easy to forget about colonialism and its lingering effects when no one talks about it anymore. Even more so when the very few who dare to are met with indifference, even ridicule, as if they were talking about alien architecture at Mnajdra temples (ah, sorry, since becoming a hit on Netflix that has suddenly become a cool proposition and, therefore, self-evidently true!).
This silence, or forgetfulness, is yet another sign that we are still an intellectually backward country, regardless of the supposedly ‘globalising effect’ of technology and media. Otherwise, if we just paid attention to what’s happening around the world, it should be enough to act as a wake-up call and recognise that never more than today are global communities engaged against the residue of colonialism.
The Australians, for example, seem to be more adamant than ever to break from their ties with the British crown. A year ago, a trip by Prince William and consort in Jamaica created what The Guardian called “a perfect storm”.
We are still an intellectually backward country, regardless of the supposedly ‘globalising’ effect’ of technology and media- Aleks Farrugia
In Ukraine, since the beginning of the war, there has been a constant engagement on an international level to create awareness of the repressive nature of Russian colonialism even through its cultural exports that we love and consume. And the list goes on and on.
Like the character from the dialogue quoted above, we base our judgement on what we ‘see’ and ignore, or forget, that which might not be immediately evident but is there nevertheless. We forget how minds are forged. We forget the unconscious influences that leap from one generation to the other. We enter into social and institutional relations the structures of which have been shaped by the past.
To us they feel natural, because we grew up with them. They shaped the way we see, understand and make sense of our reality. However, just because they seem so natural to us, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t constructs. And as such, they are never neutral or as natural as they seem at first glance.
The remnants of colonialism won’t go away without an active engagement with that chapter in our history. In the end, questioning colonialism and the way it is still shaping our reality is questioning who we are as a nation and who we want to be. It is a fundamental question that any nation jealous of its own freedom must ask.
Elsewhere, the first to pose such a question are politicians and intellectuals; from ex-communist Eastern European countries to ex colonies in Africa and Asia, but also in countries that were themselves colonisers, the state, together with universities, research institutes and private organisations, have set up commissions, agencies and monuments of memory to drive the agenda of decolonisation.
Once, I made an appeal for something to be set up along the same lines in Malta, but no one was listening. Had Freud been Maltese, he would never have come up with a “talking cure”, despite the gossipers and charlatans that abound in this country.
Lately, Charles Xuereb’s book Decolonising the Maltese Mind: In search of Identity has drawn some attention in the media (which, for a book, is already something in this country).
There is a lot to engage with in Xuereb’s book, a lot of material that can serve as a springboard for further public debate.
My fear, though, is that beyond the handful of articles in newspapers and the odd TV appearance, the idea of even having a national debate was doomed from the start.
The basis for a debate on colonialism is collective memory and memory is remembrance, which happens to be the very opposite of forgetfulness.