Today marks the second anniversary of the brutal killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. It is difficult even now to express the sense of violation felt by all reasonable men and women after her vicious murder in a cowardly car-bomb attack.
Three hoodlums have been arraigned on suspicion of her murder. That some person or persons unknown felt the particular harm done them by a blogger and journalist should be countered by commissioning her execution in cold blood provides a grisly twist on the human capacity for evil.
Just a fortnight ago the world marked the first anniversary of the death of Jamal Khashoggi of the Washington Post, who had written several articles increasingly critical of the Saudi Arabian royal family. His body has never been found. But recordings of events in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul have revealed that he was suffocated, then dismembered.
Like Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Khashoggi’s ordeal at the hands of his Saudi murderers was horrifying. Their murders highlight the extreme vulnerability of journalists around the world, about 150 of whom were slain in 2017 and 2018.
In her life, Daphne Caruana Galizia stood for criticising fearlessly those who – in her eyes – behaved badly. It would be hypocritical of me to pretend that she and I saw eye to eye, or that I agreed with her class-driven view of Malta. But despite our differences, I admired her ability as an investigative journalist and we were totally at one in our belief in freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
I bow my head with respect in recalling her life. Two years after her death let us all remember her.
But we should also accept that it is time for Malta to move on from the unwitting legacy of division and controversy her death has left behind.
Two years after her death, this division and controversy are decidedly not of her making, but of others’, for reasons not far removed from dirty, self-serving politics.
Who can deny the deep grief of her family, husband and three sons? The latter’s determination to seek retribution against those they hold responsible for their mother’s death is unexceptional, even if misdirected. Their campaign across the world to do justice to her death is understandable.
Through the so-called Daphne Project they have built a compelling narrative of a fearless investigative journalist battling the odds in a country where – they allege – the rule of law is weak, political corruption is high and, in their view, the damning verdict of the magisterial inquiry into her part in misleading the public about Egrant is untrue.
In the end, is it not compromise and consideration for others’ views that have the best chance of getting us through the upheavals?
Despite the obvious flaws in this story-line for those who deduce a far more nuanced version of the facts based on the evidence, this has played well in the international media with awards for brave investigative journalism being heaped on her, while also serving to drag the name of Malta through the mud. They do not accept that Malta’s clientelism, maladministration and corruption started well before 2013.
Although Daphne’s legacy includes her pivotal part in the 2013 and 2017 general elections – which has left the Nationalist Party a broken force – she cannot be held responsible today for what others are doing in her name. Her hideous assassination has galvanised a protest movement in search of any cause which would overturn the landslide results of the last four elections.
The movement comprises a considerable segment of PN supporters with a longstanding sense of entitlement to power and influence who feel alienated from its present leader, Adrian Delia, whom Caruana Galizia had excoriated.
The reality is that while there has undoubtedly been understandable shock and horror and sadness among those who knew her intimately and her admiring readers, her death has also been unashamedly used for nefarious political purposes as a stick with which to beat the PN leadership and the government.
The confected Daphne Project, designed ostensibly to carry on her investigative work so that the stories she was working on were brought to a conclusion, has instead led journalists to conduct criminal investigations into her death for which they were not qualified. The international media has swallowed the story hook, line and sinker.
The post-Caruana Galizia hysteria has exacerbated the tendency to mutual dislike in Maltese politics, not on sober intellectual grounds but on base, tribal grounds alone.
Compromise is seen as a dirty word in the current climate of culture wars between, on the one hand, a disaffected faction of the Nationalist Party and, on the other, the PN leadership and Malta’s government.
To prove your loyalty to Caruana Galizia’s shade you can never modify your views or your opponents will see it as a sign of weakness. Social media, Twitter and television intensify this polarisation.
In this adversarial world, groups are pitched against each other. Tribes hold tight in their echo-chambers. No one mixes with people who have alternative views for fear of being contaminated or confused.
The tribalism that has been fostered, framed by Caruana Galizia’s virulent dislike of Labour or PN dissidents, is a pernicious drug. But, in the end, is it not compromise and consideration for others’ views (agreeing to disagree if necessary) that have the best chance of getting us through the upheavals which Caruana Galizia’s tragic death has left in its wake?
This is not about jettisoning your political beliefs, but being open-minded and accepting that life isn’t black and white.
The maudlin makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia, which we shall see set up this evening at the foot of the Great Siege monument commemorating the fallen Maltese dead 450 years ago, is a harmless piece of political theatre to mark her death – and to irritate more than half this country.
It doesn’t irritate me. But it does cause me to ask the key question. It is two years since her death. Why does this group of educated and self-entitled people persist in laying a makeshift memorial when, if they really believed there should be a permanent monument celebrating Daphne’s life, they would by now have raised the money to build it and identified the spot where it should stand?
If the answer is that no practical efforts to erect a permanent memorial have been made, this show of lighted candles, speeches and flowers is simply a political game, not an expression of genuine heartfelt emotion. And, for that reason, those who perpetrate it are, through their hypocrisy, doing a grave disservice to Caruana Galizia’s memory.
Martin Scicluna is a former adviser to both Nationalist and Labour administrations.
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