This is the title of a well-known song by the legendary Tina Turner. The message is subtle but clear. No one can claim to be a hero if one is devoid of compassion and love. It is only through these core fundamental values that humanity can reach its ultimate fulfilment.
Recently, both Fr David Muscat and my party colleague, Justin Schembri, took their time to air their admiration for two individuals who many, including myself, consider as rabble-rousers. Fr David went out of his way to praise Norman Lowell, a local Nazi sympathiser, for sowing a ‘seed’ while Schembri applauded Matteo Salvini, an extreme right Italian populist, for having the ‘guts’ to put his foot down when dealing with the movement of people, risking many human lives in the process.
Although I have no intention of crossing swords with either Fr David or with my friend, Justin, and reserve nothing personal against them, it is within my democratic entitlement to distance myself from such perilous lines of thought. I do not share their admiration and, surely, neither Lowell nor Salvini will ever make it to my heroes list.
Hopefully, I am not alone.
As a former priest myself, I humbly recommend that Fr David refreshes his theological notes or lends an ear to what Pope Francis says on the thorny issue of refugees. May I kindly remind him that he was ordained a minister of the Gospel to proclaim love and compassion and not to offer support to the ideologies of fear and discrimination. Such ideologies were responsible for so much grief and destruction, as history reveals.
On the other hand, I invite Schembri to go over the Nationalist Party’s L-għeruq tagħna – Our Roots – which, hopefully, is still considered to be the blueprint of our core political ethos. Knowing him as a good honest family man, I am sure Schembri by now realises his futile outburst. If the PN desires to recoup the trust lost, it needs to rediscover and be faithful to its own roots. Following in the footsteps of the Labour Party, which, to obtain power at all costs, sold its soul in the process, will be the fatal blow for the party.
Doing and saying the right thing is not always popular or easy
Notwithstanding my rightful reservations in calling a spade a spade, their rants served to expose a worrying trend. All social indicators underline that xenophobia is home to many, notwithstanding all our Christian zeal and rituals over the years. The latest surveys indicate that this daunting issue is becoming a top concern to many. Maybe this is the reason why particular politicians are sliding to the right side of the politics spectrum.
But are our politicians not supposedly voted in to inspire and lead us to higher grounds rather than to go with the flow? Are we experiencing politics devoid of any sound principles? Are we experiencing not only high incidences of casual sex but also of casual politics?
Racism is based on fear, bigotry, historical cultural prejudices and lack of knowledge of the ‘unknown’. Political spin transforms the ‘unknown’ into scapegoats. People who may have a different skin colour or a different lifestyle/creed can provoke a sense of insecurity. People who are insecure in their own ‘petty world’ feel threatened by those who are different. Diversity can cause social anxiety.
The value of solidarity, which has defined us throughout the centuries, is not based on opinion polls. The value of solidarity and the dignity of every human person are core values of our civilisation. They are the cornerstone of our democratic credentials and the main pillars of our Christian ethos.
On the other hand, mass migration is not our own problem or our sole responsibility. The problems posed by the movement of people are complex without any clear-cut easy populist solutions. The movement of people is a global issue with comprehensive ramifications. It requires nothing less than international commitment from all stakeholders. It requires a non-partisan political approach. While Malta cannot permanently host all those people seeking refuge, it cannot, either, actively refuse to offer humanitarian assistance.
As mayor of one of the main cosmopolitan centres on the island, I acknowledge and share some of the concerns of those who are genuinely preoccupied. But does that mean we throw the baby out with the bath water? The movement of people has its own snags but we must bear in mind that solidarity and the well-being of others ought to be always the departure and arrival point of any discussion/decision. In so doing, we must part with any hysterical racist outbursts and dissociate ourselves from the politics of foot stamping, which leads nowhere except to political wilderness and frustration.
Malta does not need another Salvini or any other rabble-rouser. Malta needs citizens who are not afraid to uphold the values of compassion and love notwithstanding the challenges these might present. Malta needs politicians who truly promote politics of solidarity and are promoters of human dignity for all.
Doing and saying the right thing is not always popular or easy. But, in doing and saying the right things, we become today’s heroes.
Albert Buttigieg is mayor of St Julian’s.