As the old chestnut has it, silence is golden. And while commendable in most cases, in this case I find it condemnable that no one seems to have been talking more about what The Guardian said about Malta in a recent article.
Lately our fish bowl hit the news again. The Guardian had a terribly stupid article about us Maltese needing to be investigated, and expelled by the EU because of all our lapses in modernity (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/aug/05/an-obscene-crackdown-on-maltese-culture). All the usual stuff is mentioned about illiberal us: divorce and abortion or lack of these, censorship and a whole array of stuff which we have lately been doing. Some months ago we hit the world news with all sorts of weird stuff. It was either a phallic, Smurfy (or would the Smurfs be better known in Malta by their Italian name, i Puffi?) blue monument needing to be dressed up for a papal visit, or some moronic judgement about dramatic blasphemy, or one of the myriad stories that only we in Malta can concoct.
That The Guardian talks about us is no great shakes. The Guardian, after all, is a newspaper which tries hard to be arch-liberal-leftie so it does go round the world vacuuming anything that might sound slightly anti-liberal. So they picked on us tiny Malta. And we either disregarded the article or like little goldfishes in our bowl pouted away and stamped our little fins and screamed that we were offended. How dare they look at us cute little things and insult us?
Do we really live in a goldfish bowl? I do think we Maltese are like little fishes in a bowl. We, like most fatted goldfish in their bowls, live a great life, we communicate grandly with all the rest of the fishes in the bowl, we are well fed, we keep the bowl relatively clean and we see the world from our bowl perspective. And we also think we communicate quite strongly with all the people out of the bowl. We might know we are small in size but we feel we are so cute that we think without us the world might stop breathing. Or some such horrid thing could happen to the EU or the world if deprived of us.
And when anyone says anything which we think is a bit critical of us we hit the ceiling. Not sure if gold fish hit any ceilings or, for that matter, if bowls have any ceilings. But we get ever so cross whenever anyone says anything untoward about us and Malta in general. Or else we disregard whatever is said in an act of defiance that smacks of someone who doesn’t think we should or could be criticised, even if we know they are right or that there might be a smidgeon of truth in what they say.
When those horrid foreigners were talking about us indiscriminately killing all the birds that flew above us we ended up getting annoyed. Even the best bird-lover got slightly miffed that Malta was boycotted by a few foreigners as a holiday destination because they thought we were callous in our destruction of all birds including the goldfinch. See even here we are faced with more golden stuff.
From our bowl we accused all foreigners of their own type of barbarity: abortion, bullfights, divorce and fox hunting were all bandied about and thrown at our detractors. Haven’t we, in fact, always been incredibly critical of adultery, abortion and, lord save us from such depravity, divorce? Haven’t we always said that countries that allow these terrible things are heathen and not civilized like ours? So if we are allowed to criticise and damn, can’t they?
Now I too am very Maltese and I admit to living in my own bowl of bigotry. I also admit I get incredibly offended when visitors laugh at the state of our misshapen streetscape or the state of our driving or the complete lack of such oddities as road-signs and road-markings. But don’t we need to learn how to accept such criticism? After all we did have a police contingent descending on a hapless shop-owner who thought it would be quite savvy to have undraped, anatomically correct dummies in his shop window. Some thought this incident was funny, some thought the police action was even more effective marketing. But worryingly some seriously thought that these nude mannequins could deprave us innocent dwellers of Malta (or is that the fishbowl?). Could anyone really defend such police actions or not expect the foreign press, which sorely needs copy to fill space, to talk about these antics of ours? Just as the shopkeeper’s nudes were unreal, this incident made our life on the island sound like an unreal, surrealistic dream with touches of Alice’s Wonderland.
While it is all good and proper and arch-catholic to defend the sanctity of marriage according to our Papal viewpoint, we should let the other goldfish get on with their heathen ways of getting divorced and getting married again if that is what they want. I presume no one will force all Catholic goldfish couples to divorce. Some of those goldfish living in Malta still want to do what, to some of us, might be reprehensible. With abortion we do claim the moral right of saying another creature is suffering but with divorce it is the consensual decision of two people; their children are not going to suffer anything more earth-shattering than what a normal legal separation would have wrought in their lives. After all, to defend children born in wedlock no one has called for the immediate revocation of all virtual or legal separations.
So let’s not kick the bowl and break it, but let’s live a life where we can let others breathe in their own way, even if to some of us such living seems heathen or diabolical. Now isn’t that a golden rule?
This article first appeared in The Independent on Sunday on August 15 2010