You’d be hard-pressed to find any one in any country that hasn’t heard about Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated on the 16th of October, 2017 by car bomb.
I didn’t know Daphne Caruana Galizia at first. I knew the myth that had been created by the small community of Malta that I lived in for 23 years.
Daphne had started her career as a reporter a year before I was born, in 1987, and was a regular columnist from 1990 to 1992 when she became an associate editor of The Malta Independent. Perhaps Daphne, who had been an activist against the oppressive Labour government as a student and had witnessed its aggression and thuggery first hand, was prompted to put her voice to print because – unlike the heavy-handed authoritarian Labour regime at the time – she recognised that the pen was mightier than the sword.
Yet while many followed her investigations and rumination religiously, I only occasionally dipped into her Running Commentary blog – which started in 2008 – when I succumbed to the internet. So I didn’t have to go out and buy a newspaper like her earliest and most loyal readers had done, I simply chanced upon a post here and there that had been shared on social media.
I’d also half-avoided her blog, because I’d written off political discourse in Malta (or indeed any discussion really) for what it is : terribly infantile, stunted by tribalism and the twin legacies of colonialism and Mother Church. Programmes on Television that purported to be discussion programmes unfailingly descended into shouting matches, characterised by patronising older men who talked over each other and simply never listened – and much of this mirrors and shapes what talk on the street is like.
Efforts to drag the warring major parties into any semblance of civility therefore always felt futile to me. You cannot reason with the unreasonable, I thought.
So Daphne remained simply an idea- whispered with disdain or admiration, depending on who you were speaking to – until the day I saw her in the flesh walking down Republic Street.
I was aware that those who admired Daphne admired her, but those who hated her were extremely dangerous and threatening. To her detractors – who were almost always devotees of the same authoritarian regime she was so critical of – Daphne was a classist, an elitist, sometimes even a fascist. She was, in their eyes, an enemy of the working class and of Malta, because she took their beloved Labour party to task.
She’d been the recipient of numerous death threats already, had had two of her dogs brutally killed, and had had fires set at her house in an attempt to kill her for what she wrote. Her son Matthew has said in press interviews that death threats were a daily occurrence.
It’s bizarre how you can reduce a person to a name, a brand, a legend, ignoring their humanity, until you’re forced to see them as an actual person.
And so I saw her that day for the first time for who she really was: a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter – equal parts vulnerable and brave (given the threat that lurked in the crowds around her). I wanted to walk up to her and congratulate her, to tell her to keep writing and fuck all the ignorant bastards who wanted to silence her.
Regrettably, I didn’t.
From that point on I took a closer interest in what she had to say and quickly realised that she was more than an opinion writer or blogger. She was an investigator, a journalist – who peppered her revelations with sardonic and sometimes caustic wit that was often lost on her critics (one of the banes of a society that predicates itself on the literal moral teachings of one book is that irony flies right over its head).
What I read were the thoughts of a woman who advocated for civil rights and for women’s rights (including their reproductive rights). A staunch supporter of the gay rights movement, and someone who hated the government stealing from its people. I recognised a woman who believed in social mobility, civic duty and democracy, and a humanitarian who refused to reduce immigrants fleeing dangerous lands to mere numbers or labels.
She was the very opposite of everything her critics had labelled her. But is it any wonder that the very people who could dehumanise homosexuals, women and immigrants found some ill-founded reason to hate her?
Daphne raised a mirror to the insularity and parochialism of the island, and the islanders responded by waving pitchforks.
The most pervasive criticism is still that Daphne was a classist – meaning that she held a prejudice against people belonging to a particular social class, in this case the working class. It has suited the Labour party in Malta to frame her this way, even when there’s absolutely no evidence to prove it. It does a tremendous disservice to everyone who could be called working class to suggest they are aligned with the values of dishonesty, theft, criminality, cronyism, corruption and authoritarianism that define the Labour party – and it is precisely those beliefs that Daphne so vehemently criticised. The Labour party isn’t a class, it’s completely classless.
It was all instigated and perpetuated by the Labour party – that paragon of freedom of speech and democracy. They plastered her image over their billboards, they harassed her family, they attempted to cripple her with libel suits (most of which she won, incidentally) and they sent police round to her house at stupid hours of the night to arrest her.
Even after her assassination – for that is what it was – the Labour party and its minions are still attempting to silence her, by stamping out the flowers and candles that are placed daily at the Great Siege Memorial in Valletta, thwarting the investigation into her murder, and through coordinated social media hate campaigns as reported by The Shift News. The Prime Minister Joseph Muscat himself is still suing the dead journalist.
More needs to be done to show Daphne for who she really was: courageous, honest, principled, and a beacon of democracy murdered by those who feared her incisive voice. There are plenty of civil society groups in Malta who have thankfully taken that responsibility upon themselves – Occupy Justice, il-Kenniesa, Republikka – as well as media outlets like The Shift News. While I warmly welcome the upcoming mini-drama by BBC 4 about the intrepid civil society warrior, I do hope to see more like it.
Daphne was left alone in life, we will not abandon her in death.