While I’m generally averse to trying to reduce everything to simple truisms and absolutes, I’m far more wary of anyone trying to escape inescapable fact.
One such inescapable fact is that at the core of everything that has happened over the past seven years – Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Joseph Muscat’s takeover of every institution in the country, the rampant corruption, the attacks on press freedom, on freedom of speech, the marriage of organised crime with government – is a battle of values.
It’s about what kind of community we want to live in. It’s about who the Maltese are, and what they stand for. Are we for true democracy or against it? Are we for helping the vulnerable in society or squashing them? Are we for transparency and honesty and equal opportunities and rule of law, or do we find those notions unpalatable?
This is self-evident to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the UN, and indeed everyone else.
But confronting your demons, putting yourself through therapy, admitting you have a problem and taking on the 12 steps of recovery is frightening and difficult. You cannot embark on any of that before you recognise you have a problem and need help. It’s humbling and sometimes humiliating.
So in Malta many try to drown this reality, reframe it, obscure it.
Here are the main arguments used to avoid addressing this fundamental question, employed by trolls, the government, and certain media wings. They often overlap, and usually it’s a combination of all of them. Know that when you’re talking to someone employing these arguments you’re not dealing with an intellectually honest opponent.
WHATABOUTERY/ TU QUOQUE
- Partisan whataboutery
You’re all familiar with this one. Assume your opponent is a member of the opposition and deflect criticism by referring to the other party’s failings. “The PN was corrupt, therefore you’re in no position to comment”.
- National whataboutery
“You get corruption in other countries too” or “this sort of thing also happens in other countries all the time” – to which the only logical response is: so what?
- Tu Quoque
A logical extension of the Biblical “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or the Maltese “Kulhadd ghandu xi jxomm taht ghabtu” , an appeal to hypocrisy, calling your opponent a hypocrite, which is generally a precursor to …
The dredging up of matters wholly unrelated to the discussion at hand. Person A criticises Joseph Muscat for sheltering criminals, Person B responds by saying “well you once put your garbage out on the wrong day of the week”.
We saw this employed by the Maltese government in response to Pieter Omzigt’s report on failings in the Maltese system.
Turning your opponent into a character, animal, object or parody. We all recognise this from the way the Labour party, MaltaToday editor Saviour Balzan and Adrian Delia dehumanised Daphne, turning her into a “witch” and “bicca blogger”.
Simply inventing stories about your opponent or casting aspersions on them. Saviour Balzan did this with Daphne when he claimed she “attacked children” and “persons with cancer”. Josef Caruana did this by suggesting Matthew Caruana Galizia was complicit in his mother’s murder. Balzan did it again when he suggested Ivan Camilleri stole from a supermarket. Some have tried to do it to me by suggesting I used to be a drug dealer. Balzan (again) did it when he created the fake cocaine story on David Casa. Rosianne Cutajar did it to Ana Gomes by sharing a patently fake news portal report.
VICTIMHOOD and RABBLE ROUSING
This is when your opponent tries to assume the position of a victim and enjoin others to his/her cause. Labour proponents like to do this by framing the issue as a class battle, for example. It’s the “elite” versus the working class. The moralising pedantic “holier than thou” against the more sincere average Joe. You’ll recognise this from Robert Musumeci’s likely drunk tweeting, from National Book Council Chairman Mark Camilleri trying to paint Daphne as a fascist (lol), from the government rallying Labour supporters to send a message to the rest of the world.
You’ll also recognise it from Raphael Vassallo suggesting the whole world and Reporters Without Borders were being manipulated by Caroline Muscat of The Shift News and Manuel Delia.
It’s important to note that these are not arguments, they’re tactics. You will need to cut through this bullshit and remain focused on the main points at hand. I hope this guide comes in handy!