Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Father unknown

I completely disagree with the recommendation made by parliament's select comittee that the father unknown option should be removed. Do we really want the state to assume draconian powers to police the personal and sexual life of individuals? Are we going to have mandatory DNA tests? Are we going to force mothers to reveal the name of the father?
For the sake of argument, what will happen if a person had more than one sexual partner in the period of conception?
I am all for fathers assuming parental responsibilities but let's face it; i fully understand why some woman do not want to name the father.
They might have enjoyed a one night stand but they might not want that particular man to be the father of their child. I am sure that the life of many kids would be worse off if these fathers are involved in their life.
This issue has nothing to do with welfare, for women declaring their child to have an unknown father do not earn anything more than those who declare who the father is.
As a parent myself I feel offended by the notion that fatherhood is equated to sperm provision. One is a father because one loves a child and not because one was involved in its procreation.
One is not a father by some biological right. One becomes a father through love, care and affection.
Rather than policing the personal life of single parents, the state should guarantee full reproductive rights for women and assist those who still want to become mothers by providing them with the proverbial fishing rod... which means a greater investment in child care centres, education and training.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Hideous Monument

Let's face it the sette giugnio monument is hideous and essentially patriarchal as it glorifies mythical muscular men. It is down right ugly. Its removal from Palace Square is not bad news as far as am concerned.
Europe is full of such monuments mostly dating to the 19th century but this one dates back to 1986 when we should have known better.
I am not saying the Sette Gignio has no significance-mainly as an episode of popular rebellion triggered by economic rather than constitutional reasons.
I find the connection between the riots and Malta's constitutional development tenuous. Essentially what we had on that day was a bread riot by hungry unrepresented people which coincided with a parallel meeting of Maltese notables clamouring for a constitutional reform to suite their very limited conception of democracy.
I won't judge by the standards of today when mob rule and violence are abhorred. Probably a mass of uneducated and hungry people deprived of any real representation had no other option but violence to make their voice heard. Anger at merchants who were profiteering while people were hungry has triggered riots throughout European history.
The riots did coincide with the convocation of national assembly by a conservative elite but the target of popular anger were Maltese merchants and the Brits intervened to protect their property and life.
The fact that the Brits shot at the Maltese obviously had a symbolic effect.
The National assembly did not have universal suffrage in mind. What they wanted is a greater share of power for the elites.
Real self government only came after the war when universal suffrage was introduced mainly thanks to the labour party.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

in the name of the cross

The recent attacks on Cardinal Tettamanzi by the traditionalist Lega Nord-which condemned the cleric for speaking for the inclusion of immigrants instead of defending the cross threatened by a European court decree- proves my earlier point that in the hands of the far right the cross might well become a 21st century swastika.
If the Church has to save the cross from anyone, it is not from left wing secularists, who share with christians so many moral values (probably everything except matters related to sexuality with which the church is unfortunately obsessed), but from right wing "traditionalists" who deny important universal values accepted by the four great European traditions: liberalism, socialism, green politics and christian democracy, all of which helped in making post war Europe the most democratic space on the planet.
The greatest risk facing the cross is not the ruling of an international court but its exploitation by the usual dirty bunch of climate change deniers, immigrant bashers and simple minded populists .

Friday, November 6, 2009

The battle for the cross

Ever since the battle of Milvian bridge in which Constantine fought under the banner of the cross to become Emperor, the cross never ceased to be a political symbol.
As i had predicted the decision of the European Human Right Court has galvanized a traditionalist conservative right both in Italy and in Malta. People in the street are already blaming this decision against "Europe"-(even if the European Union has nothing to do with this decision) We are entering very dangerous and unchartered waters.
With defenders like Berlusconi who has no qualms on sending immigrants back to Libya, the cross is once again a tool in the hand of aspiring emperors.
Even the arguments leveled against the court's decision by our Archbishop are gross. For nobody has censored the cross. The Court only found the exhibition of one particular religious symbol in public building discriminatory. The decision would have been the same if any other religious symbol was exposed in a public building. Neither is the court forcing any country to remove crosses. It is merely offering compensation to those who presented a case of discrimination.
At the same time I don't want to play ball with the conservatives who would like to pit secularists against religious symbols.
I trust that in this case governments will respect the rule of law and abide to the court's final decision. That is why we all take pride in the fact that in 1986 Malta accepted the jurisdiction of this court after long years of protests by the Nationalist opposition against human right violations.
This court offered us safeguards against a repetition of gross human rights abuses. All talk of disregarding the authority of this court is a threat to these safeguards.
That said, Maltese progressive should not be diverted in to a battle against the crucifix. This is exactly what the Maltese right wants.
The real battle is that against censorship and against the imposition of dominant lifestyles through the ban on divorce and other laws limiting people's choices.
I have no contention with religion or the church. I have deep respect for the cross which for me stands out as a symbol of liberation and compassion and an iconic representation of the cruelty of the death penalty.
My contention is against a confessional state. The ban on Realta has shown the willingness of the state to use the repressive state apparatus to clamp down on freedom of expression.
In Italy they still have the cross in class rooms (thanks to a law introduced by the Mussolini who was so Christian that he bombed Ethiopia with poison gas and allied his country with Hitler) BUT they there they have divorce, reproductive rights and the Catholic religion is no longer the state religion.
If we can have all that while still having a cross in the class room ...i might be willing to pay the price.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The power of the cross

I can understand the logic behind the decision of the European Court to ban the crucifix from class rooms. Legalistically speaking the exhibition of one set of religious symbols in schools discriminates against non believers and other religions.
But looking at this issue from a deeper sociological level, attacking symbols intimitally tied with deeply rooted identities only serves to strengthen neo conservative and racist movements.
We should not forget that we all need symbols. But symbols take time to develop. Perhaps one day society will create new symbols representing the ethical values of truly inclusive civilisation. But when Russian or French revolutionaries tried to invent new symbols or cults of reason they failed miserably. Ultimately the cross managed to outlive them.
It is surprising that the crucifix as a symbol has been retained in a country where Catholicism is no longer the state religion and where both abortion and divorce are legal. Is this simply a hang up of the past or a demonstration of the power of the cross? I think it is a mix of both.
The cross itself also represents many of the universal values embodied in our civilisation. But like all symbols its meaning is subject to negotiations.
For me at least at face value it stands out as one of the most iconic depiction of the cruelty of the death penalty and human rights violations.
On a deeper level it represents universal values like compassion and sacrifice for others as well as defiance against power.
Surely it was also a symbol used to rape, pillage, torture and victimise heretics, witches, indegenous populations and whoever deviated from the norm.
And some today are using the cross simply to exclude others and affirm a white european christian identity.
Symbols tend to have a life of their own.
Ironically to keep the cross in class rooms the Italian government will have to prove that the crucifix is a cultural and not a religious symbol. Would that not amount to the secularisation of the cross?
The danger is that in so doing it will the cross even less inclusive as symbol. For by taking the cross away from its religious context,it will be easier to manipulate it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The new medievalism

Universities are meant to be at the forefront of intellectual and literary freedom. Even in repressive states universities are expected to be the last bastion of resistance against censorship.News that the University of Malta has banned newspaper Ir-Realta presumably because of an article which breached the laws of Malta is proof that something is rotten at Tal-Qroqq.Unfortunately student politics has been hijacked by corporate sponsorships and the administration is blinded by a technocratic and utilitarian ideology (disguised as devotion for information technology) which ultimately serves capitalism rather than the pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking.The new careerist class which dominates the KSU and the University's administration seems bent on cleansing the university from uncomfortable ideas. The KSU decision to evict Graffitti and the rector's decision to ban ir-realta are a symptom of the Smart City syndrome.Dubai is a feudal despotic monarchy which co-exists with a consumerist religion promoted by a state run incestuous form of capitalism which even permits slavery.Dubai is corporate but not democratic. So is the University of Malta.For by banning a piece of literature the University of Malta risks opening a precedent. If Alex Vella Gera's writing is in breach of the law...what about equally "obscene" literary works of Charles Bukowski? What about Garcia Marquez's Memoria de mis putas tristes, a love story that follows the romance of a 90-year old man and a pubescent concubine? In the meantime Malta's top talk show-once regarded by myself as some experiment in popular democracy- spent two weeks discussing inconsequential survey driven devils and witchdoctors... As my good fried says we are still living in 1493.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Single mums and the anti condom brigade

Theology students are still raging against the condom 15 years after my friend Julian Manduca proposed a condom machine on campus. This time they were irked by a Vodafone publicity stunt. I would presume that Vodafone’s marketing plan predicted the theology students’ reaction as a way to attract more publicity.
Stunts apart, Malta remains one of the few countries in the world where the government shies away from promoting condoms and contraception as an integral part of its sexual health policies.
Rather then turning single mums in to a scape goat, the government should embark on an educational campaign to encourage the use of condoms among sexually active young people. Abstinence simply does not work.
Neither do probes to bring unknown fathers to face their responsibilities especially if these are also young careless people.
And is not making the morning after pill available a better solution than condemning young people to responsibilities they are not ready to face?
And by the way if we accept a 24 hour period between conception and the beginning of human life to make IVF possible, what is the fuss about a pill which acts within the same time frame?

Friday, August 21, 2009

are we human?

"E' stata una motovedetta a fornirci il carburante e a intimarci di proseguire per Lampedusa. Ci hanno dato anche cinque salvagente; uno di loro ha acceso il motore, perché non avevamo la forza per farlo, e ci ha indicato la rotta. Poi si sono allontanati senza aiutarci, malgrado le nostre condizioni".

If the claims made by an Eritrean survivor of the latest tragedy regarding the alleged failure of the Maltese army to rescue the 5 survivors are verified, heads should roll in Malta.

The AFM claims that the five migrants were in apparent good health and clean shaven and that they refused to board the AFM patrol boat, not wanting to be rescued but to continue in a north westerly direction.

But UNHCR spokesman Laura Boldrini described the surviving migrants as extremely thin, too weak to walk and having severely bloodshot eyes.

Lawrence Gonzi has a moral obligation to order a public inquiry to determine the truth. Otherwise we are really living in a pariah state which turns its back on a tragedy is assuming the dimensions of a holocaust.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dear joseph...

Dear Joseph,

I read your interview in the Sunday Times and i can only conclude that i can't see a place for me in your so-called movement of moderates and progressives.
I reiterate the view expressed in a previous blog that the political class across the political spectrum has contributed to the climate of intolerance towards illegal immigrants.
By turning immigration in to a political football game you have also assumed a great responsibility.
When racism becomes normalized and legitimized by that sort of vague populism which leaves so many things unsaid, the probability of ugly incidents increases. This happened in Italy. It is also happening here.
Once again you speak against exploitation of immigrants at Marsa saying that "the fact that immigrants are being exploited every morning at Marsa while undermining taxpayers is unacceptable."
Yes it is unacceptable but would you favour their integration in the legal labour market to stop this exploitation? Or are you hinting that these people should live on charity or should not be here in the first place?
I would also like to hear you denounce tax evasion-which is really undermining us salaried working class and middle class tax payers. Tax evasion costs the country far more than immigration but i have never heard you say anything on this theme.
You hark on the illegality of immigration. But did you insist on legality when some of your candidates have spent beyond what is allowed by law?
You say; "wherever the mainstream parties remained silent on the immigration, they paved the way to extremist parties, which wouldn't do our country any good."
I agree. Nobody is saying that you should remain silent. What I would have expected is that you provide leadership on this issue by putting things in perspective. Are you aware that the majority of your supporters (just like the rest of the Maltese) do not even know that most migrants who have arrived in the past 5 years have left Malta?
Have you ever made an effort to explain these facts? How many times have you visited open centers to show your supporters that immigrants are human beings like them?
And let us not forget that the far right has grown in Europe not just because of a mishandling of immigratation (because of a lack of proper integration policies) but also by adopting "centre right economic policies" (this does ring a bell) they failed to address their every day problems.
Of course it is easier to pander to xenophobia than to promise to increase the minimum wage for those who do not have enough money to survive by the end of the month.
And is this immigration scapegoating an attempt to appease the working class vote simply because you have nothing much to offer them except empty promises to keep health free, because you grew up adoring Tony Blair?
You say that the "20-point plan was responsible enough". Is it responsible to say that if Malta is full up we should not abide with international conventions which oblige us to rescue people on the high seas?
You still say that "the veto is part of the solution," something which makes a mockery of your "moderate" credentials. For the least thing the Maltese economy and Maltese workers need is uncertainty about our place in Europe.
I wish you luck in your declared bid to win back those who voted for Norman Lowell.
For every vote seems to count except the vote of those who like me never voted PN in their life, stood up against all sorts of pressures to combat Nationalist arrogance and who have dedicated at least a part of their life to progressive causes.

yours truly,
james debono

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Who killed Suleiman?

Without getting in to the details of the case, I think the murder of Suleiman deserves a political reflection.
All those who stoked the racist fires (and not just Norman Lowell) should feel just a bit responsible for creating a climate in which the life of an immigrant was lost.
This case was a blatant example of how some lives are seen to be more equal than others.
I would like to thank Moviment Graffitti for once again acting as the soul of the nation by organising next Saturday's protest.
I will be there. I hope hundreds of moderate, christian and civic minded citizens will also join.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dubai nightmare

In Dubai they were building an air-conditioned beach, with cooling pipes running below the sand, so the super-rich didn't singe their toes on their way from towel to sea. A resident of Dubai has the biggest average carbon footprint of any human being – more than double that of a US citizen.
On the other hand a Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide," among the construction slaves.
The Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.
This is how extreme it can get in this disneyworld build by the slaves for the super-rich; a neo liberal paradise where the despotic rulers rule the country as CEOs.
Dubai owes 107 percent of its entire GDP. It would be bust already, if the neighbouring oil-soaked state of Abu Dhabi hadn't bailed it out.
I cannot but rejoice that the recession is finally taking its toll on this oasis of illusions which defies the ecology of the desert. My only regret is that if Dubai falls, Malta will also be effected.
Pity that we have sold them our land at a pittance. What will happen to Smart City and Go if this unsustainable and despicable state really goes bust?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Burn that witch

Gift of Life have striked again. They have singled out Sharon Ellul Bonici for posting a comment on facebook which reflects mainstream opinion in European democracies namely that: "the state should not constrain a woman from terminating her pregnancy, let alone entrench it in our constitution".
She has also made it clear that this was her personal opinion and that if elected her position on abortion would be in accordance to Labour Party policy i.e. against abortion.
But this was not enough to appease the new age inquisitors who want Sharon to recant. They went on to name and shame Sharon simply for having the guts of expressing a personal opinion.
I express my full solidarity with Sharon Ellul Bonici.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Do they owe us a living?

Life is short. Throughout history normal people wasted their lives in a meaningless existence as they toiled hard to earn a living. The average life expectancy till the modern age in Europe was 30-35. For most life was a very brutal affair. And in large parts of Europe this state of affairs persisted till the post war period. It still persists in most of the world.
Social democracy restored dignity to human life by creating mechanisms which made a basic decent living a conditional right. This right remained conditional because the mechanisms of the welfare state remained tied to the logic and fluctuations of capitalist economies.
Surely capitalism created prosperity and wealth which made life more worth living. Apart from many useless gadgets, the productive forces unleashed by capitalism have created the net, mobile telephony and so many other inventions which improve our quality of life.
We have to admit that despite the current crisis we have no viable alternative to a capitalist economy. But now that bankers' risks are being socialised, it is also the time to socialise the risks faced by everyone of us living in this dangerous world.
The current crisis has exposed the fragility of our existence. For the plans and dreams of many can be shattered in a single stroke.
The left still has the historic mission of making social rights unconditional... as entrenched as all other freedoms we value.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The sanctity of cellular life

Why should Malta's secular parliament seek moral guidance from a priest on the theme of assisted procreation?
Am not saying that politicians guided by Catholic principles should not vote according to their beliefs.
But they should take responsibility of their actions without seeking legitimacy by inviting theologians to address parliament. If they want to check what the church's position they should do their own homework. If they do not want IVF they should tell childless couples that they do not want them to have children because of the sanctity of the egg.
On the other hand the concern of secular legislators should be that of protecting womens' health and giving childless couples some hope. Nobody is doing that job, neither inside nor outside parliament.
Instead it seems that the only ethical concerns of all political parties revolve around the rights of cellular life. They know that the more eggs you implant, the greater the risk of multiple pregnancies. They all know that IVF can only be safe for women if freezing of eggs is allowed. But who cares?
The more I hear these things the more am disappointed by the dismal state of Maltese politics where everyone pontificates on the rights of eggs while neglecting the rights of adult human beings.
This is the same country which jails illegal immigrants for 18 months in conditions which have caused international outrage and where some politicians have no qualms on sending migrants back to Somalia or Darfur.