NEWS | Sunday, 04 November 2007

‘We will fight them on the beaches’

Raphael Vassallo

“Zejziet fuq xtutna? Le grazzi!” (Boobs on our beaches? No thank you!)

This is the substance of a bold and daring new campaign launched this week by “Minus Two”: a religious organisation which aims to protect Malta’s Christian values by entrenching the country’s ban on topless sunbathing – alongside divorce, cohabitation and gay marriages – in the Constitution.

Yet another symptom of Malta’s pervasive arch-conservatism? Or is it just a glorious parody of the Gift of Life Foundation’s ongoing “+9” campaign, which has already whipped the country up into a frenzy in its efforts to protect the human foetus from generations of unborn parliamentarians?

In all honesty, it’s hard to say. The movement was first brought to public attention on the Maltese blogosphere by veteran blogger Sandro Vella, after which the website’s authenticity was questioned separately by Luxembourg-based blogger, Jacques Rene Zammit.

Certainly the website itself looks, reads and feels like the real article. Until you turn to the “Educational Information” section, where MinusTwo dispenses the following, ominous words of warning: “It is not only that dirty old man with his hands down his shorts, but remember that recent statistics show that upon seeing a topless woman, over 96% of men fantasize about having sex with her. So even that respectable looking family man, pretending to be reading a book, might be having dirty thoughts about you. Think again...”

Topless sunbathing, MinusTwo argues, is also a leading factor in the current marital breakdowns crisis. “Situations like this sow the seeds leading to break-ups of families. Would you want to see that sweet little girl playing in the sand beside her parents, to go through the trauma of seeing her parents separating, just because you wanted to feel ‘more comfortable’?”

And needless to add, there are health considerations, too: “As we all know, UV light emitted from the sun causes cancer… Certainly, baring your breasts to the direct sunlight is not a healthy thing to do, and will certainly place you at a high risk of contracting breast cancer.”

But apart from the eyebrow-raising surfeit of morality, the rampant homophobia (“Doesn’t it make you cringe to think that some women on the beach may be lesbians, and are also sexually fantasizing about you?”) and its overindulgence in Biblical wisdom, Minus Two also makes a couple of serious claims: for instance, that it is a direct offshoot of the Gift Of Life Foundation, to which it is electronically linked.

As GLF is itself no laughing matter, this statement called for a little intrepid investigation on the part of yours truly. Contacted on Friday, CEO Paul Vincenti simply burst out laughing when told about Minus Two. “I think it’s a brilliant joke,” was the only comment he would make over the phone. But the website’s originators failed to see the funny side to it at all.

“This comes as a great surprise to us,” said the movement’s founder, “Joe Borg”, in an exclusive comment to MaltaToday. “+9 are one of our inspirations, their ideals are our ideals. We both seek to entrench existing laws in the Constitution. Yes, we are greatly disappointed at Mr Vincenti’s reaction…”

Borg also claims to have been inundated with emails in the two days since setting up the website earlier this week. “Most emails encouraged us to continue in our mission, but as expected we had a few emails from misguided liberals calling us all sorts of names, including fundamentalists and backward-looking,” he added. “Some even suggested that we would want to introduce the burka in our society. As if Catholics like us would ever dream of doing something like that!”

No indeed. One would have thought the “ghonnella” more appropriate.

Outlining his mission for the future, Borg suggested that the entrenchment of article 338(q) of the Criminal Code in the Constitution is but the beginning of campaign that ultimately aims to save Europe from damnation.

“Once our first objective is achieved, we plan to move on to making divorce and gay marriage anti-constitutional. After that, we plan to legislate against cohabitation. These issues and others are ruining Malta’s family unit, and we should all join forces together to ensure that they are addressed… We are also strong believers in the EU Constitution, since we view it as an excellent vehicle to reach out to other countries where they are not as lucky as we Maltese are to be living in a country where Catholic morality is the norm.”

Sadly, however, even the very best of jokes cannot be kept up indefinitely, and under the pressure and perseverance of my incisive investigative journalism, “Joe Borg” eventually cracked. After an email exchange and at least two phone-calls, the originator confessed that “Minus Two” is in reality a hoax: the beautiful brainchild of three individuals with pointed sense of a humour, and a lot of spare time on their hands.

But this only serves to emphasise an altogether more serious point. When real organisations seek to ban abortion in a country where it is already illegal – and when even supposedly liberal political parties lend support to campaigns which seek to demonise a tiny pro-choice minority– even the most ludicrous and banal expressions of Catholic extremism suddenly appear plausible.

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