Caludine Cassar | Sunday, 26 July 2009
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Scerri is wrong – civil society is no mob

A major event this week was the resignation of Dr Victor Scerri from his post as President of the PN, following a heated controversy related to a permit issued for the construction of a farmhouse in the Bahrija conservation area.
Speaking after his resignation, Dr Scerri made an astounding statement – “Mob rule was supposed to have ended in 1987... It is wrong to have all this public pressure on the Prime Minister to intervene because 300 people have decided there was something illegal,” he said.
It appears that Dr Scerri is comparing a peaceful protest by a number of concerned citizens pressing for increased respect of regulations, to a pogrom organised by a horde of knuckle-duster-wearing hatred-intoxicated louts, out to wreak havoc and destroy helpless people like himself.
Is he seriously implying that the protesters, which included various MPs, MEPs and even a PN MEP candidate, were going to whack him on the head with a placard reading ‘Outrageous Development Zones’?
Has Dr Scerri forgotten the peaceful protests organised by Dr Fenech Adami in the 1980s? In those years people took to the streets to complain about the state of the country, and to fight for democracy. Was that mob rule too?
Comparing a peaceful protest by environmental NGOs to mob rule is an insult to all those who care about what happens around them, and who want to exercise their democratic right to voice their opinion. The message that is being sent to civil society is this – keep your mouth shut, you have no right to complain or make your voice heard.
Politicians on this island seem to think that the masses matter only once every 5 years. When an election comes around, the political parties suddenly become very interested in what each and every citizen has to say. They invite us to share our views and problems with them. They even come knocking on our doors, and generally go out of their way to show us how much they care.
However in-between elections it is a different story. Try to speak up and you will be stamped on in no uncertain manner. The desire for overriding control, to restrain civil society into a strict hierarchical framework controlled by lawyers, architects and doctors is still with us and the top echelons are not taking too kindly to its being challenged.
The attack is orchestrated, systematic and effective. Readers will have noticed that many of those objecting to the Piano plans were apologetic, with several letters beginning “Although I am no architect…” as if the man in the street feels he has to excuse himself for having the temerity to speak up.
Dr Scerri is wrong – this was not a case of mob rule. A large majority of the people on the island are upset about the rampant development of areas of natural beauty. Maltese citizens have the right to speak up and make their voice heard, and dismissing their message as a case of “mob rule” is so outrageous that it is verging on the ridiculous.
MEPA auditor Joe Falzon has made it clear that the permit in question should never have been issued: “The assessment of this application by the DCC should read: How to damage the natural environment with the blessing of the authorities responsible to safeguard it.” According to the auditor, the Development Control Commission completely ignored all policies meant to protect and safeguard the environment when it approved each of the four permits for development at Baħrija valley.
So it was not just a case of 300 people arbitrarily deciding that there was something illegal going on in Bahrija, and trying to impose their views on the rest of the law-abiding population. The protestors, who were led by the Ramblers’ Association, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and Nature Trust, have been vindicated by the report issued by the auditor – they were right to protest about a permit that was issued in violation of several environmental policies, and we actually owe them a debt of gratitude for the effort they put into it.
The reality is that, whether Dr Scerri and his ilk like it or not, civil society in Malta is finally finding its voice – and much as our leaders are not comfortable with it, there’s no going back. More and more people are speaking up about their grievances and concerns. We are writing opinion pieces in the papers, we are blogging on the Web, we are having heated discussion on Facebook, we are sending letters to the editor, we are posting comments under various articles and blogs, and we are waving placards for the entire world to see!
The message is loud, and the message is clear – we will no longer be silenced.

Here come the morality police
It is an amazing fact that some people believe that they have the God-given right to stand in judgement over their fellow human beings. These people go around with a holier-than-thou attitude, and think that they are somehow entitled to force their own set of moral codes on other people – including complete strangers whom they do not know in the slightest.
This week I came across an extreme example of such behaviour – people who mask their intolerance and bigotry behind a cloak of piety.
One of my friends is in a same-sex relationship and lives with her girlfriend. They share an apartment and recently updated their doorbell label to show both their surnames. This was apparently an affront to the people of the neighbourhood, who embarked on a campaign to show their displeasure at the turn of events.
The lady in question is not one to take things lying down – when anonymous letters started showing up in their mailbox, she scanned them and made them available for all her friends to see on Facebook.
I read them, and frankly they were sickening – “what a shame to see such an appalling postal name in a religious family-oriented neighbourhood”; “refrain from continuing your obscene behaviour”. Other missives followed, warning them that they would lose their soul and burn in hell, unless they changed their way of life – and their offending doorbell label.
The anonymous homophobes saw nothing hypocritical about posting letters in someone’s mailbox in the dead of night, when nobody can see them, promising to “pray so that God will heal you both”. It did not strike them as malicious and ‘sinful’ to insult people, and hurt their feelings. Makes you wonder who needs to be healed, doesn’t it?


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