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The long tentacles of murder - Petra Caruana Dingli

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder has long tentacles. It has become a sinister symbol of unease, running deep into our justice system, our political class, our national institutions, and the safety of our media as a watchdog. The concerns go well beyond a search for the assassins.

This story is now very familiar, but it is not static. It is changing, gradually, as the days and months go by. It must continue to be written, because it is not over yet.

Daphne’s murder has also evolved into a rallying point for thousands of people who feel disenfranchised and unable to engage or connect with the current politi­cal class. We have some good and experienced politicians, as individuals, but their collective identity is uninspired and demoralising. The current leadership is unbalanced – overly strong on one side, and dismally weak on the other.

I attended some of the activities held last week on the first anniversary of Daphne’s gruesome murder. Numerous people gathered, spoke and listened, in different venues over several days. Others gathered abroad, such as in London, Brussels and Germany.

Many attended the events, not to evaluate her work or person, but because her assassination has evoked grave misgivings about the current state of our society. At one event, BBC journalist John Sweeney captured the dark mood when he drew on the famous line from Hamlet: “There is something rotten in the State of (Malta).” Shakespeare’s play explores moral and political corruption in society.

At a seminar organised by MEP David Casa, the Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes spoke passionately about the broad ideo­logy of her political group at the European Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats. Ideology and beliefs? Wat dat? On this island, we only seem to care about euros and guzzling up land.

There are still those who do believe in ideals and values, and who are not consumed by the dominant materialist, amoral mindset

Yet Gomes received a standing ovation from her Maltese audience. Among us, there are still those who do believe in ideals and values, and who are not consumed by the dominant materialist, amoral mindset. Sadly, here in Malta today, any mention of values is too often crassly labelled ‘Holier than Thou’ by the snouts near the trough and their trolls.

In this divided, partisan society, half the nation (including people who should know better) too often refuse to acknowledge or call out wrongdoing. They shrug their shoulders and say that everyone is the same, or that things have always been so. This accuses everyone, collectively, so nobody is ever found guilty – and everyone slips through the net.

“Do not let our national conscience go to sleep,” said former prime minster Lawrence Gonzi, at the same seminar as Gomes. The common good goes beyond financial gain. He emphasised the need for the Maltese nation to “regain a moral compass that inspires us to take the right decisions when we are faced with difficulties”.

Antonio di Pietro, the well-known prose­cutor in the anti-corruption trials in Italy in the 1990s, was in Malta last December. Di Pietro told his audience, in the streets of Valletta, that it is impossible for people to live well in a corrupt society. It might feel fine for a while, but ultimately it will only be good for a few and bad for the rest.

He spoke of the intimidation of critics by the authorities, which he knew from his own battle against high-level corruption. He warned against silence and a sense of resignation. Lying low, keeping one’s head down, sweeping things under the carpet, will only lay the ground for more critics to be silenced, and then yet more.

Here in Malta, where everyone knows everyone, one would imagine it hard to keep crime and corruption concealed. But people will not always speak up – partly out of warped loyalty, out of fear, or for ambition.

The government promised that no stone would be left unturned on Daphne’s murder, but widespread calls for a public, independent inquiry are being brushed aside. Such an inquiry could openly examine, for instance, whether an attack on her could have been anticipated or she should have received more protection, and whether other journalists today require more protection or support. It need not interfere or overlap with the ongoing police investigation.

Daphne was, after all, the target of a relentless, isolating hate crusade for years. As a result, some people who probably did not read her work, let alone know her, readily believed the worst of her. The vilification was so uncontrolled that it even featured in a forceful blog run by a close aide to the Prime Minister. This is an unpleasant truth today, I know; but society should be willing to learn from its mistakes, to never repeat them.

The government shows that it is rattled when it attempts to erase Daphne’s memo­ry (while her murder remains unsolved) by repeatedly removing the candles lit for her opposite the Valletta law courts. This has backfired miserably and strengthens the resolve of activists. It has provoked damning media reactions, including abroad. She may have been isolated in life, but the crowds have certainly gathered around her now.

Daphne, a year ago I wrote that we will keep your light shining. And so it is.

petracdingli@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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