Sociologist, Local Councillor, Activist from Malta

Monday, August 13, 2018

Towards a politics of conversation - Michael Briguglio

Picture: The Conversation - Vanessa Bell (1916)
I find it particularly sad that objectivity and politeness is becoming scarcer among some sections of the commentariat. In a post-truth context, sometimes facts only serve to entrench some commentators in their positions, in a zero-sum game where rational dialogue becomes difficult.

This is not novel in Maltese culture. Our binary divide in politics, festa, language and other facets has been around for some time. To a certain extent, this is healthy because it gives one the motivation to improve. What worries me is that tools of communication, such as Facebook and online newspaper comment sections, are often polluted with toxic comments.

This toxicity sometimes extends to opinion articles, blogs and various forms of political intervention. By political I do not exclusively mean red or blue. I am referring more to a mindset of ‘us’ and ‘them’, where ‘we’ are always right and ‘they’ are always wrong, even if facts prove otherwise. A sort of flat-earth conspiracy in Maltese politics, if you may. This toxicity crosses colours, boundaries, groups, parties and factions.
The protagonists of such toxicity also include trolls: persons who may use their real or false identities (or both) and who often resort to insults, degrading language and, at times, even untruths against their perceived enemies. Such communication only impoverishes dialogue. The middle-ground is thrown out of the window, compromise is seen as weak and blaming becomes king.

This type of behaviour is another form of bullying. And it must be said that online bullying can be just as bad as the bullying that we are becoming increasingly aware of, for example in schools and at the workplace.

I believe that those of us who are in politics, journalism, business, policymaking and activism have a duty to discourage such behaviour and instead do our utmost for productive dialogue. However, such responsibility should also be extended across society: each one of us should ideally do our part for a speech situation that is not distorted by insults, falsities, fabrications and fundamentalism.

To move towards such a situation, certain steps could be taken. Here I mention some of them.

To begin with, one should acknowledge that there are different points of view that may converse with each other. For this to happen, humility is imperative. Some of us may have more expertise on certain subjects than others. For example, a dentist most probably has more expertise on the cause of a tooth ache than a three-minute google search. Similarly, a town planner may know more about what causes traffic problems than a casual commentator with a bad mood after a traffic jam. And a judge usually carries out more evidence-based research on a case than a random vox pop respondent would.

Humility also means that we all have a lot to learn and that no one has all the right answers on all the topics of the world: expertise in one area does not necessarily mean expertise in other areas.

It is also very important to actively listen. Listening means really giving importance to other points of view and not having a ready-made answer up one’s sleeve whatever the other person may say. Or, even worse, crucifying a messenger just because he does not happen to belong to one’s group. Thus, keeping an open mind on an issue before deciding in advance is key.

Style of communication is also very important. It is fine to disagree and this may be done without resorting to insults or to denigrating comments. I find it amazing that we are so conscious about political correctness but then have no trouble insulting political adversaries, for example, through classist elitism or opposite antics such as anti-intellectualism. Maybe, we all need some lessons in basic communication and ethics.

One may also seek to be constructive, to find common ground and to acknowledge that some problems and issues are very complex and multifaceted. Sometimes questions do not have simple answers.

Maybe we can all start the upcoming political season by trying to be courteous and reasonable. Let’s build bridges, not walls. But let’s not feed the trolls.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

In-nazzjonaliżmu u l-migrazzjoni – Michael Briguglio



Ir-riżultati elettorali fil-Punent juru biċ-ċar li n-nazzjonaliżmu hu sors ewlieni għall-identità ta’ bosta votanti. Iżda t-terminu ‘nazzjonaliżmu’ ma għandux tifsira waħdanija: jista’ jkun ispirazzjoni daqstant għal dawk li jemmnu f’soċjetà msejsa fuq is-solidarjetà u l-ġid komuni daqskemm hu għal dawk li jemmnu f’soċjetà allinjata ma’ identità waħda, sew jekk reliġjuża, kulturali jew ideoloġika.

Bla dubju, il-migrazzjoni hija kwistjoni soċjali u politika ewlenija madwar l-Ewropa. Stħarriġ xjentifiku soċjali wara ieħor jikkonferma li n-nies madwar il-kontinent huma mħassbin dwar din il-kwistjoni. Ikun irresponsabbli jekk il-politiċi u dawk li jfasslu l-politika jinjoraw dan, għalkemm dan ma jfissirx li hemm biss mod wieħed kif tiġi indirizzata l-kwistjoni. Barra minn hekk, ma nemminx li teżisti soluzzjoni maġika sempliċi għal kwistjonijiet kumplessi bħal dawn.

Sadanittant, il-partiti politiċi li qed jużaw lingwaġġ qawwi ta’ esklużjoni f’dan il-qasam qed jieħdu vantaġġ minn mewġa ta’ skuntentizza f’pajjiżi madwar l-Ewropa. Saħansitra fl-Iżvezja, sikwit meqjusa bħala l-aktar pajjiż favorevoli għar-refuġjati fid-dinja, il-Partit Demokratiku populista bħalissa qiegħed fil-quċċata ta’ kull stħarriġ li qed isir. Ir-riżultati tal-elezzjonijiet nazzjonali li saru dan l-aħħar fl-Italja, l-Awstrija, l-Ungerija u pajjiżi oħrajn jagħtuna idea ċara ta’ x’għandna nistennew fl-elezzjonijiet Ewropej li ġejjin sakemm ma jitfasslux strateġiji politiċi aktar effettivi elettoralment.

Madankollu hemm eċċezzjonijiet għal din ix-xejra: Emmanuel Macron u Angela Merkel  huma l-eżempji li wieħed minnufih jaħseb fihom, avolja Merkel il-ħin kollu qed tħabbat wiċċha ma’ appelli għal politika aktar iebsa dwar il-migrazzjoni. Il-loġika tan-numri parlamentari tfisser li sikwit ikollha tilħaq kompromess dwar il-pożizzjonijiet tagħha, pożizzjonijiet li oriġinarjament ikunu orjentati aktar lejn is-solidarjetà.

Fl-istess waqt , xi esperti fix-xjenza politika sabu li meta partiti moderati taċ-ċentru f’pajjiżi bħall-Italja u l-Ġermanja adottaw pożizzjoni aktar iebsa dwar il-migrazzjoni meta mqabbla mal-pożizzjonijiet li kellhom qabel, dan xorta waħda ma waqqafx lill-partiti populisti milli jmorru tajjeb fl-elezzjonijiet. Iżda dan ifisser li l-partiti taċ-ċentru għandhom jagħmlu bil-kontra u sempliċement jinjoraw it-tħassib tan-nies dwar il-migrazzjoni? Nemmen li dan kieku jagħti opportunitajiet saħansitra akbar lill-populisti.

Għalija, ix-xenarju attwali jfisser li n-nazzjonaliżmu għandu jiġi artikolat b’mod politikament produttiv li jagħti valur lis-solidarjetà u lid-dinjità tal-bniedem. Naħseb li dak li għandu jsir hu li jintuża lingwaġġ li jesprimi tfittxija għal-libertà u l-ġid komuni kemm permezz ta’ jeddijiet kif ukoll permezz ta’ responsabbiltajiet fi ħdan in-nazzjon b’mod partikolari u l-UE b’mod ġenerali. Dan in-nazzjonaliżmu ma għandux ikun assoċjat esklużivament ma’ identità waħda bl-esklużjoni ta’ oħrajn: għall-kuntrarju għandu jiddefinixxi l-ġid komuni b’mod li jippermetti li persuni ġejjin minn ambjenti differenti jistgħu jkunu parti mis-soċjetà jekk in-normi bażiċi jitħarsu.

Din l-għamla ta’ patrijottiżmu għalhekk ma tkunx marbuta ma’ kulur, razza jew twemmin. Tkun marbuta ma’ valuri bażiċi li jgħaqqdu lill-bnedmin, bħar-rispett u t-tolleranza. Tenfasizza l-ħtieġa li jkollna lingwaġġ komuni sabiex in-nies ilkoll ikunu jistgħu jikkomunikaw bejniethom.

Tkun tagħti valur lil tradizzjonijiet tal-post filwaqt li tilqa’ t-tradizzjonijiet tal-persuni li jaslu fil-pajjiż, sakemm ikun hemm rispett miż-żewġ naħat u d-drittijiet stabbiliti tal-individwi ma jinkisrux.

Stili ta’ ħajja u kulturi li jippromwovu l-intolleranza, il-vjolenza u l-oppressjoni ma għandhomx jiffurmaw parti minn xenarju bħal dan.

Il-maġġoranzi kulturali, ideoloġiċi u politiċi jeħtieġ li jirrispettaw id-drittijiet tal-minoranzi, hekk kif il-minoranzi jeħtieġ li jirrispettaw id-drittijiet tal-maġġoranzi. Il-kuntrarju ta’ din l-għamla ta’ nazzjonaliżmu jkun sitwazzjoni fejn ikun hemm diversi forom ta’ fundamentaliżmu li jkunu wisq esklużivi jew ikunu jridu sitwazzjoni ta’ libertinaġġ mingħajr ebda normi u valuri li jorbtu lin-nies.

Ovvjament, l-implimentazzjoni ta’ politika bħal din mhijiex faċli. Fil-kuntest tal-UE, hu tassew diffiċli li jintlaħaq qbil dwar il-qsim tar-responsabbiltà għar-refuġjati, u kif inhuma l-affarijiet ma nistax nimmaġina soluzzjoni oħra għajr il-qsim volontarju tar-responsabbiltà permezz ta’ koalizzjonijiet ta’ pajjiżi ta’ rieda tajba.

Dan jitlob li l-istati membri jagħrfu li jridu jagħtu u mhux biss jieħdu mingħand xulxin, u li dawn ikunu lesti jgħinu lil xulxin u jimxu mal-valuri bażiċi Ewropej. Dan jeħtieġ ukoll approċċ ta’ aktar solidarjetà u ta’ għajnuna reċiproka ma’ pajjiżi terzi li jkunu għaddejjin minn kriżijiet umanitarji. Eżempju ta’ dan ikun assistenza b’riżorsi  u għajnuna bħala kumpens għall-irfigħ tar-responsabbiltà u r-rispett tad-drittijiet tal-bniedem.
Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 12 ta' Awissu 2018