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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Christopher Hitchens on Malta - Part 1

Few people know that the controversial journalist and author Christopher Hitchens was raised in Malta. His father was a lifetime naval officer who served on the island and Christopher's brother Peter (also a journalist now employed by The Mail on Sunday) was actually born here. Christopher Hitchens, a prolific writer who is often in the headlines for his political commentaries and biographical writings ( Paine, Jefferson, Mother Teresa, Orwell..), once wrote an article about the politics of Malta. It was published in The Nation ( Sept 6, 1986), America's oldest weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news and analysis. The article is not freely available online but I bring it to you here courtesy of Hitchens. The second part will be posted here tomorrow. Cristopher Hitchens writes:

My earliest childhood memory is of the Grand Harbor of this city, a magnificent Baroque and Renaissance fortress which still testifies to the wealth and skill of the Knights of Malta (who did, indeed, use to pay an annual rent of one falcon to Charles V of Spain). In my boyhood the entire island was a British naval and military base, secured by a colonial form of rule and used as an impregnable aircraft carrier against the emergence of Arab nationalism. The NATO powers treated Malta as if it were an uninhabited rock, instead of the home of an ancient and tenacious culture with a distinctive language--Maltese is the only Semitic tongue to be written in Latin script--and a vivid history.

In spite of their matchless resistance to an attempted Nazi invasion from 1940 to 1942, the Maltese were denied self-government in the postwar years, and shared with the Cypriots the sad distinction of being the only Europeans to live under European colonialism. Attempts to alter this state of affairs were met with every kind of repression. In 1961 the Catholic Church, which here makes its Nicaraguan counterpart appear enlightened, actually excommunicated the entire Maltese Labor Party. It became a mortal sin even to buy a Labor newspaper, and children were asked in the confessional to report on parents if they voted the wrong way.

In 1971, after an arduous struggle, the Labor Party triumphed at the polls over this version of Christian Democracy. In the intervening fifteen years it has closed the British bases, removed NATO headquarters and declared Malta a nonaligned republic. For the first time in its history the archipelago is not under the rule of foreign powers. Internally, the church's monopoly on education has been broken, and efforts toward the socialization of medicine have been made. The Maltese are no longer faced with the old choice between stultification and emigration.

Of course, all this has earned the Maltese government considerable slander and calumny. The ruling socialists are accused of being dictatorial, of selling Malta to the Russians and of being puppets of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The last two allegations in particular have led a campaign of abuse in ultraright American newspapers and to a falloff in foreign investment in Malta, which has no natural resources to speak of and must live or die on trade and tourism. In effect, "strategic" Malta is being blamed for its very geography by the sort of people who regard nations as bargaining chips. Being blamed for your geography is, incidentally, no joke. Whenever you read some new piece of grandiose buffoonery about maneuvers off the Libyan coast, try to imagine how it feels to be the citizen of a tiny archipelago, anchored between Sicily and Tripoli, with no air force, navy or army worthy of note. You barely show up as "collateral damage" in the calculations of the superpowers, who are habituated to being the subject rather than the object in the pompous sentences they shout...
Part 2

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, its a good thing he isn't bitter or anything.

Self rule has its own problems. They can be overcome. 

Sunday, January 28, 2007 4:29:00 AM
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1961 the Catholic Church, which here makes its Nicaraguan counterpart appear enlightened, actually excommunicated the entire Maltese Labor Party.

Hitchens is usually very well-informed but not on matter Catholic. The Church never excommunicated anyone in the Labour Party, that was intediction. 

Sunday, January 28, 2007 10:05:00 AM
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Looking forward to the next posting. 

Sunday, January 28, 2007 8:07:00 PM

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