You cannot really laugh when you read stories like this. The institutions on the European mainland are constantly besieged by protests of all kinds against their decisions – and it is right that it should be so. Farmers from France have been known to drive up to Brussels and dump truckloads of manure to protest decisions by the EU institutions that they disagree with. For as long as I can remember London visits always included an episode where you come across a protester in the street, complete with tents, placards and whatnot monitored from a distance by a bobby or two – but still allowed to continue with his/their protest without being too bovvered by the long arm of the law.
Not in Malta 2014 though. Ignatius Busuttil was arrested for obstructing traffic (in a day and age when traffic is brought to a standstill by the needs of the latest Festa without so much as a by your leave) and for disobeying the police (who were ordering him to stop a peaceful protest). Worse still the newspaper report taken directly from the official statement we read that the police query goes into the questioning of Busuttil’s motives to protest : as though your very motives to complain about the government’s management of affairs require some sanctioning. Yes, it is facile to use the adjective Kafkesque but calling spades spades is sometimes the most simple of explanations.
“In the official statement given to the police and signed by Mr Busuttil, he was asked why he wanted to speak to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, what he intended to say to Dr Muscat and what his grievances with MEPA are. The police asked him whether he had ever tried to make a formal appointment with Dr Muscat or any other government officials. The police then asked Mr Busuttil whether he has any mental problems.” (The Malta Independent)
It get worse too. The police are apparently hot on psychology now and they will delve into a lovely conundrum taken straight out of Joseph Heller’s leaf. They have taken Catch-22 and turned it on its head.
“Sure there is a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka replied.
Much to Ignatius Busuttil’s chagrin the police have come up with their own version of Catch 22. It goes something like this:
1. You’ve got to be crazy to be protesting against this government.
2. Crazy people should not be allowed to protest. They should be in a mental institution.
3. Off to Mount Carmel.
Simple isn’t it? Joseph Muscat’s law is looking more and more like Joseph Heller’s. And it’s all the more a loss for our democracy.