So sixth-formers have elected their new students council committee. Most of them have only left secondary school some five months ago. Around half of them have been in high school for a year.
They are organised as Labour and Nationalist parties, coded as Pulse and SDM.
I’d be a hypocrite if I said I thought there was anything wrong with that. I was a student politician. Ages ago it seems. Well ages ago it was. I was an SDM candidate, the first one ever actually. In my time SDM was code for Nationalist as much as it is today. And when my team and I won two elections in a row we celebrated and I confess we gave our losing Labour fellow candidates a few ignoble taunts.
If there was anything we complained about at the time, it was lack of student participation in student politics, a general apathy about the process that caused us all across all student political groupings more than a little embarrassment.
The scenes yesterday outside Junior College were not of apathetic indifference. Quite clearly they were the opposite. But they were no more an encouraging sign of a healthy polity than the cold indifference of my student years.
What could be seen instead, in my old man’s misunderstanding eyes, was a political fandom: galvanised, mindless, bombastic, hooliganistic, uncompromising, loyalist, sectarian and an inch away from being violent.
That inch was closed yesterday when in drunk debauchery a police officer was hurt. So confident in their untouchable power were these pubescent children with lose strands of hair on their chin, that they thought this was a good occasion to push uniformed officers to the ground.
I’m not blaming them for being Pulse/Labour fans. In the case of most of them, judging by the way they behaved, they did not come to their political fandom by way of personal conviction but by inheritance for which they can hardly be blamed.
Independently of their intent however it would be naïve not to explain the sense of barbaric immunity these young ones felt by the fact that since they were 10 years old they have only known a government led by people who have justified far worse crimes than shoving an officer to the ground by being elected to power in an election. Indeed after their win at a little school committee they felt themselves heirs to the noble philosophy of “il-gvern tagħna, nagħmlu li rridu”.
It is horrific to me that these young people’s notion of democracy is absolute power legitimised by vote. But it cannot surprise me. They’ve known Joseph Muscat as their primary role model since they grew out of the Disney Channel.
It gets worse but no less predictable when you see Labour trolls blaming the PN and civil society protesters for the harm caused to the duty police officer last night. Considering how Labour is blaming the PN and civil society for the reputational harm caused to the country by the corruption and avarice the Panama Gang sickened the country’s government with, this sixth form spin is hardly a ground-breaking piece of semantic acrobatics.
In case you cannot join the dots the argument being made is that in asking repeatedly for Lawrence Cutajars resignation, the innocent Labour supporters waving the Pulse flag last night could not help hurting the police officers trying to bring some calm to an entirely unjustified orgy of dangerous fireworks and binge-drinking in the early hours in a quiet residential part of town.
If our 16 year olds think like this, we have no change to the tribalism that plagues our country to look forward to. Instead of coalescing around cogent political ideas, student groupings are fronts for inherited prejudices and hate of the others. Instead of germinating critical, individual thinking in ambitious, idealistic, moral young minds, student politics is perpetuating the brain-dead reciprocated aggression of vacuous partisanship.
I salute the police men and women who tried to keep the peace of residential Msida last night. None of them should have been hurt in the line of duty, particularly on what should have in theory been the easy job of protecting teenagers from themselves.
And now that they have won their election and celebrated it most forcefully, what will these students stand for? Will they care for the autonomy of the university that runs their school? Will they protect its freedoms and the freedoms of those who teach them to speak their mind even as the government seeks to crush dissent?
Or will they rather act like the students of Chairman Mao’s great leap forward and the Ayotallah Khomeini’s revolution and use their virulent, mindless loyalty to wipe out freedom of thought even from their school? After all, just last night, none of us saw much love for thought, particularly anybody else’s.