I had to sleep over what happened yesterday because I handled it less well than she does. That woman shouting and swearing on that video was shouting and swearing at my wife, Clemence, who was in Valletta with her son shopping for my Christmas present. She stopped in front of the Memorial for a chat with some activists who were there and was actually sitting at the cafe’ on the side of that square when she heard a small crowd shouting and swearing at activists laying flowers and candles at the feet of the Memorial.
She got closer with her camera and you saw some of what happened. You hear a male voice swearing with abandon off-screen. Until the phone that is filming flies off and is shattered on the floor. The owner of the male voice hit my wife roughly and painfully. She hadn’t said a word. She still didn’t. She says she wouldn’t be able to recognise the man who hit her. He came from her side and when she was hurt all she could think of was how to get out of dodge.
The only reason she could recognise the woman who hit her first was because she had a video of her.
We put it out there and it did not take long to realise the female half of the duo of aggressors didn’t just get pissed off because someone annoyed her with a phone.
She had been planning this. Let me tell you a bit about the woman who hit my wife.
Her name is Helen Cutajar. She has been offended by the sight of the protest in Valletta since its inception. And the reason is she hated Daphne Caruana Galizia in her life as much as she hates her in her death.
Helen Cutajar organised Facebook insult-fests on Daphne Caruana Galizia even before the Labour Party organised trolls properly. Here’s a piece Daphne had written about Helen Cutajar using a false ID to flood her comments section with insults and death threats.
Here are some choice quotes: “May she rot in hell (and it is time for me to meet again the witch of Bidnija so I can show her who I am”. “I think she’s in for another one this fuc… Daphne (and those who know me know what I mean”.
We don’t know you but we get an idea.
When Daphne was killed, Helen Cutajar transferred her hatred on to people who weren’t celebrating her death. Here she is a month after Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car saying that people protesting about her death and demanding justice for her should be exiled from Malta.
Here she is on New Year’s Eve last year railing about the protest site in Great Siege Square.
Here she is wishing she was there when activists ‘violated’ Lorry Sant’s statue in her neighbourhood with a t-shirt saying there are crooks everywhere.
Here she is a few weeks later saying that Daphne should only be remembered in the landfill and nowhere else.
Here she is encouraging people “tas-civil society” to get a life.
I think you get the idea. This was no spontaneous reaction to a camera. This was an escalation of a long-held resentment, which is by no means exceptional. It is just that Helen Cutajar until now felt commenting on Facebook and being an annoying troll was all she could do to hurt people she perceives as her enemies.
Now she thinks she can take things further and indulge in a little Twenty-to-One. (Check the A Clockwork Orange glossary for that obscure reference).
This is happening every day and Helen Cutajar is only a representative of a violent transformation that is occurring now.
I was angry at Helen Cutajar. But I was angrier at a journalist yesterday who called my wife to ask her about what had happened. He asked her if she thought she provoked the woman by using her phone to film her.
Let’s get some things clear. People who physically assault other people are not ‘provoked’. Provocation is justification and mitigation of responsibility. It is the excuse of rapists, wife batterers and other violent people who want to explain their behaviour as if it’s something they have no control of or they hadn’t planned it before.
Activists use mobile phones to film their aggressors because they are hoping it might cause their aggressor to be concerned about exposure and restrain themselves. As you can see it does not always work.
They use mobile phones to defend themselves from the risk of being hurt, physically, as my wife was yesterday, not to mention the daily psychological ordeal of being insulted and shouted at by a mob in the street on a near-daily basis.
They do not use mobile phones to film passers-by. They take their phones out when people come up on them aggressively and looking like they might hurt them.
My wife had her elder son with her yesterday. Our younger children figured out what happened when they saw her phone and pieced together today’s occurrence with another one last week they witnessed when another activist’s phone was shattered. My daughter was inconsolable. She doesn’t say we should stop going to Valletta. She wants us to leave the country altogether.
But the first instinct of that journalist who called my wife yesterday was to find out how protesters forced the hand of those that hit them and made them hit them.
The only ‘provocation’ is being there. And Helen Cutajar (like many others) has been seething with resentment because we’re there for months. Now she feels she’s been unleashed to do more.
After all, she has some very powerful friends. These pictures should give you an idea of why she feels emboldened.
But it isn’t just that, is it?
It’s that logic, to use a misnomer, that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia every day she was alive and every day since she wasn’t anymore.
The logic that says that if you don’t want to invite people to insult you, attack you and physically assault you then you should make sure you do not displease the government. That by being critical of the government you provoke just the sort of reaction you effectively deserve.
Most people are not being assaulted in the street. For most people in Valletta yesterday it was happy shopping days, happy Christmas in the city. If you go about your business these are l-aqwa żmien.
So we bring this upon ourselves. We don’t actually hurt anyone. We put flowers and candles — could anything be less harmful? But then we bring upon ourselves shame. The embarrassment of being insulted, shoved and beaten in front of the eyes of our very children. Of having to explain to journalists over the phone that ‘we didn’t start it’ while our children are within earshot. Of telling our children to wait for hours in the lobby of the police station while we explain why again we have been assaulted and our property destroyed.
The entire objective of this is to escalate to the point when it no longer becomes worthwhile. It never really is worthwhile. We protest in our own time and we spend our own money and we ask for nothing in return except the protection of everyone’s rights, starting with the rights of the Helen Cutajars of this world.
We think this is active citizenship. It is grating enough to be called ‘patronising’ for it, like we were yesterday by Malta Today for daring to say what we think needs fixing. But when our children see us being beaten for it, grating is no longer a useful term. There’s a point when we can no longer explain why we do this. We’re at that point, aren’t we?
Ultimately it’s nobody’s cause.
Some people say we’re back to the 1980s. That the violence that had stopped by the end of the 1980s is coming back and things are getting worse. I can see things are getting worse so I cannot but agree.
Then some say this is the Nationalist Party’s fault because in 25 years in government it did nothing to prevent this repeating itself: that the philosophy of reconciliation in 1987 is allowing this to come back again. Sometimes even I argued this way. But now I think this is rubbish.
The violence was kept in check because the Nationalist Party stood up to it then. When they shot at political clubs for fun, the PN did not flinch. When they hit people in the street, the PN stood up to them. That’s how the PN dealt with bullies.
How did the PN react yesterday to news of physical violence in Republic Street perpetrated on people conducting a protest? With silence. The PN’s own TV station, the unworthy heir of the illegal Sicily broadcasts, did not report the incident. The Party ignored it altogether.
Helen Cutajar feels emboldened because the great Joseph and the others she takes happy photos with will never cut her loose. They wouldn’t cut loose Neville Gafa, Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi, why would they cut her loose?
But she’s emboldened as well because the Nationalist Party which she has despised all her life doesn’t seem to mind what she’s doing.
My wife was hit by a man and a woman yesterday. That’s fine. She says she’s feeling better this morning.
But your freedom to speak your mind will not recover from this. Because you know just how to avoid being physically assaulted or worse. Read this in your bed and move on with the next thing in your life. Make sure it’s not something that annoys the government and the trolls online and in the street will leave you alone and wish you a Happy Christmas.