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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

The people have spoken. Thus, the gods have spoken, for according to the Romans, what people want is what the gods want. As long as the people get their bread and circus.

This week the Maltese got a good dose of circus but not bread. They chose to put a religious figure on the new Euro coins which will fill out pockets in two years’ time. Then they chose Fabrizio Faniello to represent Malta for the second time in the Eurovision Song Contest final to be held in Athens in May.

But where’s the bread? The announcement of yet another increase in the price of fuel breaks the Roman’s perfect recipe of an oblivious life.

Yet the Maltese were once again gripped by the Eurovision fever, and the organisers decided to leave it entirely up to the Maltese to choose the song. Go through the blogs and online fora and you will see that Fabrizio’s choice is far from unanimous. It has all the makings of a Pyrrhic victory, where the cost outweighs much the benefits. May’s verdict could be a nasty surprise.

The choice of putting the sculpture of the Baptism of Christ on the new Euro coins goes in the same league. One hundred per cent televoting and there you have it, a popular choice raising questions. Will a jealously secular EU accept the Maltese choice? Will the French government, who banned the Muslim veil and other religious symbols from state schools, not raise an eyebrow if the French citizens would have to use this coin to buy their daily bread?

The debate will get hotter in the coming months, that’s sure. We’ll see whether the Maltese government will stick to the people’s choice, or the choice of 3500 televoters out of 17,000 that is, or backtrack in the name of something sounding like ‘European values’. It was the National Euro Changeover Committee who proposed this religious symbol.

Make no mistake: this issue does not stand anywhere near the outrage at the publication of cartoons by European newspapers about the Prophet Muhammad. To publicly profess your beliefs is one thing, insulting the beliefs of others is another, even though there may be a hint of truth in your drawings.

There is a limit to freedom of speech. And the European newspapers which published these cartoons went over this limit. Call Bin Laden a son of a bitch, give names to peoples from different cultures of yours and label them as dirty as much as you like in private, but never, never, insult their religious beliefs in public. I don’t think putting a Christian icon on the Euro coins insults in any way the religious beliefs of others though.

Persons with short memories should recall that until a few hundred years ago Christians were declaring war and conducting what today would be labelled as genocide and ethnic cleansing all in the name of Christ. We should remember that the first crusade was proposed by the Pope himself, but the people’s voice was strong, and off went knights and common men in their thousand to ‘liberate’ the Holy Land.

I usually take a hot drink or some mints to keep my voice healthy. There are ways to keep the people’s voice loud and clear, shouting what you want them to shout out. Pope Urban took advantage of the rapidly expanding and unsustainable European population and promised the Kingdom of Heaven to all those who freed the Holy Land. The Muslims did the same with the Jihad, breeding a cast of new religious warriors, the gazi. All warriors falling in battles against the infidel, on both sides, would go straight to heaven. What an easy way to persuade someone to die for your political ambitions.

Malta has been near to Eurovision heaven with Mary Spiteri, Chiara and Ira Losco, but not quite there. Our new hope rests on Fabrizio Faniello, who outrun second-placed Olivia Lewis by a 100 votes. There are ways to keep the people’s voice loud and clear, shouting what you want them to shout out. Fabrizio Faniello carried out a publicity campaign before the voting. His posters were distributed all over the Maltese Islands. People are asking whether it was not a typical Maltese kumbinazzjoni (by chance) that Fabrizio performed for a second time because of technical trouble in the audio system during his first performance. Olivia Lewis had the overt support of a major local TV station, the same station which supported the same excellent performer, I may add, last year too, and played her song as much as Chiara’s winning song. Vote with your head, the station's presenters kept saying, but innuendoes were far from sublimininal.

Guze’ Stagno’s succinct reaction
to the televoting results, as expressed in Toni Sant’s blog, hits the nail on the head. Vox populi vox dei, my dear Guze’, as long as the gods make good use of the media. By the way, the Romans put the emperor’s face on their coins. A very good marketing strategy for the time, according to our history books.