It seems eons ago since Mark Antony Falzon brought to the attention of the readers of this newspaper’s Sunday sister the availability to University students of a new series of lectures on “the importance of the family in contemporary society” as part of the Degree Plus Programme (*). And, yet, it was only March 6. Perhaps it feels like ages ago because there are moments in our life when so much is happening around us that an hour seems like a week and when a day brings with it so much momentous news it might well be a year. Indeed, with all hell let loose only 45 minutes south of us, we are living one such historical moment and a very long moment it is.
Perhaps it feels like ages ago also because it was old news in the sense of déjà vu. It is not news that we do not live in a modern secular society free from state imposition of any religious belief. It is not news that, whereas some of us adopt post-modern poses, we continue to live in a culture that has so incompletely digested the enlightenment that we may well be justified in calling it pre-modern or, better, lumpen-modern.
At the last election, a slim majority of us (but a majority nevertheless) voted in a Prime Minister who is, no doubt, proud he will leave behind a pharaonic post-modernist national monument signed by one of my favourite architects, Renzo Piano. It is not news, however, that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has no intention of letting go of those features of our culture that make of us, frankly, Europe’s backward backwater. This is not news. Why should it be news, therefore, that the (state) University of Malta is offering an officially recognised but clearly confessional programme (confession understood as a public declaration of a faith)? It would have been news had many more of Dr Falzon’s colleagues raised their voice to query the propriety of the initiative.
It is encouraging to see that Dominic Fenech, dean of Dr Falzon’s faculty, posted an online comment declaring he is “with Mark Anthony on this all the way”. He also reminded us that “the object of Degree Plus is to open new horizons for students, not to close them”. It is discouraging to observe that Prof. Fenech’s declaration was not immediately followed by statements by all of his colleagues.
Dr Falzon went further. He asked how appropriate it is for this to happen so close to the divorce referendum, especially since some of the scheduled speakers have already taken a clear position against divorce. They are not just any speakers. They are speakers with a very loud voice. The identity of the organisers and the sales pitch are such as to leave no shadow of doubt that this lecture programme is perceived as a strong nudge to vote in a particular way.
I also agree with Dr Falzon all the way but I think we should distinguish between the evident slant of the lecture series and the issue of its official recognition by the University as a course within the Degree Plus Programme. Would the University have accepted to incorporate into the Degree Plus Programme a lecture course with the opposite slant? If the answer is not a clear and unequivocal “yes” then we have a serious problem. Actually, we have two problems, the second one being that, apparently, only a few of Dr Falzon’s colleagues are ready to state openly that they too perceive it as a problem. That they do not is a problem. But then, that’s hardly news, is it?
On December 15 of last year, Dr Gonzi spoke at the official opening of the University’s Centre for Family Studies. Among the centre’s aims, its own site lists the following: to “organise, encourage and promote research on all aspects of family life with particular reference to the Maltese cultural context”, “to offer certificate, degree and postgraduate courses including professional courses in the field of family studies” and services in the field of family-related matters to institutions assisting families, governmental and non-governmental agencies.”
How appropriate was it for Dr Gonzi to speak about the divorce issue precisely on this occasion? Did this singularly inappropriate intervention (we’ll discuss its content on another occasion) help to profile the centre as body dedicated to objective research and critical analysis in a field that indeed requires objective research and critical analysis? I think not.
More recently, Dr Gonzi was quoted as telling MPs he expected the centre to carry out an impact study on the introduction of divorce in Malta. Another newspaper titled its report Gonzi Favours May 28 Because He Wants Studies To Confirm The Negative Impact Of Divorce. I was not there and so I cannot say for certain the Prime Minister actually said “confirm the negative impact of divorce”. But I would have at least expected the University to issue a statement correcting the impression that the Centre for Family Studies was there to “confirm” anyone’s article of faith. The very thought should make any academic who values research and academic freedom wince with pain.
(*) Read Dr Mark Anthony Falzon’s article at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110306/opinion/university-can-do-without-pathetic-campaigning
This article appeared on Dr Vella’s regular column on The Times of Malta on March 14, 2011. You can access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110314/opinion/old-news-and-no-news
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the opposition in eastern Libya and the US, Britain and France have established channels of communication as a first step towards the belated implementation of a no-fly zone.
Meanwhile forces loyal to Muammar Gheddafy have engaged rebels in the town of Zuwarah in western Libya in what is an obvious bid to secure all the coastal area between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.
More vital for the future of the insurrection is the future of the eastern town of Ajdabiya (population c. 135,000). Gheddafy’s air force this morning struck this last significant stronghold on the way to Benghazi, the seat of the opposition’s National Council, about 160 km to the east.
Although the rebels cannot match the regime’s firepower and are almost helpless against air strikes and bombardment of their positions from the seaward side by Gheddafy’s navy, their morale appears to be high. As loyalist forces were pounding Ajdabiya, opposition units sped towards Brega in a bid to retake it.
Former Libyan regular army personnel are finally beginning to take a leading role in organising the defences of Ajdabiya and Benghazi.
Meanwhile the UN Security Council in New York is debating behind close doors whether to authorise a no-fly zone or otherwise. Resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members.
The game, then, is being played in Ajdabiya and New York.
WE SALUTE ALI HASSAN AL JABER
… the Al Jazeera cameraman, a Qatari national, who has been murdered in what is believed to have been an ambush near Benghazi in eastern Libya. He is believed to be the first journalist killed in covering the current crisis in Libya.
Gheddafy’s regime is claiming to have retaken Brega. The claim cannot be confirmed but it is very plausible. Brega’s fall would deal a tremendous blow to the opposition’s morale. But then, it is unrealistic to imagine that the poorly equipped and disorganised can withstand a vengeful counter attack by Gheddafi’s armed forces.
On Saturday, pro-Gheddafy forces pushed the frontline deeper into rebel territory to just 40km outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal. The rebels, mainly young, are reported by non-government sources to be retreating towards Ajdabiya, 80km away to the east of Brega. After Ajdabiya, the way would be open for Gheddafy’s loyalists to push forward to Benghazi or to bypass it to retake Tobruk and seal the Egyptian border, before falling on Benghazi, seat of the transitional National Council.
Meanwhile Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo yesterday (Saturday, March 12) called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Youssef Ben Alawi, Oman’s Foreign Minister, told a press conference after the meeting that “all Arab states supported the call for a No-fly zone.” He emphasised that the Arab League remains “opposed to any foreign intervention” and that a No-fly zone “must end with the end of that crisis.”
The US and Britain welcomed this decision but they will not move to enforce an No-fly zone – and, even less, more direct military intervention to prevent Gheddafy to crush the insurgents – unless they are backed by a UN Security Council resolution. An EU consensus would neither be forthcoming (the Germans won’t buy it) nor, on the other hand, decisive if Britain were to decide to support the US in a UN backed No-fly zone enforcement operation.
A UN Security Council resolution, however, will need Russian and Chinese approval.Before the Arab League’s decision, foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned world powers against meddling in the affairs of Libya and other African countries, saying military intervention would be unacceptable. He did, however, hedge his bets by adding that Russia would “closely study” any such initiatives to provide support to rebel forces battling to oust Gheddafy.
Russia has, meanwhile, said it will ban all weapons sales to Tripoli, effectively halting billions of dollars worth of arms deals signed with Gadhafi’s government. Rosoboronexport, the state-owned arms export monopoly, said this week that it had more than $2 billion worth of arms contracts with Libya. Kommersant reported that Rosoboronexport was about to close deals for military jets and anti-aircraft missiles worth another $1.8 billion.
The Arab League’s decision may, however, not have been in vain. It might just convince the Russians and the Chinese – who would not want to antagonise Arab countries – to allow the UN Security Council to finally approve a No-fly zone.
Ras Lanouf in the Gulf of Sirte, and Zawiyah, only a short drive away to the west of Tripoli, are of strategic importance for Gheddafi’s regime. They are home to Libya’s two most important export crude refineries. Both were seized by the rebels and both may have fallen over the last 24 hours.
Jadaliyya interviews Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
Jadaliyya is an independent Ezine produced by ASI (Arab Studies Institute), a network of writers associated with the Arab Studies Journal (www.ArabStudiesJournal.org).
Ali Abdullatif Ahmida was born in Waddan, Libya and educated at Cairo University in Egypt and The University of Washington, Seattle. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of New England, Biddeford, Maine, USA. His specialty is Political Theory, Comparative Politics, and Historical Sociology. His scholarship focuses on power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially modern Libya. In addition to numerous scholarly articles, he is also the author of The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonialization and Resistance, a book published by State of New York University Press, 1994, 2009. He is the editor of Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture and Politics, published by Palgrave Press in 2000. Routledge Press published his book, Forgotten Voices: Power and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Libya, 2005; an Arabic edition was published in 2009, and currently it is being translated for an Italian edition which will be published in 2011. Professor Ahmida is the recipient of several prestigious awards and honors including most recently, the Ludcke Chair of Liberal Arts and Sciences for 2010-11 for excellence in teaching and scholarship at the University of New England.
The focus of attention is now on Ras Lanouf, 650 km east of Tripoli, home to the most important of Libya’s five oil export refineries. All the coastal strip from Ras Lanouf is in the hands of the opposition, although the regime’s forces have and will continue to raid towns along the Cyrenaican coast, including Benghazi, seat of the provisional National Council. It is not yet clear if Ras Lanouf is under opposition control. West of Ras Lanouf is still essentially in the hands of lotalyst forces.
We should also watch Az Zawiyah closely. Although Gheddafy’s troops launched an offensive to retake it, reliable reports indicate that the people of Az Zawiyah are resisting. At least 30 civilians had been killed and the town’s insurgent commander may be among the dead. Az-Zawiya (population 150,000) is only 40 km west of Tripoli. It is home to Libya’s second most important export refinery and to a university.
Tripoli, too, has not accepted to be bullied into silence. Beginning with the end of Friday prayers yesterday, over 1000 people came out to protest and were brutally suppressed by security forces. How long can this go on?