Last Wednesday morning, I was walking along the Sliema promenade. Suddenly a tall well-built man who must have been in his 60s and who was wearing headphones passed near me and shouted ‘bżieq’ (spit) to me. He kept on walking.

Bżieq? What?

I walked towards the man and asked him to repeat, but his music must have been loud. I then went closer to him and again asked him to repeat. A warden was close by, as was another man.

The man in the headphones, in an aggressive tone, said that he hadn’t spoken to me but then called me ‘demel’ (dung) and resorted to threats, saying that even though he is older than me, he would beat me up. The warden seemed to be as shocked as I was and winked to me as if to calm me down and let things be. The other man nearby acted similarly.

I was shocked and walked home in shivers. This may sound strange, as I have a thick skin. When my dad questioned Dom Mintoff’s excesses in the late 1970s, only to be expelled by Labour, our family had police protection. I don’t remember this as I was born in 1975. But I do remember what went on in the 1980s. I remember my dad coming home reporting mob rule and violence. I do remember travelling in our Mini during the eerie lonely nights preceding the 1987 general election.

I do remember Labourite mobs insulting my dad during his Partit Demokratiku public meetings. The same Partit Demokratiku which also involved Michael Vella, the father of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

When I was a kid I too experienced my fair share of politically-incited violence. I remember a female school beadle insulting me because of my dad. Once I was beaten up by someone my age because I did not fit in politically.

We better act fast before the ideology of mob rule becomes the new normal and things get worse

Which takes me back to the incident on the Sliema promenade. I never saw this man in the headphones before last Wednesday, and if I were cool and coldly rational I would have taken a photo of him or asked the warden to phone the police. But I was shocked.

Shocked not by the insults. I receive a lot of positive and negative comments about my activism. So do other activists and politicians.

What shocked me was the sense of entitlement that the man in the headphones expressed. He felt perfectly safe to insult and threaten me in a public space, in the presence of a warden.

Some others who are resorting to violent language in the social media seem to be quite comfortable doing it.

Ask Tony Zarb, who retained his post as government consultant after verbally abusing the Occupy Justice activists.

Verbal abuse of political adversaries is becoming increasingly common.

This is not about freedom of speech, as suggested by an ex-police commissioner in court in a case involving threats towards MEP Roberta Metsola. This is about intimidation.

Which takes me to an eye-opening article about ideology penned by philosopher Louis Althusser in post-1968 France.

Althusser suggested that life is full of rituals which we take for granted and which make us subjected to prevalent ideologies. Such as greeting someone or speaking a language which others understand.

But ideologies can also represent power: Such as when a police officer shouts “Hey, you there!” and an individual turns around and ‘answers’ the call. The individual here is subjected to the ideology of law and order.

Malta is moving towards an ideology of mob rule, where some feel entitled to intimidate and attack others because of their beliefs. Daphne Caruana Galizia paid the ultimate price for her journalism.

We better act fast before the ideology of mob rule becomes the new normal and things get worse.

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