Luckily in today’s Europe, when people talk about car bombs, it is usually because they have been watching Narcos’ last season on Netflix. Or maybe because they’re recalling the decades of national terrorist wars. Born in Italy in the 90s, I grew up in the fearful shadow of judges and journalists systematically killed in car bombs by the mafia because of their ‘inconvenient’ investigative job. Living through such periods has taught governments and security details alike that checking for car bombs is a protocol when it comes to the protection of a wanted person.
According to local media, the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia reported death threats to the police a few weeks ago, yet there was no security detail assigned to check that her car was clear before an explosive device blew her vehicle last Monday, instantly killing her. While the reasons behind this vicious attack are still unclear, one thing is certain: throughout her prolific career Caruana Galizia collected many enemies. Her blog, Running Commentary, was read by Maltese more than any national newspapers, and she was internationally known as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’.
Caruana Galizia led the investigation on the international scandal known as the Panama Papers – where documents from the leading offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked – and repeatedly shed light on Malta’s political and financial corruption. She was a long-time critic of Malta’s current president Joseph Muscat, saying that he and his wife were allegedly linked to the Panama Papers scandal. Her son, an investigative journalist himself, wrote an understandably devastated Facebook post, “This was no ordinary murder and it was not tragic. Tragic is someone being run over by a bus. When there is blood and fire all around you, that’s war. We are a people at war against the state and organised crime, which have become indistinguishable.”
A calculated attack against the press such as this speaks loudly about violations of freedom of expression, and this time, it happened in the European Union. Car bombs aren’t like any other killing devices, they hold a very specific message: one of fear. On Monday, Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered because of the use she made of her voice, but many more journalists and activists received a clear reminder: that they should not look too deep or speak too loud.
I don’t know about you, but my personal echo chamber was too occupied with the Harvey Weinstein case that Galizia’s murder almost passed unnoticed. With no intention to compare these two cases, the absence of relevant comments on Galizia’s murder left me appalled. I’m left with the feeling that we could all continue to chat over car bombs in Narcos’ latest season, blissfully unaware that they very much exist outside of the sensationalization of the cartel. But in reality, speaking out in our society continues to be a dangerous act, and continues to damage the freedom of our journalists, the freedom of our information and the freedom our future holds.