It’s sometimes difficult to be able to distinguish between an idea and the man behind the idea. The more we try and highlight the dichotomy, the more these two concepts tend to fuse together and create a different image from what a person’s characteristics actually are in their basic, distilled form. Ramon Casha, the raging commentator on numerous newspapers and comment sections, versus Ramon Casha the quiet, soft-spoken debater with a passion for dogs and bikes: While we could ask ad infinitum which side of him was the most intriguing (that would be the latter) and the most engaging (obviously the former), it would be disingenuous to try and separate one from the other.
My first interaction with Mr Casha came years ago, back in my freshman year at University, back when I was still a nosy, raging nihilist venting out on different matters and going on online, solo crusades against the evils of religion. I was first introduced to the Malta Humanist Association by a family relative of mine, and I ended up visiting their stand on Freshers’ Week. No amount of re-readings of Christopher Hitchens and time wasted on r/atheism could have prepared me with how such a meeting would transpire: a certain, soft-spoken member of the association seemed to brush off any of my supposed witty criticisms with such panache and intellectual flamboyance that it left me speechless and flabbergasted. Mr Casha didn’t need to shout or make anyone’s ears bleed in order to be heard: his argumentative skills were enough to capture anyone’s attention. His in-depth examination of the core-subjects at hand left no stone untouched, and whenever he spoke in a public forum, much like Hitchens, the lack of a passionate tone usually left much to be desired, but the delivery and the language used were constantly exceptional.
Years later, I was asked by student organisation JEF Malta to moderate what was expected to be a heated debate on reproductive rights, smack-bang in the middle of Quad on a cold, windy February day. The debate was immensely frenzied, but the highlight of the day was definitely the back-and-forth interplay between Mr Casha and another debater from the opposite side of the ideological aisle, Mr Ramon Bonnett Sladden, in what I jokingly termed later on as “The Battle of the Ramons.” It started calmly, with all members of the panel starting cautiously and treading calmly: before I asked the third question though, caution was thrown to the wind and all hell broke loose. It was an extremely tough task to try to control the tempers in the debate; to moderate the debate became an unenviable mission, one which admittedly I relished every minute of it. The interplay was distinct, the delivery polite but very patent, and the volume was well near maximum. Their quasi-Bannonesque “Attack, Attack, Never Defend” style of debating turned the entertainment value up to eleven, and the fiery passion by Mr Casha was in full force during those two hours. No one left Quad remotely disappointed by the quality of the debate, least of all Mr Casha himself.
Mr Casha’s tenacity could also be found in several of his articles and witty blog-posts, but his true tour de force arguably came in the dreaded comment sections underneath said articles. Most people would stay away from such comment sections like the plague, but Mr Casha relished in the opportunity, never ceasing from probing the right questions, landing the most controversial of statements and letting be known to all those who wander what he considers to be the right and/or wrong parts of the subject matter, whatever it is. He was also at the forefront of a large number of social revolutions during the past recent years: from his hard-line views on religion and the Catholic Church, to him joining in the march organised by GEM in favour of the morning-after pill. Multiple adversaries disagreed with his views and ideological positions, but beneath Mr Casha’s stoic exterior lay an individual with a colourful passion for his beliefs, and an exuberant appetite in sharing them with all those who wanted to listen. His untimely passing might have left a horrible void in the comments section of the page that only a few would be brave enough to fill in. His stead-fast ideological views on modern-day secularism and natural preservation will have to find new torch-bearers. And surely, much more needs to be said about the original cause of his medical troubles, and how road safety for motorcycles and pedestrian is beyond abysmal. Surely, isn’t any life lost in a traffic accident a huge waste, let alone the large numbers who die each year?
Time will tell about the future, but one, like this author, can always find solace in the past. After the JEF debate, I went round, thanked all the panelists for taking part, and Mr Casha left without stating too much, but only after noting that he was amused by the heated interjection of one of the female audience members during the debate. He remarked that he was probably more scared of the person asking the comment, then he was of the other speakers combined, just because she seemed so passionate and emotional. When I accidentally let slip that the audience member happened to be my significant other, he immediately started laughing and offered to buy coffee for both of us on the spot, which we refused.
A small gesture, but nonetheless no less trivial or gracious of the man who a generation of young, fiery activists of change followed closely and idolised, even unknowingly to him. As an organisation, Insite also owes him a great debt for the multiple times he worked with us and contributed to our organisation’s voice with our articles and our comment boards. He’ll be sorely missed.
Matthew Charles Zammit is a 21 year old, third year Law student, who’s the current Human Resources Manager of Insite Malta for the 2016/2017 academic year. He started as a writer, before becoming Editor, proceeding to Media Officer and moving to Chief Executive Officer during the 2015/2016 tenure.