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A Tribute to Ramon Casha

Ramon Casha, the chairman of the Malta Humanist Association, passed away yesterday aged 47, the association said in a statement.

Casha had been seriously injured in a traffic accident last July, from which he had never fully recovered.

Ramon was more than just a fellow Humanist, Chairperson of our Organization for several years, and a friend, the association said. He was also a generous philanthropist, a committed social activist, an invaluable contributor to informed public debate, a tireless champion of secularism, and a voice of reason who will be sorely missed. 

Few have done more than Ramon to further the cause of secularism locally. One of the founding members of the Association, he was a most energetic and committed contributor by far. As Chairperson (and earlier as Deputy Chairperson) he worked towards the creation of an Ethics Programme in the National Curriculum, and to establish a humanist celebrant service – the first initiative of its kind in Malta. Ramon himself celebrated the first humanist ceremony, a wedding, the association said. 

Ramon, a frequent contributor in the comments section of The Malta Independent, also actively supported the introduction of divorce, same-sex unions and emergency contraception, long before such views became mainstream. Often he was the lone voice of reason in a cacophony of extremism on the subject of female reproductive rights. He also provided valid contribution in the local discussion on LGBTQI equality, an area where Malta now ranks first in Europe.

His courage and energy in helping to transform this country into a better place was not in vain. Ramon’s loss is the loss of a valued voice in the Maltese free-thinking community, among who he was highly respected for his honesty and intellectual integrity. These qualities were also recognized by individuals who disagreed with him, the statement concluded.

The death has been announced of Ramon Casha, Chairperson of the Humanist Association in Malta. He died at the age of 46 after being involved in a motor cycle incident in July last year.

On impact he hit the ground while his motor cycle slid on for a number of metres. Subsequently there were moments when he was in danger of dying and although later he returned home he never recovered fully and ten days ago wrote that the incident had left him with internal problems. He also wrote that over the last six months he had lost 28 kilos in weight.

Casha was an opinion writer in a number of local newspapers and will be remembered for his promotion for the spread of humanist values. He also played a leading role in various campaigns including the introduction of divorce and lately the introduction of same sex civil unions, against spring hunting and in favour of the introduction of the Morning After Pill in Malta.

There were a number of reactions to his death from persons he had met including the lawyer Dr Ramona Frendo who described Casha as a resolute and persistent person in the way he promoted the values he believed in, including promoting the feminist viewpoint on the introduction of the Morning After Pill.

Dr Frendo said that Casha has now been relieved of all pain but Malta has lost a sound voice of reason. She said that humanists now had to find a new voice and hoped this would be in the same resolute and calm manner that Casha used.

Silvan Agius, the Director of the Directorate for Human Rights and Integration described Casha as a person with a heart of gold who will long be remembered for his commitment to justice and civil rights.

Dr Joseph Caruana who lectures astro-physics at Malta University described Casha as the sound voice of reason.

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.

We are deeply saddened by the death of Ramon Casha, chair of the Malta Humanist Association, and a campaigner of terrific energy, scope and commitment. Ramon, 47, died yesterday (Sunday 22 January) from medical complications arising from a road accident which occurred in July 2016.

Ramon campaigned for separation of church and state, for freedom of expression and against Malta’s actively-used ‘blasphemy’ laws. The campaign won victory last year with the abolition of the crime of “vilification of religion”.

He was an activist demanding evidence-based law on soft drugs, sexual and reproductive rights, and was part of the successful public campaign to introduce divorce, against concerted opposition in the predominantly Catholic country. Other causes he supported including homelessness, refugees, and local hospices.

With the Maltese humanist movement, in addition to his broad civil rights work, Ramon tirelessly organised events, advanced humanist and scientific values in the public arena, and championed the introduction of Humanist ceremonies, which came to fruition just last year with the training of Malta’s first humanist celebrants.

The breadth of Ramon’s commitment to equality and human rights is hard to underestimate. Gay Malta described him as “a friend and ally who for several years supported and spoke in favour of many minorities including the LGBTIQ community. Mr Casha constantly offered his support, participated in Pride marches and used to write on newspapers/blogs & forums to raise awareness and call for rights for the LGBTIQ community. We would like to salute Mr Casha’s memory and thank him for his support and commitment to equality.”

Gender Equality Malta posted on Facebook: “Tonight we would like to pay tribute to Ramon Casha from the Malta Humanist Association, a long time pro-choice advocate and staunch women’s rights campaigner who has recently passed away. Mr Casha has been helpful to this organisation numerous times and he will be sorely missed. Thank you for all your hard work and for believing so ardently in the cause for equal rights in Malta.”

The Women’s Rights Foundation paid tribute: “You are and will always be remembered for your support, veracious voice and relentless energy to fight for human rights, inclusive of women’s rights.”

Michael Briguglio, sociologist and former chairperson of the Maltese Green Party, described Casha as “honest, free-thinking and a non-partisan civil society campaigner.”

The Civil Society Network (Malta) tweeted: “Rest in peace @RamonCasha – honest, free-thinking & non-partisan civil society campaigner within @MHAhumanists & so many causes #Malta”.

In 2016, Ramon had worked to organize an international conference of humanist organizations: a Malta Humanist Association (MHA) conference on migration and refugees was held alongside the General Assemblies of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF).

The Malta Humanist Association said in a statement: “Ramon was more than just a fellow Humanist, Chairperson of our Organization for several years, and a friend. He was also a generous philanthropist, a committed social activist, an invaluable contributor to informed public debate, a tireless champion of secularism, and a voice of reason who will be sorely missed. … One of the founding members of the Association, he was a most energetic and committed contributor by far. … His courage and energy in helping to transform this country into a better place was not in vain. Ramon’s loss is the loss of a valued voice in the Maltese free-thinking community, among who he was highly respected for his honesty and intellectual integrity. These qualities were also recognized by individuals who disagreed with him.”

Pierre Galand, president of the EHF, said: “Ramon was a paragon humanist activist and a committed colleague widely appreciated in the humanist movement. He worked tirelessly on issues of fundamental rights that we see all over Europe. Last year, Ramon warmly welcomed European and international humanists in Malta and contributed greatly to make this event a real success. Just this month he was meant to join a meeting with EHF and the Prime Minister of Malta. He had worked hard to organize this event and to put forward recommendations regarding Malta, including the right to die in dignity. His work and energy lives on in the Malta Humanist Association and all the causes he supported so fruitfully.”

Andrew Copson, president of the IHEU, said today: “Ramon was a true pioneer, working on civil rights issues at a fast-moving time in Maltese politics, against an entrenched opposition and conservative social taboos. He was extremely generous with his time and energy, as evidenced by his commitment to so many causes. Any humanist or civil rights organization would be lucky to have leaders and activists as generous and committed.”

IHEU and the EHF express their condolences to Ramon’s family and friends, his fellow humanists at Malta Humanist Association, and all those who worked with him on his many passionate causes.

Tributes can also be found in Malta Today and the Times of Malta.


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