Lots of peo­ple need re­mind­ing that Malta is a free coun­try

In a free and demo­cratic coun­try, few things are as obscenely ob­jec­tion­able as the sight and sound of peo­ple do­ing their vo­cif­er­ous and ma­nip­u­la­tive best to try and pre­vent oth­ers from wor­ship­ping in pub­lic or in pri­vate. The only thing that comes close i

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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Free­dom of ex­pres­sion and free­dom of wor­ship are both fun­da­men­tal and in­alien­able hu­man rights and I can see that lots of peo­ple in this coun­try – as in oth­ers – need re­mind­ing of that.

The bat­tle put up by the peo­ple of St Paul’s Bay, which is, iron­i­cally, the most ethno­graph­i­cally di­verse place in Malta, against the use of an al­ready ex­ist­ing build­ing as a small place of wor­ship by Mus­lims is be­yond hor­ren­dous. The is­land is thick with Ro­man Catholic churches, cathe­drals and chapels. Their bells ring out con­stantly, they are a heavy pres­ence, and in sum­mer, their fes­tiv­i­ties, pa­rades and pro­ces­sions are a con­stant, re­lent­less fea­ture of daily life. But nonCatholics do not ob­ject. At most, there are com­plaints only about the noise of elec­tronic church­bells and the sound of fes­tive petards, but not about the man­i­fes­ta­tions of re­li­gion them­selves.

There are Chris­tian, nonCatholic, mainly Bap­tist, chapels and houses of wor­ship in al­most ev­ery town, too, and no­body protests about them. That wasn’t al­ways so. I clearly re­call re­ceiv­ing, in my role as a news­pa­per colum­nist, reams of com­plaints from those who lived near the planned new Bap­tist church in Kap­para many years ago. As with the pu­ta­tive Mus­lim place of wor­ship in St Paul’s Bay, the ob­jec­tions were, fatu­ously, made to me on grounds of ‘plan­ning per­mis­sion’, when it seemed to me quite ob­vi­ous that they were sim­ply afraid of all th­ese strange and for­eign Bap­tists. The church was built and peo­ple sim­ply got used to it. Af­ter all, if you can have a Ro­man Catholic Church, then you can have a Bap­tist Chris­tian one.

Those who ob­ject and protest disin­gen­u­ously call what is ef­fec­tively a garage “a mosque”. Yes, the fact that it is used for Mus­lim prayers makes it tech­ni­cally a mosque, just as a con­se­crated place where Chris­tians gather and cel­e­brate Mass or pray is tech­ni­cally a church, in­clud­ing the con­verted garages where many Bi­ble Bap­tists gather to pray. But be­cause, in our way of think­ing and speak­ing, the words ‘church’ and ‘mosque’ have evolved to mean the ac­tual, phys­i­cal build­ing rather than any place peo­ple gather to pray, and the prayer-group it­self, when we hear the word ‘mosque’ we im­me­di­ately think of a mas­sive con­struc­tion with a dome and a tower from which a muezzin calls men to prayer. And so the word is used de­lib­er­ately to en­cour­age the more in­tol­er­ant among us to be­come even hot­ter un­der the col­lar.

For we all know that it isn’t re­ally the mosques, or the use of garages by Mus­lim men to pray in, to which th­ese peo­ple are ob­ject­ing, but to any ex­pres­sion or man­i­fes­ta­tion of Is­lam. They don’t like Mus­lims and will only tol­er­ate them as long as they are in­vis­i­ble. Be­ing in­vis­i­ble means not hav­ing a pub­lic place of wor­ship, even if it is only a garage. You don’t need lots of imag­i­na­tion or his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge to see where this train of thought leads.

I’ll put it sim­ply: if you ex­pect peo­ple to tol­er­ate your very pub­lic ex­pres­sions of Ro­man Catholi­cism, then you are go­ing to have to tol­er­ate other peo­ple’s far, far less pub­lic – al­most in­vis­i­ble, in fact – pub­lic ex­pres­sions of Hin­duism, Ju­daism, Bud­dhism, or var­i­ous Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions. The ar­gu­ment that Ro­man Catholi­cism is the dom­i­nant, ma­jor­ity re­li­gion does not wash. Free­dom of wor­ship is ex­actly that; there is no slid­ing scale which gives one re­li­gion pri­or­ity over an­other, nor does ma­jor­ity rule come into it, no more than it does with free­dom of ex­pres­sion. The more pop­u­lar, dom­i­nant opin­ion about pol­i­tics, for ex­am­ple, does not get to si­lence, con­trol, per­se­cute, limit or re­strict ex­pres­sions of mi­nor­ity opin­ions about pol­i­tics.

To­day, that vile out­fit which calls it­self (in trans­la­tion) the United Mal­tese Pa­tri­ots is sched­uled to protest against al­low­ing Mus­lims to use a garage as a mosque in St Paul’s Bay. Even the word ‘al­low’ has fright­en­ing implications. Peo­ple have a right to gather in wor­ship. It is not some­thing that oth­ers ‘al­low’ them to do. The United Mal­tese Pa­tri­ots are a man­i­fes­ta­tion of gross in­tol­er­ance. No­body de­cent shares their views. If you do, then know that you are as in­de­cent as they are, even if you like to dress it up dif­fer­ently.

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