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
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.