It just won’t go away
If anything, the socalled Maltese patriots’ protest at Buġibba/Qawra over the proposed mosque showed the issue just won’t go away, conveniently shelved for posterity in the banal annals of 21st century local history. But not for the reasons brought up by
Religious pluralism is a reality in today’s Malta. Some people don’t like it, but there’s no doubt they will have to lump it. A society that embraces pluralism, in whichever sector, is the reflection of a mature community that believes in a different future, one that thrives on mutual respect, the spirit of competition and endeavour, in both the collective and individual sense, and the common good. Minds stuck elsewhere simply do not know whether they are coming or going, they are seemingly lost in a psychological labyrinth. Reality will one day hit them right between the eyes.
This unwholesome predicament does not in any way exonerate either the local or central authorities. Decisions today will have a direct bearing on future generations, as social trends continue to change and inter-change as much as they have done over the centuries and are still doing now. Man is a creative animal and will not stop trying out new things, finding new ways to entertain, to believe, to worship, to succeed, to look forward to new experiences and to reach out to new ideas that go even beyond earthly confines.
This may all sound bombastic when expressed in connection with the simple request for the sanctioning of a mosque in the middle of Buġibba/Qawra, one of Malta’s most congested and frequented resort places, but the truth is Islamic influence is bound to grow wherever you go on these islands. It means that the Buġibba/Qawra Islamic community’s request to have a mosque will not be the last one. There are other Islamic communities in both Malta and Gozo and, if the Buġibba appeal gets the green light, they are bound to ask for their own place of worship.
The same of course had happened with the growth of a Maltese Christian tradition, which is why we have so many beautiful, “high-rise” churches and cathedrals. At the time Christianity was introduced, many believe, through St Paul’s shipwreck referred to in Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament, that Malta was wholly pagan. Of course there were no Maltese patriots to protest at that time; though legend has it the fiery saint had been stoned in Żejtun!
I have, in my written meanderings, expressed myself against the granting of the requested permit for a mosque in the place indicated by Muslims in Buġibba and Qawra. The place is in the wrong spot and would only cause further misery to residents and visitors alike with increased parking wars, noise and other social inhibitions. It is not difficult to find a more convenient place in the area – or is it a question that some people simply do not want another Islamic place of worship, unlike the Dominicans who have shown genuine concern over the issue?
The bigger the Muslim representation, including a growing number of Maltese converts mostly as a result of mixed marriages, the more we can expect similar requests from other parts of the Maltese Islands. It is a natural process occurring in much of the Western world, which I dare say contradicts Walid Nabham, the Muslim writer who holds Maltese nationality, who insisted recently that “in a small country like Malta, the mosque in Paola and its surrounding grounds are enough”.
I think that Nabham’s claim that there is “a growing rift in the Muslim community” is actually more ominous than the mere request for a new mosque, especially his declared belief that there may be fundamentalist elements, however negligible, within that same community.
What some of the foreign Muslims among us need to do first, however, is to show full respect, rather than arrogance, towards the laws of the land. For example, there have been frequent cases of people parking their cars in front of other people’s garages while they go inside the Paola mosque to pray.
In one such case, I am told, an irate Maltese resident, having finally had enough, went to the local police station to protest. Incredibly, he was casually asked by the duty officer “to show some patience, they’d only be in there for a very short time”. I bet he was among those flag-carrying protesters.
I am sure that, like me, many were those who were thrilled to learn that a total of €4.8 million in European Union funds have been allocated for the digitisation project of the audio-visual archives at Public Broadcasting Services. It is the only way to help salvage the thousands of treasures therein, i.e. those which have thankfully survived the ravages of time and the natural process of chemical degeneration, and creating access to them by locals and tourists alike.
I have the privilege of speaking from firsthand experience on this one, having spent a few years running the archives before the ethnic cleansing that occurred at PBS in 2004. Prior to that sad chapter, we had joined a pan-Mediterranean, French-led organisation, CAPMED, that was using EU funds to provide a collective data base as well as professional access to the television archives of the region, north and south, and to eventually initiate a digitisation project in those countries that had not yet undertaken this much-needed process.
We bought equipment at subsidised prices, hosted preservation and restoration experts and trainers from France’s famed INA agency and RAI, and began the viewing and cataloguing of material from the 50s and 60s in the PBS archives. We hardly even touched the tip of the iceberg, but it was a good beginning. Later attempts by well-meaning managers at the national broadcaster faced a similar fate because of lack of funds.
During the CAPMED days, I remember feeling envious when my Cypriot counterpart told me his country’s parliament had just approved a multi-million vote to help CyBC save their archives, while we were at the time more concerned with our immediate future as employees.
“It is never too late” may be a well-honed cliché, but it certainly falls in with last Monday’s news of the funds injection that will undoubtedly help this small nation preserve its manifold audio-visual treasures.