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

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Charles Flores

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.

Au­dio-vis­ual trea­sures

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.

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