Malta has become a global village with more than one-fifth of the population originating from at least 151 countries from every continent in the world.
As Marshall McLuhan in his Playboy interview (March 1969) said: “The global-village conditions… stimulate more discontinuity and diversity and division than the old mechanical, standardised society; in fact, the global village makes maximum disagreement and creative dialogue inevitable. Uniformity and tranquillity are not hallmarks of the global village; far more likely are conflict and discord as well as love and harmony ‒ the customary life mode of any tribal people.”
In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost says: “Good fences make good neighbours” about the need to have clear boundaries between properties, as well as the need for neighbours to respect these boundaries, if relations between neighbours are to remain amicable and ‘good’. The process of establishing boundaries and respecting them in a multicultural society is painful and messy. It cannot be left up to law enforcement authorities alone.
We need to learn to live together, not side by side in clusters hostile to each other. It is not easy. But the alternative is to tear each other apart. It is only natural to prefer our kind: birds of a feather flock together. But it is not an option any longer to think, feel and behave as if we are still living in a homogenised monocultural fortress society, when we have been in fact for years now living in an open and multicultural society.
However, it takes a deliberate act of civilisation to respect each other’s cultures and live together as equals.
Malta is the ninth most densely populated country of 235 countries/territories in the world: 1,384 persons per square kilometre.
We are the 10th smallest country in the world by total area (316 km2).
We are like a pressure cooker compressing in our restricted space arrivals from overseas of tourists and foreign workers who are essential for our economy and irregular migrants looking for a better life through the central Mediterranean route.
We have to deal with all these very challenging and difficult pressures in a way where we are humane to each other and combine prosperity, justice and human rights.
A lot of political, social and cultural work is essential in our society to make Malta develop into a rich multicultural society. It is not easy and will not be easy for Malta as our institutions, public services and infrastructure come under increasing pressure to deal with this reality, generating resentment against the ‘invaders’.
We have become a multicultural society which itself creates tension and the loss of comfort zones for all as the mindset and behaviour of residents and those who arrive from overseas have to adjust and catch up with this reality of diversity and become more inclusive.
As we learn to live together, we must not allow laissez faire multiculturalism to reverse the progress we have made so far in our civil rights and equality. Multiculturalism cannot be invoked to justify genital mutilation, underage marriage, homophobia and misogyny.
Our idea of Malta should be that of a society where we embrace diversity- Evarist Bartolo
It has not been easy for our society to achieve these civil rights and the Catholic Church has had to live with this new reality. No other religion in Malta should expect to be privileged and treated differently. Whoever comes to live among us must respect our laws, customs and constitution.
It is dangerous to simply tolerate communities of different ethnic groups and nationalities to live as enclaves with their own codes of conduct which are illegal in Malta, hoping for the best that things do not flare up and get out of control. We should work towards inclusive multiculturalism and not ‘plural monoculturalism’.
As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen asks in ‘Identity & Violence’: “Does the existence of a diversity of cultures, which might pass each other like ships in the night, count as a successful case of multiculturalism?” Sen argues against a fragmented nation made up of “sequestered segments” through faith and culture–based separatism leading to a federation of cultural and religious ethnicities.
Our idea of Malta should be that of a society where we embrace diversity, learn to live and stay together, within a democratic framework with human rights for all, nurturing a multiplicity of identities that enrich each other.
Six years ago, 79-year-old King Harald V of Norway gave a brilliant speech about this kind of inclusive multiculturalism: “It is not always easy to say where we are from, what nationality we belong too. What we call home is where our heart is – and that is sometimes difficult to place within borders.
“Norwegians are engaged youth and experienced old. Norwegians are unmarried, divorced, families and old couples. Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who like boys and girls and boys who are fond of each other.
“Norwegians believe in God, Allah, Everything and Nothing… In other words, Norway is you. Norway is us. When we in our national anthem sing ‘Yes, we love this country’, we must remember that we also sing about each other. For it’s we who make up the country. Therefore, our national anthem also is a declaration of love to the Norwegian people.
“My greatest hope for Norway is that we are able to take care of each other. That we in the future are going to build this country on trust, fellowship and generosity. That we shall know that we – despite of all our differences – are one people. That Norway is one.”