The self-declared Organisation of Maltese Patriots is promoting discriminatory discourse which could enflame dangerous action. The organisation has made its intentions clear: Malta has one religion, namely Roman Catholicism, and Muslims shouldn’t be praying in public. It is collecting signatures against what it dubs as “forced integration” and is making its views more visible in the public sphere.
In its most recent public event, spokesperson Alex Pisani said that apart from Roman Catholicism, other religions should not be allowed to hold public events. In his words, Muslims’ prayers should be confined to the mosque in Paola.
Needless to say, Pisani also expressed his opposition to more mosques in Malta, and warned that the Muslim population in Malta will explode, given that Muslim women “breed at a fast rate”. Inevitably, according to Pisani, the Maltese ‘race’ will be destroyed by such changes.
Other spokespersons for the organisation expressed their opposition to ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ who, according tothe ‘patriots’, defend practices that belong to the Middle Ages, and some expressed their opposition to cultural diversity inState schools.
In response to this, the Education Ministry defended cultural, religious and ethnic diversity in schools such as the one at St Paul’s Bay as examples of social inclusion. As a parent, I believe that such diversity is beneficial to children when it is carried out in the spirit of dialogue and mutual respect. I can also confirm that Catholicism is definitely not under ‘threat’ in State schools.
The issue of Muslim prayers in public seems to be stemming from the need for the Muslims – such as those represented by the Muslim Council Federation - to have a meeting place in conformity with regulations and legislation.
There are fundamentalists of all stripes and colours, but likewise the same can be said of democrats
If anything, I believe that it is better to have such practices being regulated by Malta’s legislation rather than going underground and being unaccountable.
To put things into perspective, there are around 6,000 Muslims in Malta, many of whom are foreign and Sunni. Numbers have increased in the past years, and this also includes Muslims with Maltese citizenship.
Before one leaps into conclusions about Joseph Muscat’s discriminatory sale of passports to rich, invisible persons, I am referring to common citizens, people who work for their living, who pay their taxes, and who have aspirations and worries like other human beings. Muslims, like Catholics, are not simply one-dimensional persons with no other identities. In an increasingly intercultural world, they are characterised by different – and at times conflicting – values, situations, loyalties and lifestyles. Some are conservative,others are more liberal, some are intolerant, others are perfectly happy to live in a pluralistic society.
Similarly, not all those who are concerned with Islam are racist. Some are concerned with certain practices which are prioritised by certain Muslim elements – especially when they verge on the dogmatic and intolerant. This includes beliefs that men are superior to women and that secular law has no place in society.
Christianity itself has undergone such conflicts and in most instances has adapted itself to modernisation, even thanks to progressive movements which struggled for equality, tolerance and freedom. Malta is no exception to such change.
As regards the Muslim issue, I believe that Maltese institutions and political parties should not brush aside issues which are being discussed fervently within civil society and the public sphere. Perhaps concepts such as agonism – promoted by Chantal Mouffe - and constitutional patriotism, promoted by Europeanist intellectuals such as Jurgen Habermas, should be given the importance they deserve.
Here the idea is that people, their communities and organisations, with all their diverse histories, nationalities and aspirations, should agree to the values and norms of a pluralistic democratic constitution which is based on premises such as tolerance and respect. In this context, fundamentalism has no place, as it does not respect such democratic rules.
There are fundamentalists of all stripes and colours, but likewise the same can be said of democrats.
Therefore, Muslim organisations which play by the rules of Maltese and European society, should have the same rights and responsibilities as other religious, political and cultural organisations.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.