The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Muslims don’t define themselves as Muslim, just as Catholics don’t define themselves as Catholic

Daphne Caruana Galizia Sunday, 25 August 2013, 09:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

There are times when I want to ring a couple of friends who happen to be Muslim, just to ask them how they feel about the way the word is used as a catch-all for the disparagement of unwanted groups of people. But I feel too awkward about it. What can they possibly say? They are way too polite to point out that the Irish Republic Army, in its heyday of bombs and terrorism, aided and abetted by a ‘Muslim’ called Muammar Gaddafi, were never described as “those Roman-Catholic savages”.

Over the past few years, it’s become all about Muslims. I don’t remember it ever being so bad, not even when we really did have a ‘Muslim invasion’, back in the 1970s and early 1980s, when Gaddafi money poured into Malta in return for Malta hiving itself off from Europe, allowing thousands of Libyan men to ‘study’ at a college Mintoff had given to the Gaddafi regime (the former St Michael’s teacher-training college in San Gwann), building a large mosque in an extensive compound, setting up an Islamic school, making the teaching of Arabic mandatory in Maltese schools, and making Maltese passports a close green copy of those of the Jamahariya, whose cultural office was given pride of place opposite Parliament and the President’s office, at the Main Guard.

Back then, the very people who are now ranting on about the ‘Muslim invasion’ – they appear to be mainly Labour voters, hence the xenophobia and isolationist mindset – were all for that very real invasion by Gaddafi’s regime, and Islam was not a word you heard. Labour supporters turned up in their tens of thousands to cheer Gaddafi when he spoke at a Malta Labour Party mass meeting in the 1970s. They praised him when he was the only head of state/government to turn up for Mintoff’s pathetic 31st March ceremony to mark the end of the contract Britain refused to renew. They were all agog with delight when Gaddafi money (not ‘Muslim’ money) paid for the wretched children’s allowances they still can’t get over despite getting so much more since then.

Back then in the Golden Years of Labour, anything Muslim or Arabic was good because it meant Gaddafi and money. Labour supporters willingly had their children learn Arabic in school when they refused to let them learn English. They sent their children to ceremonies celebrating the murderous tyrant, where they were given copies of the Green Book, probably still cherished until today as the only book in some Labour households. And while they would have stabbed a British sailor with a broken bottle given half a word of encouragement, they rolled out the red carpet for the ‘students’ Gaddafi’s regime dispatched to Malta in their many thousands. When some were found hanging in their college rooms, a common method of murder used by the Gaddafi regime, the Malta police didn’t bother investigating and went with a verdict of suicide.

But now we can expect the European Parliament elections to be turned into a referendum on which party can best protect the Maltese from the terrors of halal meat, the horrors of mosques and the depredations of Friday prayers. This is in a country whose language still uses the Islamic ‘il gemaa’ – the (Friday prayer) gathering – for ‘Friday’ yet chooses to be wilfully blind to its own Islamic roots, while determinedly distancing itself from any consideration that it could have Islamic roots at all.

It is quite as though nobody has noticed that there’s been rather a vast mosque and Islamic school, among the first ones in Europe though we were instructed not to consider ourselves European, on the crest of Corradino Hill for some three decades now. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, we described people by their nationalities: Libyans, Iraqis, Egyptians, Tunisians, Lebanese, Algerians and Turks. Now they are all simply ‘Muslims’. This is about as intelligent and useful as Tunisians insisting on referring to the whole of Europe, and anybody European, as ‘those Christians’, or an Algerian meeting an Italian down at the square, having a chat and then later going home to tell his wife that he met a really nice Christian and was pleasantly surprised.

It is absolutely nuts the way nationality, social class, educational background, personal interests and all the other identifiers we normally use for others have been allowed to sink into the oblivion of one meaningless and yet at the same time completely significant word: Muslim. The fact is that people who are Muslim no more identify themselves primarily as such than people who are Catholic identify themselves primarily by their religion. Even the most fervent Catholics in Malta identify themselves by their nationality and gender first and foremost, then by family status, job/career/profession and even political beliefs before they identify themselves as ‘Catholic’.

If you ask a Maltese person who he is, he will give you his name, his nationality, his marital/parental/filial status, his job description, his hobbies, his political party and his band club. He will tell you what music he likes and what food he prefers, but he might not even remember to mention his religion. People who are Muslim are no different, but we prefer to forget this under the onslaught of propaganda that has begun to sound horribly like 1930s references to ‘Jews’. We really need to think harder.


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