The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

The clash of religions

Tuesday, 2 August 2016, 10:02 Last update: about 5 years ago

Nothing of what is happening in the big wide world has percolated here. Nothing new there.

One would have expected the churches in Malta to react with all expressions of sorrow including the pealing of bells and solemn Masses for the Dead to commemorate the elderly French priest who was murdered on the altar in his own church in Normandy last week. There was nothing of the sort in Malta.

On the contrary, in France, from Notre Dame in Paris to the church of the killing in Normandy, special Masses were held on Sunday. And what was special was that hundreds, thousands of Muslims attended to express solidarity with the Catholics after this heinous crime.

Again, nothing of the sort was heard in Malta. One doubts if anyone here had the same idea, Muslim or Catholic.

Instead we had the desecration of copies of the Koran in the Mater Dei prayer room, left unguarded, allowing someone to prepare the act of desecration and to do it.

So far, we have not heard of any arrests having been made. One would have thought that the state-of-the-art hospital would be well-equipped with television cameras to give an idea who entered the prayer room.

Such acts of Islamophobia are not unheard-of abroad. There was a spike of such acts in Great Britain after the brutal killing of Drummer Boy Rigby outside London some years ago. And France and Italy have had their share of such acts too.

So as far as acts of Islamophobia go, we are at par with the world. But as far as trying to bridge the gap between religions we are still far behind the rest of the world.

Here and there on the social media one reads today veiled and not so veiled criticism of Pope Francis and his measured reactions after the French priest’s death.

Returning to Rome from his visit to Poland, Pope Francis asked why should one speak of Muslim violence and that Islam is violent when in Italy, just to give an example, every day carries news of murders and other similar acts. Does that allow anyone to speak of Catholic violence, the Pope asked.

On the plane taking him to Poland, on the immediate morrow of the priest’s death, the Pope said we are at war, but then quickly corrected himself to clarify we are at war against poverty, against ignorance, against structures of power that enslave people.

The Pope was very careful to condemn the killing on the one hand (and he could also add the killing of nuns, the burning alive of Christians, and other acts against Christians in many countries around the world) but at the same time speak about the good there is in all religions and how people in different religions are all seeking the Lord and seeking to do good.

Malta is perhaps the best example of Christianity engaged in an armed combat against Islam. Our history under the Knights, the history of the 1565 Great Siege, the bastions all around Valletta and Cottonera remind us of this past clash of religions in which Malta was in the foreground.

The siege mentality which is the result of so many centuries of hatred, enmity and fighting, is still present in our psyche. In this day and age we may either go along with the Islamophobia that is part of our national DNA or we can try and follow in the steps not just of Pope Francis but also of Father Jacques Hamel who helped the Muslims in his parish build their own mosque only to be killed by two Isis members.


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