Q&A with the Grand Mullah of Maltese satire

He’s the laughing mujahid whose online jihad has turned Facebook into unholy ground for the country’s leaders and celebrities. On his first anniversary, we ask the grand mullah what’s the weather like in Satiristan.

Maltatoday: You started as Divorzistan: what's the story behind that?

Satiristan: Divorzistan was borne out of heartburn - seriously. All those billboards predicting the death of love and life because of the introduction of civil divorce? A year later it sounds laughable that this country had to go through all that to introduce what is a simple piece of civil legislation.

I likened Divorzistan to a resistance front composed of people who believe in freedom, especially mental, but who are also largely underfunded and poorly presented when compared to the more illustrious, glittering enemy. In the divorce campaign, the "enemy" (no hard feelings, Clyde) was represented by a staunch movement of conservatives among which I firmly believe a few individuals had more than simply the divorce vote at stake, but also a social status quo that had to be maintained at all costs.

The term "Mullah" is of a clear Arabic descent. What better than Arabic culture to describe the enemy to our God-fearing, Catholic, racist society?

Internet humour was already present with maltafly.com sometime during the EU referendum, but since then there was no veritable presence on the web. Do you feel you filled the void on Facebook?

I think Satiristan operates in a different parameter than maltafly, which I didn't follow a lot at the time but I personally hope it is restored. Facebook has its advantages and restrictions. Frankly a lot of this comes spur of the moment and I understand that FB is a "closed community". On the other hand there are a number of other satirical outlets, targeting different issues and possibly communicating to diverse audiences. The more the better.

Isn't it great to see all this irreverence about officialdom and the 'establishment' on Facebook?

I will repeat what many other academics will say, namely that social media are a godsend in a small island where broadcasting and print media are tightly controlled and the voice of dissent is quartered to its own origins. You will not find a critique of Joseph Muscat published in Kullhadd.

Borrowing a leaf from what Immanuel Mifsud said, the very notion of a political TV station keeps people from thinking for themselves. The media has impoverished discourse locally. That said social media don't necessarily create the richest discourse around. Politics have permeated that area too. So let Malta be forever polarized, and let us, poor common mortals, tell this politicized society we've had enough with all the pomp and statements

This is satire unlike the lame stuff we get on national TV by the usual production houses...

Our inspiration, as is the case of Incertament, comes from abroad. In Malta, "satire" on TV is controlled, harmless, very obvious, to the extent where you cannot even call it satire, it's just cabaret. The working class is the target of the irony and the working class laughs at it little knowing it's laughing at itself, because the only choice is an actor from a different background poking fun at them.

The Mullah follows Italian satire, which Berlusconi tried to flatten out without much success: the target, in Italy, are the bankers, the church, politicians from both side of the divide, the freemasons... in Malta we're pleased to laugh at a badly-done parody of a bus driver with an irritating catchphrase.

Incertament is obviously inspired by Blob. Do you find a natural connection between Italy's left-of-centre humour/comedy and Malta; and, do you think the Maltese actually get it?

Incertament has always been at the back of my mind, it's a project I've always wanted to create, and I know that no TV station in Malta will be willing to accept something similar Enrico Ghezzi has created a unique format and Incertament is, as stated in the title credits, a local tribute to Blob. We obviously lack footage, time, money, but certainly not the passion.

The connection is there, but not at first glance. For one, the Maltese expect a unidirectional level of critique. You're either all out against the blues, or all out against the reds. Second, as soon as you raise the bar in what is being proposed or parodied, being less funny and more subtle, feedback dwindles.

Sometimes you get the odd, very encouraging email from someone who pieces everything together and understands why we used clips of Craxi in Parliament denouncing the state of party financing precisely by admitting that his party, like all the rest, was fundamentally corrupt, or Corrado Guzzanti's parody about bi-polarism.

Incertament, in a utopic dream, is the disillusioned reaction to what's happening around us.

So who are the Mullah's enemies, and friends?

The Mullah has no known enemies, he is a peaceful individual who herds sheep and uses a bit of photoshop. We're friends with all those who don't take themselves seriously and possess a sense of humour.

What are his pastimes?

Herding sheep and polishing Kalashnikovs. And occasionally train the sheep to polish the Kalashnikovs. Once a month we organize a night with fellow mujaheedin and force them to watch Corrado Guzzanti for endless hours, and nobody has ever complained. A bit better than hours of Xarabank.

What are his aspirations in life?

Buying Manchester City.

What does he think of Malta?

The Mullah watches a lot of documentaries about Sicily and its history. Malta follows very closely. This is a closed society where the present generation can bring about change, but it will need a lot of time and courage, and the awareness that politics will never change anything. There are 69 individuals and their sidekicks whose job satisfaction ought to be very low, yet they are revered for keeping Malta in the dark ages. Our island deserves better than this lot.

Satiristan celebrates its first birthday at the Coach & Horses pub, in Valley Road, Birkirkara on Sunday 20 May.

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It's a pity this item is restricted to facebook. There are a lot of us out here who don't have the slightest inclination to "join" FB.