Fear is the real threat to the ‘Maltese identity’

The biggest threat to the ‘Maltese identity’ is the scaremongering and nationalistic frenzy of the so-called patriots

Marking the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca sent out a strong message against exclusion and racism.

“We must respond with courage and resolve, to ensure that the seeds of that hatred, which grew into such evil, are never allowed to take root in our societies again. We must protect the persecuted. We must speak out against bigotry and hatred. We must remember, and in remembering, we must be transformed,” Coleiro Preca said.

Some 90 years ago, in what was then known as the Weimar Republic, a fringe group of die-hard German nationalists fuelled a hate campaign in which they blamed the Jews for all of the country’s ills.

While serving a prison sentence, Adolf Hitler wrote that the Jews planned to “contaminate” the blood of pure Germans, accused them of being the mastermind of every crime, and said they wanted to lower Germany’s culture to dominate the country.

Years before exterminating millions of Jews, communists, homosexuals, Roma people and people with disability, Hitler wrote: “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Fast forward to 2016 and a fringe group of ham-fisted Maltese nationalists are invoking the name of their Christian god in spreading hate against anyone who does not look or act like them.

By selectively targeting foreigners – especially black third country nationals – and Muslims, the self-defined patriots are spreading lies in an attempt to fuel more hatred against human beings who happen to have different skin colour or different beliefs.

They blame whoever looks or acts different for everything, from “contaminating” the Maltese identity (which is nothing but a blend of different cultures and religions, including Islam) to being the criminal masterminds behind every theft, assault and murder.

Yet, as ridiculous as their pork sandwich stunt and their maladroit handling of their own supporters and the media might be, their hate campaign should not be ignored.

In the years that led to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, Jews were blamed for the economic woes of a humiliated and impoverished Germany, instigating violence against millions of innocent people.

Thankfully, given Malta’s economic stability, the self-declared patriots cannot do the same. But if Malta were to suffer an economic downturn, I’m pretty sure third country nationals and possibly the Muslim community, which includes thousands of Maltese citizens will take the blame for everything, from unemployment to inflation.

These are testing times, but whoever believes in equality and freedom must stand up and be counted in the face of intolerance and hate.

The Muslim community praying in Msida and the Eritrean procession celebrating The Epiphany in Valletta were termed as a threat to “our” lifestyle and security. But the real threat to society is posed by ignorance, fear and intolerance.

The Muslim community, which for a few weeks congregated in an Msida garden to pray, is not making outrageous demands. They’ve seen four planning applications for a change of use turned down by MEPA because among others, one local council did not want a mosque within its confines.

Now they are asking authorities to regularise places the Muslim community already owns or rents according to the country’s planning laws. Religions should not be privileged by the State but the social role played by religions should not be overlooked. In this country, sport associations and NGOs receive financial and logistic assistance from the State. They play important social and democratic roles, at times filling in the State’s lacunas.

The same goes for religious organisations. As long as they are registered and regularised and operate in full respect of the law of the land and fundamental human rights and freedoms I see no reason why they should be treated any differently.

Rightly so, many have questioned why the breakaway group of Muslims is not holding its Friday prayers in the Paola mosque.  

They claim it’s a question of space and location. The need for more places of worship for a growing community is unquestionable, as is the need for new places of worship and organisations to be regularised.

The fear of the so-called radicalisation of Muslims is real but driving them underground and marginalising whole communities will only foment further rancour, hatred and exclusion.

Moreover, I see nothing extraordinary in groups straying away from mainstream religions. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC), there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organisations in the world and they all took pride in their differences.

Silly? Probably, but however irrational and dogmatic religions are, they are a mainstay in most societies. 

Accepting diversity and speaking out against discrimination, bigotry and hatred is vital in achieving harmony.

Understanding and mitigating the challenges and changes brought about by migration is also necessary. But the biggest threat to the ‘Maltese identity’ is the scaremongering and nationalistic frenzy of the so-called patriots.

This is not a call for misplaced tolerance or for the glorification of minorities. As long as people are excluded and marginalised because of the way they look or because they have different beliefs or sexual orientation, the division between ‘us and them’ and inequality will never perish.