Heritage watchdog accused of suppressing evidence of Muslim past

Superintendence of Cultural Heritage rebuts author’s accusations, and say it will publish archaeological investigations on Arab period in 2015.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has denied a request by researcher Mark Camilleri to publish a list of all archaeological objects dated from 800AD to 1400AD - a period which coincides with the Arab occupation and continued Muslim presence in the island in subsequent years.

Camilleri, currently chairman of the National Book Council but perhaps better known as the editor of student pamphlet Ir-Realtà and who was acquitted of obscenity charges, holds an MA in history. His new booklet, 'The Pauline Myth', claims information on Malta's Arab heritage is being suppressed from the public to perpetuate the myth that the Maltese have been Christians since the time of Saint Paul's shipwreck in 60AD.

But Superintendent Anthony Pace denies any ideological or religious motives behind the decision not to accede to Camilleri's request, and reveals that the results of all archaeological investigations related to this historical period will be published in two years' time.

In a letter sent to Camilleri, the Superintendence claimed that it was exempted from the Freedom of Information Act because the publication of the information requested would prejudice academic and scientific research, which is still taking place.

While not acceding to Camilleri's demand, the Superintendence expressed its readiness to assist him in his research as it has done in the past.

In his recently published book 'Il-Mit Pawlin u l-abbuz tal-Istorja Maltija' published by the Labour Party's Sensiela Kotba Socjalisti, Mark Camilleri accuses the Superintendence of serving as a "propagandistic machine which controls and abuses of historical evidence for religious and ideological ends."

He goes as far as comparing the Superintendence to the cultural heritage agencies of dictatorships like fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These are lofty claims, and ones easily dismissed by Superintendent Anthony Pace, who categorically denied allegations that it was operating some propaganda machine.

"The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage is a recognised research and regulatory institution, both locally and abroad. All bona fide researchers who have worked with the Superintendence recognise the impartial scientific research of this institution."

Pace also confirmed that the superintendence is working with other researchers to compile and publish the "archaeological results" for the Middle Ages and the indicated period. "The publication will be of expected scientific standards and will be submitted to reviewers," Pace explained.

It is projected that the publication of this information will be completed within two years. "This research is being undertaken in spite of the severe lack of resources with which the Superintendence has to operate".

The Superintendence, with a limited staff complement of 11 people, has to monitor construction developments and MEPA permits which encroach on archaeological sites. 

When asked why the Superintendence was exempted from Freedom of Information laws, he replied that he was not at liberty to discuss the merits of Camilleri's FOIA request because it was still under review and a final decision yet to be taken on the request.

In its letter to Camilleri, the Superintendence argued that the publication of this information would prejudice academic and scientific research, which is still taking place. "Acceding to the request would result in the divulging of information before research has been completed. This would probably put the agency at a disadvantage."

In his book, Camilleri contends that a number of artefacts dating back from the Arab period were discovered during restoration works in Mdina five years ago. He calls on the Superintendence to give independent researchers access to these remains. He also accuses the Superintendence of secrecy over a find of artefacts at Hal Millieri and other areas.

Camilleri also denounced the absence of any exhibits dating back to the Arab period in the Museum of Archaeology.

The book features an interview with acclaimed historian Prof. Godfrey Wettinger whose research established the historical fact that Malta was Muslim in the Early Middle Ages.

A MaltaToday survey conducted in September showed that 63% of respondents believe that the Maltese were Muslim. Surprisingly, knowledge of this historical fact, which is supposedly thought in schools, is lowest among 18-34s and among respondents with a post-secondary education. In an indication that the question is still somewhat ideologically loaded, Labour voters were more likely than PN voters to know (or admit) this historical fact.

Camilleri's book also refers to a speech by President George Abela in which he described St Paul's shipwreck in 60 AD as a decisive moment in history, which gave Malta a Christian identity, thus overlooking the fact that Malta's decisive conversion to Christianity occurred after the 13th century.

The facts, as history shows us, are indeed to the contrary of the President's assertion.

 

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Malta's history of mixed influences and in particular the Semitic origins of the language could be a huge asset. So far we have, at best been ignoring it and at worst, suppressing it. With the country so well anchored in Europe and the Catholic faith, the nation should be self-confident enough to embrace its' own history and make the most of the opportunity it presents.
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If it's the truth why not publish all? If it's a fact than show all history, it belongs to the Maltese people's history,and also if it's true that you hide all the truth than you should step down .The history is not yours! Saviour Falzon min Hal-Qormi.
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For foreign consumption. The Arab occupation of Malta was not from AD 800-1,400. Soon someone will state the Arabs built the megalithic temples