‘Malta 1565’ inscription on terror attack rifle shows how Great Siege is appropriated by far right

The Great Siege as the symbol of some mythical clash between Christians and Muslims is often invoked by far-right terrorists and parties

Brenton Tarrant invoked Malta as footage shows 'Malta 1565' written on the barrel of the shotgun he used to kill Muslim worshippers
Brenton Tarrant invoked Malta as footage shows 'Malta 1565' written on the barrel of the shotgun he used to kill Muslim worshippers

The inscription of ‘Malta 1565’ on the barrel of one of the New Zealand terrorist’s rifle shows how widespread the Great Siege’s appropriation by far-rightists and racists is.

The New Zealand mosque killer inscribed ‘Malta’ on his weapons twice: once on the barrel of his shotgun and another time on the foregrip of his assault rifle. The shotgun inscription specifically said ‘Malta 1565’ in reference to the Great Siege of Malta. The foregrip inscription read ‘Malta 1571’ in reference to the Battle of Lepanto, where Malta sailed out to seek a 250-galley Muslim fleet at Lepanto, Italy.

Another clip shows 'Malta 1571' on the foregrip of the assault rifle
Another clip shows 'Malta 1571' on the foregrip of the assault rifle

This was revealed in the footage released by Brenton Tarrant on Facebook showing himself shooting and killing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Australian-born shooter had even published a 40-page manifesto on image-board website 8chan. Malta was not invoked in the shooter’s manifesto but Islamophobic and white supremacist rhetoric riddles the pages.

The guns used by Tarrant (he had at least six in his car) were covered in racial slurs like ‘Kebab Remover’ and ‘Migration Compact’. Another reads: ‘Vienna 1683’ – a reference to the Battle of Vienna – another historic clash between Christian and Ottoman forces.

Even in Malta, symbols and tropes from the Great Siege are employed by far-rightists and anti-immigrant forces to hit out at “foreign invasions” and Muslims, by invoking the great clash between the Knights of the Order of St John and the Ottoman fleets.

The Knights’ eight-pointed cross has always been employed by right-wing forces in Malta: historian Michael Grech writes that the cross featured prominently in the propaganda of the Church-conservative coalition in the 1930s and 1960s, first against Gerald Strickland and then with Dom Mintoff.“Today, ‘patriots’ are trying to appropriate themselves of the cross not merely to signal essential ‘Malteseness’, but also to use it as a crest in need of defence against the threat supposedly posed by foreigners, multi-culturalism, and different religious practices.”

The Great Siege of 1565 marks a watershed in Maltese history as the classic historical battle between a small island and an empire’s fleet, wrapped into the neat dichotomy of Christianity versus Islam. The Maltese cross is the surviving emblem of this narrative, which is why far-right parties like Imperium Europa have used the cross inside their ‘swastika-coloured’ banners.

The Imperium Europa banner (left) with the Maltese cross and right, the Nazi swastika
The Imperium Europa banner (left) with the Maltese cross and right, the Nazi swastika

And yet, the historical reference to Maltese greatness or ethnic purity is in itself incorrect. “These sinister claims rest on perverted historical facts. The Maltese cross is not an exclusively Maltese symbol. It was an emblem of debauched foreign aristocracy who was not celebrated by the Maltese during the Hospitallers rule,” Grech wrote.

READ MORE Curb your enthusiasm (for the Great Siege)

Additionally, the hero of the Great Siege, the Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette was not even fond of the Maltese populace, as historian Prof. Carmel Vassallo has said: “In correspondence with the Viceroy after the fall of St. Elmo, the Grand Master certainly did not express a very high regard for the Maltese and on the contrary labels them ‘the enemy within’,” Vassallo says of a letter in which La Valette betrayed concerns that the Maltese ‘popolazzo’ could rise against the Order.   

These kind of myths fuel the fire of countless either right-wing terrorists. Norwegian far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik had visited Malta with his mother in 2004 to conduct “historic research” on “Europe’s defence from North Africa”.

Breivik had posted a 12-minute YouTube video, “Knights Templar 2083” six hours before the Utoya massacre, recycling the iconography of the crusades into a vision of the future that sees Christians having to fight Muslims once again. Breivik was also linked to Malta-based far-right blogger ‘Paul Ray’, who blogged about his fear of a Muslim invasion in Europe under the pseudonym Lionheart, and was linked by the British press to Breivik.

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