March 2009


Regularly, on newspapers published in Malta you see some letter about one of these two subjects:

1) How Islam has degraded the UK, how evil it is, and that we should not forget what’s happening in Iran

2) How much Catholic values are neglected and the ‘harm’ this has having on (Maltese) society.

For the first, the implied recommendation to beware of Islam. For the second, an urge to make pressure on local politicians to show their Catholic traits. Some go to the extent of using their vote for MEP elections as a threat towards candidates who do not conform 100% to their Catholic beliefs.

Following current international affairs, it is obvious that what some powerful Muslims in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are doing is disgusting, transforming these otherwise beautiful countries in a hell on earth. The obsession on political correctness in some regions in the UK, such as removing crucifixes is not something enviable (though this is taken out of proportion, in that it is only practiced in some local regions, UK law was never changed). However, what many fail to realise are that first of all we are using two weights for two measures. We condemn Muslims bullying their religion on the state or politicians while accept, if not condone Catholics doing the same thing. We hailed a Danish cartoonist ridiculing prophet Muhammed as a freedom of speech icon, yet proceeded criminally against a person who dressed as Jesus Christ in Carnival. Doesn’t anyone sense a bit of hypocrisy here?

Secondly, speaking about our country – Malta, let’s face it and be honest, there is no Muslim threat. The Muslim community in Malta has never made any implicit or explicit threats calling Maltese society to appease them. The just cherish their freedom of worship (always as long as Maltese laws are not breached) and stop there.

On the other hand, people who like me are agnostics or atheists, face subtle discrimination from Catholic churches’ imposition. Crucifixes in schools or places of work had never bothered me before. Now, they are beginning to do so. I’m seeing them as a threat to our supposedly secular society. They are a symbol of the limitations on our freedom of expression, or of the so called ‘invisible hand of the church’. They signify a curriculum of religious studies that does not teach religion to our kids, but just the Catholic faith. Such symbols signify the oppression on some of my friends who have different sexual orientation who have a right to be different unless they do not put in practice their differences. They justify the cruel stare I sometimes receive when I say I don’t believe in God, the prejudice that I have no morality, which is far from the truth.

 I’ve got nothing against the crucifix itself. Far from that. Jesus was a progressive revolutionary in his time, maybe even too progressive for our times 2000 years later. As has happened to people like him along world’s history, and is unfortunately still happening today, he was tortured and murdered for his beliefs. What bothers me is what such a symbol has come to represent. Together with the injustice towards Muslims in Malta who are somewhat made to blame for removal of crucifixes in some places in the UK when they have never made such demands.

I’m not afraid of Muslims at all, at least in my country (I can’t imagine myself living in Iran let’s face it – yes we are better off in this respect). However sometimes I askel: Is inquisition really over in our small country, or have we just eliminated the most sinister parts such as physical harm and imprisonment, but let the psychological abuse carry on.

Another member of the clergy condemned the play Stitching on Talking Point article on the Times, though not as aggressively as others before him. This comes at a time where a storm in a teacup is made because some evil mavericks decided to dress as Catholic religious figures in the Nadur carnival, some of whom are also being prosecuted criminally. I emphasise the word Catholic since in this same island we live in, a Danish cartoonist mocking prophet Muhammed and Islam was considered as an icon of freedom of expression.

 

However what struck me in this particular article was the fact that Fr Paul Chetcuti states everything, even freedom, included that of expression should have limits. (On a general basis I agree with this but not vis a vis Stitching, on things completely different for completely different reasons).

 

From then he proceeds to say that believing in not having limits or the ‘sky is the limit’ mentality would carry serious harms and eventually deprive us of freedom. He then goes to mention issues such as the economic recession, global warming, increasing poverty and teenage pregnancies. What he and many others, no necessary within the Catholic church, fail to see is that with the possible exception of teenage pregnancies, setting limits, especially those on freedom of expression have nothing to do with these catastrophic ills.

 

The problem with these issues, seemingly unrelated but definitely aren’t, is not freedom, it is a malignant tumour that has been plaguing humanity all along. A disease we never found the cure for since we rarely if ever searched for it. This plague that can melt glaciers, bankrupt banks and kill children with hunger is called greed. We have our war on terror, on drugs or even on freedom of expression, yet no state or even minority has ever declared war against greed.

 

When it comes to global warming, not even the sky is the limit. For the sake of profit people not only kept polluting but up to a certain time (after which it could not be denied any longer) even went on the media, corrupting scientists with millions of dollars to say that we humans have nothing to do with this. One scientist said very crudely ‘the cause of global warming is the sun’. Unlike the people of stitching, these scientists were not practicing art or fiction. They were stating these things as facts.

 

Yet as the climate change problem is increasing problems in drought in the poorest regions of the world, fighting rages on in these same impoverished countries. If one looks behinds what meets the naked eye, the fighting is rarely about religion or ideology. From those waging it is for personal power, including financial wealth but not exclusively. Once again – greed. For the victims, the poorest of the world which have become a majority rather than a minority group) the struggle is against the consequence, of this greed – hunger, untreated illnesses, lack of education etc.

 

And the economic recession – greed in its pure form. What has happened (in simple terms, I’m no economic analyst)? The culprits are actually compulsive gamblers. No casino or jackpot could do as much harm as the stock exchange. These people take extremely high risk investments, with the potential of astronomic gain of wealth, or otherwise catastrophe. Yet, for these gamblers we don’t try to provide therapy like the man behind the jackpot. Neither do we imprison them for theft, fraud and misappropriation of funds. No, we bail them out. Rather than a deterrent we provide them with security, since these gamblers employ people, common citizens who work for their hard earned money. Poor guys, we think and rather than point our fingers to the gamblers and their greed we try to save these employees by giving more money to their oppressors. Ironically it’s mostly money that had been paid by the employees themselves through their taxes.

 

So, should there be limits? Definitely but not on a shocking play. It may be distasteful for some, but no Stitching will melt the glaciers, kill innocent people and eventually drown us both literally and metaphorically. I don’t think to explain what these limits are and towards whom. Hopefully it’s pretty obvious