The tiny island of Malta rarely pops up in my rss reader but when it does I usually pay the news more attention than it deserves. Malta is a tiny island with about 400 000 inhabitants and like most islands is fairly big on introspection. What makes Malta special (for me) is the fact that I spent the first 15 years of my life there so I have experienced the narrow mindedness first hand. Don’t get me wrong the Maltese are friendly and welcoming its just when it comes to politics they are positively rooted in the dark ages. Today an article in the Guardian did come up via my rss and it began
What if there were an EU country where abortion, divorce, and blasphemy in public were all still illegal? Where freedom of expression was limited to saying nothing critical of the Catholic church, nothing that the government could call “obscene”, and nothing against the few noble families who all but controlled it? Surely, given Turkey’s problems, Croatia’s lack of membership, and Iceland’s still pending application, such a place would be expelled? Welcome to Malta.
Of course size matters but it is strange that the island is able to maintain these politics within the framework for the European Union – we should not really be surprised as the EU is still fundamentally an economic alliance and not a organisation founded in human rights. But still Malta is pushing the envelope
In the last year, the Maltese government has banned the play Stitching from being performed, has arrested and put students on trial for writing and publishing an “obscene” story, and has prevented the artist Alexander Stankovski from exhibiting paintings which contained nudity. The updated criminal code will make public obscenity or blasphemy in public punishable by up to a year in jail, even if the words or sentiments are part of a work of fiction, theatre, or art.
What if this had been a Muslim country behaving like this? Wouldn’t the criticism be louder? Is the lack of energy spent in combating blasphemy laws a form of lazy racism? All over Europe countries are going crazy about the Muslim dress. Clothes! At the same time we accept that we have laws against blasphemy! We are concerned about women’s freedoms and the oppression of religion and yet we support certain religions by silencing criticism.
How is it that Malta is the way it is? The historic and geographic isolation of the island has enabled it to maintain its bizarre positions. In the Guardian article on the censorship of a short story O’Mahony writes a paragraph that neatly sums up the situation:
The Maltese press covered the issue, but in a factual tone. A recent interview with another Maltese writer, Frans Sammut, in the Malta Independent, allowed him the space to say he agreed with the ban of the work. However, with editorials that celebrate the Pope’s stance on paedophiles operating within the Catholic church, one cannot expect the media to help artists that write about blasphemy and their perceptions of the church’s misogyny. Self-censorship is rife on an island where everyone knows everyone else, but general opinion seems to suggest that writers were simply not taken seriously enough before the events of last year to ever fear reproach for what they produced.