Thursday, February 17, 2011

Malta's Sense of Self

It is quite remarkable to see how large of an influence and impact religion has on the tiny island of Malta, especially in more recent history. A 90% Christian population is not a statistic to be overlooked, and is one that falls in the top 20 countries that have high Christian percentages. As such an overwhelmingly large percentage of the people are Christian, it has become a defining factor of being Maltan since the times of St. Paul. The (relatively) recent sense of independence that Malta has experienced has produced a constitution that allows for “freedom” of religion, but at the same time declares Christianity (Roman Catholicism) as a state religion. For me at least, these seem nearly contradictory. Having a state religion established means that the government, in a way, expects the Maltese to be Christian. This leads to political decisions being aimed towards what may be religiously “correct” (i.e. ones that may promote religious ideals rather than ones that may progress the country as a whole: realize these two are not always correlated). I realize that this is simply the norm in Malta, and is likely generally regarded as a perfectly acceptable and reasonable method of making decisions. It is simply difficult for me, a member of another country which is in many respects different from this religious extreme, to understand how it has become the social norm.

In a bit of irony, the other largest defining aspect of being Maltese, based on a few of the readings, is the Maltese language itself. An extremely small number of people speak it in the world, making it unique and its speakers identifiable. The irony comes from its origins: the Arab invasion in 870 CE. This left an Islamic influence on the Maltese culture during that time which has propagated and can be seen in various aspects even today including the naming of some towns and villages. The fact that these influences are Arab in nature, conflicts with the extreme part of the culture that is now Christian. If being Maltese means pulling from conflicting ideals, it is interesting that it persists (a bit of what Dr. Gambin spoke about) throughout the culture.

Furthermore, this strong sense of belonging and the specific identifiers that the Maltese use in present day are quite different to Malta historically. Malta, being a pit-stop along trade routes and a country that has simply been ruled by the current world power (which has switched many times), has had a difficult time establishing traits that set it apart from other areas of Europe. It has simply been mainly an extension of other cultures. But since gaining its independence, it has developed a sense of self. It uses the traits discussed above, and has very recently (2004) joined the EU as its own nation. These steps of independence mark important milestones in Malta’s development. To quote Dr. Gambin again, Malta is in a state of adolescence as a country, and is still “finding itself,” which I find extremely interesting.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Locations of Site Visitors