Multiculturalism. It is a word we throw around a lot these days, and it is an increasingly relevant topic in Malta, with more and more people of foreign background calling the tiny island their home. But have we stopped to consider what multiculturalism really is, and how we currently apply the concept to our nation?
It wouldn’t be bold of me to suggest that we do not share the European model of multiculturalism, but rather the Middle Eastern model of multiculturalism. The difference? Integration.
In European societies, integration is key in how society views immigrants, in Britain the meaning of what it is to be ‘British’ has expanded- not changed. Their liberal values are a must, but any foreigner who shares and respects such values, as different as their upbringing may be, is welcomed to call the UK their home. They accept the fact that being a Brit doesn’t mean speaking a specific language at home or cooking certain meals. Being a patriot for them is about how you interact with the outside world not what your customs at home happen to be.
In Dubai, there exists a three-way model. There’s the local society, the so-called ‘expat’ society and the non-European immigrants which are treated as subhuman. This is the path we’re following right now. We call European immigrants ‘expats’, love them as customers in our shops, tenants in our flats and of course to pay taxes that will benefit us. We call African or Asian immigrants ‘migrants’ and expect them to sweep our floors, build our buildings and do all the dirty work- when we’re not willingly leaving them to drown at sea, that is. But in both cases, we exclude them from society and prefer them not to contribute anything to the national conversation, after all they’re not an integral part of our country so they have no voice. We would very much prefer them not to call Malta their home, and ultimately leave for good.
This separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ though not harmful in and of itself, can be the foundation for racism, as anyone who has ever been told to “mur lura pajjizu” will tell you. One only has to talk to certain people for a while until they blurt out something like “I don’t mind foreigners, but” and this is a big but, “if they come here to complain, then they should go back to their country.” The mere fact of telling a foreigner that this isn’t their country and never will be while not necessarily harmful, only supports such arguments that racists make that a foreigner cannot complain about anything they would change in Malta because this is not their country to fix. They’re a guest dissing our food, not a roommate critiquing our noise levels.
Other societies that have had more contact with multiculturalism have realised that the meaning of what it means to be a patriot, has nothing to do with a surname or birth certificate, but rather placing your country above your own interests. We should not merely tolerate different people in our vicinity, but welcome them as an essential part of the national fabric. This might mean serving for one’s country, taking part in a protest, supporting local art and talent, helping shape our collective memory. By excluding the new waves of immigrants from contributing to society in anything that isn’t economical and/or surface level, we are letting our antiquated perception of what it means to be Maltese limit how far our country can develop. Above all, we’re losing out on cultural and social progress.
Written by: Daniel Rios Asensi