Dr Gorg Mifsud Chircop is the leading academic folklorist in Malta. He has written dozens of worthy pieces on the folklore of that island, and is the organiser of the Ritual Year Conference on behalf of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore. So one might assume that his bona fides are pretty solid.
So imagine his horror and amazement when he was forced to apologise for a number of ancient Maltese proverbs which he was discussing in an academic seminar.
He was using the proverbs to illustrate his point that the Catholic Maltese use the word ‘Alla’ to define God, after hundreds of years of Muslim influence on Malta. He was trying to explain the contradictions and confusions and Islamaphobia inherent on the island since the Great Siege of Malta (1565), when 592 Knights Hospitaller and a couple of thousand Maltese militia defeated an Ottoman force of 30,000.
When he got to this point in the paper he was reading, “‘Alla hanin, Muhammed hanzir’ – (God is merciful, Mohammed is a pig)” about 20 North African academics started shouting at him that he was abusing the prophet, some stormed out. As Dr. Chircop said “I honestly didn’t expect them, as academics, to be so sensitive, It’s a pity because it means that even at an academic level, there cannot be a free and objective analysis.”
Dr Chircop was forced to apologise and the University of Malta censored the reports of the seminar to remove all references to the proverb.
What makes this story interesting is that it took place, not in the fevered atmosphere of the post cartoon debate, not even in the post 9/11 world but six years ago.