I have just returned from holidaying in Malta. This isn't a travelogue and I'm not Judith Chalmers but this blog is about stuff as well as politics so I thought I would write a few lines about my hols before getting back into blogging proper.
It is an island (or two islands counting Gozo) in the Med. It was eerie flying into it over Sicily knowing that if we kept going for a couple of hundred miles or so we would end up in Tripoli!
Everyone speaks English as the Island was sort of looked after by Britain from 1800 until 1964. Maltese itself is a language that is 70% Arabic. They also all speak Italian as they are only 60 miles off Sicily and receive Italian telly.
The island is almost one big city with astro turf 5-a side footy pitches squeezed into every spare space. The sea around it is the most fabulous blue and a mecca for divers and snorklers.
Perhaps my lasting impression is the history. Being a history geek I was very taken with it. You see Malta has seen a lot of action and quite a few things of genuine importance have happened there over many many centuries! Malta has experienced domination after domination. The Parthians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, Ottomans, the Knights of St John, the French and the British have all dominated - some more benignly than others. Along the way the apostle Paul was shipwrecked there. Each group has left its mark on the architecture, agriculture, language and culture of this island at the cross roads of the Mediterranean.
The defining moment of Maltese history is probably the great siege of 1576 at the heart of the history of Reformation Europe. The forces of Suleiman the Magnificent, the great Ottoman sultan, were pitted against the Knights of St John - a bunch of stateless knights and sorta proto crusaders who had been kicked out of Rhodes by the Ottomans a few years before. The Knights of St John are probably the key group in Malta's history and at this stage were right on the front line of the great geo-political fault-line of the early modern world.
Going to the interactive son et lumiere dramatisation of history you get on holiday these days (whatever happened to drab days and a tea room in a stately home with a roped off four poster and a likely tale of Charles II on the run) I was expecting to find the Ottomans were the baddies and the Knights the goodies.
In truth that wasn't what I found. True the Ottomans got stuck in and took a lot of innocent people into slavery. But the Ottomans had been harassed by the Knights of St John for years in the Aegean. Then, they gave them free passage to Malta. But the Knights continued to harass Ottoman shipping and interests from their base in Malta. When the Ottomans attacked Malta, it was to remove a thorn in their side as much as it was for territory and power.
The moral of the story is to see both sides. Things are rarely as simple as they seem and somewhere in there is a lesson to be applied to some of the tensions between and with the Arab world today.