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What freedom of religion?

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In the city of Mosul, northern Iraq, the greatest abuse of freedom of religion has been conducted. A ‘cleansing’ of around 3,000 Christians has been conducted by the Islamist extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Broadcasted from the loudspeakers on the city’s mosques, Christians in the city were given three choices that were to determine whether they would live in the city or not. The announcement said:

We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizyah; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.

The rules were simple: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax known as a jizyah, a historical practice which would protect non-Muslims in a Muslim land, or die by the sword, decrees which are found in the Qur’ān.

Families were forced to leave their own homes with barely anything but the clothes that they wore and a few belongings. Houses were marked in red spray paint with the Arabic letter ‘N’ for Nasara (Christian), identifying the residence as a Christian home. For the first time in 1,600 years, Mass was not said in this ancient city were Christians have lived for centuries. Churches of new and old are now void and abandoned, left to the destruction of the intolerant and violent. Statues of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary are destroyed and smashed, a sombre reminder of the iconoclast movement of the past.

Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, a Syriac Catholic patriarch has recently said in an interview:

There is no more room for Christians in Mosul. What happened, it’s really a kind of ‘cleansing’ based on religion… It’s tragic because that city, second largest city in Iraq, was the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries. We have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. No more prayers, service, no more Masses on Sundays in Mosul.

In another similar story of Christian persecution, a Christian woman was thrown into prison on charges of ‘apostasy’, after the court declared her guilty for renouncing her Muslim faith and marrying a Christian man. According to the law, Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men, but a Muslim man can enter an inter-faith marriage. It is however obligatory for his future children to follow the doctrines and teachings of Islam.

Meriam Ibrahim stated that she was never a Muslim in the first place, so the charges put against her were unfounded. She was kept in prison while heavily pregnant, and gave birth with her feet chained, which meant that she could not give birth comfortably. After the birth of her child, what awaited her was the gibbet.

Fortunately, Sudan’s Supreme Court released Meriam, and after being detained for three days in Sudan on accusations that she falsified her travel documents, she has now arrived in Rome with her husband and children after a secretly organised flight took her away from any further imprisonment. She even met Pope Francis who praised her for the strength of her faith, and expressed his concern for persecuted Christians like her.

 

Whenever I read these stories, my thoughts immediately go to the Maltese people who identify themselves as ‘Catholic’ yet take their faith lightly and keep it on the shelf for the rest of the week. They bring it out only for Sunday Mass or the village feast, where people’s attitudes are more pagan than Christian. What you hear in the streets are not prayers but shouts and vulgar oaths and swears with God’s name or the patron saint’s used ever so lovingly.

In almost every Sunday Mass in my parish, the parish priest’s homily is centred on the importance of living a genuine faith. Meanwhile, the majority of the congregation either stares blankly or fiddles with their mobile phone behind the pew. The women in front of me would be enjoying a lively conversation in hushed tones, with more passing comments in other parts of the congregation. The parish priest ends up looking to me more like a school teacher with ungrateful children in front of him, completely disinterested in what he has to say.

As a Maltese population we greatly take for granted our religious freedom, and many others have a slack and lazy attitude with their faith, with little knowledge about its principles and teachings. Bibles are left on the bookshelves to accumulate dust and have silverfish eat away at the pages. At least they get some nourishment from the Bible.

To be clear, I am not priding myself as an exemplary Catholic or saint. I have my own sins to take care of and believe myself to be far from the ideals that adorn saints like Francis of Assisi or Thérèse of Lisieux. What I find disheartening is that most Maltese people do not even try to practice their faith more genuinely, or learn about what they believe and why. The priest’s homily is of no good if it falls upon deaf ears. It’s the same with school. The teacher must do his part, but so must the student.

We should thank our lucky stars that we have the liberty to go to a church and worship without worrying about being blasted by a car bomb. Christians in these persecuted areas risk their lives to try and attend Mass every Sunday, and because of their faith they now have no home or place of worship. Meriam Ibrahim, in my opinion, is a great role-model for the perseverance of faith.

Let us look at what is happening in the East and remember our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer. Ultimately, we should be deeply grateful for our religious freedom and hopefully, with stories like these, we would try to live a more honest and real faith.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Smart card outsmarted

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Starting from the next academic year, students will no longer be provided with a smart card. The money which could previously only be withdrawn from the student smart card will now get sent straight to students’ bank accounts. Basically, what used to be smart card money will now be an addition to the stipend.

According to Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, this was done to reduce the administrative costs of the smart card system, thereby saving the government around 175,000 euros in expenses.

This change has generated debate among students. Those who disagree with the new system are arguing that students who want to inappropriately use money that is given to them by the Government specifically for educational purposes will now be able to do very easily. Although most are ready to admit that the old smart card system wasn’t fool proof against those who wanted to abuse the system, it was still something.

However, the question remains: is that ‘something’ worth 175,000 euros of administrative costs? According to Evarist Bartolo, it clearly is not. But what about the checks and balances that are needed to ensure that there will be at least some control over those students who are abusing the system? According to KSU president Gayle Lynn Callus, a possible solution could involve asking students to produce receipts for the things that they have bought with the money given to them to help further their studies.

I believe that another solution to this problem lies in reviewing the reading list of each study unit because, as things stand, many students are being asked to buy books and other reading material that they won’t be using during their course. When students are made aware of this, they refrain from buying those books and other reading material which they don’t need. After buying what they need for the academic year, they then end up spending that excess money on other stuff which is not necessarily related to their studies.

It is only a matter of time before students will be able to decide for themselves whether this new grant system will render them better or worse off. In the meantime, the debate continues…

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Miyazaki – the filmmaker everyone should know

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(A beautiful soundtrack from Miyazaki’s ‘Castle in the Sky’)

Many consider him to be the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. But to fans of anime, and animated movies in general, prized director Hayao Miyazaki is in a league of his own.

He’s been revolutionizing animation since his early projects in the late 80s, including one of the films in the popular ‘Lupin the Third’ series. In 1985, he established Studio Ghibli; a collaborative effort with other renowned Japanese filmmakers.

Unfortunately, last year Miyazaki announced his retirement from the business aged 73, with the farewell piece ‘The Wind Rises’. It ended up being his third Oscar nominated picture, losing to Disney’s ‘Frozen’. His legacy will live on through his son Goro Miyazaki, who has already directed the critically acclaimed ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’, although it is doubtful whether his cinematography will come even remotely close to the quality of his father’s.

Through masterful English dubbing that remains faithful to the original Japanese screenplay, Miyazaki’s films have transpired into global phenomenons.

In other words, if you love cinema and have never heard of Miyazaki or his movies, you need to binge on them immediately.

If you cannot understand what all the fuss about Miyazaki is about, these are five of his masterpieces which you should definitely check out:

 

1. Castle In The Sky (1986):

One of Miyazaki’s first features was also one of his most imaginative, with mesmerising animation and a spine-tingling score.

Like many of his later projects, environmental themes of climate change and man’s destruction of nature play an important role in ‘Castle In The Sky’.

It follows a boy and a girl from different worlds but with a common mission; to find the long-lost magical land of Laputa.

Throughout their journey, the children encounter countless friends and foes, and come to appreciate the beauty of being adventurous and chasing their dreams.

Personal rating: 9/10

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky (1986)

 

2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988):

Often misconceived as merely childish, this cartoon was revolutionary in more ways than one.

‘Totoro’ has arguably become one of the most recognisable anime characters, and eventually earned a place as Studio Ghibli’s mascot.

This movie is a particular favourite among those parents who want to show their children an animation that isn’t typically Western. However, this does not mean it is solely directed towards a younger audience.

As two sisters move out to the countryside with their father and discover mythical creatures, serious subject matters emerge including sibling rivalry and family sickness.

Despite being one of Miyazaki’s shortest films, it manages to let the imagination of viewers of all ages run wild.

After all, it doesn’t hurt to retain our childish wonder every once in a while.

Personal rating: 7/10

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

 

3. Princess Mononoke (1997):

Known as Miyazaki’s only animation that is unsuitable for the whole family, ‘Princess Mononoke’ evokes powerful environmental messages alongside stunning visuals and exciting action sequences.

Not afraid to be gory and dramatic, this movie has become one of Studio Ghibli’s most influential.

With strong-willed female protagonists and the recurring theme of man versus nature, an epic war film comes to life in cartoon form, and it’s just as entertaining as any other live-action picture.

Personal rating: 8/10

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke (1997)

 

4. Spirited Away (2001):

Winning an Oscar and becoming Studio Ghibli’s biggest commercial success definitely contributed to the massive acclaim of ‘Spirited Away’.

Brimming with fantastic imagination and an utterly beautiful score, this is where any stranger to Miyazaki’s work should start.

Despite its extraordinary fantasy throughout, the film manages to remain relatable and touching.

The vast array of diverse characters distinguishes this animated film from all the others, and it is extremely interesting to see Chihiro, the female protagonist, develop from cowardly to brave.

Putting Studio Ghibli on the world map like never before, it is no wonder that fellow filmmakers have called this Miyazaki’s best work.

Personal rating: 10/10

Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001)

 

5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):

Apart from its complex and slightly confusing plot, this relatively recent effort from the director offers a visual feast of animation, particularly with the titular mechanical castle.

Nominated for an Academy Award, and having Christian Bale as part of the English dubbing cast, resulted in yet another successful Ghibli movie, even if it lacks the resilient strength of its predecessors.

The gist of the storyline itself is quite out of the ordinary – main character Sophie, a teenage girl, is cursed with permanent old age, and seeks the help of renowned wizard Howl to break the spell.

Everything mystical and magical ensues, a love story unfolds and a heart-warming tale of bravery solidifies.

Basically, this film is so beautifully versatile that it can suit almost any taste.

Personal rating: 7/10

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Posted in Cinema, Culture, Opinion, Opinion

Academic life: what are we going to do about it?

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University equips young adults with the knowledge and tools that can be useful later on in life. But certainly the benefits a youth can gain by simply attending lectures and studying are extremely limited. While attending lectures takes on most of a student’s responsibility, this is not the only activity that such an instititution provides. For that reason, the present article has to be intended as a sort of analysis of the current academic situation with regard to student apathy.

Unfortunately, it seems that not enough has been done. We will never manage to reach the ideal situation because the tendency to progress/ regress, depending on the favourable or unfavourable circumstances, will always be present. This must not be thought of as a disappointment but rather as a fresh stimulus to constantly see how university life can be greatly enhanced. Passivity, the attitude of delegating, and increasing individualism are features that should be eradicated. The driving forces behind a better and more satisfying university are dynamic approaches, interest, curiosity, and an enhanced mutual learning through constant cooperation.

Considering the elections of the students’ representatives, I tried to elicit some information by asking many students on campus for their opinions in relation to the university (if they feel represented, if they feel part of a community, if they voted and the reason that justifies this vote).

Only 30% of students voted in the university elections while a striking 70% either has only little idea with regard to the implications of such an event or, more worrying, shows complete disinterest. Furthermore, among the 30% of students that voted, there is a tiny percentage who simply voted for their friends and acquaintances. For those it was not a real conscious voting.

Many students consider the elections to be a popularity issue (the general perception is that it is compared to playing cards: “2 options, SDM always wins, so i’m not going to waste my time”) . If this is the general thought, the only way to change it is by being more active and by participating more. We have to be the first, as young students, in approaching seriously the elections of students’ representatives. These representatives will be even more stimulated in performing their tasks to the best of their possibilities if they notice real interest from the majority of the students. What’s necessary is communication and the willingness to grow together to make a difference in a collaborative way, because extreme individualism will lead to more complications. No shyness, no fear: just the willingness to contribute and learn.

Many students tend to associate SDM and PULSE with the national politics, ie. with the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party. It’s not like this. If sometimes it may seem as such, let’s try to rectify it. If we tend to consider something in a certain way, then certainly that specific thing will acquire those characteristics just because of the fact that we conceptualised that peculiar aspect in that way. Do we want the academic environment to be a reflection of what’s happening at a national level? No, right? So, the only option to be more satisfied and contribute together to a more rewarding university lies in us, as students, participating by removing all the preconceptions. We have to consider the power of the collectivity. We can make a collective agreement and  say: “no connection between academic level and national level”. In this way, the situation will improve. Some influences will probablyremain there, but if we truly believe in this, those thoughts and concepts will certainly fade away. It all depends on us.

Others feel that there exists a need to reach out more effectively to us, to understand the students more thoroughly. There is the underlining necessity of a consistent presence within the council/ parties throughout the year. For that reason, there is a fervent opposition in relation to the strategic approach in order to get votes during the period of the elections.

Furthermore, there is the need for more transparency and credibility- putting too much on the agenda, only to have some of those proposals implemented by the end of the year does not help stimulate interest.

As far as I am concerned, I can perfectly understand all the reasons that the students I talked to gave me as a justification for not voting. But evidently, if the general tendency is to continue to behave in this way, the situation won’t improve.

There is the compelling necessity to work on fostering the communication. The students need to be stimulated constantly with regard to the possibility that they can live in a better and more productive way throughout their academic years. The situation can be improved if there is real commitment from both sides. The student body should develop a more open-minded attitude and interest towards what’s happening. The council should be more transparent in its work, be as clear as possible when it comes to successful or unsuccessful implementations of a proposal so that we, as students, are able to grasp all possible implications behind the work of the Council.

Some students told me that they had tried to get more involved in the past but the results were always the same and, for that reason, they gave up. This means that some still participate actively in what’s going on, others start and give up, others just come to lectures, study and go home, while others again expect someone to push them. This kind of situation is the result of the individualism that is ruling our society and that we are favoring by behaving in this way.

Improvement and satisfaction can come if we, as young students, manage to instill a sense of collaborative academic environment where there is the space for growth, sharing, and discussion. If we are aware of this situation, why don’t we try to do something about it? The change, a more satisfied academic life, is dependent on us, on how we approach the difficulties and how we deal with those stereotypes that blind our mind and the way in which we pursue our lives.

With this article I am not pointing fingers at anyone; I want to be clear because somebody may misinterpret what i’m doing by saying that I’m condemning the system or implying that KSU does nothing from day to night. Absolutely not. On the contrary, my aim is to analyse the situation, provide a clear picture of what’s happening in order to make students think about it. I intend to make them understand how the change, the satisfaction, the proactivity and the energy that should be intrinsic features of our young age can help us handle our academic years in a better way; if we undertake an active role in what’s happening, if we try to do what we can to improve.

And cooperation is the key, not individualism.

I would greatly appreciate feedbacks on this article. If someone has ideas, proposals or even disagree strongly with what I’ve just written, please contact me on geremia.graziano@hotmail.it.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

I’m not one to judge, but…

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We currently live in a superficial world where appearance matters a lot. ‘What you see is what you get’, as the saying goes. However, it is easy to be entrapped just by the exterior of a person or object, without digging deeper. This is where the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ comes in. The literal meaning of the latter is that one cannot dismiss the quality of a book just by looking at the cover. It could be that a book with a blank cover and simple title using a generic font may be of more importance and influence than a fancy covered book.

This metaphor can be extended further than books of course, and is most commonly used in relation to real-life situations. Perhaps the best example has to do with people and their relationships with one another. If you see a beautiful man or woman, would you be more likely to pursue them as opposed to a more average-looking person? Unfortunately, this is most often the case. It could be that the better-looking person has no sense of humour, or opposes all your moral views, or is the rudest person. The prejudice of deciding on something based solely on what you see before you could cost someone their pursuit for happiness.

The truth is that it’s difficult to stop being superficial. Our sense of vision is strong and it is quite easy to fall into the trap of a magnificent object deemed ‘better’. Therefore, the best way to beat superficiality is by maintaining a certain amount of self-discipline and by pushing the judgement aside, instead opting to dig deeper. Who knows? The less beautiful object could have been your key to happiness. However, you can never know if you base your decisions on ‘what you see is what you get’. It is by looking at the less obvious features that you will find the outstanding features of the average person or object. When you do, you will find it with great confidence. And treasure it.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Clash of the artists

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On Friday 18th July, the Maltese population was literally spoiled for choice. Whether it was taking slow and tasteful sips of Marsovin’s delicacies, or listening to the vocal dexterity of Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja alongside X- factor winner Leona Lewis and Italian singer Claudio Baglioni, or just chilling by the serene Grand Harbour coupled with soothing jazz music and Maltese dishes.  Organizers were concerned about the turnout of the general public, and even though all three events were taking place in close proximity of each other, attending all three was somewhat impossible.

The Jazz Festival is always held on the third weekend of July and, since most artist bookings had to be made way before summer, the thought of clashing with another event did not cross the organizers’ minds. For non-jazz enthusiasts, the name Brad Mehldau might not ring a bell. However he is a very distinguished pianist and composer who was nominated for several jazz instrumental performances.

Brad Mehldau

Brad Mehldau

In Malta, different generations are drawn to different genres and only a few seek non-‘mainstream’ music. The constant bombardment of pop songs on TV, radio and, for the party animals, Paceville, unknowingly enables people to ‘prefer’ pop culture over other genres. One’s preference depends on that individual’s exposure to that particular type of music. Certain likings vary according to what is popular  at the time. As a case in point, when ‘The Great Gatsby’ was released in cinemas last year, many people got hyped up with the roaring twenties. The soundtrack was played everywhere around the island, and the movie inspired the KSU’s Grad ball theme. Most of the people who loved listening to the Great Gatsby soundtrack were not necessarily twenties- enthusiasts, but the songs’ successes drove the public into liking them.

It’s all about timing. I am not saying that people do not have a personal liking or a favourite  genre, but that such opinions are indirectly influenced by society. Joseph Calleja was not as popular ten years ago as he is now. He was definitely as good as he is today, however as he internationally flourished, more and more people started to follow the trend and attendance to his annual concert increased. This year’s performance was said to be beyond words, as the artists crafted their voices into the audience’s hearts.

Joseph Calleja

Joseph Calleja

Events like these could enable people  to discover new artists or to take more interest in an artist’s music. Unfortunately, the current generation is less into lyrics and emotion, and more into beats and rhythm. Most of the new songs released, popular amongst the teen generation,  have  an overall variation of lyrics as much as a limerick. The gradual shift of artistic preferences is primarily influenced by what is popular rather than by what is best. Then again, one cannot generalise as many have un-fluctuated tastes.

This summer has been characterized by hipster and indie music, most of which have reached the top of the Maltese music charts. However, events such as the ones that took place on the 18th of July help the public embrace the possibility of alternative music, rather than the same old same old. We should all be very thankful for having continuous events enriching our perspectives on the arts and constantly reminding us that, no matter what genre the music  is from, there are always amazing artists to grasp our attention. New movies and events are coming out, meaning new influences. Let’s see what the hype of summer 2014 will be!

Posted in Music, Opinion, Opinion