Maldives condemns Israeli attack on aid flotilla

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned “in strongest possible terms” Israel’s act of aggression against a flotilla of ships attempting to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza

Israeli soldiers raided the flotilla of six vessels carrying 663 activists from 37 countries, which was intending to break Israel’s blockade and deliver aid into Gaza.

Nine people were reported killed aboard the main vessel MV Mavi Marmara during the assault in international waters, while up to 60 activists and 10 Israeli soldiers were injured. Surviving passengers have been detained by Israel.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry said the incident was “a clear act of aggression against civilians, especially civilians engaged in humanitarian work”, and called for an “immediate independent international enquiry so that the facts may be ascertained, accountability established, and justice secured for those who have tragically died, as well as their family and friends.”

“There can be no excuse for such violence, which represents a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and a step-back from universal humanist values,” the Ministry said, in a statement.

Yesterday the UN Security Council said it “deeply regrets” loss of life and injuries during the military operation, “and condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least ten civilians.”

The Security Council further stressed that “the situation in Gaza is not sustainable”, and Israel to provide “unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza.”

“The only viable solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement negotiated between the parties,” it said, claiming “that only a two-State solution, with an independent and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors, can bring peace to the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as “a clear case of self-defense”, reiterating that “Israel cannot allow the free flow of weapons, rockets and missiles to Hamas in Gaza.”

“We have no problems with the people of Gaza. We do have a conflict with the terrorist regime of Hamas, supported by Iran,” he said.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry denounced the blockade as “not only morally wrong as it inflicts unjustifiable harm on innocent civilians, but also short-sighted in that it breeds mistrust, animosity and hatred – exactly the emotions that led to this tragedy and to the perpetuation of the Middle East conflict.”

The Maldives joins many other international voices deploring Israel’s aggressive reaction, including Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia where President Mohamed Nasheed is currently visiting.

“The Australian government condemns any use of violence under the sorts of circumstances that we have seen,” Rudd said.

One Australian citizen was reportedly shot in the leg, while reknown Australian journalist Paul McGeough is among those currently detained by Israel.

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Comment: Rehendhi a Minivan News plot to promote “national sissyness” and “lesbian relations”

English translation of a statement published yesterday on the website of the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party.

Signs of actions are now being seen from Minivan News that it has started a special campaign against the (Religious Lesson) ‘The Call 2010′, which [Islamic NGO] Jamiyyathul Salaf is preparing to host this month.

We have been informed that Minivan News, which even from its onset has been involved in openly protesting against such religious activities and trying to instill doubt in ordinary people, is a website led by President Nasheed’s (younger) brother Nazim Abdul Sattar. Even before, on various different occasions, the (Minivan News) website has been openly insulting Islamic slogans, and many people who love Islam have already called to have the website banned.

Jamiyyathul Salaf is organising ‘The Call’ 2010 which is to be held in the first week of June. ‘The Call’s’ first lecture was held in 2009. Based on the Special Lectures by Dr. Bilal Philips, ‘The Call 2009′ paved way for, especially, many religion-loving youth to get wide-ranging religious information.

‘The Call’ 2009 was so successfully conducted due to the generosity of many religion-loving people. Sponsorship is now open for ‘The Call’ 2010. Thereby, many religion-loving Maldivian businessmen, from among the Maldivian businessmen, are now contributing generously.

We have noticed that Minivan News has kick-started a special campaign to prevent such donations (to The Call 2010). Under this campaign the first among those targeted are the leading businessmen of Maldives.

A petition letter has been prepared and posted on Minivan News website calling for Sonee Sports not to give any aid to The Call 2010.

Although Minivan News writes that Rehendhi is an underground feminist movement, this latest campaign started by Minivan News is similar to the former such campaigns conducted by Minivan News.

We have been informed that the Rehendhi association was borne out of the Minivan News [team] in order to promote national ‘sissy-ness’ and in order to call for lesbian relations among women.

When Sheikh Fareed this year gave a religious lecture about Valentine’s Day, female underwear with words written that could offend Islam were sent to Sheikh Fareed, in order to harass and insult his lecture.

Before sending these items to Sheikh Fareed, photos were taken of these panties which were then published on Minivan News. And various articles have been written on [the Minivan News] website regarding this.

No doubt you will not lose anything by spending on such events that disseminate true information and enlightenment about Islam. Enormous blessings are promised for those who spend on the promotion of Allah’s religion.

We call upon Maldivian businessmen not to give in to the threats posed by Islam’s Enemies and the Devil. Surely, the Devil will spread in people’s hearts fear of becoming poor. The Giver is Allah.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to minivan.news@gmail.com.

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DRP MPs pay Vice President “a courtesy call”

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan last night met with senior members of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) at his residence, Hilaaleege.

The meeting sparked a demonstration outside of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, protesting against what they viewed as a political betrayal and calling for the VP’s resignation.

The visit by DRP MPs Ali Waheed, Ilham Ahmed, Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahlouf, as well as party Vice President Umar Naseer, was described by DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef as “a courtesy call.”

“They discussed national issues,” he said, but would not reveal further details of the discussion. None of the MPs who participated in the meeting had responded to calls at time of press.

“I think there are issues that of national importance facing the country, but there’s been a breakdown of communication between the government and the opposition,” Shareef suggested. “I think the VP believes the temperature is rising too much at the moment.”

Shareef described Dr Waheed as “cool headed”, and able to create “meaningful dialogue between the government and the DRP. He has no power to decide anything, but he is willing to talk,” he said.

“At the moment MDP’s leaders are not able to even talk to the opposition, and I think the President is trying to find a way forward.”

Mahloof told Minivan News today that President Mohamed Nasheed “was the person who planned the protest outside VPs house.”

However a highly placed source within the government said the president appeared “very unhappy” about the gathering, and dismissed the possibility of such peace talks as “utter tosh”.

“If that was the case other senior people in the government would know about it. I think he wants to join DRP; maybe not sign with the party, but rather use it as a bargaining chip. His intentions are clearly malevolent,” the source said, adding that the VP was also observed last week meeting Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader Dr Hassan Saeed.

“He is clearly angry at the dismissal of [fellow party GIP party member] former Economic Minister Mohamed Rasheed. The fact is now that the core MDP supporters are convinced that Waheed is going to run for president in 2013, and are keeping a fair degree of distance.”

The Vice President was not responding to calls today, and Minivan News understands he was not in the office because of illness.

In a previous interview with Minivan News Dr Waheed said be believed there should be “a mechanism for dialogue between the opposition and the government. There is too much polarisation. There are things, of course, we want from the opposition. We want their support to pass the bills in Parliament, and there may be things they want from the government. And that is also to address some of their own concerns. I believe we should be able to engage with all parties.”

Following the meeting the DRP MPs who attended told the press that they would lobby to give the Vice President more powers and a greater role in government.

MDP Spokesman Ahmed Haleem said that Dr Waheed initiated the meeting “because he wants to pass a bill [in parliament] giving himself more power. He thinks he is a president – I think he is totally sick. Twenty years ago he was the first PhD holder in the Maldives and he thinks he is one of the best; now the VP is very close to Nasheed but he cannot digest this.”

Haleem added that “there are a lot of people sick for power in this country – Gasim is also sick for power, but Dr Waheed is one of the best.”

MDP MP Mohamed Mustafa said he doubted Dr Waheed had the popular support to become president, and had accepted the role of Vice President “without bringing a single seat with him. He has become a liability to [MDP] – there is no reason to hold such secret meetings.”

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PG’s office accuses three kidnappers of terrorism

The Prosecutor General’s office has raised a terrorism case against three men it argues violated the Terrorism Act after they kidnapped and allegedly tortured on October 15 last year.

The three men were identified as Mohamed Aiman, Ahmed Nadheem and Mohamed Afsah.

Prosecution lawyer of the Prosecutor General’s office Maryam Shahula claimed the three men kept the man hostage, robbed his wallet, used his cash card, and tortured him. He reportedly suffered bruises and cigarette burns to his skin.

The three men denied the claims and invoked their right to a lawyer.

Last October police held a press conference regarding the case. Police said that the kidnappers kept the victim hostage before releasing him for Rf 25,000 (US$1950).

Police said the group called the victim’s father and demanded to pay the money for his release. The victim claimed that his kidnappers also forced him to take illegal drugs.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

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Thakandhu Island office hijacked over jackfruit tree

A group of people hijacked the Haa Alifu Atoll Thakandhu island office on Monday after were unable to cut down a jackfruit tree on the land where they planned to build a pre-school.

Island Chief of Thakandhu said that he could not give information as ”the person who gives information is not here.”

However a person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that the hijackers was a group who were trying to establish a pre-school on the island.

He said the group was angry because “they were asking for a court warrant to cut the tree, but the tree belongs to a man on Thakandhu.”

He said the island court ruled to that the tree could be felled after payment of RF2000 to the owner.

”But the owner wants Rf 8000,” the source explained, “and he went to appeal it in the High Court.”

”So they have to wait until the High Court rules they can build the preschool, and that’s why they are  protesting.”

He said the group entered the island office the day before yesterday and blocked the island chief and staff from entering.

”The staffs working in the office were not able to do their work,” the source said, adding that “yesterday also they gathered near the island office with microphones and loudspeakers.”

He said the police came and dispersed the crowd yesterday, although nobody was arrested.

Police Sergeant Abdul Muhusin said the crowed was dispersed at 7:00pm yesterday.

Muhusin said that the people were gathered near the island office when police arrived the island at 3 pm.

State minister for home Ahmed Adil said he had no information about the case.

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Minivan News returns to Facebook after counterfeiting attempt

The genuine Minivan News Facebook page has been restored after a malicious counterfeiting attempt. The fraudulent page was removed following an investigation by Facebook.

The authentic Minivan News Facebook page is accessible here:

http://www.facebook.com/minivannews

Many of our readers who signed up through shared Facebook invitations may have inadvertently become fans of the fraudulent page. If you think this might have happened, you can check by clicking the link above to the genuine page and selecting ‘Like’ in the top right corner (NB: ‘Like’ has replaced ‘Become a fan’ on all Facebook pages).

Joining the Minivan News Facebook page ensures you receive speedy updates to your Facebook news feed the moment we publish stories.

Please feel free to share the authentic link on Facebook with anyone you think may have joined the illegitimate page.

-The Minivan News team

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Comment: Democratic bargaining over religion

Although an Islamist party heads the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the coalition government of President Mohamed Nasheed, he chose not to mention religion either of his two presidential addresses to the parliament so far. This is only the latest incident that has led to suspicions of ‘almaniyya’ pursued by President Nasheed.

On the other hand, the more liberal or ‘moderate’ Maldivians have lamented over the ‘leglessness’ of the government in the face of the steady growth of religious puritanism and conservatism in society.

It is no easy job for any president or government to carve out a religious public policy that will satisfy both these groups at the same time.

History’s lesson for us is that it is only through a painful process of democratic bargaining over the place of religion in government that we can consolidate liberal democracy.

Price of ignoring or thwarting religion

The history of several Muslim majority countries shows that governments cannot afford to have a top-down policy of ignoring or thwarting religion when religion is a significant part of social identity.

The Iran of Pahlavis, where religion was either ignored or thwarted by the government, only contributed to the rise of mullahs and a bloody Islamic revolution giving power to an elitist group of religious guardians who surpassed their secular predecessors in imposing their brand of Islam on the Iranian population.

Equally true is the case of Turkey where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk pursued a rigid French Republican style laïcité ignoring the religious sentiments of the population. This hard secularism had failed to provide a tolerant and fair democratic system for Turkey, where an Islamic party now heads the government (their second term), which was a slap on the face of the secular establishment.

Top-down secular modernisation programmes have failed in all post-colonial Muslim societies, which are instead mired in corruption, religious and political suppression and autocracy. As a consequence, in these societies, religious puritanism, Islamism, and re-Islamisation have steeply gained ground, and a home-grown, bottom-up, democratically-negotiated secularism has not materialised.

The calls for a so-called Islamic state have been the rallying cry in the wake of these crises.

But is an Islamic state the solution?

Men behind Sharia: the illusion of an Islamic state

A typology of religious views in the Maldives could show that there are at least three broad positionings on Sharia and its place in government. They include the more nuanced, eclectic and ijthihad-friendly version of Gayoom; the more conservative-Islamist yet religion-government-conflationary version of the Adhaalath; and, the more government-independent and insular versions which despise ‘democracy’ and similar concepts as bid’a and Western constructs.

The rule, rather than the exception, is that there are deep religious-political disagreements among these camps, as depicted by their different politico-religious groupings which compete and contest with one another, even when they are doing the same things!

Now, whose interpretation of Sharia would you like to implement?

Such disagreements are the inevitable outcome of the fact that both Sharia and fiqh are products of human interpretation of Qur’an and Hadith. There is no way one can delineate the anthropocentrism involved in this. Even the categorical injunctions like “cut off hand for theft” are bound to be differently interpreted, for instance, as to the exact meaning of the words ‘cut off’ or ‘theft’. Even more disagreements are bound to happen where their practical applications are concerned.

To take an example from among our own clerics, for instance, Sheikh Shaheem’s translation of verse 59 of Al-Nisa (in his book entitled ‘Islam and Democracy’, 2006, p. 15)[1] is literally very different from any of the translations (Yusuf Ali, Shakir, Mohsin Khan, Pickthal, or even the recent Dhivehi translation commissioned by President Gayoom) that I have read.

The religious reason for such disagreements is that even if there is a divine concept of Sharia that is eternal, there is no divine interpreter of Sharia amongst us. If so, whatever interpretation of Sharia you want to enforce as public policy, that is inevitably a human choice, not Allah’s. If so, such policy is strictly speaking always secular. And such policy can always be contested.

It is then not just too naïve to rally blindly behind an illusory ‘Islamic state’ as the final solution to all our problems. It is also dangerous. The only thing close to such a so-called Islamic state is utter political despotism.

The first step

As elsewhere in the Muslim countries, ‘secularism’ is a very negatively loaded term in the Maldives. Unfortunately, it is also a misunderstood concept – both in the Muslim world and in the West.

Dhivehi, like several other languages, including Arabic, do not have an equivalent term for the concept. We have seen in recent Divehi religious literature a term called almani – meaning ‘worldly’ – for ‘secular’. Originally in Muslim literature, the term dahr – roughly ‘atheist’ – was used for ‘secular’, which explains the pejorative view of the concept early on.

Influential Muslim intellectuals such as Jamaluddin Al-Afghani, Sayyid Qutb, Maulana Mawdudi, Ayottalah Khomeini, Yusuf Qardawi, Sayed Naquib al-Attas of Malaysia, who have voiced against ‘secularism’ referring to it as ladeeni, only added to our dislike towards ‘secularism’.

They, like Sheikh Farooq’s article on the 12th March 2010 issue of Hidhaayathuge Magu, assert religion will wither away or is relegated to private sphere in liberal democracy.

But the fact is, in the United States where there is a constitutional separation of religion and state, to this day religion is very much alive and active in the public sphere. Religion has been a strong voice in public policy and law making. Incidentally, Islam is also one of the fastest growing religions in the US.

On the other hand, how many of us remember that even in this 21st century, for instance, Scotland, England, Norway, Finland, Greece, Denmark, Iceland, and the Netherlands, could have officially recognised religions? Or why have Christian parties often ruled in several European countries?

What then is the ‘secularism’ proper for liberal democracies?

To be a liberal democracy, the minimum requirement from religion is that no religious institution must have the constitutional right to mandate a government to implement their views without a due democratic process or have the right to veto democratic legislation.

This minimum institutional separation of religion from state does not preclude religion from politics. If you want to implement amputation for robbery, you must go through the democratic process of convincing others through accessible reasons.

The right steps

Religion is an important part of our identity – even our political identity. As the historical lesson has shown in other places, it is therefore naïve, cruel and arrogant for a government to ignore or suppress religion.

Bringing on board religious people in public affairs or using religious language where appropriate does not make a head of state any less democratic or liberal. If President Obama, as in his Cairo speech, can quote from the Bible, Qur’an or Talmud, and speak about his policies towards religion, including Islam, and still be a liberal democrat, why cannot we be? President Nasheed therefore can show more of his religious side.

But, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ mandate must be overhauled so that they do not have an undemocratic, and unfair bargaining position to influence the national education curriculum and use public resources unchecked as a platform to promote their own interpretation of Sharia both within the government and society. This is unfair and religiously unjust because there are other religious groupings that do not have a similar advantage. Their mandate must be limited to undertaking training in Qur’an recitation, looking after mosques, regulating zakat, managing annual hajj, and similar non-interpretative religious matters.

This does not mean religious parties do not have a role in politics. On the contrary, religion can and should be part of the political process. It is unreasonable to ask from religious people to separate their religious identity and religion-based norms from politics whenever they step in the public sphere. A case in point is the recent protests on the liquor issue: religious individuals played a politically legitimate role to influence the government.

It is not toothless of the government to respond to those protests, given the profundity of religion in our social identity. Those who opposed the regulation – which itself was not democratically legitimised – might be a minority. Yet the alleged majority was simply democratically dead.

And, this brings us to the single most important arena where we ought to tackle religious issues: civil society.

Through the bloody wars of religion, it is with long, painful democratic bargaining of the role of religion in public affairs that we saw liberal democracy consolidated in Europe. It is only through difficult hermeneutical exegesis of religious texts and reformulation of religious views within the public sphere that we saw its tolerance in Europe.

This was not done by governments. The State, as a coercive apparatus, simply does not have the democratically appropriate resources to tackle and interpret normative issues.

In the face of growing conservative-Islamism and Puritanism in our society, what we need is a functioning civil society, bargaining for religious tolerance and promoting the universal goals of justice and equality envisioned in Qur’an.

What we need are our equivalents of the Sisters-in-Islam of Malaysia or our Sunni equivalents of Iran’s New Religious Thinkers, who will use the resources of religion to engage with the Islamist and puritan appropriations of religion.

We need to invite people like Khaled Abou El Fadl, who will help us ‘Rescue Islam from the Extremists’ who are committing a ‘Great Theft’ in daylight by sacrilising Mohamed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, who was even opposed by his own father and brother Sulaiman Ibn Abdul Wahhab.

We need an Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im who will help us ‘Negotiate the Future of Sharia’ and bring us ‘Towards an Islamic Reformation’ by teaching us the possibility of re-interpretation of religious texts through abrogation and teaching us more about the tolerant, pragmatic Mecca period of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

We need a Mohamed Charfi to clarify the ‘The Historical Misunderstanding’ of Liberty in Islam and show us that our practice of Sharia is not fixed, as, for example, the dhimma system, slavery and concubines (all allowed and practised under traditional Sharia) have become untenable and officially banned in several Muslim majority countries.

We need a Nurcholish Madjid who will challenge those for whom “everything becomes transcendental and valued as ukhrawi” while the Prophet (PBUH) himself made a distinction between his religious rulings and his worldly opinions when he was wrong about the benefits of grafting of date-palms. Is Sheikh Shaheem fully certain that when the Prophet (PBUH) is believed to have said “those who appoint a woman as their leader will not be successful” whether or not he was making a personal opinion?

What we need is not another religious minister, but an Abdulla Saeed to teach at our schools what a more tolerant and just Islam will tell us about ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’, and engage with (Islamic NGO) Salaf to argue that Qur’an as in verse 4:137 assumes situations when an apostate (however we dislike it) continues to live among Muslims.

We also need a reformed former president Gayoom to lecture in the Faculty of Shari’a and Law to show that the ‘door of ijthihad is not closed’ as he argued in a lecture in Kuala Lumpur in 1985.

Last, but not least, the Richard Dawkins-style or Ayaan Hirsi Ali-style calls from fellow Maldivians for outright rejection of religion and exclusion of religion from politics can only hinder such ‘immanent critique’ of religious puritanism and Islamism.

It is through a religious discourse that is democratically promoted within civil society that we could negotiate with our fellow Islamists, puritans, and the rest that Islam’s permanent and ultimate goals are liberty, equality, justice, and peaceful co-existence – that is, constitutional democracy.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to minivan.news@gmail.com

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Comment: A national emergency

Minivan News on Sunday: a 13 year old girl is being abused by her own father.

Another child abuse story. Another day. Did I notice anyone raise an eyebrow?

The children of this country are being sexually assaulted and abused by people they know and trust. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the regular appearance of news articles and stories about the abuse of children in our communities.

This happens all the time. It is becoming quite ‘normal’ now. In fact, there is evidence to support this.

The Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences published in 2007 by the then Ministry of Gender and Family found that “girl child sexual abuse was most often a repeated form of abuse rather than a once off occurrence”.

The study also found that “male family members (other than fathers and step-fathers) and… male acquaintances were identified as the most common perpetrators of girl child sexual abuse”.

Most damningly, the study found that “overall, one in three women aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse”.

Another story, a different day.

Hundreds of liquor licenses allow the expatriate community to indulge themselves in the supposed pleasures of alcohol. A steadily increasing community of foreign workers have been indulging in such pleasures in our homes and communities for decades, quite legally.

The People’s Majlis passes a bill which attempts to control the distribution and consumption of alcohol. It would also stop the consumption of alcohol in our homes, which are rented by expatriates who have these liquor licenses.

Uproar ensues following the passage of the bill. Our airwaves are filled with news of protests and the constant reportage makes the whole issue akin to a national emergency. The horror of such a move by the government!

A group of allegedly devout men and women threaten to destabilise the country by toppling the government if the bill were to come into force. Communities are outraged and will not allow this to happen because alcohol is ‘haraam’.

Meanwhile, the lives of unknown numbers of vulnerable children continue being quietly destroyed behind closed doors, often by the very people who are responsible for their welfare and protection.

The community does not protest. It seems to be a non-issue for them. They do not condemn such behaviour or threaten to overthrow the government in fits of outrage. In fact, the community is silent.

The brutal treatment of children is clearly not a concern in this society. But the sale of alcohol to non-muslims sends our communities and media into uncontrollable convulsions.

What does this say about our society? What does this say about our priorities?

When the controlled sale of alcohol to non-muslims becomes a bigger issue than the destruction of our childrens’ futures due to sexual abuse and violence, is it not time to reflect on the madness and incoherence of the value system of this society?

Let us not look around for someone to blame. Let us consider and reflect upon our own failure to address this silent national emergency.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to minivan.news@gmail.com

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