Comment: The darkest hour is just before the dawn

Latheefa Ahmed Verall is former President Mohamed Nasheed’s maternal aunt

I was twenty-eight when Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became the president of the Maldives. President Nasir had been demonised and vilified, and a saviour, like a shining beacon of virtue from the deep, ancient bowels of Al- Azhar had appeared. He came in trailing clouds of glory that was Islamic scholarship. I was simply bowled over – to use a phrase that he and I probably share as lovers of cricket!

The year 1978 was an auspicious year for us both. I was expecting my first child; he was starting on his life’s work as the longest ruling dictator of Asia. Our paths never crossed of course because he was in the business of silencing public dissent in a frenzy of torture and authoritarian heavy handedness, while miles away in New Zealand, I was in the business of teaching my students and eventually my own children, the importance of asking the question ‘why’.

I want to talk to you, the readers of this website and also to others in our extremely divided nation, so that you may open your minds enough to listen to the reason why we must never, never give up striving for our rights. Get over the fact that I am [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s aunt, get over the fact I live over eleven thousand kilometres away. I am 65 years old and smart enough to separate what I want for my nephew and what I want for my country. They are two different things. This is for my country.

For those people who question my right to voice these concerns, I have this to say. My generation in the Maldives had no voice. We did not have the know-how or the belief that we could stand up to what was unfair, corrupt or unjust. Most of us, particularly women, believed that life was about accepting the status quo, being obedient, humble and respectful towards authority and power. That was the world-view we held and we strived to live ’good’ lives within it. We forgot to ask the question why things were the way they were.

When I saw the pictures of Evan Naseem, his dead body beaten and bruised, his hair matted in his own blood, I realised this was an atrocity that had been years in the making. This lack of respect for human life and dignity had its roots years before 2003. My generation had allowed the regime to come to that point of inhumanity because of our impotency and lack of action. I wept as the words, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” resonated in me. I have never forgotten their significance.

Our impotency came in many guises: we thought bowing down to authority, however unfair, was part of our heritage, we thought it was what our religion demanded of us, we assumed that deference was owed to a ruler simply because he was the ruler and finally we feared that the regime was too powerful to be affected by our concerns.

Today, the imprisonment of Nasheed and the unleashing of the regime’s vendetta on any who disagreed with their Grand Design, are natural progressions for a group of people who had always dealt with problems in a predictable and unimaginative way. They have no answers other than sheer brutality. But now, we the people, no longer find this acceptable. We are no longer prepared to consider it the norm. Those early activists and opposition supporters have helped liberate us all. And all of us working together have finally brought the eyes of the world on the Yameen/Maumoon regime.

[President Abdulla] Yameen, with the same lack of imagination, is following in his brother’s footsteps, and the prisons are once again filling up with their opponents. The events of the last few months scream out the desperation of a group that has once again run out of options: an ex-president jailed by a regime-controlled judiciary who, because of their incompetence and the political pressure of their masters, turned Nasheed’s trial into a farce, a defence minister sentenced for terrorism because of insurmountable differences and divisions in their own dog eat dog cabinet, a predictable falling out with their rich coalition partner who facilitated the regime’s return to power and is currently kept impotent by the threat of financial ruin and finally the country spurned by all freedom loving citizens of the world. Their solution: to move towards a state of emergency because they cannot control the citizenry other than by force.

This mounting opposition to the regime makes it abundantly clear that this is not Nasheed’s fight alone. He is not the only one to suffer brutality and injustice. Under this regime, to various degrees, we have all been within prison walls and we have all suffered from huge injustices. And our fathers, mothers, brothers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and friends have been affected by this cancer that has destroyed the very soul of the country which we hold dear to our hearts.

I am a student of history and I know that in any great struggle between the forces of tradition and modernity or the rights and wellbeing of all people and the greed of the few, the hardest time is when we feel that fortune has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. With Nasheed in prison, the regime in control of the judiciary so that they can dish out their malice willy-nilly, and the police high on testosterone, it may appear that our objectives are all but unattainable.

But life’s great lesson is that this is exactly the time for us to view our achievements and persevere in the face of adversity. The darkest time is always before the dawn. This is the time to have faith in our ability and not give up. This is the time to increase our resolve, increase our determination and increase our action.

Why?

Unlike my generation, today’s Maldivians are not incapacitated by years of tradition and social isolation. The question ‘why’ has been asked. People have dared. And more than that, we have several leaders in prison and this may well be a positive turning point, as for the first time, the eyes of the world are turned on the Maldives as never before. The time is ripe for our action, to actively insist that we do not want a future of brutality and suppression.

The regime believes that by imprisoning Nasheed and other leaders they can curb the move towards democracy and return to the good old days of untrammelled power. But these arrests give all of us the unheralded power to break this regime. We can prove them wrong. They can continue to imprison people, but they cannot suppress an idea. They cannot imprison or beat an ideal.

The time to unhinge this crumbling, ancient relic of a regime is now. This is our time to act.

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Nasira Abdulla – an inspirational misfit

The following is a comment piece submitted in response to a video profile of Nasira Abdulla produced by Hulhevi Media in July, 2014.

Born in 1957, Nasira passed away yesterday (September 8) after suffering breathing irregularities.

Ostracised by some, she was also an inspiration to many living the capital Male’.

‘She has always been known as the insane woman. A social reject living on the streets, she has suffered every abuse…’ Over 8000 hits in less than 24 hours? Of course. These are the days of social media. ‘Putting it out there’ is easy. Should I ‘like’ it? Or should I ‘share’ it?

Nasira’s story is an insightful look into the life of the homeless in Malé. She is street-smart and pragmatic, but her quick wit and sense of humour belies a litany of social injustices that is universally experienced by the homeless: verbal and physical abuse, rejection by family and society at large, the constant and soul-destroying search for shelter and the need to hustle to find money to keep hunger at bay.

I get lost in the trackless jungle of social media; I blame my age and my natural impatience with technology. However, ‘social rejects’ are nothing new to me. I grew up with ‘Firihen Fathuma’.  She came to thatch our kitchen roof, reconstruct the boundary fence between our house and our neighbour’s and to spread the coral sand before the onset of Ramazan.

Even then there was a dearth of men wanting to do manual jobs in the Maldives. Men were doing much more important things such as imprisoning and banishing one of my brothers for political dissension, or delivering long sermons on how to respect one’s superiors.

I found Firihen Fathuma’s disregard to social conventions somewhat liberating, viewing her with considerable envy as she walked her tuna home from the fish market.  Another of my brothers got into considerable trouble for taking on a dare to squeeze her chin as he cycled past her on Handhuvarudhey Goalhi. In his defence, she did sport a particularly well curved and magnificent chin.

But enough – I digress.

Why the interest in Nasira? Is it because we see in her a little bit of ourselves, that constant temptation to break free from the straight jacket of social norms? Or more pointedly, is it because we recognise her to be the end product of a system based on self- interest at the expense of nurturing a sense of common responsibility? In either case, Hulhevimedia, thank you for sharing.

I do believe it is an outrageous misfortune that the country has fallen, yet again, prey to the old elitist oligarchy with an over developed sense of  entitlement, and an underdeveloped  moral compass as badly off kilter as those of the thugs who roam the streets of Malé. In a previous life, I would have cried for Nasira as Maldivians are passionate about misery, but I’d like to think that I have grown out of that particular victim mentality.

So instead, I take refuge in words…

In April, Yameen – the latest incarnation of the old regime – announced the development of  SEZs (Special Economic Zones.) The insidious end results of these types of economic policies have already been eloquently pointed out by  Maldivian Economist in his article, ‘SEZ bill opens doors for economic slavery‘ and by Mushfique Mohamed in his ‘The Scramble for the Maldives‘.

I do not wish to reiterate the shortcomings of such an economic policy. However, I wish to extrapolate on the effects of such policy and how such policy decisions are directly related to societal poverty and the proliferation of displaced people.

Yameen’s is the kind of economic policy that is embedded in the dangerously misleading premises of the ‘American Dream’ – the all pervasive  belief that a free market allows everyone, regardless of race, culture or social status, to reap the benefits of their hard work.

Thanks to the power of celluloid, the print media and the globalisation of western culture, this dream has become so much part of our economic thinking, that many of us do not question it.

The words of a prominent businessman in the Maldives, that I was once made privy to, echo these sentiments exactly: “I made my money through sheer hard work. I risked everything. Why should I feel sorry for those who choose to sit on their arses and do nothing to better themselves?”

Makes sense. Or does it?

What is not so obvious is that it is easier for some to get off their behinds and reap the benefit of hard work than it is for others. Those who are rich, well established and have their behinds comfortably perched on the top rungs of the social ladder are in a better position to access the advantages of such policies. In fact, it can and should be argued that such policies are placed primarily for the benefit of such an oligarchy; that these simply legitimise their plunder of the nation’s wealth.

Ordinary Maldivians, who have already endured years of victimisation, poverty, lack of health care and who are deprived of the liberating influences of a good education, are not in a position to walk the yellow brick road to the emerald city. A nation’s human capital develops because of enlightened and humane policies, and having the foresight and strength to deliberately discard the brutal rule of the survival of the fittest.

The failure to do this is epitomised by citizens like Nasira, and by the hordes of young adults who roam aimlessly around the islands, often drugged and armed with  a rather laisse faire approach to human life. The excluded, oppressed and exploited have nothing to lose; they are all misplaced one way or another.

It is not because the chances aren’t there. It is not because the Maldives hasn’t got potential. It is not because Nasira is not resilient, eloquent or intelligent. She is all these things as the five minute clip proves to us. It is simply because she did not start from a level playing field.

Please don’t remind me of the Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Halle Berrys, and the Ella Fitzgeralds  – or their Maldivian counterparts who crawled through the social cesspool of constant poverty to shine as beacons of success. These are the exceptions to the rule.

There will always be one or two exceptions, if not by nature, then by the ‘benevolence’ of the oligarchs who will ensure by personally controlled patronage, that such exceptions exist for the benefit of their highly spun public profile.

Economics and social policies based on self interest and nepotism, create social casualties such as Nasira. While the rich 10 percent gets richer, the poor 90 percent become the non participants who wait with begging bowls at the bottom- perhaps in the hope of catching the trickles of good things that these policies so famously postulate.

It is like starting a sprint race from one end of Majeedee Magu to the other, with four fifths of the competitors placed five hundred meters behind the forward few. Maybe the exceptionally talented can Bolt to the lead, but the vast majority will always remain trapped in the back.

The final insult is of course to build the discourse round the unfortunate woman saying that she is mad and she chooses to live this way. This is also part of the narrative of the ‘American Dream’, that those who fail the system do so because of their own personal failures.  The system provides- the individual fails. It is the perfect framework to demonize the economic under- achievers.

The final indignity is that Nasira is already a statistic, like Firihen Fathuma, a misfit of society.

I am just saying. Just putting it out there before I go to have my latte’ and give some very serious thought to the new app I want for my Ipad. Or perhaps, I will have some face time with my friends.

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Comment: September 28 could be the Maldives’ last chance

I was the little girl who lived in the same block. We played cricket together, stabbed banana trunks with home-made spears and baked cakes in recycled butter tins. I remember times when he carried me on his back, remember times when he dressed up in his colourful shirts and reeking of ‘atharu’ (perfume), went out on his evening sojourns. He was a Don Juan, tall for his age, with laughing eyes and thick, wavy hair. Girls could not resist him and he could not resist trouble.

He was only five years older than me, but when I met him on that unforgettable day, several years later, there was an eternity of age and distance separating us. What was left of his hair was falling in untidy strands round his dirty shirt-collar. He was obese, embarrassingly so. Myself, sanitised by three decades of the good life in the West, jumped to conclusions. Too much grease, too little care…

Then, tears welled up in his eyes. They cascaded down his unkempt face. He shook. He stuttered.

I was utterly unprepared for my first experience of talking face to face with a victim of the regime: the horror of solitary confinement, the nights in the lagoons, the near-drownings, the chains, the mental and physical torture, the bodily deterioration, and the ensuing mental breakdown of those who displeased the dictator. In subsequent years I was to listen to numerous such narratives with a common theme, a callous disregard for people and the violation of human life and dignity as evidenced by the killing of Evan Naseem.

I am convinced that a relapse into the darker days of our history, by an election win to the Gayoom/Yameen regime, will set in motion a greater level of atrocities than was my generation’s heritage. We were sheltered. We were politically naïve. We did not question.

Today, there is huge opposition to the regime. They are articulate, determined and unprepared to put up with the whims of a regime struggling to come to terms with the realities of the 21st century. If the regime is reinstated, it would cope with this opposition in the way it’s accustomed to. The level of atrocities will rise exponentially. Our country and our heritage will finally and unequivocally decline and settle into a corrupt and violent police state. The events of February 7th, 2012, and the wave of state condoned violence which followed, should be a real reminder to us to reflect and cast our votes wisely.

Those of us who remember the way we were, the Maldives of old, must approach this second round of the presidential elections with our eyes wide open. There are ethical and practical issues that we should consider.

Over 30 years of Gayoom’s rule made sure that generations of young people grew up with nothing to aspire to. While it is clichéd to say that the youth is the future of a nation, there is no denying that the physical and mental health of this group is the best indicator of a nation’s economic and human potential. Over thirty years of neglect has left Maldivian youth hopeless and alienated. Is it any wonder they flock to the MDP? They see the alternatives: unemployment, drugs, corruption, drugs, nepotism, drugs, a police state, drugs…

It is a matter of public knowledge that among large numbers of the youth population, drug abuse is a way of life and young gang members are hired to do the dirty work of the adults. Again and again one hears the accusation that this is a deliberate strategy – bread and circus – in a different and more insidious guise. It is the application of a philosophy as old as the Romans, but it is not often that a society turns inwards to deliberately create an underclass. People of my generation, who have known better days, have a part to play in making a political decision that would stop the perpetuation of this cruel indifference.

Another pressing concern of the nation is the dysfunctional judiciary. Easily accessible news headlines speak for themselves: ‘Judiciary’s Angst on Reform’, ‘Maldives’ Judiciary- Unreformed and Unrepentant’, and more recently, ‘Maldives Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed with Russian and Sri Lankan prostitutes’. How can we forget that it was three decades of authoritarian dictatorship that totally vitiated the judiciary?

Gayoom’s iron fist still controls the judiciary. It is inconceivable to think that a return of PPM would lead to any positive improvements in a justice system that is so corrupt that it is destroying the moral fabric of the Maldives.

The most telling comment one can make about the Gayoom/Yameen regime, however, is its sense of entitlement. The extravagant and ostentatious life styles exemplified by Theemuge and the flotilla of yachts that Gayoom used are also symbolic of their belief that governance is a free ticket to have it all, at the expense of others; what is in the state coffers is theirs by right. Entitlement, elitism, privilege are words that summarise their philosophy of governance. Conflict of interest is not a concept that is in the handbook of these Feudalists.

The regime is also infamous for its unbroken network of patronage; patronage and fear being the bedrock of its present power. The failure of PPM to produce a clear election manifesto on time highlights this attitude.  Why write down promises for people to check and analyse when the intention to act on them is not there?

Entitlement seems a soft criticism. So what if some people think they are born to rule? But in the case of the regime, Gayoom and Yameen, this belief has become the fundamental driving force of their entire existence. Greater than their belief in capitalism, greater than their belief in democracy, greater than their belief in the Maldives, they simply believe they are born to rule – and that they MUST rule. If they cannot rule then they are no one. Within the Gayoom political tribe there is no existence without rule. They must rule to exist.

Narcissism is an evil sickness. It is this evil sickness that explains so much about the Gayoom coterie.

It explains why they have no detailed policy. They don’t need one; they are born to rule. It explains why they use corrupt means; when you are born to rule the end justifies the means. It explains why they will use violence; when you are born to rule then others have no rights, and must not share in the right to rule. It explains their vitriolic and personal attacks on their opponents, particularly of a religious nature; when you are born to rule, those who oppose you are unworthy of, not just humane, but human, consideration.

Gayoom’s sense of entitlement clarifies many seemingly strange actions and beliefs.

It is an understatement to say that what Gayoom/Yameen and PPM stand for is fundamentally detrimental to the Maldives. The abbreviation itself is a perverse contradiction of the truth. There is nothing progressive about the type of governance they will bring. Burma, under the clutches of a military dictatorship is making tentative steps towards democracy. Even China is beginning this process by introducing elements of freedom into their economic program.

Those who vote for the return of the regime must consider the fact that it is a vote to move the nation backwards, towards a dictatorship and a style of government that is not viable in the 21st century. In Gayoom’s era it might have been viable. For fifty years, we saw the same style of rule in Africa and Central America in the form of violent, bloody dictatorships. But things are changing in these countries. Can the Maldives let itself be turned into a 20th century Trujilloistic dictatorship just because the regime believe they were born to rule?

Apart from the moral reasons to avoid a return of the regime, there are practical reasons why we should not let that happen; the most important being our self-interest.

For its economic existence, the Maldives relies on its middle class, its business class, not on five or six big wealthy families, but on hundreds, perhaps thousands of small entrepreneurs. In every society these business people form the basis of the economy and the economy is the foundation on which society is formed. This middle class grows out of today’s youth. No modern society can exist without a vibrant, healthy, youth demographic being allowed to thrive.

Throughout the western and eastern worlds, countries are bemoaning the fact that their ‘youth’ are no longer able to be their future workforce, their future entrepreneurs, their future taxpayers, or their future heads of families. Societies rely on their youth to take over the burden of care for the old and the education of the young in the future. Here in the Maldives, the Gayoom/Yameen regime has targeted this group as their sacrificial lambs. They believe only in themselves.

Whilst I would like to think that no right minded person could ever support the regime with its horrifying track-record, I know this is untrue. There are some reasonable people who support them. Some of these do not receive bribes or inducements. Some of them are not under threat. Why do they support such a blood thirsty regime? I think the answer is simple. They believe that with the reinstatement of the old regime, the old economy will resurrect itself and they will prosper.

This is not so. Under a new Gayoom/Yameen dictatorship, the economy will move backwards.

Nepotism will prosper again. In a tightly controlled dictatorship, only family and close friends can be trusted. The rich and the elite who have everything to gain from the status quo will be rewarded, thus stifling innovation by the large majority of ordinary people. Much of the nation’s wealth will shift off shore.

No society can exist like this. The Gayoom/Yameen regime is so blinded by its own vision of their family’s right to rule that they are prepared to rule over a nation that has been deliberately disintegrated back into feudalism; so long as they rule it.

I find it a delicious irony that in the first round, large numbers of us have already voted in favour of ‘Aneh Dhivehi Raaje’, and the old dinosaur, the dynasty dreamer, is plodding behind to catch us with nothing new or appealing in his box of tricks. There is a famine of details in their policy documents. Produced four days before the presidential election, it did not show any budgetary provisions for its promises.

Perhaps the Adhaalath Party would pray for wells of gushing oil to finance Yameen’s plans, or faithful elements in the police and MNDF would come to the rescue, should the peasants complain! A leopard cannot change its spots, or perhaps more appropriately, a crow, cursed or otherwise, cannot change its raspy call to anything more endearing. A Gayoom/Yameen regime will uphold the same values that have already caused irreparable damage to the social fabric of our nation.

It will be business as usual. They have already proven to us that they are capable of doing awful and destructive things to this country and its people. We are yet to recover from thirty years of cruelty, abuse of the nation’s wealth, nepotism, lack of equitable development on the islands, and their frightening disregard for the plight of our youth. If the regime is given the mandate to govern again, even the most determined of our nation will not be able to pick up the pieces and rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Prison did not kill my friend; he died of ‘natural causes’. But prison did kill him. I have lived long enough to appreciate that death has many faces. It is not simply a final breathe. It is also a slaying of the spirit, a denial of dignity and a hiatus of hope. To me personally, my childhood friend remains a symbol of this nation: betrayed, neglected, justice denied and potential unachieved.

September 28th may be the country’s last chance.

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Heaven and hell

My husband sits next to me on the steps outside the Imperial Gates of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. The sky is overcast and there is no breeze. It is as if the world itself is hushed by the breath-taking splendour of our surroundings.

‘Allah Akbar. Allah Akbar…’ Suddenly, the melodic call for Asr prayer spills from the imposing minarets of Aya Sofya. The sound reverberates with a lyrical beauty that silences the crowds streaming in and out of the buildings around us.

There are occasions in one’s life, when, what has been, what is, and what might be, unite in total harmony and the moment is enough; a rare privilege in these changing times. I feel the pull of this moment as the call for prayer is echoed by several minarets that repeat these centuries-old words. “It’s harmonised,’ says my husband quietly.

Such occasions demand reflection. Recent travel around Turkey has rekindled powerful childhood memories which were the gifts of an Islamic upbringing. My sister and I, the designated readers to a family devoted to the written word… the long hours of Ramadan… the heat of the sun and the warm breezes conspiring to lengthen the day-light hours… taking refuge in the shade of the trees… an enchanted world where imagination and spirituality reigned.

The biography of Prophet Mohamed. The Thousand and One Nights. The legendary exploits of Amir Hamza. It was a realm of jinni and giants, dragons and dancers, invincible heroes and indestructible holy men. As much as our lessons in Islam and the daily reading of the Quran, these stories developed our connection to the community of Islam and the understanding that our collective heritage was something of which to be proud.

And it is an undeniably proud heritage. At the peak of its culture, its artistic and intellectual accomplishments influenced the entire world. What is most striking about the spread of this culture is that it was open and inclusive; its horizons were wide and flexible. Muslim philosophers helped the spread of Greek philosophy into Europe; Baghdad became the medical centre of the world having translated into Arabic works from several non-Islamic cultures. Huge progress was made in chemistry, physics, astronomy and mathematics.

It is sufficient to remember that the decimal system of numbers which allowed the scientific explosion of the later centuries was passed on to Europeans by this rich culture. Islam’s was the quintessential knowledge-based civilisation.

But these were not the only signs of its positive engagement with the wider world. Muslims were well known seamen and travellers. Improved methods of map making and geographical nomenclature were passed on to Europe by Islamic geographers such as al Idrisi and Abdallah Yaqut. Almost a century before Columbus and De Gama ventured on their explorations, Ibn Battuta documented his travels which were to become some of the best ethnologies in the world.

In a week of frenzied sight-seeing in Turkey, I have seen how the Ottoman Empire, at a much later date, continued this sense of inclusiveness and tolerance. Aya Sofya itself was once Emperor Justinian’s great Christian symbol of temporal and spiritual power in Constantinople. When Mehmet the Conqueror came to power, he simply had the church converted into a mosque. He did not feel the need to vandalise the building or smash it to the ground. Its beautiful mosaic work is testimony to the fact that religions can co-exist in proclaiming the bounty of God. But more than that, it was a statement of confidence and maturity; that Islamic culture – its teaching, its art and its literature – is powerful enough to withstand other ways of thinking and behaving.

My generation of Maldivians grew up confident and strong, nurtured by the greatness of this culture combined with our own Maldivian heritage. But we were the lucky generation. Less than half a century later, the religion, that was the basic building blocks of our childhood, is struggling to find its place in the Maldives. It would seem to be suffering from an extreme loss of confidence.

Although the answers are complex, we need to ask ourselves why such a profound change has taken place. Perhaps the most important reason for this is the cynical pact that the Saudi royal family made with the politically troublesome Wahhabis. The result of this is that a primitive, isolated, desert-based, and distorted version of Islam came to be the state religion of Saudi Arabia. This of course would not have been important if Saudi Arabia did not become the dominant, oil-rich American ally of the Middle East. This meant, what should have been a minor piece of political wheeling and dealing in a poor, uneducated Arab backwater, instead became the dominant evangelising force of Islam in the late 20th century.

But the reason is merely academic now. In recent years, the Maldives has been ‘gifted’ with mosques and madrassas funded by Saudi money under various guises. Groups of Maldivians have been converted to radical Islam. They have shown very little interest in the broad, all-encompassing values of the religion or how a religion and a culture interact over centuries, as it did in the Maldives, to produce a way of life that is unique and worthy of our respect. Just as fear and intimidation are the weapons of their choice, their focus is on selected dogma that suits their inward looking version of Islam.

They would have us believe that to save the faith, Muslims should ignore change rather than learn to live with it. Their romantic hankering to return to a time when women were dependent and servile is dangerous and unrealistic in the 21st century. Islamic dogma was never intended to be exercised in a vacuum; in the Quran, Allah is consistently and forcefully associated with terms of compassion and mercy, both of which should work closely in the interpretation of religious dogma.

I am not an expert in Islamic Law but I have no trouble claiming that for generations of Maldivians, Islam was, and still is, a call to live a good life. But this concept of living a good life has been high- jacked by a group of self-appointed people who have selected isolated facets of the religion and reassembled them to achieve their own bizarre social and political agenda. What has a good Islamic life to do with a preoccupation with facial hair or a propensity to drape one’s entire body in metres of black cloth?

In the absence of any strong, open objection to this new version of Islam in our midst, or any healthy debate by more moderate Islamic scholars in our country, the radical elements have prospered. They have organised themselves to a degree where many Maldivians, with different points of view, are afraid to speak out. There are shades of Pakistan and Afghanistan here. In Afghanistan the Taliban killed over 10,000 moderate Muslims so that they alone could claim to represent Islam and thus dominate their society. In the Maldives, they have infiltrated the political arena by shamelessly changing allegiances as they see fit. Disproportionate to their electoral success as a political group, their voices are the loudest in condemning people who do not fit into their narrow version of Islam.

I would like to believe that MP Dr Afrasheem’s shocking assassination was not related to his moderate Islamic views. But it would not surprise me if it was. Unfortunately violence is often a way of life for those who can only see things in black and white. So, unless their intense motivation to take the country back into the Dark Ages is contained, the fate of the Maldives will become synonymous with countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan- arid landscapes of abject poverty, punctuated by mindless violence. It will become a hell on earth except for a joyless few who see that hell as their exclusive way to heaven.

If Islam is to stay relevant to the new generations of Maldivians, it has to go back to its Maldivian roots. Here, Islam has always been moderate, caring, sharing and inclusive – a combination of cultural and Islamic values that served us well in the past. In a world literally drowning due to the greed of its inhabitants, the values of our Maldivian ancestors who managed to live more cooperative and less selfish lives are hugely relevant to our 21st century society.

As I leave the steps outside the Topkapi Palace, I remember my own maternal grandfather – Kudahuthu Mohomaidhi. This beauty would have moved him, just as it does me. He was a devoted Muslim who spent much time in prayer and the reading of the Quran. However, this was not all he did. What he earned, he gave away to others. When neighbours, friends and family members needed support, he was their first port of call. He accepted change with a readiness that surprised me. In his youth he was a great sportsman; as he aged he became fascinated by wood turning, jewellery making and gardening. His mind remained open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. He celebrated life. But, he died on his prayer mat. He was an exemplary Muslim Maldivian; a combination of what is best in both.

Such role models are not limited to the past. There are thousands of Maldivians living good, generous, tolerant and positive lives today. I am privileged to know several such people. These people do not need to live claustrophobic, intolerant, self-centred lives to be good Muslims.

Heaven can be achieved without making a hell of this world.

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Through the looking glass

‘Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world which we must not allow any nation to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.’ Eleanor Roosevelt, September 28, 1948.

The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin allegedly said that ‘The death of a man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”

Although this may be attributed to his lack of humanity, it also makes a salient point about the nature of 20th century dictatorships. Like Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, Stalin belonged to an exclusive group of dictators who wielded enormous power and exterminated millions of people who stood in their way.

Although Gayoom’s dictatorship in the Maldives was never in the same league, the political constructs were the same: the monopoly of the press, iron-fisted control of the judicial system, one party rule and the torture of political opponents as a tactic to stay in control.

However, in the late 1970s, just as Gayoom was beginning to spread his tentacles of power in the Maldives, globally, the tide began to turn in favour of democratic ideals. The fundamental concepts of life, liberty, justice, equality and the notion of the common good made a come-back. Concurrently, the word ‘dictator’ which was synonymous with absolute power and authority, became a term of ridicule, of derision, signalling an appalling inability to change with changing times.

But have dictatorships, like the famous parrot immortalised by Monty Python, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet their maker and become bereft of life? Have they kicked the bucket, run down the curtain and gone to join the bleeding choir invisible?

There are two realities that people of liberal persuasion must grasp. Firstly, despite the Arab Spring and strong forward movements by democratic ideals, conservatism as a trend has re-asserted itself. The Empire has struck back, nurturing the same ideology but armed with a different set of tools. It has reinvented itself and like a chameleon, reappeared in a different guise; one that is more in tune with the 21st century political landscape.
Secondly, and most importantly, democracy is worth fighting for. Its defining characteristics of justice, inclusiveness and equality are universal values that give dignity to human life. Despite the slow encroachment of conservative and elitist ideologies, democracy is not finished, it is close at hand and its worth demands our sacrifice.

But beware! Today’s dictator is not in a uniform covered in gold-plated medals; nor is he an object of ridicule generating derisive laughter. He is well spoken, cosmopolitan and media savvy. His CV and certificates on the wall may indicate strong academic connections that validate his claim to good governance and commitment to progressive ideals. He is Putin of Russia. He is Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. He is Mohammed Waheed Hassan of the Maldives. They are the new face of dictatorships in the 21st century.

Shimon Peres, one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 said, “Today, if you are looking for a safe job, don’t become a dictator.” The world has become less forgiving of human rights abuse, torture and mass killings. Dictators not only have to show restraint in their own personal inclinations and hide their draconian political agendas, but they also have to dress their actions in a different style. Thus the art of equivocation has been perfected by modern dictators. They understand that excessive violence in the tradition of Tiananmen Square is no longer possible, but they still relentlessly punish their opponents. They stand behind what seems a set of progressive laws, but they are masters of the selective application of these.

Waheed’s government in the Maldives provides an almost text-book study of this type of dictatorship; its creative double-talk masking its overwhelming cruelty and desperate grasping for control.

His search for legitimacy and global recognition came early. One of his first political engagements was to write to heads of states to explain why he was forced to take over power. He proactively set the scene: here was a man of reason, who could articulate his noble intentions in rational and practical terms; here was a man who could be trusted to work with the international body. However, almost simultaneously, on his home-turf, the members of his police and the armed forces, who helped to place him in the presidency, were executing a reign of terror, previously unseen in the Maldives.

According to a reply written to Waheed’s letter by Mike Mason, the Energy adviser to President Nasheed, Waheed is ‘committed to Maldives and Democracy.’ But Mason fails to distinguish between a simplistic, self-indulgent, self-deluding belief in democracy on the one hand and the physical responses and actions which totally destroy democracy on the other hand. Mason simply underlines what many of us know – Waheed is a superficial individual who lacks the intelligence to see beyond his rhetoric. He has never demonstrated his commitments to democratic principles.

Proof of this can be seen in his rewarding the armed forces with resort islands, promoting and increasing their salaries as opposed to bringing to justice the police and defence force members who brutally attacked innocent Maldivians and vandalised public property. The proposed budget for 2013 would see an increase of the defence spending by 14 percent. Instead of promoting democracy he is paving the way to a military dictatorship. All signs indicate that such a fate is not far.

Meanwhile, the IMF mission, in November this year spoke of ‘a ballooning fiscal deficit’ the effects of which are felt by the average Maldivians who are struggling, not simply because of the global economic recession, but due to the moribund economy based on the debilitating corruption and nepotism condoned by the Waheed, Gayoom, Military consortium. In doing so he is destroying meritocracy, the civil service, the level playing field and the acceptance of differences that exist in a true democracy.

Waheed speaks of Maldives as ‘a damn good democracy’, yet he has denied the people their call for an early election, disregarding the advice by international bodies such as the EU and the Commonwealth to do so. There are increasing allegations by MPs that his government’s bullying tactics are creating a ‘climate of fear’ in the People’s Majlis.

Ostensibly he stands for tolerance, yet his bedfellows and support base include the Salafists. The country is fast sliding into a fundamentalist nightmare where an Adhaalath ( The Islamist party) aligned MP has recently gone so far as to call for one of his opponents to be ‘hanged to death’. Journalist and writer, Azra Naseem, points out that in ‘a damned good democracy’ the president describes his Islamist supporters as ‘Mujaheddin, fighting a Holy War.” All these add to the climate of intolerance, hatred and escalating violence.

New age dictators like Waheed claim to stand for law and justice. The Maldives for instance, has a constitution. But the new dictator of the 21st century is adept in the selective application of this justice. Putin for example uses his fire and health regulations to close down opposition radio stations and newspapers. But the same rules are not applied to his supporters. In the Maldives also, justice is used to destroy opponents; and this together with the failure to bring to justice more urgent cases that need addressing, creates a tangible state of injustice.

Waheed’s main focus is to prevent the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, from participating in the next elections. Meanwhile the immensely corrupt judicial system and the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed continue to high-jack any efforts to make progress in this all important sector of the state.

Like the dictators of the past, Waheed continues to use propaganda to white-wash the actions of his government and its supporters. However, the style today is more subtle. The regime’s narrative is disseminated in a two- pronged programme. The first and the most expensive, and possibly the least effective, has been the employment of the Ruder Finn PR company at a cost of US$150,000 a month. Fortunately for the seekers of truth, the contract was terminated in November this year: it is not clear whether the bankrupt Maldivian government ran out of money to fund this type of expensive hobbies, or that the company came to the inevitable conclusion that some clients are just too toxic for it to be associated with.

The second, and the most direct, has been the narrative constructed by the regime: the building of metaphors, the framing of issues and the controlling of the political dialogue that help their cause. Here MDP is depicted as an aggregate of drug taking, alcohol swilling people who lack any respectability. Nasheed is attacked personally and presented as a cynical opportunist who uses the democratic platform to get to power for personal gain. We have to ask why?

Is this because they have no other way of attacking Nasheed? Could it be that his actions, unlike the words of the dictator, speak louder? During the three short years under MDP, a comprehensive system of old age pension was introduced and access to health care for all Maldivians improved. For the first time, the outlying islands began to get the recognition and support they deserve. There was development in infrastructure. Travel between the islands was upgraded with a more efficient transport network and the fiscal deficit, the legacy of neglect of Gayoom’s regime, was attended to. In 2010 IMF reported that ‘the government of Maldives has put together and is implementing a set of essential fiscal adjustment measures’, but in April 2012 under Waheed, it raised “grave concerns for the Maldives economy.”

It is not surprising that in the recent by-election in Raa Atoll, a regime stronghold, MDP support shot up by 120 percent. It is obvious that they cannot attack the actions of their opponents, so they are reduced to attacking the people involved.

Waheed’s political vicissitude does nothing to inspire confidence, either in his own people or in international stake-holders. Some see his failure as a result of the hand he was dealt with, which was “almost impossible to play.” Others question his intelligence; the type of intelligence that functions when cocooned in an ivory tower, is different to that which is required in running a state. Some comment on his poor work ethic or his inability to commit to any one objective. Perhaps there are elements of truth in all these, but the defining weakness is in his ideological stand.

Dictators may appear to have made a come-back. But within their success in reinventing themselves, and gaining support though the dangerous game of deception, lie the seeds of their own destruction. A dictatorship is a dictatorship, however it is packaged.

Abraham Lincoln was believed to have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the times, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

The new-age dictator cannot have it both ways. Despite ‘candid’ letters and high sounding rhetoric, a dictatorship is not a democracy and we must never let ambitious despots use democratic jargon to gain legitimacy.

The passage of time has become the greatest witness to Waheed’s failure. Nine months has elapsed since the coup and the political and social landscape is littered by the fall-out of his inability to lead. Violence has escalated, government influence of the media has increased and Islamic fundamentalism has been allowed to grow into a forceful political power. Even Waheed has been forced to admit that “everybody runs the state as they please.”

Personal freedoms have declined as has the standard of living of the majority of Maldivians. The state is bankrupt and the government’s financial and political supporters cannot seem to grasp the simple fact that the Maldives is a vulnerable, small state that needs the goodwill of its neighbours.

Crucially in this political wilderness, the police and the armed forces have been permitted to do as they please. Time has shown that Waheed’s brand of dictatorship is not working. This begs the question: will he move up to the next level of dictatorship and use more force or, while he is procrastinating and thinking of the appropriate rhetoric, will the police and the armed forces take the initiative and establish themselves as a military government? Sadly, none of these impending eventualities are in the best interest of the people of the Maldives. But, these are the only two alternatives for Waheed’s government.

There is room for optimism, however. The greatest danger to dictators has never been the well-meaning bureaucrats hidden behind glass windows of high rise buildings. The most feared opposition to injustice and authoritarian rule has always been the ordinary people. Democracy, as an ideology is global. Its strengths are firmly embedded in universal and timeless ethical values. It is not simply a convenient aphorism to claim that human progress towards its full potential has little to do with technology and materialism but has everything to do with the way we learn to treat each other. Democracy is a potent force that will not be beaten. As Victor Hugo said, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

As the world slides down to economic recession, the opposing forces of democracy and dictatorship are equally balanced globally as they are in the Maldives. The traditional caretakers of democracy, America, Europe and the Commonwealth, are focused largely on the internal, economic problems of their respective nations. It would appear that the coast is clear for men who lust for absolute power, to seize the moment.

However, paradoxically, economic hard-times can also make the self- interest of dictators and the lifestyles of their elitist friends stand out in stark contrast to the poverty and the struggle of the ordinary man on the street. The masses, no longer kept distracted by ‘bread and circus.’ can rise again.

Nothing is as powerful as the will of the people.

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 [email protected]minivannews.com

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Comment: An eye for an eye

In times of huge social stress, societies look for extraordinary solutions to growing social problems. The economic and social collapse in the Weimar Republic, after the First World War, helped the Nazi ideology to flourish in Germany.

In the post-coup Maldives, the issue of escalating violence and violent murders have encouraged many to look for quick fixes that may reverse this frightening trend.

The death penalty is gaining ground as a proposed solution to the current problems of the Maldives. The media reports that the government has announced its intentions to introduce a bill ‘to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country’.

But, before we resort to such drastic measures, it may be prudent to pause and consider if capital punishment would prove to be the miracle cure that the nation is looking for.

‘An eye for an eye’ or ‘a tooth for a tooth’ has a comforting simplicity. It seems an elegant equation which promises unequivocal justice. But, here’s the rub: capital punishment is an ethical quagmire and justice, in any comprehensive form, may be the last thing it is equipped to deliver.

Justice and the death penalty

The question of justice is an appropriate starting point when considering the death penalty. It is often argued that life imprisonment is not an adequate punishment for a killer, that the crime of taking a life should forfeit the killer’s own fundamental human right to live.

However, the sentencing of the death penalty works on the premise that a fair, transparent and comprehensive process of justice has preceded the verdict. This pre-requisite must surely raise alarm bells in the minds of thinking Maldivians.

The Maldives is not a just state. There is a general consensus in the country that the justice system needs drastic reshaping for it to function in a fair and just way. The long list of human rights abuses in the last 30 years through to the present time has been well documented. In the name of law and order, people are beaten, pepper sprayed, and tossed into prison with impunity. Amnesty International reports the existence of ‘a human rights crisis that has gripped the country’ since the February 7 coup.

Selective justice is the other complicating factor in considering the death penalty in the Maldives. Justice has become a political game. Trials of the regime’s political opponents are given prominence, while thousands of more vital cases pile up on the scrap-heap that is the present justice system of the country. Meanwhile crimes committed by police officers who went on a binge of destruction and violence on February 7 are tidily packed away into the background. There is a general acceptance that the agenda of the regime, in collusion with the MPS (Maldives Police Service) and MNDF (Maldives National Defence Force), is perilously political. The possibility of this regime adding the death penalty to its arsenal is a daunting thought indeed.

The judiciary in the Maldives is the embodiment of all these perversions of justice and more. Controlled by the iron grip of an authoritarian regime for over thirty years, the judiciary has not even allowed justice to be seen to be done. In a country where people boasts about having the highest ratio of doctorates per head of the population, and one of the highest literacy rates in South East Asia, the competence and qualifications of Maldive’s judges remain akin to the apothecaries of the Dark Ages.

No doubt it is easier for a government to influence the course of ‘justice’ if the judiciary is kept in a state of perpetual ignorance. But, in the process, it has lost any credibility in the eyes of Maldivians and international observers. A litany of wrong doings, including frightening ethical and moral lapses, hangs around the neck of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Notwithstanding, the regime has seen it fit to keep him in his job.

However, in issues of the death penalty, even the world’s most advanced legal systems risk fallibility. This is why many of them reject the death penalty as a solution to societal violence. In the case of the Maldives, multiple reports, including the work of legal expert Professor Paul Robinson, have shown the legal system to be ‘systematically failing to do justice and regularly doing injustice’.

The country also lacks the trained personnel and the technology that underpins reliable criminal investigations. One of the gravest dangers of capital punishment is its potential for miscarriages of justice. With the justice system so compromised, legalising the death penalty in the Maldives would be as dangerous as giving a box of matches to a toddler in a room packed with gun powder.

The death penalty as a deterrent

The jury is still out on the question of whether the death penalty acts as a viable deterrent for murder and other violent crimes. The screeds of research and literature regarding the pros and cons of the death penalty match the strong emotional responses that the issue evokes.

However, a wealth of research indicates that the death penalty can contribute to more violence through a ‘brutalization effect’ on the public; it desensitizes people and increases the chance of the general public accepting violence as a way of solving problems. In this context, it is pertinent to note that murder rates in death-penalty states in America are consistently higher than the murder rates in non- death penalty states.

Research also suggests that there is an ‘imitation effect’ where people believe that if their leaders can legitimately kill people, through legalising capital punishment, so can they. This is extremely significant to the Maldives. The present surge of violent murders has taken place since the February 7 coup where members of the security forces participated in what many commentators described as ‘widespread brutality’.

There is a wealth of evidence to bring the culprits to justice, but nothing has been done and it would seem, can be done – if the status quo is to remain. In this atmosphere of state – condoned violence-and the moral and ethical disorientation it creates – is it any wonder that the criminal elements of the society are thriving?

Changing the paradigm

When governments are faced with harrowing internal problems, for which they have no creative answers, their first reaction is to shift the public focus away from the real issues. This is often done through the introduction of contentious topics of debate either in parliament or the media. The intention is to shift the focus from the real problems and engage the populous in heated debate which diverts the energy and attention from the real problems that the government is not equipped to cope with.

It is important, therefore, that we identify where the focus of our debate should be. Experience teaches us that ‘miracle cures’ for entrenched societal ills do not exist. It is convenient to think that capital punishment will halt the escalation of violent murders, but at the very best, it will turn out to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Positive change requires more than a law. It requires more than political rhetoric. It requires more than clever manipulation to hide egregious social issues, by highlighting others.

Rather than a law legitimising the death penalty, our society needs the rule of law. The rule of law in the Maldives has been described by one cynic as ‘a cancer patient kept alive by drug.’ When the law enforcers who have promised ‘to protect and serve’ wear balaclavas to beat and brutalise people, it is not hard to surmise that Maldives, especially Male, is a ‘frontier town’ where the rule of law has been hijacked by the rule of might.

We need the leaders of the nation to show the people that they are honest, just and capable. The economic collapse of the country is not the only sign of the regime’s inability to lead. The murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali is a huge tragedy, regardless of what side of the political divide we have positioned ourselves. It is an execution style murder, accomplished with such brutality, that even the young and the able-bodied are questioning their safety; the old and the disabled having long blockaded themselves behind doors. These are all tragic, but the greater tragedy is the lack of an appropriate response by the government.

We need justice to function as a powerful and active force in the daily lives of our people. The most stable and safe societies in the world are those where the people feel the presence of a strong sense of justice. This stage of stability is not achieved overnight, nor is it arrived at by the threat of more punishment. It is the end product of enlightened and fair governance, which in turn produces a strong sense of nationhood based on shared values and aspirations. When justice falters, society collapses.

More than ever, we need to realise that a nation cannot function effectively, if its wealth is monopolised by a privileged few. Discounting a short period of time between 2008 and 2011, the state Maldives had grievously failed to address the needs of it citizenry. Research shows that a low standard of living is not as socially damaging as a huge disparity between the ‘have’ and ‘have nots’. When we view the dystopia we have created, it is important to remember that a community is only as strong as its weakest link. Social problems such as crime, violence and drug-abuse often surrounding the disfranchised and the alienated, affect the whole society. This is especially problematic in a geographically small place such as the Maldives.

The people and the society they live in are entwined in a complex web of interrelationships. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, ‘Society is inside of man and man is inside society… The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish’. We need to examine the water that is inside the fish in Maldivian society. When we do so, how can we escape the gloomy conclusion that the water inside the fish is exceptionally murky? The lack of honest leadership with a view for the betterment of its people, the collapse of the justice system, the lack of personal freedom and democratic rights, as well as the abuse of human rights with impunity, have all contributed to this.

Until the water clears, the death penalty is simply another dangerous tool in the hands of the wrong people.

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Our brother’s keeper

“I am talking about a moral deficit. I am talking about an empathy deficit. I am talking about an inability to recognise ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper.’ In his speech on Martin Luther King Day, President Obama points out the inexorable link between empathy and morality.

Obama’s speech is not merely sophisticated political rhetoric as scientific research backs up this connection. Recent publications such as Paul J. Zak’s book ‘The Moral Molecule’ and Christopher Boehm’s ‘Moral Origins’ all point out that morality binds and builds societies. Whether morality is a cultural construct or is purely biological in nature, this ‘moral advantage’ allows humans, unlike other primates, to live in large and complex societies.

Paul J. Zak’s work, published in ‘Psychology Today’ in September, 2011, further explains that an ancient molecule in the human brain – oxytocin – makes us feel empathy for others. Zak’s experiments, involving thousands of people, show conclusively that the large majority of people release oxytocin when they receive the appropriate social signals.

Some, however, are deficient in this ‘moral molecule’. This deficiency has huge implications for the state of the Maldives today.

In laymen’s terms, his argument is that the overwhelming majority of the human species is capable of compassion and empathy, but a small percentage lack the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They are unable to function within the moral boundaries of normal society.

This is exactly what is happening in the Maldives. The regime is a terrifying example of how a few free-riders can highjack the lives of the many until chaos becomes the norm for everyone.

Humanity has always grappled with the concepts of good and bad. Not surprisingly, therefore, the fundamental building blocks of all religious philosophies, consist of the steps we must follow to live moral lives and avoid the temptation of evil. Philosophers, theologians and artists as varied in time and background as Socrates, Martin Luther and Arundhati Roy have filled our museums, libraries, airways and cyber-space with their interpretations of these opposing forces in a societal context.

However, within this huge explosion of concepts, some threads of commonality emerge. A moral life consistently highlights compassion, co-operation and a commitment to the well-being of others. People like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa stand out as beacons of moral excellence.

Moral failure, however, is constantly depicted as aggressive self-interest, greed and the inability to feel for other people. Here too we are not short of examples: Stalin, Josef Mengele, and more recently Pol Pot have shown us the corrosive and horrifying effects of moral paucity, when it is fortified with political power.

The list, compiled in July this year by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners under Gayoom’s regime demonstrates the social consequences of allowing Machiavellian self-interest to replace empathy and compassion which underpin the moral imperatives of a society.

The list is as long as it is terrifying; terrifying because this is carefully planned and executed violence, not the actions of someone striking back in anger in the heat of the moment. It is about ‘systematic and systemic torture,’ the report emphasises.

‘Forms of torture and ill-treatment included the use of suspension, lengthy use of stocks, being beaten with fists and bars, kicked, blindfolded, handcuffed, the dislocation of joints, breaking of bones, …being drowned or forced into the sea, being put into water tanks, being burned…being covered in sugar water or leaves to attract ants…routine sexual assault and humiliation… Many testimonies suggest the only limit to the torture and ill-treatment imposed was the imagination of whose control they were under.’

It is an indictment of our moral landscape and a hugely disturbing commentary of how cruelty and lack of empathy impacts on the lives of ordinary people.

What is generally regarded by Gayoom’s regime as ‘tactics’ to keep people submissive, is vastly different in human and social terms. It involves suffering on a scale that has not been fully documented-suffering that is endured not only by the individuals concerned, but the families of these individuals and thus Maldivian society at large.

It is extremely devastating to the nation therefore, that this violence has returned again like a repetitive cancer. The need to focus on this is all the more pressing because of the events of February 7 and the on-going atrocities of the regime.

Mariya Didi, a female activist beaten on February 8th. The Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Reeko Moosa Manik, brutalised and hospitalised in Sri Lanka and later in Singapore for head injuries. The unwarranted destruction of Haruge, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) campaign centre. People arrested in Addu, beaten and stripped in front of their families. The list, once again, is growing. The use of the baton and pepper spray against demonstrators has become a daily routine of the very people who are employed ‘to protect and serve.’

Synonymous with Gayoom’s regime, this recurring cancer in the very heart of the Maldivian society, affects the whole nation. Their belief that violence will stay contained, to be used with impunity but only by the regime, and people in civil society will simply accept it as necessary for social harmony, is as mistaken as it is dangerous. Violence dismantles all the moderating influences that hold society together, allowing the more extreme elements to play havoc in the ensuing climate of fear and instability. The recent upsurge in violent crimes in the Maldives is one of the more obvious results of such moral disorientation, but we must not dismiss the fact that there are other more insidious consequences of this failure to govern wisely and justly.

How does such a culture of violence develop? The culture ultimately comes from the top. Gayoom’s regime was and still is propped up by a culture of brutality that was developed and nurtured under his long presidency. His finely honed megalomaniac and narcissist desires, to be the feudal lord, are the major reasons behind it. He may continue to defend himself against the accusations of several hundred custodial deaths during his presidency, but the well-known litany of human right abuse, now documented by the United Nations, is not going to go away.

The return of these tactics is heralded by the reappearance of the hard men of the regime in public office; men like Abdulla Riyaz and Mohamed Nazim who are house-hold names in the Maldives, not because of their valour in protecting and serving the nation, but because of their brutality. The old ‘Star Force’ and National Security Service personnel are indeed back in business so that the rich and the elite of the society can continue to bleed the nation of its wealth, both literally and metaphorically.

Into this unholy mix is added the indifference of Mohamed Waheed Hassan; a man whose life-long desire is to be president, simply to be president, but not to lead the nation. This personal need, which he places above loyalty, compassion, love and care, is just a desire. The nation is literally bleeding and he is content to be an on-looker and let the old regime do as they see fit. The voices of his people are as remote to him as was the moon to our ancestors. His lack of empathy and commitment to his people can most fittingly be judged by the words of Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘The lack of will-power to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.’

And if literature reflects the frailty of the man, surely he is in Dante’s Inferno, in a state of limbo, not strong enough or committed enough to be either in heaven or hell.

This cynical triumvirate, Gayoom with his delusions of grandeur, Riyaz and Nazim, his ruthless henchmen, and Waheed, the indifferent public face of the regime, hold the nation in their brutal hands. At the very top echelon of our society, where we the subjects look for leadership and care, compassion and empathy have been traded for greed and self-interest. Their violence, their lack of empathy for the people, and most importantly, their perversion of justice create a moral wilderness that has the power to destroy every value that we, as a nation, hold dear.

A moral vacuum grows multifariously like an aggressive cancer. As the number of political detainees increase and the streets fill with the well-rehearsed violence of some members of the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) we must realise that violence is now out in the public domain, not hidden behind walls or on heavily guarded islands, as it had been in the last thirty years. It is now bolder and more indifferent to public opinion. Violence has this ability to prosper, escalate and re-invent itself in a variety of guises as it did in Dachau and Auschwitz.

We cannot therefore assume that we know what form the violence perpetrated by the regime, will take; nor can we predict the next set of victims. Could it be those who have simply waited for things to quieten down? Regardless of our political affiliations, or the lack of it, the inescapable conclusion we must all come to is that, this is no longer a political debate. There is a vital issue of right and wrong underpinning the chaos in the Maldives.

It is important to highlight the fact that the patriarchal and oligarchical ideology of the regime has failed to withstand the liberating influences of time and technology. Social justice is no longer an academic term in the Maldives. Thousands of free thinking citizens are fully committed to making positive changes to the lives of all Maldivians; not just a selected few. The only way the regime can hold on to power is to increase their control by more and more violent means and decrease the rights of the people in whose name they govern. Those who benefit from the return of the regime cannot abrogate their moral responsibly by simply advising them ‘not to go overboard.’ This regime has to go overboard to keep their grip on power and to keep the elite of the society in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to.

We, the citizens of Maldives, are the victims of a moral deficit. We are also the victims of an empathy deficit. Violence, torture, restrictions on our basic human rights and most importantly, the failure of justice to function effectively are all part of this deficit. It is the work of a minority of the population with weapons in their hands, malice in their hearts and greed in their souls.

The ‘moral majority’- the old ‘silent majority’- is a phrase that is often bandied about in the media and day to day conversation. However, the moral, the silent majority must now take centre stage in the Maldives. It is doubtful that any international body such as the United Nations or even the Commonwealth would interfere in the internal affairs of a country to the extent that is required to make the ‘radical changes’ that the United Nations recommends. Nor is it likely that some power from providence will come to our rescue.

People with a clear sense of right and wrong, within civil society, the police and armed forces, must affect this change. It is for all citizens – the moral majority, the once silent majority – to define the moral climate we live in.

We cannot look to others to remove the growing tumour of violence perpetuated and nurtured by a handful of people who have nothing to offer to the nation other than their indifference and greed. We must act. We must make our voices heard. As Edmund Burke so aptly put it, ‘All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.’

Can we afford to do nothing?

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Government of the people, by the people, for the people…

The type of government that a nation consents to has a profound influence on its people and their quality of life. In the writings of early historians, Maldivians were depicted as “a most gentle people.”

Less than forty years ago, when a tourist visiting Male killed his girl-friend, practically the whole population of the island stopped their work and went to pay their respects. People were genuinely moved with sympathy for a victim of violence. “We were in deep shock. We were stunned really,” one man recalled.

How things have changed.

A single day’s headlines now expose the darker reality of this ‘Sunny Side of Life.’ A sixteen year old boy is murdered in a public park while law enforcement agents are busy arresting people for the crime of being “in possession of a cursed chicken.” A 65 year-old man is killed for his meagre pension money.

Meanwhile, the police pepper spray, beat and arrest people with impunity and young children are given guns to hold and admire as a tactic to enhance the profile of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).

Yes, change is inevitable. However, it is important to ask why such a fundamental change has occurred in the psyche of the whole nation in a 30 year time-frame. There might be many contributing factors but one of them stands out.

The style of governance under Gayoom’s regime affected the attitude of the whole nation. The violence, torture and lack of regard for other people’s dignity that characterises his regime, is unfortunately colouring the mind-set of ordinary citizens. The recent shameful episode of three policemen and an MNDF officer robbing expatriate workers makes sense in this dog-eat-dog society which is frighteningly becoming our reality. And why not? When ‘the best and the brightest’ of a country usurp power by pillage and brute force, the masses have no reason not to emulate their example. Exposure to violence desensitises us and reduces our sense of humanity.

There are a plethora of practical and philosophical reasons why the Maldives should embrace democracy at this stage of its development. One outstanding reason is the failure of the ‘Unity’ government that has emerged following the coup, which is neither a united nor a legitimate government. It is a loosely held conglomerate of ambitious individuals vying for power. The last thing on their minds is the well-being of the citizens. The sudden increase of police numbers, promotions and bonuses, in a period of economic recession, is testimony to the fact that the limited resources of the country are being squandered for the self-serving obsession of holding on to power.

Journalists, politicians and individual citizens discuss the execution of the coup that brought this regime back to power. While there is no doubt that a coup took place, and a legitimate, democratically-elected government overthrown, it is simply too generous to accept that a successful coup has been executed. A coup is not simply the acquisition of power. It also entails the maintenance of power by providing a functioning system of governance that would enable the usurpers to achieve legitimacy, at least through longevity.

What is obvious now is that the coup was a botch-up of gigantic proportions. The perpetrators of the coup underestimated the resilience of the people, ignored the determination of the MDP and assumed that Nasheed would walk away quietly and the rest of the population would return, sheep-like, to the conditions prior to the 2008 elections. However, three years of freedom from police persecution and terror has prompted a paradigm shift in the psyche of the nation. The coup government is struggling and is in a state of limbo. Their recent dealings with political activist and lawyer Mariya Didi and Chief Superintendent MC Hameed, Head of Intelligence of the Maldivian Police Service (MPS), have demonstrated the inadequacies of the regime in dealing with people who cannot be frightened into submission.

The regime has also made it clear to the general public that they are not capable of anything other than knee-jerk reactions. Meanwhile the people suffer as they watch the drama unfold and the numbers of political detainees continue to increase.

This failure to consolidate power is partly because autocracy of any form is an anachronism in the 21st century. Traditional respect for authority and the unquestioning subservience of citizens to those in power are fast disappearing. This is an age of social media and instant dissemination of information. Syria, Egypt and Libya provide clear evidence of how autocratic governments all over the world have been under increasing pressure. The type of Machiavellian political philosophy that advocates the suspension of common-place ethics from politics is out-dated and irrelevant in the 21st century, as is the Hobbesian interpretation of the social contract that people should submit to the authority of an absolute sovereign power.

Yet, these ideas form the political creed of the current regime in the Maldives; a cynical, out-dated creed that ignores the human potential for growth, both morally and intellectually. Thus, all autocratic governments, as the one that the old dictator has ‘gifted’ to the Maldives for a second time, are preoccupied with the business of propaganda, creating their own versions of the truth in an increasingly information-rich world.

Ruder Finn, the PR company employed by the regime to sanitise their record of human rights abuse, is not a new phenomenon, but the effectiveness of this huge monetary investment in disinformation, remains to be seen. Dr Hassan Saeed may indeed be destined forever to keep ‘applying lipstick to hideous pigs,’ as Yameen Rasheed so aptly puts it. However, the regime would be ill-advised to believe that the rest of the animals on the farm are impressed by the propaganda of Snowball and Napoleon.

It is generally agreed that the stability of a government is directly related to the economic well-being of a nation. What is less well understood is the fundamental human need for justice, order, goodness, and unity. In his hierarchy of needs for self-actualisation, Abraham Maslow defines these as ‘Meta-needs’, crucial qualities that help people to develop to their potential.

Where is justice when power is acquired and sustained by force? Where is order when the roads are filled with disenfranchised protesters and thousands are demanding that their right to vote be taken seriously? It is laughable to expect the nation to be united when the ruling hierarchy itself is divided by their personal agendas and are incapable of investing energy in the well-being of the people. The previous democratic government was much maligned for detaining a judge who was regarded as corrupt and morally questionable. While this may have been ‘impolitic’ in the cut-throat business of staying in power, it is a refreshing sign that the people’s government had the moral fibre to act decisively in a question of right and wrong, rather than be intimidated by political expediency.

But why democracy?

Winston Churchill’s words that “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried” have often been used as an apology for democracy. It seems to suggest that democracy is the best of a bad lot and we may as well make do with it because nothing else works any better. But modern research and experience seem to suggest otherwise. ‘The Spirit Level’ written by researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is based on a variety of cross- country comparisons. They argue that greater equality does not only produce better outcomes for the poor.

“Equality,” they point out, “is better for everyone,” including the rich and the elite of the society. Their well-evidenced thesis shows that unequal societies suffer from more insecurity and status-related fears, which permeate through the whole society, destroying the positive influences of community living and lowering the spirit of the poor and the rich alike.

Although it is simplistic to assume that democracy provides a totally equal society, empowering the people of the country to decide the direction of their government and its policies are crucial pre-requisites for a healthy and inclusive society. The good health of a society is of huge benefit even for the rich as it provides a stable, educated and flexible workforce capable of keeping up with the demands of a constantly changing world.

Thomas Paine, in his treatise Rights of Man points out that representative democracy is the most inclusive and the fairest form of government. Three centuries later, this claim still holds good. Democracy opens the door for the utilisation of everyone’s energy, ideas, creativity and intelligence for the well-being of the whole population. Conversely, the raison d’etre of any autocratic government, as with the regime currently in power in the Maldives, is the preservation of their own privilege and exclusivity.

It is not a historical accident that the democratic movement, especially since the coup, has resonated strongly with the combined voices of women and the youth of the nation. Any successful society in the 21st century must address the needs of these two powerful, but traditionally over-looked groups. Islamic fundamentalism has been legitimised in the Maldives by the coup of February 7 which saw the regime’s cynical manipulation of a small group of radicals to overthrow the democratic government. The inclusive nature of democracy is also the only response to the mindless, patriarchal and antiquated agendas of these individuals who consolidate power and maintain their own personal self-esteem through the subjugation of such groups as women and youth.

As a form of governance, democracy has the added advantage of allowing a safe and disciplined transfer of power. Autocratic rulers, who invariably need to abuse basic human rights to stifle opposition and to stay in power, inevitably carry with them increasing political baggage. Just as with Gaddafi in Libya, Assad in Syria provides a contemporary example of an autocratic ruler who has little to gain but much to lose by relenting to the demands of those who see that his days are numbered. The only option open for him is to fight to the bitter end.

The fact that Gayoom has initiated a court case against an 82 year-old Maldivian historian who claimed that there were 111 custodial deaths in the 30 years of Gayoom’s rule is a timely reminder of how insecure autocratic rulers feel as they come to the twilight years of their political careers. The costs of this predictable path of action are staggering in human, social and economic terms; not just for the perpetrator of the crimes, but for the nation as a whole. Democracy, where the head of a government is decided by the consent of the majority of the people, is the only way of avoiding such a political quagmire.

Ultimately, however, it is a question of governance. In this context governance describes the methods a government use to ensure that citizens follow its processes and regulations. Good governance, like good parenting, is not simply a set of rules to achieve compliance through fear and punishment. Good governance is underpinned by a strong set of moral and social imperatives. It relies heavily on a series of ethical and social requirements such as justice and a shared vision by all its constituents. As abusive and violent parents enslave their children in a vicious cycle of similar behaviour, oligarchic systems of governance which portray that ‘might is right’, have a hugely negative and vicious impact on the citizenry.

Just as thirty years of life under Gayoom saw an increasing number of Maldivians lose their innate sense of fairness and compassion, Waheed’s recent sanctifying of the MNDF has ramifications for the type of society we live in and will continue to live in.

What the country needs is healing, justice and the voices of its populace to be heard. What is on offer is more imprisonment, more thuggery and more money being wasted in white-washing these actions. For many people, including large segments of the police force, MNDF and ordinary citizens, there is something extremely obscene in the disparity between what the country needs and the oppressive responses of the regime.

Maldivians have the courage and maturity to take risks and grow as a nation. The only way forward now is through an early, democratic election, before the powerful tentacles of autocracy reduce the country into another abyss of hopelessness, as it did for thirty years under Gayoom. History does not have to repeat itself.

Democracy is premised on the understanding that human dignity is an inherent right. But with the exception of a short period of three years under a fledgling democracy, generations of Maldivians have grown up and grown old with the belief that life is an inevitable submission to force, brutality and loss of dignity. Violence begets violence. It is an insidious force which destroys the very foundation of nationhood: justice, trust and compassion. To live wisely, the nation must attend to the welfare of all its citizens, not just a privileged few. The rule of the few must end. Government should be of the people. It should be by the people. And most importantly, it should be for the people.

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 [email protected]

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Comment: Let them eat cake

As the world watches the escalation of violence in the Maldives, the media, both nationally and internationally, has focused on the major characters in this unfolding drama. A corrupt government headed by an aging dictator was, for a short period, defeated by a popular movement led by a relentless activist, recognised for his fearless and uncompromising struggle to change the system.

However, the old regime was returned to power by the coup on February 7, barely four years after the previous government was established through a popular democratic movement. This is the stuff of Hollywood movies, but the script is still being written…

Democracy or Oligarchy? The dictionary definitions of these conflicting ideologies do not clearly reflect the real reasons behind the political struggle and the recent coup in the Maldives. It is not primarily a drama of personalities, as some of the media interviewers have portrayed it. It is a struggle between an oligarchy doggedly maintaining its privileges and a growing number of Maldivians who refuse to be beaten or intimidated into submission. Baton clashes with belief. Power clashes with powerlessness. And most importantly, privilege for the few clashes with justice for all.

For centuries, pre-eminence in government has been synonymous with privilege in the Maldives; and the privileged few used their power to do little other than to preserve their position and lifestyle. Gayoom, who was educated in the Middle East, came to power with such promise of change, but managed only to perpetuate an Arabian Nights style of governance.

Under him, the Maldivian government continued to be inward looking. The rule of the privileged few continued to be the norm. Thirty years of exploitation and repression under Gayoom left the country economically and emotionally bankrupt. The social results of this are seen in the plethora of problems that the Maldives faces today. One outstanding example is the neglect of the atolls- the economic backbone of the country.

While members of the privileged oligarchy lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous funded by the country’s earnings and the aid that was poured into the country to assist its development, there was a deliberate neglect of the islands outside the capital Male and their need for education, health care, and employment. This neglect led directly to the beleaguered state of Male today. Thousands upon thousands of Maldivians go to live in Male, to work and educate their children. Today, Male is one of the most crowded and polluted cities in the world. Privilege, married to self- interest, leaves long, dark shadows.

Privilege also goes hand in hand with exclusiveness and a strong sense of entitlement as evidenced by Gayoom’s regime. State money that was the right of all citizens was spent on personal aggrandizement. ‘Theemuge’- Gayoom’s presidential palace- and the millions of public money spent on it, is a symbol of corruption and excess that will stay with us for many years. However, the platoon of luxury yachts and the lifestyle enjoyed by his family and friends were not seen by them as a result of embezzlement, but a reflection of what they were justifiably entitled to.

Such self-deceit went further. Just as the colonial powers and the Christian missionaries of the past justified their dealings with the indigenous people of the colonies as humanitarian and ethically sound, the regime justified its way of doing things as enlightened and for the public good. For years, the old regime has argued that the Maldives was not ready for Democracy; this became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This style of archaic thinking assumes that change for the better can only happen when it follows a time line that suits those who are opposed to any change which threatens their privileged lifestyle. The return to that regime suggests that Gayoom is of the belief that the country will not be ready for such a change in the life time of his children either! The truth is that any major progress in human history, such as the growth of Islam in its early years, the development of the parliamentary system or the emancipation of women in the West, is achieved with pain and commitment. When the oligarchy takes the moral high ground, it asserts that the ordinary public is at a lower level of evolution- incapable of rational or intelligent behaviour. Will the regime now destroy the schools, keep economic power in the hands of the few, and then tell the many that they are too ignorant for Democracy?

“Let them eat cake” is a well-known quotation possibly misattributed to Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, whose regime was toppled in the French Revolution. The queen, who had indulged in a lifestyle of huge affluence was told that the peasants had no bread; bread being the staple food of the French peasantry and the only food they could afford. The queen’s reply illustrates her lack of understanding of the predicament of the poverty-stricken population.

Privilege is characterised by this sheer obliviousness to the concerns and opinions of the less fortunate. Thus the February 7 coup in the Maldives is not merely the effort of an old regime to reinvent itself, but it is a deliberate and belligerent signal that the privileged regime and its supporters can do what they please regardless of what the ordinary citizen feels. It is an overwhelming show of strength: they can depose a legitimately elected president, they can beat people, including elected representatives, on the street and they can wipe the slate clean for those who have stolen from the country or committed grave crimes against the Maldivian people. It is a show of huge indifference.

There is nothing that testifies to this attitude more than the employment of Abdulla Riyaz as Police Commissioner and Hussain Waheed as his deputy. Even the least informed of the Maldivians understand that these people were the driving force behind the horrifying escalation of police brutality under Gayoom.

An oligarchy, such as the one in power in the Maldives, is unable to sustain itself on its own. Maintaining antiquated rules of behaviour and supressing the beliefs of the populace is increasingly difficult in the age of the internet and social networking. Unholy alliances have to be made and the regime under Gayoom relied on the police to stay in power.

In the minds of many Maldivians, the name Gayoom is synonymous with police brutality and torture and ill treatment of political prisoners. It is not surprising that the most committed detractors of Gayoom’s regime and its scarcely disguised puppets in the present administration are those who have been at the receiving end of the inhumane treatment. In the short period of time when Maldives was ruled by a democratically elected president, this reliance on the police to enforce compliance disappeared. It is possible, given time, it may have changed not only the way the people perceive the police, but also the way the police saw their own place in the community – perhaps as the caretakers of a more humane and compassionate society.

However, the February coup has introduced a more sinister note into this unholy alliance between those in power and those who help uphold this power through the use of fear and force. This time, the allegiance of a number of police and military has been purchased. It is not difficult to conceive of a future Maldivian police force, with shifting allegiances and well-honed negotiating powers, cutting the best deal for themselves. Less obvious, but yet more insidious, is the effect of using the police to uphold the rule of the few. T

The Maldives is a small country, and much of its social functioning is based on connectedness; the type of face to face relationships which unite and hold small communities together. Senior police officers, bribed by a handful of rich supporters of the regime, have ordered the juniors officers to beat their sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts. These are ordinary people who have little to gain by the power-play of their superiors.

Recent events in the Maldives also highlight another of the problems that privileged oligarchies have to address. No modern oligarchy has managed to completely obliterate social mobility. The ambitions of small groups of people who fight their way up the through private enterprise have to be addressed. The nouveaux riches of the Maldives have reached a stage where some of them are starting to question years of hard work which has not afforded them the privileges and influence to which they have aspired. Although oligarchies, such as the present regime, do not welcome new blood with open arms, they do manipulate it.

The coup represents an outcome of synchronicity – where the needs of the oligarchy and the aspirations of a small group of rich resort owners struck a meeting point. When in power, the Maldivian Democratic Party introduced a system of taxation that did not please some of the wealthy resort owners as well as low end tourism that would open up the industry to ordinary Maldivians. These efforts by a people’s government to improve the lot of the ordinary Maldivians were a huge threat to a small group of the rich who have enjoyed a monopoly of wealth alongside their friends in the regime.

The possibility of a law that would ensure that tourism profits in fact trickled down to the local economy by putting it through local banks, was another affront to some of the powerful resort owners. Like the members of the regime, they too have an interest in maintaining the status quo, so that both sides can continue building their own empires, be it based on power, money or influence. In aligning themselves with a cruel regime, they have tarnished their own names and become traitors to their nation.

However, oligarchic governments are also invariably threatened by a more fundamental force that is not so easily manipulated. This is the inevitable state of conflict which ensues between the power of the few and the needs of the many. Eventually, the down -trodden simply refuse to be part of the narrative and mythology perpetuated by the privileged few.

Some of the greatest upheavals of human history are testimony to this simmering sense of resentment. The French Revolution, The Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution are all well documented examples of how the masses revolt against such inequalities. Inevitably the people find their voice in the figure of an individual who is prepared to be the punching bag of the powerful bureaucracies. A brown man with spindly legs wearing a dhoti makes an appearance. A black man insists that he wants his children to be judged by the strength of their character and not by the colour of their skin. An old woman refuses to sit at the back of bus and decides to break the law. An Anni appears…

Justice is a powerful threat to privileged oligarchies. Some two thousand years ago, Aristotle argued that the ordering of a society is centred on justice. No oligarchy has yet managed to convince the under-privileged majority of a nation that what is justice for the minority is also justice for the masses. And justice matters. The fundamental search of the human spirit is not, as advertisers would have us believe, to holiday on ‘the sunny side of life’. Nor is it money. It is a search for the confirmation that each individual life has meaning and each individual has a right to live in dignity. This is the point of civilised society. This is why, justice is central to the smooth functioning of any society. This is why one of the most enduring symbols of the anger against the coup of February 7 is a T-shirt that simply asks, “Where is my vote?”

This is why injustice penetrates deep into the human psyche. There is nothing that unites people more than a shared list of grievances. In more recent years, Martin Luther King Junior echoed these sentiments when he argued that, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Indeed, we need to worry when law and order have been unable to function effectively in the Maldives for over thirty years, due to the self-interest of a small minority of people.

Democracy or Oligarchy? This is no longer a political question. Nor is it an issue about two strong individuals. It has become a moral and ethical judgment that every Maldivian has to make. We must decide whether we are brave enough to choose ‘the road less travelled ’, make mistakes, take risks and grow towards maturity as a nation, or continue to be bullied by an oligarchy which, by its very definition, is focused on its own survival at the expense of the population.

The rest of the world also has to make a decision; the well- known words of Edmund Burke are hugely relevant to the situation in the Maldives: “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

It is time for good men and women, both nationally and internationally, to stand by the Maldivian Democratic Party and help write the script for a new and more enlightened age of Maldivian history.
The time for action is now.

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 [email protected]

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