Comment: Extremism threatens our economy

We’ve heard in recent news government officials referring to rising fear of Islamic extremism in the Maldives.

We’ve heard about children not being vaccinated or not being sent to school in the name of religion; women being provided with a single bucket of water for the day, again in the respect of religious norms; children being restricted from music and other types of art; male children being forced to wear trousers shin high; schools threatened for asking male children to shave their beards; the classifying of many immaterial matters outright haraam such as smoking, watching movies or cartoons (Tom & Jerry, Mickey Mouse), singing, playing or listening to music, women travelling of women without a husband or family member, the showing of hair or wearing of perfume by women; or news and blogs promoting genital mutilation of females.

Another serious threat is the increased preaching of hatred against the west. The west (the majority of whom are understood to be Christians or Jews) is portrayed as the singular prime threat to the religious stability of the country.

This is a paramount danger to our economy given our dependence on foreign money. We should keep in mind that an act such as the one that happened at Sultans Park a few years ago could cripple our economy, slashing our foreign income.

Currently, the government is committing the Maldives to large contracts with foreign nations, with majority populations of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others. The Maldives is not self-sufficient and therefore we are at the mercy of other nations who are willing to ally with us and help us bear fruit. We cannot afford to live on the annual ration of a few tonnes of Saudi dates.

During recent years, many industries and public services are being capitalised on foreign investments. At such a time, how can we even allow the thought to draw a religious boundary around ourselves? We have been selling liquor and allowing illicit sex on all our resorts for almost 40 years because we cannot let religious boundaries starve us to death.

Our main politico-religious party is Adaalath Party, who also has its presence in the government sphere, ruling the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. They are assigned the responsibility of upholding the religion of the country – Islam – with a reported US$16 million budget.

Adaalath recently held one of their statutory meetings at a prominent public space (Alimas Stage). The whole meeting was aired live on Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation’s TV channel, MNBC one. The station is well known for its pro-government programming.

I was watching intently one of the speeches of this meeting. I found it really distasteful and offensive, to hear one of the famous preachers in the country, Sheikh Ilyas, known for being arrogant and blunt about religious statements.

He was saying that Muslims should not trust Christians or Jews in any way for they are not reliable on their word. He went on to say that any agreement made by them would never be kept. He mocked human rights and women’s rights as tools used to evade Islamic prudence. Every now and then he raised a copy of Quran above his head and said that he was presenting the word of God.

It is hard to imagine why the government, on one hand, is acknowledging the spreading extremism in the country, while at the same time is assigning public funds for the spreading of such extreme and radical ideologies.

The reason is that it is constitutional for the government to uphold and strengthen Islam as the religion of the country. And the government fulfils this part very smoothly: sets up a specific Ministry (the first religious ministry of the country), puts the leading religious political group in charge, and assigns a significant chunk of budget for their purpose.

Here is something the Ministry of Islamic Affairs published on their website (in local language), followed by a translation (by a blogger) during the Haiti disaster:

“Are there any Muslims in Haiti? Do we have to gain wisdom from this [disaster]? Haiti is a caribbean island nation, located not far from America. A certain number of Muslims live there. It is reported that they are not good people. There is no doubt about this; such earth quakes are moral lessons for everyone. Such [disasters] are caused by God because of the actions of mankind.”

Now, the public is at a loss for words. Those who are assigned the responsibility of upholding and strengthening Islam in the country, are advocating against the government’s policies and also promoting extremism. They are outright in saying that no deals should be made with infidels (such as Christians or Jews, who are not trustworthy as per God). They mock human rights and women’s rights in public.

It doesn’t take one to wonder, why this could happen? Why is the government apologetic about growing extremism but still allowing such things to preached in the public? Is our government crippled from doing anything about this?

Firstly, the Islamic Ministry was a promise the ruling party made during the elections. Protecting Islam was one of the major five promises of the ‘Other Maldives’ campaign. Since Adaalath sided with the MDP during the coalition to overthrow Gayoom’s dictatorship, MDP duly handed the reigns of the ministry to Adaalath. On top of this, our constitution demands our government promote and strengthen Islam. As such the government is carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.

Our constitution also says that Sharia is based on the Quran and those findings, judgments and rulings concurred by the majority of religious scholars. When the majority of the leading scholars of the country concur on hatred against Christians, Jews and other infidels, backed up by our Constitution, what should the government do instead of sleeping with the enemy? I think the government should change their partner, before its too late.

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]


Comment: Culture and misfortune

The Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort disaster reminds me of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I read in June. It has a story, about how Korea Air became one of the safest airline (almost overnight) from being the worst. The author explained, justifiably, without emphasis on the number of accidents or the technical issues behind, rather how our culture (Asian culture) was responsible for the misfortune events that occurred before the Korean government took responsible measures. The specifics of the case related to a concept defined by the Dutch Geert Hotstede. Our Vilu Reef case, I feel is very similar to Korea Air story.

The story unfolds into pointing the conversations between pilot and the co-pilot of a specific flight, recorded in a black box. When the conversation was critically analysed, the Korean government accepted how much a role their culture had taken in the death of thousands. This was serious, but Koreans learned and corrected.

According to Hotstede, there are five major variables of life in a society. Where I feel we are at, on these scales are irrelevant. These are questions each and everyone has to confront in life!

Maldivians, as I have perceived, have preferred explicit rules, of the quiet sort, accepting uncertainty as a fact of life. We accept without questioning and we limit our boundaries. We are of a culture where employees remain with the same employer for a long period of time.

We are not of the culture where rules are flexible or implicit, or where activities are more of the informal. That being the majority, I observe there is a minority amongst us who are at the other end of the spectrum. They are either have convictions in hypocrisy or hidden. A recent estimate by an International NGO said two percent.

The composition of the collectivist thought far outweighs the individualist. The Individualist thoughts progress more quickly in wealthy communities. What the observation though, is a collectivistic counter-fight at its extreme, to a wealth enjoyed unequally. I wonder if the Individualist has the same ideology towards sexual relationships – the multiplier index for the divorce rate. I would think so.

The Long & the Short Term orientation varies according to people’s expectations from future. Some agree with responsibility to the future, while some stay with history and present. Persistence/Perseverance, thrill, thrift and shame is acceptable to the futuristic mind.

Reciprocation of favours and gifts is non-compulsory. Some stand to claim history being futuristic, when it has always proven otherwise. Else time stops. However, stability is more prone to the short-term oriented. On the other hand, instability during early gear-shifts is summoned to futuristic changes and therefore more associated to short-term orientation. A futuristic citizen understands the costs of instability and bears it responsibly.

The masculinity & femininity index measures, without any consideration of its literal value, how strong a value we put on relationships and quality of life as opposed to competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition and the accumulation of wealth.

The feminist elaboration is deliberate. Relationships can strive, with longer and healthier features although softer, even with the Individualistic. Difference acceptance is a survival vitality. Femininity and Individualistic is not therefore mutually exclusive. This index seems to exhibit a dependency on other indexes as well.

Power distribution and its acceptance varies from the consultative, democratic, and equal treatment regardless of position, as to paternalism or autocracy. Positions command power in less democratic approaches, and subordinates acknowledge and accept power of hierarchical positions, compromising critique and contribution. Power distribution doesn’t explain the motives of the people, rather a practice.

One may ask if these indexes relate to the current event, I would love to counter-argue that it very much is so. Ignorance is not bliss for me.

Reflecting on the contents of the video, how did one become accustomed to abusive language such as words like “Nagoobalhu” or swine to mirror a human? These are not just aesthetics but deep rooted in ourselves. I can vouch for hearing such crude language on our streets on a daily basis. Even close friends refer to each other with these words. The embarrassed nimbly tries to ignore it while the receptor tries to outsmart being addressed as such with equivalent or more abusive language.

We need to ask where we are, how and why we arrived at this point. It’s time we tried to measure our scales.

The book was an insightful read, although some stories were very slow in ripening. The gist of my note is that we need to take responsibility to what has happened on Vilu Reef. We need to reflect deeply on the incident and understand the deep rooted issues within. We need to study them, acknowledge them, apologize to those who were hurt, rectify and start over where necessary.

How critical an analysis should our Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture consider when developing the regulatory framework, policies and laws to implement and monitor standards?

Should we not investigate the psychological implications that led to such behavior – is there a role for the Ministry of Health here? Can we study the trends in human development in the context of the Maldivian environment?

How should the education system be overhauled to lay the educational foundation for the development of the children towards growing up to be responsible young adults – is this a responsibility of the Ministry of Education?

When can we start listening to our children? Can parental education be introduced to ensure that the children and youth are supported with social, personal, and other skills required to be part of the growing up community, encouraging critical thinking and promoting freedom of expression?

Should we not study how employment regulations affect the rights of geographically-restricted staff with limited means to reach legal assistance? How do we integrate conditions for employees welfare to meet his social, educational, personal and spiritual needs in a purely working environment such as a resort – what about Ministry of Human Resources, Youth & Sports?

How can the religious education embrace a more holistic and human rights based approach that can instill values in Maldivians – define the role of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs? What about ethics and values of our society including the business community? Shouldn’t Ministry of Economic Development be concerned about why foreign investors think twice before venturing with a local partner?

It is time for serious national action, for we cannot let this be repeated. Or we will hurt ourselves, again and again. We shouldn’t allow this to be swept under the carpet, after a short lived juicy-story-hype, with political veils. The government shall not just condemn it but take responsibility for rectification. Reports have to be published. The government should be questioned over its steps of rectification.

Punishing is not just a solution. Pointing a finger is not a solution in singularity. Apology without corrective action is not a solution. The solution is within us, which we cannot neglect to admit anymore. We need to learn our issues – issues of principle. We need to fix it and fix it soon.

The repercussions are a serious cost to each and every Maldivian. I believe it is the worst of its kind Maldives has had to face in its history and scars will remain for a long time. Reconciliation with the world, with nations and with religions and cultures is pre-requisite to restore Maldives.

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]