Comment: Don’t walk like a Maldivian – what Egyptians can learn from us

Egypt has us all riveted. The images of its revolution are particularly poignant for Maldivians: some of us are reliving moments when a dream came true; others are having nightmares about when their ambitions for perpetual rule ended. We see reflected in Egyptian faces the same passion with which we wanted change, we identify with them. The shared political trajectory of Gayoom and Mubarak, the Egyptians and us, has been the talk of the town for the last few days.

Let us hope though, for the sake of the Egyptian people, that once they manage to remove Mubarak and replace his regime with democratic rule, we part ways – the Egyptians and the Maldivians. If not, what we see when we look at us now, is what they will see happening to them in the next few years. Seen in the hindsight we can offer as foresight to our Egyptian counterparts, their future bears very little resemblance to the ideals motivating their present:

The dictator will be gone from office, but his old regime will retain power by occupying a majority of both the legislature and the judiciary, as well as other positions of influence within society. Having negotiated immunity as a condition of departure from office, the dictator, his assets, and that of his family and cronies, will remain untouchable by law. Not satisfied, he will keep trying to return to office, his fists feeling the absence of power like an amputee feels the missing limb.

It is not he, however, who will ultimately succeed in diverting the winds of change. That will be accomplished by the remaining elite of his regime – the businessmen, politicians, family members, and civil servants in the gigantic public sector he built – who benefitted [and benefits still] from the structures he left in his wake. They will deliberately and systematically murder the hopes that lived and breathed in those clamouring for democracy.

They will turn the parliament into a stock market, buying and selling votes, legislation, and people’s rights. They will increase their own salaries, and pass legislation giving themselves immunity from prosecution, freedom from past convictions and privileges beyond the common man’s most uncommon dream. They will come to regard the parliament as their own property to such an extent that building high walls and barbed wire fences around its premises will seem natural, justified and right.

In the judiciary, loyalty to the old regime will be the main criteria for deciding an individual’s fitness for the bench. Rules of the dictator’s handbook will be what count as jurisprudence. Many called to the bar would have been groomed for a particular purpose: to manipulate the letter of the law – to knot every i and twist every t – until whatever project the new regime has planned can be interpreted as void. The spirit of the law will be long dead. Reform will not just be a dirty word, it will lack legitimacy and can be lawfully thwarted.

Meanwhile, the executive, headed by the new president who is the human symbol of the change that people agitated for, will become a prisoner of his own success. The manipulations of the other two branches of power will put him in the position of a lame duck president so often, it will seem natural to dive into water to sign some of his most radical agendas into policy.

He will still remain passionate about democracy, he will believe in it, and he will want to put it into practice. He will come to realise, however, that the autocue does not have the power of a megaphone; government announcements do not read like dissident pamphlets; and words, when spun by political machinery, does not have the same power to move as when spoken from the heart. He will be forced to accept, like many other leaders before him: it is often easier to instigate democratic reforms from within the bars of a prison cell than from within the confines of executive office.

To complicate matters further, religion – entirely outside of human reason on which liberalism rests – will be added to the mix. With the support of the old regime that only concerned itself with faith in so far as its ability to transform worshippers into voters, politico-religious players will come to the forefront of the battle over change. What the dictator had wanted was total control, what the self-appointed ambassadors of God will want is total submission. They will re-cast every act of reform as a secular sin until the new regime is forced into shelving yet another reformation project for a later date, perhaps until such a time as the hypothesis of evolution is proven beyond all unreasonable doubt.

In the aftermath of the violent American project for Enduring Freedom, Egypt, and the rest of the Arabic countries in revolt, have taught the world a valuable lesson: democracy cannot be forced on people with superior military might, political coercion or harsh punishment. Democracy can only come, and comes only, when people want it.

What the Egyptians can learn from us is that democracy, once won, can only be sustained if people continue to want it badly enough.

For Egypt and the Maldives to continue sharing the same page in political history, one of two things has to happen: Egyptians will have to allow their revolution to be hijacked by the old regime; or Maldivians will have to rekindle the fires of their own revolution and reclaim the democracy we fought for.

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: Holy Politicians’ strategy for solving the Israel-Palestine conflict and resisting reason revealed – sort of

The arrival of Eye from Zion, a specialist Israeli NGO of ophthalmologists, appears to have presented our Holy politicians with their best campaign fodder yet.

There must have been much strategising and pulling together of ranks among them. One can almost hear the tactics and the commands now at the Holy Politicians HQ (HPHQ). Wouldn’t it be nice to be a fly on the wall?

In the spirit of transparent governance – a la Julian Assange – yours truly is publishing below a sort of MuniLeak; transcribed excerpts from a secret meeting at the HPHQ situation room that never of course happened last week. Here is what one might have imagined being discussed by key campaign strategists during a brainstorming session on how to get the most political mileage out of Israel and its band of doctors.

The session was led by a man – true identity hidden from view by a balaclava fashioned from a beard connected to a turban – who assigned tasks for each set of key players among important HPs:

“You, the academics and the professionals, take to the airwaves immediately – you find a way to ground this hatred in theology. Buy airtime on national TV. Make sure you get a doctor in, perhaps a lawyer too.

Get a Holy Joe Public as well. Discuss, in an appropriately learned circle, the hypothesis that Eyes = Zionism. Infer, in scholarly tones, that the woman who leaves her eyes uncovered is an undercover Zionist. Espouse the dangerous links that Eye Care and the optics chain must surely have with Zionists – just look at their logo. It has an eye on it, only a fool would be blind to what they are really saying: I heart Zionists.

Anecdotal evidence works well with the audience. The doctor must have a few personal stories to tell – how about one where he eyeballed a Zionist in a white coat lurking around the eye surgery…? We must also find one among us who would be willing to testify on record – “Zionists took my eyes!” Can we upload his testimony on YouTube, perhaps?

Meanwhile, any elected government official must use their position to get the message across loud and clear: we must hate Jews to love Palestinians. Get the Friday Sermon – that’s the key – there is no other audience quite as captive, or suggestible, as those seeking religious guidance.

All those men, unable to leave until we have finished what we are saying – no matter what we say. Brilliant! If we can get them to take to the streets afterwards, we have it. Excellent. How should we approach this?

We must use the Qur’an, it is our most powerful tool. Remember that Dutch politician, that MP Geert Wilders? I know, he hates Islam and Muslims, but a good tactic is a good tactic – whoever uses it. Wilders found ways to pick and choose verses from the Qur’an to make the outrageous claim that our Holy Book sanctioned the 11 September 2001 attacks.

He made a film out of it, super-imposing verses of Qur’an on video footage of the attacks. Despicable.

Unlike Wilders, we are not abusing the Qur’an to spread hatred against Muslims, we are using it to spread hatred against Jews – that makes our actions right and Wilders’ obviously wrong. The end always justifies the means (and the contents) of the message – let’s not forget Goebbels’ genius!

Hands up if you like the idea. Right, we have a consensus. We must get a government official in a high place to execute the plan. We already have the power of the sanctity of the Islamic Centre behind us, if we can give maximum possible authority to the voice that speaks from its pulpit on Friday, we’ll nail it. Any suggestions? Yes – getting an elected government official from the Islamic Ministry itself, with a doctorate, that is a good plan. Excellent. You are worried that we may not be able to locate such a figure?

You think that no one with that level of education and such high office would be willing to use their knowledge and position to incite hatred? Leave it to me – I know for a fact there is at least one who would think it an honour, a privilege and a right.

The Holy Shopkeepers – they must all contribute a roll of blue and white cloth from their fabric shops. The Holy Wives at home, they must begin embroidering the Star of David, double-quick. By the time the sun begins to set on Friday, if we get even half the people who were urged to hate Jews at the noon sermon to appear on the streets with their freshly made Israeli flags to burn and messages of hatred written in English to hoist, we are half-way there.

Throughout all this, we should continue our successful tactics for setting the news agenda.
First we must make absolutely sure that the media remain wholly oblivious to the obvious: Israel is not home to Jews only; Israel is not the only home of Jews. Make sure the media does not mention the million plus Muslims who are Israelis and make up 30 percent of the country’s population.

Avoid at all costs, also, any media recollection of the history of Maldivian relations with Israel, established in the 1970s. This would make it seem like these are relations established just recently – the political leverage we can achieve from that my brothers, is boundless.

The media, also, appears to have little or no idea that there are many different ways in which hundreds of thousands of people across the world – Muslim and non-Muslim – daily demonstrate their empathy with the Palestinian plight and their disagreement with Israeli policies without resorting to anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.

If we remove any connections between realpolitik and the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict, we can easily reduce the complexities of the situation to a simple equation: loving Palestinians = hating Jews.
Campaign tactics always work when they are simple. What a beauty this one is. Nor must there be anything in the media about the long Maldivian tradition of support for the Palestinian cause without ever needing to hate either Israel or Jews.

People must not remember such draconian traditions – peace is passé. We all know that this type of tolerance among Maldivians is born out of the ignorance of the Right Islam. Remember, the ultimate goal is to make them believe most of the last two millennia never happened – that is the key to our perpetual rule.

Speaking of setting the news agenda – we must always remember to thank God for how lucky we are to have the type of media we do. None of our counterparts in any other democracy across the world has it so easy – we are blessed here with a free media that has no idea of its powers or responsibilities, and remains wholly unbound by any such thing as a code of ethics or a set of principles by which to abide. Fourth Estate, Public Watchdog,

Muckraker…these are concepts that are yet to even enter the realm of Maldivian media consciousness. Glory be!

If any of you feel a bit guilty about the visually impaired who are denied treatment, just think of this: for every Maldivian whose heart is filled with anti-Semitism, who had never before thought of separating Jews from other human beings solely on the basis of their religion and now does so, the world moves one step closer to finding a solution for the Israel/Palestine conflict.

We must ensure that our progress along this noble path is recorded. Not just for posterity but also for the present. We must appreciate the value that every single picture of a man, woman or child burning an Israeli flag is worth a thousand – Rufiyaa? Riyal? Dollar? AFA?

Our donors would have documentary proof, with those pictures, that we are worth all the money they are pouring into us. Every picture is evidence that we attained our goal of increasing the number of Muslims who hate. That we have managed to spread this message of hate amongst a people who were at peace for centuries – that is our biggest success so far.

Let us continue on our glorious path –remember this: only reason can resist us. Let us ensure fanatical hatred leaves little room for rational thought.”

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: The extremities of democracy

The biggest threat to Maldivian democracy, it is increasingly said, is ‘extremism’.

Yes, there is an existential threat to Maldivian identity and its traditional belief system from specific sects and ideological movements claiming a monopoly on Islam.

But, how effective a counter strategy is it to pin the broad label of ‘extremists’ on them, describe them as a threat to our democracy, and place them outside of rational engagement? Is it not a contradiction in terms to describe as a threat to our democracy what are in fact the strongest, loudest and most influential voices within it?

Ignoring the role that democracy has played in their success reduces the chances of mounting a credible challenge. Consider how they came to be such change-makers in the first place.

The campaign for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Maldivian people, which the Wahabbis or Salafis (and/or other groups yet to be officially documented) have run for the last decade is as thoroughly modern a campaign as any in the world’s most established democracies.

It was launched at the grassroots level and taken to the very top, sustained throughout by clever use of modern media. Their message is simple and powerful as most media-savvy messages are: “We come with The Right Islam. Reform, or forever be damned”.

From every available media platform – traditional and new, mainstream and niche – they have, for the last ten years, repeated the same message: “Our Islam is The Right Islam. Embrace it, or go to hell.”

These movements, just like any other successful democratic campaign, did not merely saturate the media with their message, but made their presence felt deep within the community. They pounded the pavements to talk the talk, made door-to-door calls, opened corner shops, performed acts of charity and carved out for themselves important roles within the community.

Their representatives are in Parliament, lobbying hard to push through changes that would make the law of their choice the dominant (or only) law in the country. With the same goal in mind, they impede the progress of any legislation they deem incompatible with their own ideologies, dismissing them as ‘un-Islamic’.

In doing so, they reiterate the same message at the top as they do at the bottom: “We have brought with us The Right Islam, the only Islam. Reform, or be forever damned.”

Their presence is similarly strong in the administration itself, with their representatives holding office at all levels from the ministerial cabinet to the filing cabinet. They have forged strategic political alliances that allow them leverage in key policy decisions they deem are in conflict with their ideologies. They have eager activists ready to take to the streets to protest against policy decisions they are unhappy with. Their presence is prominent in the judiciary to an even greater extent than it is in the other two branches of power.

From educational qualifications to dress code and type of punishment meted out – it is their beliefs that are being pushed as the judicial norm.

Bolstered by their unprecedented success on the domestic front, they have tried to stretch their reach to foreign policy and beyond, offering ‘extremist rehabilitation expertise’ to the wider world. Throughout all this, their campaign remains on message: “We have brought you The Right Islam. Reform, or be forever damned.”

The successes of their campaign to establish themselves as the official form of Islamic belief in the Maldives cannot be denied: it is most startlingly visible in our appearance – from the way we dress and how we comport ourselves to our demeanour.

Beyond the visible, these movements are rapidly changing the very fabric of Maldivian society. They have: (re)introduced draconian practises long since abandoned such as marriage of under-age girls, sex slavery and genital mutilation; legitimised domestic violence by providing instructions on a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to hit a woman; sanctioned marital rape as an inviolable right of every husband to demand sex from his wife(s); reduced the female gender to no more than objects of sex, servitude and reproduction; and sexualised girls, some times as young as four or five, by making them wear the veil. This is a practise that, in effect, condones paedophilia with its underlying assumption that it is natural or normal – not aberrant or abnormal – for adult males to be sexually aroused by prepubescent children.

These movements, along with others, are fundamentally changing what it means to be Maldivian, what it means to be Muslim in the Maldives, and what Islam means to Maldivians.

But, whatever we may think of these movements – enlightened, misguided or crazy – it would be unwise to place them outside of our democracy. Such a claim is based on the assumption that democracy is an antidote to extreme thoughts, beliefs and any resultant violence.

To the contrary, research has shown that democracy – precisely because of its inherent freedoms – offers a more conducive an environment to the expression of extreme views, thoughts, and violence, than other forms of government. If we are to adequately deal with these movements, we need to do it within, and with, democracy.

We must first recognise the movements for what they are: political actors engaged in a democratic battle for power. They are running on the platform of religion, heaven is their campaign promise, and they have taken Islam hostage as their running mate.

Instead of labelling them ‘extremists’ – synonymous now with ‘crazies’ – they need to be confronted as rational actors with a specific political agenda. Without that recognition, it is not possible to adequately challenge their bid to establish a religious hegemony in the Maldives.

Seeing them as political contenders rather than a purely religious presence also creates the opportunity to loosen their stranglehold on Islam. Their success in convincing Maldivians that they have brought us ‘The Right Islam’ is most evident in how any criticism of their practices, rituals and beliefs has come to be immediately and unequivocally equated with criticism of Islam itself.

The myth that Islam is not just monotheistic but also monolithic has been propagated so successfully by the campaign machines of these pseudo-religious ideologues that it has come to be accepted as the ‘truth’, a given that is rarely if ever questioned.

It is this deafening silence of the opposition and their inability to perceive of, and engage with, these movements as legitimate forces within our democracy that pose the biggest challenge to its existence. None of the organs of democracy – of the state or within civil society – have so far challenged their campaigns and their Messiah-like claims of having brought The Right Islam to ignorant Maldives living in Jaahiliyaa.

The Maldivian Constitution ties its people unequivocally to Islam, but it does not demand that citizens follow a particular sect or ideology within the religion.

These ideologues – as part of our democracy – have every right to their beliefs, but they do not have the right to coerce or force all other Maldivians to follow them in their chosen path. It is the democratic right of every Maldivian to refuse to listen to their messages, to freely discuss, and observe, other ways of practising Islam and to deny them a monopoly on God.

Neglecting to do so is not just self-censorship but a betrayal of the democratic ideals that the Maldives and a majority of its people have embraced.

These religious sects have gained such influence within the Maldivian society not only because of the strengths of their campaign but equally because of the weaknesses of the opposition.

As a democracy, the government cannot be in the business of regulating people’s beliefs; it is up to the people to stand up for themselves and refuse to become subservient to another. If those who disagree remain silent – either as hostages to the dogma that to oppose these politico-religious movements is to oppose Islam; or because they are branded ‘extremists’ and denied rationality – their success is assured.

If that is not the direction in which we wish to take the Maldives, we need to find out who these people are, what they believe in and what they really want. We need to create a public sphere in which we can openly challenge these beliefs and goals. The biggest threat to our democracy is our failure to use our democratic right to disagree. It is in this silence that the frighteningly real prospect of a democratically-elected theocracy is growing stronger every day.

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the radicalisation of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

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: Oh, what a circus

Act One: A cure for apostasy

A medical doctor with no formal religious training takes centre stage as an Islamic scholar to tickle the Maldivian youth’s religious fancy.

One man questions his own faith and asks the scholar for his learned opinion on apostates. The good doctor diagnoses the man’s malady as possessing too much intellect – a condition that prevents belief cells from forming and developing in the brain. The doctor prescribes a specialist consultation with the ‘Non-Islamic-but-Muslim government’ for a remedy to his condition.

The government provides him with ‘counselling’, which proves to be just what the doctor ordered as, lo and behold, the man is cured within days. He apologises to his Muslim brethren who put away the swords they had unsheathed and enfold him in the warm embrace of their attar-scented hijabs. ‘Insha-Allah!’ cry the audience.

Act One, Scene Two: Modesty slips on banana

Enter Wife of a Preacher Man. Qualified to preach by default as spouse of a non-qualified Preacher, she warns her Maldivian sisters to cover up.

“Rape is your due if all ye sisters do not conform! For the men folk, they know not how to control their lust!” is the message.

Having wowed the audience with her compassion for the sisterhood, she exits the stage centre left. [Curtains close and open].

Wife of a Preacher Man is now straddling a blow-up banana with a throbbing engine. She rides it across the lagoon of a tourist resort where Western heathens lounge about in bikinis. “Look at me! I am covered up, and I can still ride a banana with modesty!”

In one of the Act’s most dramatic scenes, she falls. The set moves to a hospital. She remains silent throughout her treatment. A good patient never asks questions of a Doctor. Questions are the first symptom of that very dangerous disease: too much intellect, or as described in preacher/doctor vernacular – ‘extra-smartism’.

Act Two, Scene One: The measure of a judge

Enter a group of nine learned men, and one woman. They discuss the character and qualifications of those who should be allowed to sit in judgement of other Maldivians.

Known collectively as the Judicial Service Commission their task, as stated in Article 285 of the Constitution 2008, is to ensure all judges appointed prior to the new Constitution possess the qualifications necessary for a judge as stipulated in Article 149.

So far so boring? Do not underestimate this circus, though, for there is indeed an impressive twist to this plot.

The Chair of the Commission is also a Supreme Court Judge. And a fraudster! The then Anti-Corruption Board found him guilty of making false claims for overtime as a judge. His plea in mitigation behooves a man of such stature: any findings of the Anti-Corruption Board has no legal authority. Only a qualified judge, as his esteemed self, may pronounce a citizen guilty or not guilty. Ergo, he is innocent.

Act Two, Scene Two: Judgement day at the Commission

Eight of the ten members are present, and a draft of the standards to which Maldivian judiciary should be held is put to vote. Four vote in favour. Four against. A majority is declared. Huh? If there are four on one side and four on the other, does that not mean the two sides are equal? From whence cometh the majority?

It is yet another twist in the tale, audience! It turns out that one member realises – after the vote is taken – that he meant to abstain. Some members of the audience may be of the opinion that the intention to abstain is declared before a vote is cast. Were you not told underestimating this circus would be a mistake? The tricks here are mind-boggling.

The Standards, passed by a ‘majority’ of these most learned members ensures the Maldivian judiciary would include not just fraudsters found guilty-but-not-guilty, but also sexual offenders among other varieties. The unfolding scene is of a just and happy society where embezzlers, sex offenders and petty criminals all stand a good chance of being judged by an equal.

All rejoice at this exemplary egalitarianism. Cue a standing ovation from the audience.

Act Four: Bra burning lesbians

Enter Lesbians Disguised as Feminists. How brilliant is their costume that this discerning twenty-first century audience cannot tell the difference between the two groups. Most audiences of the last three decades had been able to make the distinction between them, but this one is fooled.

Not for long, though. One section of the audience, with just the right degree of religion-abiding smartness, is on to them. There and then, a truly daring exposé is performed. The Feminists are Lesbians! It is clear from their penchant for women’s underwear.

Come on, audience, put your thinking hats on: Feminists + women’s underwear = Lesbians. Consider this: they sent the underwear to a male Muslim scholar. On Valentines Day. That particular Lesbian fetish for sending underwear to male Muslim scholars is the missing clue here, dear Watson. Feminists = Lesbians = Sissy Nation.

Bring them out from their underground holes and flog them before they plait and tie pink bows to the beards that proudly proclaim Maldivian patriarchy to the world. “Aaaah!”, enlightened, the audience sighs contentedly as the curtains close. Blessed are we to have Adhaalath among us.

Forthcoming attractions: Angels & kangaroos

The Ringmaster, or he who thinks he is the ringmaster, is away with kangaroos of a different sort to those at this own court. Meanwhile, the real Ringmasters prepare for a new act that will make the audience cheer and applaud even more than they did at the Biggest Event Ever of last month on any of the above acts.

A preacher with the name of an angel and a message of true divinity (which some – clearly deluded and ignorant – critics have described as one of hate) will take centre stage shortly.

All Muslim brothers and sisters, recently restored to your glorious 100 per cent Muslim status, are invited to attend. Dress code: Hijab and beards for men; Full Buruqa preferred for women. [Leave Buruqas off at your own risk].

It is also advisable to leave most grey matter behind. Extra-Smartness is strictly forbidden.

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: Such is this mob rule called ‘democracy’

The freedom to think, which we Maldivians claimed for ourselves by ousting a dictatorial government and replacing it with a ‘democratic’ one, appears to have rendered us incapable of rational thought.

There appears not a single principle that is not up for auction in the market of ‘public opinion’. Everything from our faith to our humanity carry with them a political price tag. At the helm is a government which oscillates so wildly between the political right and the left that any keen observer would suffer more repetitive strain injury to the neck than a spectator at a Wimbledon tennis final.

Take for instance the decisions by the Youth Ministry first to maybe-allow, then to disallow and then to definitely-allow, the Muslim televangelist, Dr Zakir Naik, to provide Maldivians with The Biggest Event of their lifetimes.

The latest decision, perhaps by no means the last, must have been arrived at after much soul-searching and in-depth analysis. It must, no doubt, have taken into account the experience of another country where sports grounds were taken over for ‘religious activities’. The Taliban turned Kabul’s main stadium into a hub for ‘religious devotion’, treating their masses to spectacles of execution, death by stoning, hanging and amputations. No doubt the audience departed much enlightened about ‘true Islam’.

Public opinion is a tricky idol at the altar of which to worship. The government must be perplexed at the opposition to its agreement with the United States to relocate some of the ‘Enemy Combatants’ or ‘Illegal Detainees’ from Guantanamo Bay to the Maldives. Why is a society that is so eager to stress its Islamic purity, and promotes its ‘100 percent Muslim’ status with the same zeal as a restaurant promoting a coveted Michelin star, opposed to relocating to their lands these people who have been so utterly wronged by the United States? Did not the eminent Dr Naik himself assert that the 11 September 2001 attacks were an ‘inside job’? By this very learned logic alone, these detainees can be nothing but innocent.

The opposition, however, is not willing to pay any heed – either to the venerable Dr Naik or to empirical evidence. Hosting these ‘convicts’, they cry, would make our country ‘a target’.

No thought is spared to consider:

(a) for a person to be labelled a ‘convict’, they need to first be convicted of an offence defined by law. Most of the detainees have never been charged with a crime let alone convicted of one.

(b) If they were ‘terrorists’, why would then a terrorist organisation attack us for sheltering them? Should they not, by the same logic, then be beholden to us?

(c) No country, other than the United States, has ever attacked another for ‘harbouring terrorists’. And, in light of the disaster that has been the ‘War on Terror’, no government is likely to disregard (or be allowed to disregard) international law again – at least in living memory – to the extent that the neo-conservative Bush government did.

Now the new US government is seeking to relocate these victims of one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in modern history. We are hardly going to be top of President Obama’s list of countries to attack next by ‘harbouring’ them.

“Even a country like the United States would not take them,” cries the opposition.

Even a country like the United States? Is this the extent of our liberalism? That we assume that any Western democracy is right, no matter how obviously wrong it is?

‘Public opinion’ – yes, that old chestnut again – and a highly right wing and conservative establishment are preventing President Obama’s government from closing the atrocity that is Guantanamo Bay. The ignorance of a vast majority of the American public, whose fears the Bush administration played like a maestro does an orchestra and are held aloft at a crescendo by Fox News, that bastion of balanced journalism, are now being uncannily echoed in the national theatre of Maldivian ‘public opinion’.

“We have not been told anything! We don’t know why they are in prison!” The opposition is hysterical, claiming to have been left “totally in the dark”.

It is hardly the government’s business to plug the gaping holes of ignorance in the opposition’s knowledge. Over 700 of the 50,000 ‘Enemy Combatants’ that the US apprehended in their War on Terror have been held in Guantanamo Bay. A vast majority of them are innocent. Information on how they were treated in US captivity is widely and easily available in the global public domain from the legal memos that deprived the Detainees of the Geneva Convention to those that redefined ‘torture’ as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ to detailed prison logs that demonstrate what these innocent victims were put through in the name of ‘intelligence gathering’.

Profiles of over 500 detainees held at Guantanamo, diligently compiled by law professor and counsel to two detainees, Mark Denbeaux of Seton Law Hall, are also available for public perusal should one care to concern oneself with such minor details, in addition to the profiles compiled by Cage prisoners.

Given that the number of detainees currently being held at Guantanamo is 181, this information would contain within it details relating to the unfortunate souls destined for the Maldives to find ‘sanctuary’ among their ‘100 percent Muslim’ brothers and sisters.

Deliberate ignorance does not justify selling our humanity for the dubious pleasures of political gainsaying.

It is well and good for the government to advise those agitating against these dogmatic opinions and beliefs to organise themselves and form a viable alternative to the blatant evangelism of the religious right. This, however, becomes near impossible if the government remains unclear where it stands, and vacillates from one end of the political spectrum to the other in any given week.

There is a reason why liberal Maldivians cannot form a coherent whole in their own country – the space in which their ideas can flourish diminishes by the day as the government gives in inch by inch, and the extreme religious right takes mile after mile.

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: Playing God’s Advocate

‘Ambiguities’ are stalling the speedy passage of The Regulations to Protect Maldivian Religious Unity. If this document does not get on the government gazette ASAP, this country will degenerate into religious chaos.

Evidence clearly shows Maldivian religious unity to be a perilous façade, having managed to endure without legal enforcement (apart from the small matter of the constitutional stipulation that every citizen be a Muslim for only 800 years).

As citizens who are so closely consulted in the open and democratic lawmaking process of the country, it is our duty to highlight the problem areas so the Ministry can move rapidly to pass The Regulations and pre-empt the imminent religious war.

What is unambiguous about The Regulations is that The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is The Supreme Entity. Omniscient, but not omnipresent, it will choose a learned group to act as its eyes and ears in society. This select group, or The Board, will report to The Ministry any utterances, actions and opinions expressed or held by unlicensed-scholars, citizens and/or visiting aliens/infidels deemed to possess the potential for creating religious disunity.

Recognising the gravity of The Board’s responsibility, The Ministry has set the appointment criteria very high indeed. Members must: (1) be at least 25 years old; (2) possess at least a first degree in Islamic Studies or law; and (3) should not have committed an act defined as a punishable crime in Islam.

Given how difficult it would be to find a 25-year-old graduate who has not fornicated, The Board has the potential to become one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the world.

The Regulations states as its raison d’être ever-increasing disputes between religious scholars that threaten to tear the country apart (Article 1.2). The Mullah to Mere-mortal ratio has not yet been tallied in the Maldives, but evidence suggests it could easily be 1:2.

In such a situation, The Regulations will prove invaluable in helping us distinguish the ersatz scholar from the genuine Sheikh. Besides, ‘the liberals’ have long agitated for the government to muzzle over-zealous Mullahs, so it is now time to make a gracious retreat on the issue, happy in the knowledge that your local Mullah is not just any Mullah, but a bona fide Mullah With a License to Preach.

Chapter 4 states that it is a requirement of every Maldivian citizen to actively protect Islam (Article 4.21). Is this a legal requirement? And what does the duty entail? What exactly is it that we need to peel our eyes and cock our ears for? And how do we go about reporting our suspicions and findings? Would there be a 24-hour Infidel Alert hotline manned by a Licensed Mullah?

The Regulations bans any religion other than Islam from all public discourse. Being citizens active in protecting Islam, should we from now on categorically deny other religions exist, or is it sufficient to regard Them with condescension and/or loathing whence acknowledgement is required? Article 6.32 bans any utterance or action that is insulting to Islam in any way. What is the definition of the term ‘insulting to Islam’? Would, say, leaving out the PBUH after Prophet Mohamed be deemed an insult? Or does it have to be material such as those published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 before it is found to be insulting? What is an utterance that constitutes an insult against a mosque? Would criticism of its architecture – say the suggestion that its dome would have looked better if elevated five inches more – amount to an insult, or would the criticism have to take in the state of its badly landscaped garden, too, before it is deemed an Offence Against a Mosque?

Non-Muslim expatriates in the Maldives – best wean yourselves off the habit of holding garage sales to sell religious memorabilia at discount prices like you invariably do every Sunday ‘back home where you come from’. Any such sale in the Maldives would flout The Regulations (Article 34.a), so resist the temptation to make a quick buck, and firmly turn away the Maldivians queuing outside, desperate to get their grubby apostate hands on your old rosary beads or your Krishna statue for a Bai Rufiyaa.

You should also be aware that even though religion is most likely to have been your favourite conversation starter and probably the source of your best pick-up lines back home, it will not aid your hectic social life on this island paradise in a similar manner. In fact, Article 34.b makes it safer to drop religion from your vocabulary altogether. As a precautionary measure, before The Regulations are passed, you should try and remove any reflexive exclamations that may have embedded themselves in your oral register over the years such as ‘Oh my God!, ‘Jesus!’, ‘Harey Raam!’, etc. If you are more accustomed to saying ‘Jesus [insert expletive] Christ!’, however, it might help your plea of mitigation. Remember, though, a precedent is yet to be set, so proceed with caution.

Article 6.35 is a veritable quagmire of ambiguity. What constitutes a television programme or a written publication that is offensive or insulting to Islam? Where do we look to for guidance? The Taliban? The Emirates? Saudi Arabia? Insulting to whose version of Islam? Can a woman be shown wearing a bikini, or should a burqa be superimposed on her image before she appears on our airwaves? Does every shot of a church, temple and/or synagogue have to be removed from any film that a Maldivian watches? What does it mean that all advertisements should be ‘respectful of the beautiful customs of Islam’ (6.35c)? Apart from beauty being an entirely subjective concept, does this mean that only veiled women can appear in advertisements now? What if she is selling shampoo? Will all Gillette advertisements have to be axed? Books, too, are to be screened by The Board before it is available for Maldivian consumption (Article 31). If this gives us some reprieve from ‘literature’ such as The DaVinci Code, such a regulation might not be entirely without merit, but hardly justifies a group of 25-year-old male graduate virgins deciding our choice of reading matter.

Can The Ministry please clarify why it is necessary to burn the house down to roast the pig?

It has been a surprisingly risky business highlighting the ‘ambiguities’ in The Regulations. This article contains the p-word; names someone whom over a billion non-Muslims regard as the Son of God; allows Lord Krishna a cameo appearance; speaks of women in bikinis; discusses an instrument of shaving for men; and mentions places of worship other than a mosque.

Would The Regulations be applied retrospectively? If Sheikh Shaheem of The Ministry is to be taken at his word, the consequences may not be too dire. Even if found guilty of the Offence of Mockery, he has assured, the author will not be imprisoned, but will receive ‘counselling’. Whether ‘counselling’ involves a psychiatrist’s couch, one-on-one preaching sessions with a Licensed Mullah, or water-boarding, remains undefined and open to interpretation. As is much of The Regulations.

Criminalising (dis)belief will never be free of ambiguities.

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: That’s a Maldivian in the corner, losing his religion

When Ayatollah Khomeini issued his death fatwa against Salman Rushdie in February 1989 for writing the Satanic Verses, 44 out of the 45 member states of the Islamic Congress (1989) condemned the ruling of the Ayatollah as un-Islamic.

Many critics have pointed out that this was a fact ‘the West’ chose to ignore in its rush to present the Ayatollah’s ruling as representative of Islam’s ‘true nature’ as a religion of intolerance.

It appears the ruling is one that the purveyors of ‘true Islam’ in the Maldives – members of the Wahhabi sect – have similarly chosen to ignore by calling for the beheading of a Maldivian journalist who dares express views contrary to their own. We are told to listen to these voices as ‘true Islam’ while turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the actions and policies of organisations such as the Islamic Conference which recently made it clear that it:

Condemn[s] the audacity of those who are not qualified in issuing religious rulings (fatwa), thereby flouting the tenets and pillars of the religion and the well-established schools of jurisprudence.

The fact that there are now people within the Maldivian society who feel comfortable enough in their own rightness, righteousness and ‘learnedness’ to flout the teachings of Islam in its name by calling for the beheading of a fellow man for his views clearly demonstrates the extent of human intolerance Maldivian society has come to tolerate in the name of religion.

Anyone who does not agree with this particular brand of Islam is now being denied, among other fundamental rights, their right to exist. The only Muslims who will be tolerated in this society are those that follow Wahhabism.

Ironically, this is a kind of practice that the first Commander-in-Chief of the ‘War on Terror’, George Bush, found rather suited to his own policies – he denied members of al-Qaeda the right to be Muslims by doggedly and repeatedly describing them as ersatz Muslims who had ‘hijacked the religion of Islam’; and by pursuing policies that, in turn, validated all such claims.

In defining Islam according to his version of it (‘Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, Moms and Dads’) Bush denied the self-proclaimed ‘holy warriors’ the very religion in the name of which they were sacrificing themselves. In so doing, he effectively removed any justifications of their cause, at once turning them into ‘Evildoers’ with no motive and no cause other than Evil, pure and simple.

It is this very practice that followers of Wahhabism in the Maldives are engaging in – by making their beliefs the only ‘true Islam’, they are denying a large section of the Maldivian society their right to be Muslims; and in so doing, are removing the right of many a Maldivian to be treated as equal citizens with the same rights as those who do not practise the same brand of Islam as theirs.

By re-defining what it means to be a Maldivian Muslim they are rendering those who do not conform to their teachings irrelevant to society. Non-followers of Wahhabism are being re-cast as non-citizens, and non-Muslims. Furthermore, they are being made non-human by calling on laws of the jungle, rather than the law of the land, to be applied to them. They become beasts whose heads have to be cut off, a beastly scourge the rest of society should be cleansed of. No longer Dhivehin, no longer Muslims. And no longer human.

The discourse of the ‘War on Terror’ worked in precisely the same manner in successfully rendering ‘detainees’ or ‘enemy combatants’ (not to be recognised as prisoners of war, lest there be any rights) in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib into non-human ‘Evil’ entities with no place in civilisation. As Godless, faithless, non-human creatures outside of legality itself, they could be kept in indefinite detention without trial, abused, tortured and then abandoned.

This is what the followers of Wahhabism are doing to the Maldivian society. Rendering a part of it Godless, faithless and non-human. Their removal from society if they do not conform to Wahhabism thus becomes not just justifiable, but necessary.

Soon, there will be no Maldivian left who does not follow the brand of Islam that they advocate, not because everyone has willingly followed where they previously refused to tread, but because Wahhabism would have become the only definition of what it means to be a Maldivian Muslim.

If – and it is a big ‘if’, given the obfuscation and vacillation of official policy – this is not the future that the Maldivian government has envisioned for the country whose democracy the current President fought so valiantly for, then it should act soon to provide room for the freedom to grow of the Maldivian Muslims who do not follow this brand of Islam.

Let people know – or at least open up the channels through which people can find out – that Wahhabism cannot lay claim to ‘true Islam’ any more than Bush can deny bin Laden and his followers the right to call themselves Muslims; and that there is nothing even remotely like a consensus in the Islamic world regarding the supremacy of the Wahhabi teachings over and above others in the religion of Islam.

If pluralism is the government policy, then make it possible for people to see, and provide the opportunity for them to understand, the pluralism that exists within Islam itself. Expose people to the other side of the debate, let other voices resonate with equal vigour in the various venues and lecture halls the Wahhabis are so effectively frequenting.

The followers of Wahhabism have a captive audience in the Maldives because they are the only act in town, because their script is emotive, and because they have chosen ignorance as the stage to act out their drama. Let the audience develop some discernment, and it will become possible to, at the very least, ensure Maldivians make an informed choice if and when they decide to take this country into a future of being an Islamic State with Sharia as its only law.

Let the Wahhabis know that the government will not let itself or Islam, the religion that it has written into the Constitution, be used as instruments of power in establishing the supremacy of one particular brand of Islam in the Maldives.

Equally important is to stop allowing Wahhabism to (re)define into non-existence a substantial part of the Maldivian population that makes this nation Maldives.

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

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: The heady brew of religious extremism, democracy and public opinion

This government is legless, three sheets to the wind, incapable of walking a straight line, has blurred vision and cannot remember from one second to the next what decision it made yesterday, never mind last month. If only this was heaven, the real mother of a hangover that is sure to come could have been avoided.

But alas, this is real life, and it is time this government stopped being intoxicated by the sense of achievement that has come with having given the Maldives deliverance from an autocracy. Wake up, and smell the theocracy that is in the air. Is it not sobering enough?

Wahhabism is in the Maldives to stay. Osama bin Laden made it clear that his ultimate aim is to establish an Islamic Caliphate across the globe. There are many who are willing to die for the cause, and many of them are now in the Maldives.

If the government continues to oscillate, gutless and indecisive, in the current manner, the Maldives could easily become the first member of this envisioned Caliphate. Twice now the government has changed its mind about bringing in new legislation regarding the sale of alcohol. Twice now it has back-tracked, citing ‘public opinion’. What is at stake here is not the availability or lack thereof of alcoholic beverages, but the ability of the current government to be a strong and capable leader of the nation.

Who is the ‘public’ that the government cited? The Wahhabi clerics? Has it come to the stage now where a Maldivian man is only a Maldivian man if he wears a bushy beard that covers his face?

Is a Maldivian woman only a Maldivian woman if she has covered herself from head to toe, or at least covered her hair with a Buruqa that complements the figure hugging PVC cat-suit she has on?

Is a Maldivian only a Maldivian if s/he is happy to listen to the Qur’an or some Dharus or another all day, every day?

Is a Maldivian only a Maldivian if s/he believes that women are inferior to men?

Is that the ‘public’? And what is ‘opinion’? Even if one does not buy into the elitist position that public opinion can never be informed enough for it to ensure that all democratic decisions are informed decisions, it is a valid question to ask of this government: what has informed this ‘opinion’ to which you have once again bowed? How has this ‘public’ arrived at this ‘opinion’ that has you so cowed?

Opinion, by definition, is a judgement or view based neither on fact nor knowledge. When the lack of knowledge is used by a particular group of people to ensure – through religious propaganda – that everyone holds the same view, what is expressed is not an opinion but dogma. Religious dogma.

The majority of Maldivian people are not free to think for themselves any more. After thirty years of being told what to do – from good table manners to good praying etiquette spelled out by the Great Leader – and being denied the opportunity to develop intellectually as free thinking people; the void where knowledge should have been is now being filled with unrelenting religious propaganda that saturates the Maldivian airwaves.

Every single medium of the various types available in the twenty first century is being utilised by these well-organised and well-funded Wahhabbis. They have numerous websites (dhiIslam.com; Dharuslive.comClick4Islam.com; Raajjeislam.com; Islam MaldivesDharuma.net to name but a few) and a strong presence on social networking sites and YouTube. They organise public sermons and lectures covering everything from Valentine’s Day to good husbandry and housekeeping. They fly in international scholars to preach their message and convince the youth that life is better lived after death.

To respond to this well-organised, well-oiled invasion of our country, this brutal rape of our identity in broad daylight, this daily negation of our rights under the name of Islam by suggesting that all ‘beloved citizens who might harbour what might be considered extremist ideas and opinions’ should perhaps ‘moderate and soften their ways of thinking’ makes President Nasheed look as effective a political leader as a newly crowned Miss World breathlessly avowing her goal to attain world peace.

‘Might’ harbour what ‘might’ be considered extremist ideas and opinions? Where is the doubt coming from about the extremism of their ideas? They are openly and clearly saying that women are inferior to men. They are indoctrinating Maldivians to believe that Wahhabbism is the only form of Islam that Allah recognises. Might be considered extremist?

Yes, public opinion is vital to democracy. There is, however, no system in place to effectively measure public opinion in the Maldives. There are no regular polls, no surveys, no studies to gauge what the public’s view of anything is. Nobody has their finger on the public pulse, just a hand around its throat.

Hiding behind the buzz words of democracy is not going to deliver Maldivians democracy – it may be rule by the people for the people, but it might well be worth remembering that people at religious boot camp with Wahhabbis may not have had the freedom to arrive at a considered opinion about anything of their own free will. ‘Freedom of opinion’ as a democratic right extends not just to freely expressing an opinion but to freely forming it as well.

Staggering from one side to the other (a foreign policy that finds allies in counter-terrorism; a domestic policy that is victim to an extremist Islamic sect) and bending over backwards to appease both sides while trying to stand upright; that kind of behaviour is far better suited to a public house than to the house that runs the public, would you not agree?

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

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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Taliban in paradise – what awaits these virgin islands?

The first war of the twenty first century, US President George W Bush said after 11 September 2001, will be “a new kind of war”. It will be “a conflict without battlefields or beachheads”.

Well, almost 10 years on, we can see he was a bit off the mark with the battlefields – Afghanistan is one, Iraq another, Iran is a strong possibility, Yemen cannot be ruled out entirely. Some of us foresaw the prospects for disaster in many a decision made by President Bush before he blundered, swaggered or smirked his way into them. But I bet no one foresaw that he could also be wrong about the beachheads.

There could yet be many a beachhead in the ‘War on Terror’. Hundreds of them. Around nice pristine Maldivian beaches. The Taliban were “smoked out” of the caves in Afghanistan – will they be fished out of our waters, or simply blasted out? And at what cost to our lives? In Afghanistan the civilian death toll was over 2000 in 2008 alone… what fate awaits us?

Safety first

“Taliban feels that the safest place in the world for them right now is the Maldives”. Less than a decade after the world’s strongest military power declares war on not just the ‘terrorists’ – but also on those who “harbour them, feed them, house them, encourage them, and comfort them” – the Maldives offers them a peaceful retreat. With no military power to speak of, being of little or no geo-strategic consequence, not quite the most sophisticated of movers in global realpolitik – we go ahead and provide the Taliban a beautiful sanctuary where they can sit and plan their next move, with nothing to fear except perhaps a wayward coconut.

The government response to the discovery of the Maldives’ novel status as the Taliban’s new BFFL (best friend for life) is to tell us it is a compliment. A compliment, dear citizens. Pluralism personified, the New Maldives – a Taliban sanctuary, where religious extremists are a protected species. Follow the government line of thinking on this, people and you begin to see the advantages. Given the burgeoning numbers of people following their brand of Islam, we might not have to hang up our tourism hat just yet. There is an untapped market with huge potential out there. Think of the ads – “Tired of being vilified? Find unconditional adulation in the Maldives”; “Sick of being loathed? Come and feel the warmth of the Maldivian embrace”. “Sun, sea and blind faith”; “Maldives – no bad news, no bombs”.

Countering terror

A week later, and the same government is about to formalise a counter-terrorism agreement with India. The same government spokesperson that told us to be flattered by Taliban’s friendship, tells us that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be signed with India is “very important because it gives notice that the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations here.”

I beg to differ. The MoU is to be welcomed, if there is anything the Maldives can do to help shore up the security of the exemplary democracy that is India, we should to it. But, the agreement does not in anyway signal to us Maldivians that “the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations”.

How can that be, when the government is positively preening from the Taliban’s exclusive attentions; and continues to form subversive and inexplicable alliances with political parties and dubious NGOs who are making Maldivians look, speak, behave, eat, have sex, punish and procreate according to the teachings of the Taliban?

What the MoU, coming as it does on foot of the government’s warm embrace of the Taliban, signals to us is that this government does not have a cogent or coherent national security policy. It is being formed on ad hoc basis, according to whatever political interests that needs to be served at a given time. We can sign hundreds of agreements, treaties and conventions. On paper, it makes the Maldives look good. But for the people who are living this enforced politicization of their religious beliefs, and being told to see this sea-change in Maldivian culture and identity as ‘pluralism’, it signals impending disaster, and a government that is unable to see the threat from within.

The Maldivian government was unaware of the Taliban hosting secret talks on our islands or was unable to detect their presence in the country because it can no longer tell the difference between a Maldivian and an Afghan, or any other follower of the Wahhabbi sect for that matter. We cannot tell who is Ibrahim Maniku and who is Abdul-Ibrahim bin Abu Muharram, or whatever other name we are now apparently required to have in order to be Muslims.

While the government was busy allying itself with religious parties for political gains and shoring up sandbags to ward off sea-level rise, we have all been turned into sheep in Muslim clothing, following blindly those who have assumed leading roles in remote islands through their preaching and their sermons, filling a leadership vacuum left by the appointment of so-called councilors as a reward for faithful campaigning regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

One of the biggest questions asked of the disastrous last government was how and why heroin was allowed to permeate the very core of Maldivian society. How could the authorities not stop the destructive drug being smuggled into this small island nation? Well, Wahhabism is the new heroin. It has got our youth addicted, it has robbed them of their identity and it has taken possession of them to the exclusion of all else. Why is this government allowing this to happen? No amount of posturing on the international stage, or pieces of paper signed promising our co-operation in the ‘War on Terror’ is going to be sufficient to protect Maldivians themselves from being sucked into this ‘endless war’ that has already claimed so many lives in every corner of the world.

Anti-terror agreements signed with one hand while holding the door open for the Taliban with the other are going to be ineffective, otiose. What will a Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign ally, however well-intentioned, do for our own protection when we have yet to understand that the biggest threat we face is within?

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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