Comment: Citizen sheep

A Maldivian chronicler once recounted an anecdote of the late Prince Hassan Farid Didi who remarked back in the 1930’s that granting democracy to Maldivians is like giving a handkerchief to a monkey. “The monkey doesn’t know what a handkerchief is used for and soon it will wipe its bottom with it,” the Prince reportedly said.

A lot of Maldivians take offense at being compared to primates, but the past few weeks of political volatility has definitely called into question the country’s ability to shoulder the responsibilities of being a democracy.

The current crisis was sparked after the armed forces were commanded to forcibly detain Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed of the Criminal Court, after he ordered the release of two opposition leaders who were being prosecuted for “hate speech”.

The DQP leaders, Dr Jameel and “Sandhaanu” Ahmed Didi, had publicly accused the government of coming under the influence of Jews and Christian missionaries “to destroy Islam”. Religious hyperbole is frequently used for political slander in the Maldives – an unfortunate outcome of the country’s failure to adopt a secular constitution in 2008.

The military detention of the judge has led to a series of increasingly violent, opposition-led street protests in Male’ for the past 10 days. Protesters have allegedly attacked journalists, uprooted trees, damaged public property and vandalised a Minister’s house.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, High Court, the Opposition parties, the SAARC Secretary General and the Vice President have all spoken out against the detention calling it unconstitutional. Even the Prosecutor General has declared the detention unlawful.

This wouldn’t be the first time President Nasheed has exercised his uncanny willingness to shake things up.

In August 2010, he commanded the armed forces to lock down the Supreme Court after the Interim Supreme Court bench boldly decided to declare itself permanent. Following the siege, the major political parties managed to do some quick backroom negotiations to appoint a new panel of judges.

While the President’s latest salvo has successfully brought into the mainstream public conscious, for the first time, the long ignored issue of the runaway judiciary, it does raise concerns about the Executive setting unwelcome precedents for the future.

Runaway Judiciary

Aishath Velezinee, the former Judicial Services Commission whistle-blower, has publicly alleged that there is a collusion between senior opposition parliamentarians and the judiciary, which exercises undue influence over the JSC.

The JSC, which is supposed to be the independent watchdog of the judiciary, is itself dominated by judges and opposition allied politicians – and its record thus far is less befitting a watchdog, and more indicative of a lap dog.

Velezinee alleges that this is tantamount to a ‘silent coup’, where the judiciary is hijacked by a nexus of corrupt judges and opposition leaders, and the courts are used as an instrument to protect members of the old establishment that was overthrown during the democratic uprising.

The Criminal Court

The charges against Judge Abdulla Mohamed are extremely serious – ranging from corruption, to obstruction of police duties, to questionable judgments and poor professional conduct.

In February 2010, the judge ordered the release of a murder suspect – who would then stab another man to death within the next month.

The judge has in the past demanded that an underage sexual abuse victim re-enact her abuse in the public courtroom. These allegations were first reported in 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, whose political party is now among those leading the charge to release him.

The police have in the past accused the judge of delaying search warrants by several days, allowing major drug traffickers to get away. The Home Minister accuses him ordering the release of suspected criminals “without a single hearing”. He also stands accused of arbitrarily dismissing court officials.

It does not help allegations that the courts are in bed with tainted politicians when the same Criminal Court Judge also bars the media from covering corruption proceedings against opposition-allied Deputy Speaker Nazim.

A February 2011 report released by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also highlighted the failure of the politicised courts to be impartial in providing justice.

The Rule of Law

While there are obviously dark clouds looming over Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s record, and the state of the judiciary is less than acceptable, does this automatically excuse the executive’s decision to forcibly detain the judge on a whim?

The unilateral actions of the very first democratically elected executive sets a rather poor precedent.

Will it be the case in the future that any elected President can arbitrarily command the armed forces to detain errant officials or citizens without the any court approval, or warrant or legal backing?

Will all future presidents be similarly entrusted to be the ultimate judge of when the Rule of Law can be subverted – if they feel it is in the larger interests of society? Will their judgements always be enforced through the brute force of the military?

The ruling party and the President’s apologists offer the explanation that given the nature of the allegations against Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and the cartel-like behaviour of the judiciary, drastic action needed to be taken to ensure justice.

Yes, drastic action was indeed required – but did it necessarily need to be initiated from the President’s Office? Does not ultimate power rest with the voting public anymore?

Citizen Sheep

It has proven surprisingly difficult to get the public involved in a debate over the many, many allegations against the judiciary – that less glamorous wing of state power where the primary actors work behind closed doors, hidden from the media limelight.

When former MP and Chairman of the Special Majlis Drafting Committee Ibrahim “Ibra” Ismail expressed alarm in September 2011 over the growing excesses of the judiciary, the Supreme Court fantastically reprimanded him in a press release, asserting that criticising the Courts went “against the principles of civilisation” and that the constitution forbade such criticism.

In a democracy, the power rests with the people. However, Maldivians so far have shown little inclination to hold their state office bearers accountable.

In the neighbouring country of India, tens of thousands of outraged members of the public poured out onto the streets in recent months to protest against corruption in high offices.

The impact of overwhelming public sentiment and the willingness of the Indian public to hold their elected officials accountable worked. Several cabinet ministers and powerful provincial leaders previously thought to be untouchable by law suddenly found themselves behind bars.

Despite their every natural instinct, both opposition and ruling party leaders in India were forced to bend to public will and draft legislation that would create a new constitutional authority – an ombudsman that would be empowered to investigate corruption at the highest levels, including the Prime Minister’s office.

In contrast, the Maldivian public seems to be lethargic, and content with mindlessly echoing whatever slogan is aired by whichever party they happened to plead allegiance to.

Thus, we had ten thousand protesters mindlessly follow their sloganeering political leaders last month to complain about monuments and a host of other trivial non-issues, but there wasn’t a murmur to be heard about the serious charges of corruption and undermining of the judiciary by the same politicians who were on stage blathering about some imagined grief caused by invading Jews.

Pray where were the hordes of MDP loyalists that today defend the President and speak in angry tones against the Criminal Court judge, when the judiciary made a mockery of the constitution throughout the whole fiasco involving the appointment of judges?

Does anyone know the views of the opposition protesters on the state of affairs of the judiciary?

Are they not concerned about the under-qualified, under-educated, and sometimes convicted criminals of poor moral calibre that now occupy the benches of their courts?

If they are worried about the abuse of executive power, why are they not concerned about the abuse of judicial and legislative power?

Perhaps the Maldivian public is simply uneducated on the gravity of these issues due to the lack of any avenue for factual, impartial information – and having access only to a bunch of partisan propaganda outlets masquerading as ‘the media’, with the choice to pick one that most panders to their views.

The slant of the State media coverage of the recent protests is eerily similar to the language employed by Gayoom-era news propaganda. Similarly, the bias and sensationalism spewed by opposition-allied TV networks would make Fox News and The Daily Mail blush.

A second revolution

An argument can be made that the task of democratic transition still lies incomplete, and that democratic reforms only changed things in the executive, leaving the judiciary and parliament to remain bastions of the old guard.

The President and the ruling party have the right to educate the public and complete the task of democratic reform in all areas of governance.

However, if they feel that more drastic, revolutionary actions are necessary, then perhaps they ought to relinquish the position of the executive, return to the streets as ordinary citizens, and organize a grassroots campaign to cleanse the country’s courts and Parliament.

It simply does not bode well for the country’s democracy when the powers bestowed to one arm of the State is unilaterally employed to twist the other arm.

The country has already had one failed attempt at democracy before. If the actions of the democratic leaders causes the general public loses faith in democratic institutions and the rule of law, then there’s no reason to believe it won’t fail again.

The Maldivian public needs to realize that the ultimate Constitutional power is not vested in the President’s residence of Muleeage, but in the hands of voting citizens, and that if they are serious about completing the task of Judicial reform, then it is up to the citizens themselves to rise up and sort out the Judges.

Echoing the sentiments of the Prince Hassan Farid Didi, Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom once said in an interview that Dhivehin are not ‘ready’ for democracy.

Recent events suggest that both the Pharaoh and the Prince appear to be correct.

Four years after we voted in our first democratic government, the Maldivian public continues to be as clueless as the monkey with the handkerchief – and it is under our watch that politicians and judges wipe their bottoms with the constitution.

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: “No animal shall sleep in beds…with sheets”

One can’t help but recollect the lines from George Orwell’s brilliant 1946 satire, Animal Farm, after listening to the agitators on stage during the ‘big protest’ held in Male’ on 23rd December 2011 in order to “protect Islam”.

In the classic novel, the farm animals rise in revolt against their drunken owner and take over the running of the farm. They write down their Seven Commandments on the wall of the barn but, over time, as a totalitarian dictatorship takes root at the farm, they find mysterious qualifiers added to those commandments.

Curiously enough, one of the central demands made by the ‘protect-Islam’ brigade was to “Ban the sale of alcohol… on inhabited islands”.

The ‘…on inhabited islands’ qualifier has a lot of significance, for it reveals the unresolved contradictions that are central to the controversy currently raging in the shallow, but always turbulent waters of Maldivian politics.

No animal shall drink alcohol… in inhabited islands.

The term ‘inhabited’ is officially used in the Maldives to refer to commonly populated islands. The country’s famed beach resorts fall under the ‘uninhabited’ category, despite housing thousands of Maldivian staff for the larger part of the year, and a lot of the usual restrictions do not apply there.

While there is a general consensus among  Islamic jurists that both consumption and trade of alcohol is forbidden in Islam, the economic realities of heavy dependence on tourism has meant that certain un-Islamic vices like consumption of alcohol is permitted in the Maldivian resorts.

The issue of alcohol sales remains a controversial topic among Maldivians, and is wantonly exploited by every tin-pot politician seeking an audience.

Alcohol was one of the major “issues” highlighted at the recent protest on December 23 organized by seven opposition parties and a network of NGOs  who joined hands  against what they alleged were ‘anti-Islamic policies of the government’.

The turnout of over 5000 religious protesters was considerably less than the ambitious 100,000 originally anticipated by the organizers. The flags they carried were surprisingly not the bastardized offspring of the Maldivian and Saudi Arabian flags, as displayed on the protest’s official website.

Meanwhile, the ruling MDP had also called for another protest the same day, at a venue just a couple of hundred meters away, calling for ‘moderate Islam’.

Speaking at the MDP protest, President Nasheed claimed that the government was being accused of being ‘anti-Islamic’ simply for sticking up for traditional Dhivehi values, and rejecting the recently imported dogmatic versions of Islam that had room for concubines, marrying nine-year olds,  female genital mutilation and harsh punishments such as amputations and stoning humans to death.

The ill-advised protest concluded early, but gave enough ammunition for the opposition protesters to last through till midnight.

The opposition-allied mullahs tore into President Nasheed’s remarks against concubines and marrying children, claiming it amounted to a mockery of the Prophet. They steadfastly defended amputations and other punishments as being a central part of the Sharia penal code and – by extension – of Islam.

They demanded that the government to apologize for the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s comments to Parliament condemning medieval punishments like flogging.

Swinging between Halal and Haram

One protestor on stage, criticizing the President, declared that one could not accept one part of the Qur’an, and reject the other.

“…unless it is the parts advocating religious tolerance”, one might presumably add, because the protesters demanded the removal of allegedly idolatrous monuments placed by neighbouring countries during the recently concluded SAARC summit in Addu City, amid repeated accusations that the government was trying to introduce ‘religious freedom’.

Leading the protesters in this righteous cause was DQP leader and former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, who co-authored a book called ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’, the opening paragraph of which curiously claims there is “a vast amount of Qur’anic texts in the favour of freedom of religion”.

The protesters further demanded that the Israeli airline El Al should be forbidden from landing in the Maldives with their Zionist crew.

The Cabinet Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baree also threw his weight behind the idea, saying he was of the ‘personal opinion’ that Israel was ‘not a legitimate state’.  He nevertheless requested that his personal opinion be translated into a parliamentary resolution.

Also on stage was the cleric Dr Afrasheem Ali, who once had stones thrown at him at a mosque for his “liberal” remarks such as claiming that singing was permitted in Islam. Sharing the stage with him were pious clerics who all agree that music is ‘haraam’.

What was not haraam, however, was the official song of the protest, apparently sung by former pop-star and current Salafi posterchild Ali Rameez, extolling the sacrifices of the battles of Badr and Uhud, and calling upon good Muslims to take up Jihad to ‘protect Islam’.

… Some massage parlours are more equal

Another major demand made by the opposition speakers during the 8 hour long protest was that ‘spas and massage parlours’ should be banned, as they were clearly fronts for the flesh trade. One protest leader provided a surprisingly specific number of brothels in the capital, contrasting them with the number of mosques in Male’.

Leading the agitators on stage, without the slightest trace of irony, was MP Qasim Ibrahim, the business tycoon whose fortune was made on a business of selling liquor to tourists, and whose resorts proudly boast of luxury spas and exotic massage parlours.

He could have perhaps invoked the amended commandment from George Orwell’s book, and declared that ‘No animal shall drink alcohol…  to excess”.

Instead, he responded to the President’s call for moderate Islam by publicly retorting, “We don’t know there is a moderate, higher or lower Islam. We only know Islam, which is above all the religion. The only road we must follow is based on Allah’s callings”.

Scorched Earth politics

Despite the initial reactions from the MDP vowing to not give in to “the extremists”, the government somehow decided to one-up the opposition instead by ceding to their demands, and engaging in the dangerous game of political brinkmanship.

Following the protests, the government has issued a circular ordering the closure of hundreds of spas and massage parlours in the country, including the ones in resorts.

In doing so, the government has acted in a callous manner, with the maturity and foresight of a jilted adolescent.

The President’s Office has also said it is considering a nationwide ban on alcohol and pork – including in “uninhabited” islands. The unstated intention appears to be to call the Opposition’s bluff or, even worse, teach a lesson to political opponents such as Jumhooree party leader Qasim Ibrahim, DRP leader Thasmeen and PA leader Yameen Abdul Qayoom, who all have massive business interests in the tourism sector.

It is quite clear that the opposition leaders weren’t counting on the government to actually do anything about their demands; both Qasim and his political allies have condemned the government’s acceptance of their own unreasonable demands.

Confirming that the lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum, the principal opposition PPM has made a grand stand itself, saying it would “support” this move if ‘the government dares’ to actually go ahead and do it.

It appears both sides have decided to engage in a high-stakes game of Russian roulette, showing a disturbing willingness to put the even country’s economic lifeline at stake while they both dig deeper into their respective political trenches waiting to see who blinks first.

A Hotel in Medina, and other fairy tales

While the politicians engage in their scorched-earth politics, there are some realities that the Maldivian public has to learn to accept. The foremost among them is that, as detestable as the tourism industry maybe, we have grown to be dependent on it.

The income from tourism keeps the Maldivian economy afloat, pays the country’s bills and also props up other industries and employment sectors like telecom, health, education, catering and construction. It builds our roads, drainages, schools and hospitals, and pays for our fuel, electricity and drinking water.

It is not by accident that the average Maldivian’s life expectancy has jumped from under 45 years to over 76 years today since tourism was introduced.

When opportunistic politicians and clerics decide at their convenience that the bedrock of the country’s economy is no longer halal, then perhaps they owe the Maldivian public an alternate economic plan that does not involve alcohol or non-Muslims.

The last time any politician even attempted to offer such an alternative was when Adhalaath party leader Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, then State Minister of Islamic Affairs, pointed out in March 2010 that the Intercontinental Hotel in Medina drew thousands of visitors every year, despite serving no alcohol.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take the Nobel Committee to figure out that the holy city of Medina would continue to see hundreds of thousands of visitors irrespective of whether there’s any alcohol – or even a hotel for that matter.

If only Sheikh Shaheem would clarify how he intends to replicate the ‘Medina hotel’ model of economic development in the Maldives, the issue of alcohol laced tourism would be forever settled.

Rewinding the clock

There are, of course, orthodox clerics who outright condemn the idea of progress itself, and advocate just living off the fish from the sea.

But would Maldivians who today complain of the rising prices of coffee willingly go back to living in huts, defecating by the sea, and starving in stormy weather?

In the 21st century, the nations of the world are interconnected and interdependent in ways that simply weren’t true a hundred years ago.

Could these orthodox ideologues point out to the public just ONE example of a developing country that is able to live in such romantic seclusion? There is a reason why isolated nations like the North Koreans aren’t able to just live off rabbits and groundnuts.  There is a reason why Pol Pot’s Cambodia became a blood-soaked failure.

Economies don’t run on hollow slogans, nor do romantic ideals feed the hungry.

Dr Hassan Saeed was right when – speaking at the protest – he paraphrased the Qur’an, stating that people’s conditions can only improve when they themselves take up the challenge of improving their own plight.

To do that, Maldivians need to settle on what kind of Islam we’re going to follow, and demand solutions from the elected officials, instead of mere slogans. We cannot afford to put up with politicians who wilfully destroy our country’s peaceful image, and complain about a suffering economy in the same breath.

As the Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh said recently, we’re living under the threat of becoming another Afghanistan – except, unlike Afghanistan, the Maldives produces no food to feed its own people. We’re dependent on international goodwill, and simply cannot afford to have leaders who engage in harmful rhetoric aimed at destroying our country’s standing in the international community.

The last few weeks of 2011 have set the precedent of hard line, no holds-barred brand of politics that could easily prove fatal to the country’s democracy, economy and social stability.

President Nasheed has recently made grand promises that 2012 will be a ‘year of happiness’. But it will take much greater political maturity and statesmanship from the country’s elected leaders to achieve this goal.

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: The Intolerant Constitution

In 1959, an expedition of historians unearthed an exquisitely carved ancient statue of Gautama Buddha from the island of Thoddoo.

Buried under slabs of stones, possibly to protect it from being demolished along with the the temples following the Islamization of the Maldives in 1153 AD, the statue was a priceless archaeological find.

Before long, however, the island was gripped with controversy. ‘The religion of worshipping statues has begun!’, some islanders were described as saying, according to the book ‘A New Light on the History of Maldives’.

One early dawn soon after its discovery, the ancient statue was found decapitated by vandals.

The statue was then taken to Male’ and displayed at Mulee’aage, the current Presidential residence. Before the week had ended, another mob barged in and smashed it to pieces leaving behind just the serenely smiling head, which is now displayed in the National Museum in Male’.

The Prime Minister at the time, strong-man Ibrahim Nasir, who didn’t hesitate to personally lead gunboats to forcefully depopulate the island of Thinadhoo following the southern rebellion, knew better than to investigate the vandalism.

It was simply pointless, because half a century later, unidentified vandals would proceed to smash, burn and destroy the SAARC-gifted monuments in Addu, for allegedly being ‘idols of worship’.

The State vs. the Tolerant

Just like Nasir, the modern Maldivian politician knows better than to challenge the deep-rooted fear of ‘other religions’ that is so firmly ingrained in the Maldivian psyche.

On the other hand, it makes for a great political gimmick.

Quite tellingly, the ruling party, seven opposition parties and a network of 127 NGOs are all planning to protest on December 23 in order to renew their vows against allowing ‘other religions’ in the Maldives.

It seems a rather redundant cause, considering the 2008 Maldivian constitution already forbids non-Muslims from becoming citizens, and mandates that the nation remain 100% Sunni Muslim.

This status quo, however, was recently challenged by a group of Maldivians who gathered in Male’ on December 10, on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, in silent protest against the lack of religious freedom in the Maldives.

The sit-down protest was disrupted within minutes by a violent gang, leaving one man with serious injuries to the head.

Joining the chorus of local politicians eagerly latching onto the controversy, “Reeko” Moosa, the former MDP Parliamentary Group leader, demanded the prosecution of those who called for ‘religious tolerance’ – otherwise considered a positive phrase elsewhere in the world.

Independent journalist and blogger, Ismail Hilath Rasheed, who was among the freedom advocates, has been taken into police custody.

Meanwhile, the National Security Committee in parliament has decided to summon participants of the protest, citing their duty to defend Islam and uphold the country’s constitutionally imposed religious unity.

It is abundantly clear that there’ll be no debate on the subject, and that at the heart of it lies the holy writ of country’s unchallengeable Constitution.

The immutable constitution

Thomas Jefferson, one of the great founding fathers of America, once proposed that the American constitution should be rewritten every 20 years, lest the dead end up ruling over the living.

There are, of course, excellent reasons to deliberately make it difficult to modify a country’s constitution, not the least of which is to protect it from whimsical rulers.

In this regard, however, the Maldives goes one step further than the rest.

Speaking about the incarceration of Hilath Rasheed, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said “Calling for anything against the constitution is illegal”.

There appears to be a general consensus among lawmakers and the public alike that the constitution is beyond all criticism, and any dissenting word spoken against it should be considered a grievous crime.

This would perhaps imply that the entire Chapter 12 of the constitution is now utterly redundant, for what good is a chapter on amending the constitution when apparently it is illegal to find any fault with the existing one?

One presumes that President Nasheed himself must now be put in chains and dragged before the courts for blasphemously uttering in July 2010 that he was in favour of a Parliamentary democracy, whereas the holy constitution explicitly decrees a Presidential system.

Thankfully, other democracies of the world recognize that obeying the constitution doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with it.

In neighboring democracies like India, writer activists such as Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy write fiery articles openly defying the State, and major political parties publicly campaign to remove specific Constitutional clauses they have philosophical differences with.

In a true representative democracy, the public is generally free to advocate and lobby their representatives for causes they believe in.

In the past few weeks, it has emerged that Maldivian public apparently doesn’t have this freedom.

The other sacred text

Perhaps, then, it is not the Constitution, but Islam that imposes certain limits on the debate?

Unfortunately, in the Maldives, there is no way to tell apart the limits imposed by Islam from the ones imposed on it.

It appears that many Maldivians are convinced that the ultra-conservative Adhaalath Party and their Salafi cousins are the foremost authorities on the subject of Islam in the known universe.

But for that to be true, one must argue that every other Islamic nation in history has been wrong.

While one Maldivian blogger has been languishing in a prison cell for the past week for advocating religious tolerance, there is an abundance of Imams, caliphs and even a certain Prophet from history who seem to be in agreement with that blogger’s opinion that Islam does indeed have room for religious tolerance.

Didn’t the Prophet himself say, “Whosoever does injustice to a protected non- Muslim, then I will be his enemy (on the Day of Judgement)”?

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, drafted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference as a Shari’ah compliant alternative to the UDHR, declares the right of people to a dignified life free of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, among other things.

Maldivian scholar Dr Abdulla Saeed of Melbourne University, argues in his book ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’ that there is “a vast amount of clear Qur’anic texts in favour of freedom of religion”.

Needless to say, his book was banned in the Maldives.

The burden of defining ‘true Islam’, instead, fell on a small group of short-sighted conservative political Mullahs working out of a Ministry building in Male’. And in their opinion, Islam forbids the mere mention of ‘other religions’ – despite what the Qur’an says.

‘Because we’re special’

12th century copper plate grants found in the Maldives reveal the blood-soaked, painful process of conversion of the Maldives to Islam. The Sultans of the day went through the trouble of bringing in Buddhist monks and beheading them in the capital.

The modern day Maldives takes a much simpler route. The 2008 Constitution unilaterally declares all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslim without the courtesy of so much as an opinion poll.

Maldivians in general are quite proud of the ‘100% Muslim’ statistic that is frequently bandied about.

But it raises a few fundamental questions that are nevertheless extremely taboo in the Maldivian society.

At what point of Maldivian history has there ever been a public census on religion?

Does the Maldivian state even have the right to unilaterally declare a citizen’s beliefs? Which other Islamic State or Empire in Islam’s 1400 year old history has taken this liberty – and under whose authority?

Those We Do Not Speak Of

A cursory look at online Social networks easily proves the existence of several non-Muslim Maldivians, and Dhivehin who appear to not subscribe to a religion at all.

If we were to do the unthinkable and disregard the holy constitution for just a minute, how morally justified is it really to make their mere existence a crime potentially punishable by death?

Consider the fact that our very economic survival depends on treating other non-Muslims – those who are non-related by blood, culture or language – with generous hospitality.

Does this radical notion of unilaterally enforced Islam only apply to those born of Dhivehi parents? Could the Parliament conceivably declare tourists and other visitors also to be Sunni Muslims while within Maldivian territory?

At what point does the whole affair begin to sound absurd?

Chaos theory

Politicians of both major parties argue that introducing the freedom of conscience to minorities would result in chaos and disorder in society, much like introduction of democracy did with the introduction of political rights. But are any of these politicians sincerely willing to return to the non-chaotic days of the past when they were jailed for simply expressing an opinion? If not, why not?

The Maldives has been “100% Muslim” since at least the Gayoom days. So why do we not see the utopian fantasy of a prosperous, peaceful, gentle society of fellow Muslims treating each other with kindness?

Instead, it appears that Maldivian lawmakers and government no longer have to talk about roads or health or food or development, for they now have the one dead horse of religion to flog for all eternity.

Is it really that hard to see there’s something wrong with the picture when eight political parties – both the ruling and the opposition – plan to rally in order to “defend Islam” against each other?

Which Islamic principle was being followed by the MPs who tried to force their way to the International airport in an effort to remove a banner depicting the region’s cultural diversity?

Presumably, it takes a tremendous amount of will power for these lawmakers to restrain themselves from forcing their way past security into the National Museum to destroy the still intact head of the ancient coral-stone idol of the Thoddoo Buddha that our ancestors had failed to destroy.

What Islamic value lies behind the sort of blood lust that drives an ordinary Maldivian to go and violently attack a fellow Maldivian simply for being a non-Sunni Muslim?

Based on what Islamic criteria do we religiously uphold certain parts of the Shari’ah penal code such as flogging, while completely disregarding others such as amputating limbs, or stoning half-buried humans to death?

These are all important, crucial questions. But until there’s room for an honest debate, how would we ever find out?

End of Reason

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, wrote S.G. Tallentyre in 1906, in a quote widely misattributed to French philosopher Voltaire.
Over a century later, we Maldivians have yet to appreciate the sentiment behind this powerful phrase.

While jihadist literature with fiery, cataclysmic titles are openly sold in Salafi bookshops around the capital, the slightest spark of reason is immediately stamped out by an unthinking brigade of conservative clerics and opportunistic politicians.

The broken, still smiling Buddha in the National Museum bears witness to our long history of stubbornly refusing to accept reason.

But today, more than ever, it is necessary to ask difficult questions and face hard facts, because the line that marks where the debate stops also marks the point where, as Thomas Jefferson feared, we become enslaved to the past.

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: Sun, sand and intolerance

Saturday’s attack on a group of people silently protesting against religious intolerance is just the latest in a series of orchestrated, well-choreographed acts of violence, hatred and intolerance sweeping across the nation in recent months.

Independent journalist and blogger, Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, whose personal blog was censored by the Maldivian government last month, was among those attacked, sustaining serious injuries to the head. Others who attempted to intervene also suffered minor injuries.

Ahmed Hassan, one of the protesters, said, “We planned a silent sit down protest in order to make a statement over the lack of religious freedom for minorities, especially those who aren’t Sunni Muslims.”

“We are entering the fourth year of democracy but unfortunately, many basic freedoms and rights have yet to be achieved for all Maldivians. It is unacceptable in this day and age that non-Muslim Maldivians are discriminated against in their own country,” he said. “This is their country as much as ours.”

He further added “I would like to say to those that attacked us today that violence is not a part of Islam. Islam is a religion of love, peace and shura (consultation). The unprovoked attack is clearly an act of intimidation. We realize that as our movement grows, we could face many more such attacks, but we will not be backing out. We will not be intimidated into silence.”

Local writer and blogger, Aminath Sulthona, who was also among the protesters said, “These are not people worthy of being termed ‘religious’, but they are misguided thugs spreading terror and violence in the name of religion.”

Sulthona complained that the police at the scene failed to carry out their duties. “I was being openly threatened and verbally abused in the presence of a police officer who paid no heed to the man… I managed to take pictures of the attackers, but as soon as I got home I started receiving calls saying I would be attacked on the streets if the pictures were leaked.”

The injured protester, Hilath, has also previously faced death-threats over his vocal criticism of Islamic radicalism on his personal blog.

Million-Man March of bigotry

As the rest of the world celebrates the International Human Rights day to commemorate the adoption of the UDHR, a network of NGOs in the Maldives and seven political parties are preparing to conduct a large protest on December 23 – with organisers vowing to assemble a rather ambitious 100,000 protesters, including mothers and their newborns, in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The protests were announced in the aftermath of a speech delivered in parliament by Navi Pillay, the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, after she sought the removal of discriminatory clauses in the Constitution towards non-Muslims, as well as an open debate on the subject of degrading punishments like public flogging that are still practised in the Maldives.

Pillay argued that flogging as a form of punishment was “cruel and demeaning to women”, while pointing out that apart from just one other Islamic country, the practise wasn’t condoned even among Muslim nations.

Available statistics appear to support the claim that women are disproportionately affected by punishments such as flogging. Mariyam Omidi, then Editor of Minivan News, reported in a 2009 article that according to government statistics, out of 184 people sentenced to flogging for ‘fornication’, 146 were women.

However, the report was met with outrage from conservative sections of the public who gathered with placards at the same venue where the protesters were attacked yesterday, and demanded that the journalist be deported.

There was simply no room for intelligent discussion on the subject and the offending statistic mysteriously disappeared from government websites not long afterwards.

Similarly, the response to the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s recommendations has been a brutish all-out war on the very idea of having a debate on the subject.

One gimmick to rule them all

One might wonder how in a country where Islam is safeguarded by the Constitution, and where there is overwhelming support among both leaders and the general public for mandating Islam’s role in state affairs, and where educating the public on other religions is not only taboo, but also illegal by law – could there still exist such insecurity among citizens that they need to rally in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The explanation is simple.

For 30 years, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom carefully consolidated the state’s authority over personal beliefs by successfully selling the idea of a ‘100 percent Sunni Muslim’ nation, and making the Dhivehi Identity virtually synonymous with Sunni Islam, which needed to be fiercely protected at all times from ever-present, invisible threats.

One of Gayoom’s most damaging legacies is that a paranoid Maldives found itself among the top ten countries in the world noted for religious intolerance, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published in 2009.

Employing religion to keep his citizens in check was a master stroke that ensured him a long reign, but Gayoom’s chickens came home to roost in the dying days of his regime when the democratic uprising threw up a medley of ultra-conservative mullahs who would take over the religious mantle from Gayoom.

Following the first democratic Presidential elections, the ultra-conservative Adhaalath Party assumed control of the newly created Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and took upon themselves the onerous responsibility of deciding who were the ‘true Muslims’ and what constituted ‘true Islam’.

It didn’t help matters that despite the freedom of speech granted by the constitution, the mainstream Maldivian media continues to exercise strict self-censorship when it comes to issues of religion and human rights.

The subject remains taboo among other public institutions and agencies as well, as evidenced by the statement released by the Maldivian Human Rights Commission yesterday on the occasion of Human Rights day, which glaringly omits any mention of minority rights or non-Muslim Dhivehin.

Speaking at a National Awards ceremony last month, President Nasheed gently rebuked his citizens for reacting ‘in a jihadi manner’ over the Navi Pillay controversy.

Instead, he exhorted the citizens to “have the courage to be able to listen to and digest what people tell us, what we hear and what we see”

President Nasheed would have done well to foster this spirit in his own government which, in the first few months after coming to power, shut down several websites that were allegedly critical of his then coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party.

Less than two weeks before he implored his citizens to have the courage to digest others’ opinions, President Nasheed’s government banned the blog of independent journalist Hilath who had been critical of Islamists in the government.

Even more startling was the reaction of his foreign Minister, Ahmed Naseem, to the controversy over Navi Pillay’s recommendations for doing away with degrading punishments.

“You cannot argue with God”, he said, in what was a clear surrender to the politics of bigotry.

The President would also do well to convey his ideas to his erudite Islamic Minister, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baree whose response to the call for open discussion on the subject was merely, “No Muslim has the right to advocate against flogging for fornication.”

The Islamic Minister had also previously condemned the presence of commemorative monuments presented by participating nations in the recently concluded 17th SAARC summit in Addu.

Burning Bridges

The destructive outcome of emotive politics of hatred, strife and fear was clearly demonstrated by the hyper-paranoid religious vandals who burnt, damaged and stole multiple SAARC monuments because they allegedly depicted ‘idols of worship’.

One police officer on duty guarding the monument recollected being approached by hostile members of the general public asking why they were guarding “temples”.

The opposition parties, seeing political expediency even in the most unfortunate acts of xenophobic vandalism, quickly hailed the vandals as “national heroes”.

In a related incident, some MPs of the Progressive Party, including MP Ahmed Mahloof apparently hijacked a ferry in a valiant effort to save Islam from a banner hung at the International Airport, before they were intercepted by the Police and diverted to another island.

The offending banner at the airport depicted an image of Jesus Christ, a Buddhist chakra, and other religious motifs symbolising the religious diversity of South Asia, which the design consultants who came up with the concept said was in keeping with this year’s SAARC summit’s theme of ‘Building bridges’.

Notably, none of these MPs had anything to say on the young non-Muslim Maldivian man who hung himself from a tower at that very airport in July 2010, following immense pressure from family and state religious authorities after he, in his own words, “foolishly admitted (his) non-religious stance” to friends and colleagues.

If the 17th SAARC Summit proved anything, it is that building bridges is impossible when there are greedy political trolls ready to pounce on anyone willing to cross it.

Uphill struggle

It also appears that the Mullah and the MPs seem to be firm in their understanding that Islam has no room for thinking, no room for debate, no room for tolerance and no room for intelligence.

The seemingly endless series of ugly incidents and violence carried out in the Maldives in the name of Islam only reinforces the reputation of Islam as an intolerant, backward religion fit for narrow minded thugs who are incapable of dealing with 21st century realities or co-existing peacefully with the international community.

According to a March 2011 Universal Periodic Review Report for the Maldives, the Maldivian government had pledged to raise awareness and public debate around the issue of freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

The report states that “The Maldives commits to begin domestic awareness-raising and an open public debate on religious issues. Moreover… the Maldives requests international support to host, in 2012, a major international conference on modern Sharia jurisprudence and human rights.”

However, this may be a difficult task given the sense of over-entitlement prevalent among sections of the Maldivian public that, though it demands – nay depends – on foreign aid, income and expertise to keep their families clothed and fed, nevertheless scoffs at the very thought of having to fulfil any obligations to the international community at large.

When confronted by the UN Committee on the the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2011 on the constitutional clause depriving non-Muslims of citizenship, the Maldivian delegation reportedly had this to say:

“It was not true that under the new Constitution existing citizens could be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality if they were to stop practicing Islam… The Muslim-only clause under the citizenship article of the Constitution only applied to non-Maldivians wishing to become naturalised.”

However, just one month later, the government published new Regulations under the Religious Unity Act of 1994, making it illegal to propagate any other religion than Islam, or to be in possession of any material or literature that contradicts Islam. Any violations of the regulations would carry a 2 to 5 year prison sentence.

In other words, as the silent protesters attacked in broad daylight yesterday learned, the struggle to achieve universal human rights in the Maldives is a seemingly impossible and uphill task that only keeps getting harder, thanks to the cesspool of paranoia, hatred and violence generated by a band of short-sighted politicians who are happy to abuse religion and opportunistic religious clerics who dabble in politics.

As with last year, where a motorcade of fundamentalists rode around the capital yelling loud anti-Semitic slogans about visiting Israelis, this year too the Human Rights Day has been marred by gloomy incidents of intolerance that only remind us of how the idea of mutual respect and civility still eludes us as a nation.

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: The right to remain silent

When a non-Muslim man publicly declared his disbelief in religion at a well-attended public lecture by Dr Zakir Naik in May 2010, the preacher on stage reacted with wide-eyed surprise and told his audience he was told the Maldives was a ‘100% Muslim’ society.

Now that he knew better, he corrected the statistic to “100% minus 1”.

The new statistic did not sit well with certain local Islamist NGOs and by day break there was already a press release demanding the man’s death, failing immediate repentance.

After a couple of days of national pandemonium, with multiple online groups demanding the apostate’s murder, order was finally restored when the man publicly declared his faith in Islam and apologised for the “agony” he had caused.

However, this delicate balance would be upset again less than two months later when another non-Muslim Maldivian, 25 year old Ismail Mohamed Didi, was discovered hanging from the ATC tower of Male’ International airport.

There was a swell of outrage – not because a young man was driven to suicide – but because news websites had published emails he’d sent to aid agencies shortly before his death.

Other reactions were even more confounding, with some even suggesting that the whole thing was a devious plot by “enemies of Islam” to undermine National Security – what other motive could possibly have led him to choose to so publicly hang himself from an airport tower?

Maybe it was because he had worked there for seven years? Maybe he was unable to handle the combined stigma of an internal workplace investigation, and ostracism by friends and family after he – in his own words – ‘foolishly admitted’ his non-religious views to his friends? Perhaps he thought his life in the Maldives was worthless and devoid of any value if he did not keep paying lip service to a belief he did not feel?

Perhaps he should have just exercised his right to remain silent. But he didn’t, and the sacred statistic tragically changed to ‘100% Muslim minus one dead man’.

Then in August 2011, reports emerged of a Maldivian girl in a southern atoll who professed to be non-Muslim, once again changing the statistic to ‘100% Muslim minus one dead man, and one deviant girl’.

“Unique country” – “Special case”

Research conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates the number of Maldivian Muslims at 98.4% of the population.

The report was met with derision by then State Minister of Islamic Affairs, Adhalaath party leader Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, who claimed the researchers did not have ‘appropriate information’ and reiterated the familiar assertion that the Maldives continued to be 100% Muslim.

The Maldives holds an unenviable 6th position on a global index of severe government restrictions on religious beliefs. In comparison, the State of Israel – often accused of by many Maldivians of curbing minority rights – comes in at the 41st position.

Even in the aftermath of the democracy movement, the Maldives has continued to lodge a reservation on Article 18 of the UDHR and ICCPR, which proclaims the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as an inherent right of all humans.

The Maldives, which sits on the UN Human Rights Council, pleads that we should be treated as a ‘special case’ – a unique country where an entire population, barring one dead man and one aberrant girl, has always held exactly the same beliefs for centuries.

A US State Department report made public last week observed that religious freedom continued to be ‘severely restricted’ in the Maldives. The report added that there were “limited reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.”

While there has been no papal style inquisition to systematically weed out minorities, this hasn’t been for the lack of trying. In November 2009, MP Muttalib proposed that non-Muslim foreigners should be barred from practicing their religion even in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

The first draft of the Religious Unity Regulations produced by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs criminalised the act of depicting or describing any other religion in a positive manner, while also arming itself with the power to deport foreigners at will.

A brotherhood of intolerance

The comments in the media following news reports about the US State Department’s observations were marked with familiar hostility – with many responders questioning the United States’ right to even comment on Maldivian law.

In heaping scorn on the audacity of America to comment on our constitution, however, the commentators seek to avoid facing the hard question – does the repeated assertion that the Maldives is ‘unique’ and ‘special’ also allow it to claim exemption from explicit declarations of the Qur’an as well?

Decades of carefully exercised political control over religious narrative in the Maldives has left in its wake a culture of intolerance among the general public that is not only unsympathetic to wider views on non-Islamic religions, but is also hostile to Islamic academics and Muslim religious scholars who espouse a more humane form of Islam.

In other words, our society is not only hostile to other religions, but also to the myriad other available interpretations of Islam as well.

When Dr Abdulla Saeed of Melbourne University and his brother, former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, published a book titled ‘Freedom of Religion and Apostasy in Islam’ arguing that the law of apostasy and capital punishment was out of sync with modern times, there was a massive uproar leading ultimately to a ban on the book.

In early 2008, Dr Afrasheem Ali, generally regarded as a “liberal” religious scholar, came under fire after he argued that singing was not un-Islamic – thus contradicting the position of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs. The man reportedly had stones thrown at him outside a mosque.

Secular Muslim Maldivians as well as anonymous, non-Muslim Dhivehi bloggers who dare to demand a more pluralistic society often find themselves facing undisguised contempt, harassment and violent threats.

Islam says what?

Muslims scholars around the world repeatedly affirm that Islam does not permit compulsion in religion.

Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, uses explicit Qur’anic verses such as “To you is your religion and to me is mine” to arrive at the ruling that “the Qur’an permits freedom of belief for all of mankind.”

Quoting further from the Qur’an, he says “God does not prevent you from being kind to those who have not fought you on account of your religion or expelled you from your homes, nor from dealing justly with them, indeed God loves the just.”

And yet, self appointed guardians of Islam in the audience rushed to physically attack Mohamed Nazim immediately after he proclaimed his disbelief, and one also remembers the swift press release demanding his murder the next morning.

Regarding such intolerance, the Grand Mufti Ali asserted in an article that “none of these extremists have been educated in genuine centres of Islamic learning. They are, rather, products of troubled environments and their aim is purely political and has no religious foundation.”

Syrian Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, who recently visited the Maldives, said in an interview to Minivan News that “We cannot deny the basic human right to life in the name of culture.”

The Imam also said “The Quran… gives people the freedom to worship, the freedom to choose their own religion, right or wrong”.

Political suicide

Many Maldivian MPs and senior government officials privately admit their hands are tied when it comes to the issue of freedom of religion. Simply put, to advocate universal human rights is the easiest way of committing political suicide in the Maldives.

The problem of religious discrimination had already been identified by the visiting UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, in a 2006 report that expressed concerns about lack of religious freedom in the Maldives. It noted that while the old constitution did not technically demand all citizens to be Muslim, it presumed this was the case.

While any thoughtful person would readily see the absurdity of a state unilaterally declaring a citizen’s beliefs, the average Maldivian voter continues to justify this position by clinging to the “we’re special” argument.

The new Maldivian constitution, drawn up during the highly polarised and unstable political climate of the Maldivian democracy movement, where everyone and their grandma was being accused of attempting to import “other religions” to the Maldives, went one step further and made it explicitly unlawful for a Maldivian to profess any faith other than Islam.

Many interpret this to mean that a Maldivian Muslim who chooses to abandon the faith would automatically be stripped of citizenship and become a stateless refugee (In direct contravention of Article 15 of the UDHR, which states that no citizen can be arbitrarily deprived of nationhood but – why not? – the Maldives could presumably plead a “special” exemption in this case too).

However, a Maldivian government delegation, answering questions from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, denied this saying the constitution was clear that no citizen could be deprived of citizenship under any circumstance, and that the Muslim-only clause applied only to foreigners seeking Maldivian citizenship.

In the absence of a legal precedent or court ruling, the provision remains ambiguous.

Yet, the refusal of mainstream media and politicians to touch this human interest issue and a severely outrage-prone public sentiment has made one thing astoundingly clear: non-Muslims in the Maldives may exist as physical flesh-and-bones entities, but if they value their lives, liberty and security, then they must adhere to the strict code of conformity and total silence.

Surely, then, the statistic must in this case be updated to read ‘100% Muslim minus one dead man, one impious girl, and thousands forever condemned to silence.’

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: Muslims deserve better

While watching NATO-backed rebels rummaging through fallen dictator Gaddafi’s abandoned belongings, a middle-aged Dhivehi lady exclaimed at the television ‘How the West conspires against Muslim leaders!’

The seemingly misguided remark, upon second thought, deserves further analysis.

Gaddafi himself, after all, has claimed to be a leader of Muslims – defending the Islamic nation against the rebels, whom he has referred to as ‘rats’, ‘cockroaches’ and ‘unbelievers’.

He would also call upon ‘Sheikhs’ and ‘Scholars’ in and around Tripoli to rise up and defend the faith from the godless rebels.

Gaddafi is by no means the first politician to imagine himself as a “leader of the Muslims”. Over the decades, several people have laid claim to this mantle.

Hosni Mubarak, the Iranian political clergy, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamist parties of Pakistan and Bangladesh and – closer to home – former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Adhaalath party, and various individual “Sheikhs” have all modeled themselves as ‘Islamic leaders’, portraying an image of Islamic piety, and shouldering the unwieldy burden of the speaking for the entire Islamic faith.

And yet, despite these innumerable ‘leaders’, all whom assert they have the ultimate solution to Islam’s woes, the 1.5 billion strong Muslim community has consistently had a poor report card in all areas of human development in recent decades.

Golden Age

A cursory look at history shows a dramatically different picture.

It was during Ramadan just over 1400 years ago that an illiterate Prophet was first commanded to ‘Read!’.

Within a few short centuries, Islam would end up as the dominant force in the world, commanding a wealthy Empire that would be celebrated as the fountainhead of all learning, discovery and innovation.

A religion revealed to a barbaric, medieval tribe would transform them overnight into champions of knowledge and achievement, resulting in “the Golden Age of Islam” that produced intellectuals and polymaths of the caliber of Ibn Sina, Al Farabi and Ibn Rushd.

So why is that, a thousand years later, despite the advancements in technology and communications, Muslims no longer revel in that spirit of achievement?

A reasonable argument could be made that that following the decline of the Muslims, a large majority of the Muslim lands had been colonized, followed by extended periods of dictatorial regimes threatened only recently by the Arab spring.

Yet, former colonized states like China, India and South Africa are making all making giant strides using the best of modern Science and Technology, but Muslims in general appear to not yet have found that fire.

Muslims are largely missing from advanced fields like scientific research and the global business world, or are very severely under represented – whereas tyrants and gun-toting militants throughout the Islamic heartland have somehow gotten labeled ‘Muslim leaders’.

Perhaps it is time now to acknowledge that the Islamic community is facing a severe leadership crisis?

The Curse of the Leaders

To evaluate the cause, let us first glance at a list of the individuals all of whom have in recent decades appointed themselves captains of the ship.

Osama bin Laden. Mullah Omar. Ayatollah Khameni. Al Qardawi. Ibn Baz. At home, we have such luminaries as “Sheikh” Ibrahim Fareed, “Sheikh” Iliyaas and a disproportionately large number of other such eminent scholars to guide our tiny population.

The grand roadmap these “leaders” have for Muslims can be measured by the broad canvas of issues they usually occupy themselves with.

While one group’s idea of salvation for humanity lies in forbidding women from buying cucumbers and other phallic vegetables of potential sin, another invests endless time, money and resources into efforts to threaten, intimidate or harass women into wearing black middle-eastern style veils.

Some declare life-saving vaccines as haraam, while others are entirely outraged over the 3 year old kindergarteners studying together in co-ed schools.

When they’re not burning books, they can be found condemning yoga. When they’re not busy uncovering Zionist organ-harvesting rackets, they’re dissecting the heavy legal issues surrounding the permitted length and colour of a woman’s hair.

Even celebrated Sufi poet Ghalib once pondered over the Ulema’s disturbing preoccupation with the problems of menstruation and menstrual bleeding.

In the year 2011, there is still some disagreement over whether girls should indeed be sent to school.

More than a couple of these wise mullahs have issued fatwas against Tom & Jerry on National TV, while another has outright called for Mickey Mouse to be put to death.

And almost all of them are united in their common jihad against established, peer-reviewed Science.

And herein lies the diagnosis for our woes; Muslims today are plagued with “leaders” that, instead of boldly taking them to the future, have pledged to stay frozen in time – or even worse, insist on running the civilization race in the opposite direction as the rest of humanity.

Entire generations have been lost thanks to myopic mullahs, and tyrants whose foresight does not extend beyond the tip of their nose.

A culture once credited with keeping alive the flame of knowledge through the centuries is now known more for dogmatism and hostility to Science.

Political tool

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of Islam is that it has ended up as a tool of political convenience.

Self-declared “leaders”, who have no achievements to speak of, cloak themselves in religious garb and invoke the name of God as their only claim to legitimacy.

In their hands, religion ceases to be a moral code for the community’s common welfare – and instead becomes a stick to keep the masses under control.

In the wake of the recent Arab democratic uprisings, the Saudi Arabian government promptly issued ‘Islamic rulings’ against protesting against authority. (The jarring irony of it, coming from the Wahhabi-Saudi nexus that once rose in revolt against no less than the Islamic Caliph!)

When it suits these tyrants, the rules are carved in stone, and when necessary, the Qur’an might as well have been written on water.

Dr. Amir Hussain, prominent Professor of Theological studies said in an interview with Science and Spirit magazine, that tyrants “find it useful to espouse the rhetoric of faith, because people respect that language, are reluctant to oppose it”

Two days before abolishing the Islamic Caliphate in early March 1924, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, founder of modern Turkey, told his assembly:

“The religion of Islam will be elevated if it will cease to be a political instrument, as had been the case in the past…”

The Pied Pipers

Some of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Golden age were the grand libraries and Universities of Baghdad and Cordoba.

The great polymaths of that era kept alive the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks and the Indians – reviving ancient philosophy, number systems, algebra, chemistry and astronomy.

In President Obama’s words, it was Islam that taught the world navigation of the Seas, and the mastery of pens.

Today, Muslims around the world fare poorly in Education. The 2006 Sachar Committee Report commissioned by the Indian Prime Minister revealed that 25 percent of Muslim children in India under the age of 15 didn’t attend schools, or dropped out early.

There are no great Islamic Universities today – and troublingly enough, it is the so-called ‘leaders of Muslims’ themselves who are actively engaged in a campaign against ‘evil, Western education’.

The establishment in 2009 of $10 billion King Abdullah University of Science and Technology would ideally have been hailed as a tremendous opportunity to revive learning and research in the Muslim heartland.

Instead, the ‘religious leaders’ in Saudi Arabia reacted with fury over the larger, more pressing issue of the University being a co-ed institute.

Orthodox Islam has always opposed what the rest of humanity considered progress

Professor Dr. Amir Hussain once said, “Knowledge is highly prized in Islam, but fundamentalist Muslim rulers have hounded Islamic scholars for centuries.”  Great intellectuals like Ibn-Rushd thrived despite the pressures these anti-intellectual forces.

However, in recent years, modernism has all but disappeared from mainstream Islamic discourse, giving the anti-intellectuals a free run to propagate their views as ‘true Islam’.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was one of the modern Muslim pioneers who believed Islam would be greatly damaged if not shielded from the orthodox clergy.

Believing that a proper, Western-style scientific education was crucial for Muslims’ advancement, he founded the Muhammedan Ango-Oriental College in 1875 (It would later become the Aligarh Muslim University)

Former Pakistan Supreme Court Justice Javid Iqbal, son of celebrated Urdu poet-Philosopher Allama Iqbal, believes Islam’s revival is dependent on interpreting the religion in light of modern scientific thought which would ‘strengthen the faith of believers’.

Condemning the medievalisation of Pakistan, he recounted how his father had blamed conservative Mullahs for driving Muslims into the dark ages.

“My father’s advice was unequivocal: Muslims should not let themselves be exploited by the semi-literate Mullah…  Mohammed Iqbal went out of his way to expose the intellectual bankruptcy of the Mullahs — the same Mullahs who have once again taken the lead in Islam”

Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Prize, also calls for an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy, claiming that it is not that religion that binds women, but “the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered.”

To bell the cat

The prevailing school of thought in the Maldives and many countries around the world is that Islam does not permit dissent or free opinion.

The original draft of the Religious Unity Regulations drawn up by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the Maldives, for instance, forbade ordinary citizens from expressing a personal opinion on religion in any form. Furthermore, it also criminalized the most basic democratic right of criticizing authority, instantly putting self-declared ‘religious scholars’ above all public scrutiny.

This clampdown on free thought throughout the Islamic world is perhaps the reason why Muslims have become afraid to think, afraid to speak, and afraid to pull themselves out of the age of Ignorance, as their cultural forefathers boldly did so many centuries ago.

Perhaps one of the greatest wasted opportunities in modern times is the pulpits around the world in front of which hundreds of millions of Muslims congregate in prayer.

There are forums that could conceivably be used to inspire Muslims to work harder, to educate themselves, to educate their children, to promote Science and to promote culture.

Instead, most of us walk away every Friday having heard for the umpteenth time, tired reiterations on the importance of praying five times a day or fasting in the month of Ramadan, and armed with even more evidence of the continued treachery of Jews and Christians.

Change of guard

The Muslim needs leaders who can go beyond petty sloganeering and asserting a hollow supremacy.

For instance, leaders like former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the nuclear scientist known for his humility and passion for youth, transcended the boundaries of race and religion, and inspired a larger community of nation builders.

Leaders like Gandhi, Tagore and Mohamed Ali Jinnah – inspired by 19th-century British liberalism – come across as intellectuals hostile to the idea of discrimination itself.

Today, more than ever, Muslims need leaders of such fierce intellect and industry, if they’re to rub shoulders with the rest of the world as responsible equals, instead of wallowing in eternal self pity.

We need leaders who understand that for a religion to retain its greatness, its principles need to be as dynamic as the human cultures and societies themselves.

Our mullahs have shown us how exceedingly easy it is to wallow in the darkness and blame everything on the West and the Jews.

What we need is a change of guard, and a new class of leaders who are not afraid to take the much harder route – one of accomplishment and progress; to create a world where a tyrant like Gaddafi or terrorist like Osama never again gets mistaken for a ‘Muslim leader’.

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: India and Pakistan, a tale of two destinies

On the stroke of midnight, 64 years ago, a bold, unprecedented and brash idea made a momentous tryst with destiny.

It was at this late hour that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru announced to a world that “India will awake to life and freedom”.

Just the previous day, on August 14, 1947 – an Urdu poet’s utopian vision also came to fruition with the creation of Pakistan, a Muslim state carved out of British India.

It marked the beginning of an epic, intense rivalry, one that lasts to this day.

This week, on the 64th anniversary of their births, the two rival nations of the subcontinent present a marvelous study in contrast.

Shaky Foundations

By 1949, both countries had lost their founding fathers– Jinnah succumbed to a long illness, while Gandhi fell to the bullets of a Hindu fanatic.

It is an understatement to say, looking back, that the idea of India had seemed impossible back then. Following a bloody, violent partition, the largest mass migrations in modern history had left eight million refugees to be resettled and provided for.

Hundreds of Independent Princely states that formed British India had to be coaxed or coerced into joining the new dominion, and become part of this impossible nation that defied all reason.

Once this was achieved, there remained the gargantuan task of taking a long colonised nation of hundreds of millions of illiterate, poor, hungry and dogmatic people, and lead them into a new, prosperous future.

The new state of Pakistan seemed to have it a bit easier – with a state that was established and identified by such homogeneity as one dominant religion and one official language, whereas India was a boiling pot of cultures, races, religions, terrain and geography, all tied together with an untested, unknown thread of nationhood.

Even before it could adopt a constitution, the Indian state was already under attack from extremists on both the left and the right – the former rejecting the perceived Western Imperialism backing the new nation, and the latter, Hindu fanatics railing against the secular state announced by Nehru.

Both these forces continue to be active in India today – the Maoists continue to wage war against the Indian state, and the Hindu fanatics continue to demand a Hindu state.

The tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947 further threatened the stability of the situation, sparking the first war between the two infant republics, and creating the knotty Kashmir tangle that remains unresolved to this day.

Yet, despite the ever present tactics of violence – none of these forces have been successful at destroying the fabric of India’s unity, which has endured marvelously throughout the decades.

The two wings of Pakistan, however, could not survive the pressures of civil war – and culminated in the formation of independent Bangladesh in 1971, with Indian assistance.

Dance of Destiny

It was perhaps destiny that India achieved its freedom in an age that saw towering personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The modernist Nehru left no doubts about his vision for India – an overwhelmingly religious country that would not be bound by any single defined religion or culture or language.

To quote from his landmark midnight speech, “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”

The equally modernist Mohamed Ali Jinah, also outlined his vision for Pakistan in his famous August 11 speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, a day now marked in Pakistan as ‘Minority day’: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The first constitution of Pakistan declaring it an Islamic republic in 1956 proved to be the first blow to this magnanimous vision of the much-revered Jinnah.

Within two years of its adoption, Pakistan saw its first coup d’etat, and this set the tone for Pakistan’s perpetual lost decades, which would be littered with failed democracies and military coups.

The fate of Pakistan was sealed with rise of the religious fundamentalist General Zia-ul-Haq, whose regime oversaw the tampering of the Pakistan Penal code, and introduction of Hudood ordinances to ‘Islamise’ Pakistan, the outlawing of Ahmadi minorities in direct contravention of the founder’s dreams, and the strengthening of the military’s ability to forever intervene in politics.

The destiny of Pakistan would remain forever mired in the three A’s – Allah, America and the Army.

Pakistan, it would turn out, would not see a single decade of political stability or a single successful democratic government in the years to come.

In stark contrast, India has seen 14 successful general elections, despite a burgeoning billion-plus population – a large portion of which started out largely illiterate, poor and malnourished.

Despite the large, creaky bureaucracy and widespread allegations of corruption, the Indian state continues to function and pull millions out of poverty, achieving self-sufficiency in food production, and making education a fundamental, legally enforceable right.

Where a disproportionately large proportion of Pakistan’s budget is drained annually on its all-powerful armed forces, the Indian military remains firmly under civilian control, and the various state powers remain separate and balanced.

Only recently, the Indian Supreme Court announced that the sky is the limit to its powers, when it comes to upholding the rule of law.

Apart from the brief period of emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-70s, the Indian media has remained largely unshackled, free and active critics of government policy. The intellectual scene in India remains vibrant, with Indian artists and writers increasingly commanding global attention.

In the meantime, the Pakistani government’s dangerous experiments with cultivating religious fundamentalists has come back to haunt it. Hardly a week goes by without the news of sectarian violence or an explosion in a mosque; a bomb attack during this week’s Independence Day celebrations killed dozens.

Pakistani links have been established to abhorrent acts like the Mumbai terror attacks, while ‘banned’ militant organizations like Lashkar-e-taiba continue to function openly, under adopted names. Today, the Taliban created by the Pakistani intelligence is killing hundreds of Pakistani soldiers every year.

Pakistani society has radicalised to the point where lawyers and citizens do not hesitate to congregate in public and shower flowers on a murderer, who assassinated a top politician earlier this year for daring to fight for minority rights. The power-crazed Mullah has been empowered to dictate public morality, leading to often violent clashes between traditional social norms, and rising fundamentalist views.

Most damagingly, the Pakistani civilian government and military both suffer from a massive trust deficit in the international arena, compounded further by the recent discovery of Bin Laden hiding in a house, barely a mile from the country’s top military academy.


As it stands today, Pakistan, despite its promising headstart – is being increasingly dismissed by the international community as a failed state. The only continued interest in Pakistan stems from a serious global concern about the country’s nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands – a concern that does not seem to arise for its stable, democratic nuclear-armed neighbor, India.

Over time, India’s tremendous diversity – that had once threatened its very existence – has ended up becoming its greatest strength. Despite its various criticisms, and defying terrible odds, India has become a model of a functioning, pluralistic and inclusive democracy – a nation where 150 million Muslims enjoy greater social freedoms and opportunity towards prosperity than the utopia of Pakistan, that appears to have failed Pakistani Muslims.

In a little over five decades, India has grown from a wild-eyed-dream to become the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power – with a booming middle class, and entrepreneurs and researchers and scientists making giant strides in crucial fields like IT and biotechnology.

The poverty and famine stricken India has been replaced by a confident, surefooted nation – one that seeks to assert itself as a global power, seeking a permanent position in the Security Council, while also being lauded globally on the success of its multicultural democracy.

Pakistan’s experiments with military regimes and religious fundamentalism have left it a broken, crushed dream that the staunchest of optimists have written off, while India’s commitment to a liberal democracy has made it a resilient, vibrant power with a success story that will be hailed for generations to come.

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: Gayoom and Nasir unlikely to face their Mubarak moment

A large screen set up outside the court premises streamed images of historic trial from within, while a banner under it proclaimed ‘O Judge of Judges, you have nothing to fear but God!’

Inside the building which once bore his name, former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from graft to “intentional killing of demonstrators” during the January 25 uprising that toppled his regime.

Lying on a stretcher, inside a specially built cage within the same building where, less than two days before the revolution started he had addressed his security forces whose support he enjoyed during nearly three decades of absolute power – he pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Recordings of his not-guilty plea in Arabic – “I categorically deny all charges” – have reportedly become popular ring tones, and images of the once powerful dictator inside a metal cage are being circulated widely on Internet groups.

Mubarak’s trial marks the first time in recent memory that the leader of an Arab nation – long accustomed to ruling until they die or are assassinated – has been made answerable to his own people for alleged abuse of power.

Over 850 people died in the 18 days of uprising early this year, before he stepped down.

In fact, the presiding Judge asked a lawyer at one point “Could you write down the (victims) names, or will it take hours?”

Even as Mubarak fights charges that carries a possible death sentence if convicted, many would agree that even in the scenario of his being acquitted, the dictator’s fall from grace is complete, and that this trial ultimately only provides catharsis and a warning to his embattled peers elsewhere in the middle east.

Images of his trial may aggravate the situation in Saleh’s Yemen, Gaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria, where authoritarian despots are clinging to power hoping to last through the unabated turbulence of the Arab spring.

It is quite possible that these dictators would blame Mubarak’s current predicament on his softness, and relatively quick exit from power – a mere 18 days after crowds assembled in Tahrir Square. With the stakes now even higher, these regimes might resort to a violent fight to the finish, unless they can be coerced into catching a flight to Jeddah.

At least 1700 civilians are believed to have been killed in Syria since uprisings began, and estimates range between 2000 to 12000 killed in Libya, with no signs of the an end to the rebellion.

While the Mubarak trial holds special symbolic meaning for the Arab people, it also holds some significance in the Maldivian context.

It was, after all, from the halls of Egypt’s Al Azhar University that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom emerged.

When democracy arrived in the Maldives after a prolonged period of public protests, many expected Gayoom to be prosecuted – and his political cronies to be put on trial.

Throughout the democratic uprising, after all, opposition leaders had publicly accused President Gayoom of a wide spectrum of allegations ranging from corruption to torture.

However, Gayoom continues to be a free man, and no charges have yet been brought against him by the first democratically elected government.

It might be that despite the alleged excesses of his former government, Gayoom continues to hold a massive sway over a significant portion of the population, as evidenced by the 40 percent of votes he garnered in the first round of the Presidential polls.

President Mohamed Nasheed has stuck to his stated stand of ‘humility in times of victory’, and while there still remain occasional calls for Gayoom’s arrest from parliamentarians like “Reeko” Moosa, the public attention has long since shifted to more immediate matters of a weakening economy and dollar shortages.

Gayoom’s predecessor, President Ibrahim Nasir had also modeled himself after Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, a modernist with dictatorial tendencies.

After he became the First President of the Second Republic, Nasir was the hero of the Nation’s independence.

However, during his earlier stint as Prime Minister, Nasir’s heavy-handed tactics such as personally leading gunboats to forcefully depopulate Thinadhoo in 1962, in the aftermath of the southern rebellion, has been condemned by many as being especially ruthless.

Nasir never stood trial in a public court. Following Gayoom’s ascent to power, Nasir lived out the rest of his life in exile in Singapore.

Nasir died a few days after the Gayoom regime fell, and was buried with his royal ancestors at the cemetery attached to the hukuru miskiy. Tens of thousands paid him their last respects, and a national holiday was declared in his honour.

He has recently been honoured again by the MDP government, which renamed the Male’ International Airport as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in recognition of his efforts towards building it.

The news of the airport renaming was met with some disappointment by many Huvadhu islanders, some of whom still remember Nasir as the man who tore their families apart. Sounds of gunfire are still fresh in their memories.

Humiliating scenes of men being forced to step off their islands, supervised by the political strongman himself, continue to persist on the Internet.

It is increasingly likely that the alleged crimes and corruption of Gayoom and Nasir will never face their Mubarak moment. Furthermore, the government has so far given no indication of making a even a symbolic public apology for the southern outrage that was Thinadhoo.

While Mubarak’s trial assuages some of Egypt’s hurt and brings hope to rebels in the Middle East, it reopens some old wounds for many Maldivians, who feel justice has been denied to them.

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: The price of right-wing politics

Major news networks came under fire recently for jumping to conclusions about the involvement of Islamist groups in the July 22 terror attacks in Norway.

Mainstream media resorted to premature “analyses”, conjecture, and even ‘citations’ from unverified Internet forum lurkers – all of which are highly irresponsible and were rightfully condemned.

A lot of Muslims and anti-racists heaved a sigh of relief on hearing that this latest outrage was, for a change, not inflicted by a Muslim group. For seemingly the first time in recent history, a reasonable argument could now be made that not all terrorists are necessarily Muslim or brown-skinned; an opportunity has risen to delve deeper into the ideologies that underpin these horrifying outbursts of mindless violence.

However, over a week after the quiet Friday afternoon peace was shattered by the worst massacre on Norwegian soil since the second world war, the media appears to have chosen to focus instead on the sensationalist ‘Christian crusader’ angle and the killer’s 1500 page “manifesto”; a lot of commentary has dwelt on whether this is the work of a single crazed man – or whether he represents the vanguard of a new movement.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that the man was clearly led by his politics – and within this lies one of the most important stories of this decade that the media should not fail to address.

The rising hatred

Norwegian security agencies have long reported that right-wing radicalism was on the rise in the country – with Scandinavia, incidentally, producing the largest amount of xenophobic, White Power music and literature.

As it happens, right-wing politics is being revived in several parts of the world – from the United States and Europe, to Pakistan and the Maldives.

Factors such as economic decline in the West, rising unemployment, and the increased globalisation that threatens the very concept of nation states, have seen a corresponding increase in anti-immigration, race-baiting, far-right ultra-nationalist groups.

Ideas that would have been dismissed as the lunatic fringe just a few years ago have captured the curiosity of the mainstream public in many societies.

This brand of politics – characterised by amplified slogans, demonisation of minorities, and central charismatic figures with a penchant for whipping up emotions, have reaped rich political dividends for many in recent years.

With deceptive names alluding to noble concepts of ‘Justice’ and ‘Freedom’, these groups thrive entirely on charged emotional rhetoric steeped in conspiracy theories and artificial feelings of victimisation and insecurity.

The anti-Islamic, race-baiting ‘Party of Freedom’ run by Geert Wilders recently emerged as the third largest party in the Netherlands. The BNP, that remains a pariah in mainstream UK politics, has also been making steady electoral gains over the past decade – with two of its members already in the European Parliament, including Nick Griffin, the much-reviled leader of the organization.

Cheap provocations, such as attempts of a much-criticized pastor to organize mass burnings of the Koran in the US, have increasingly found the easy media attention that they so desperately crave.

Mainstream media attention was also lavished upon the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ controversy in New York city – that was successfully used by conservative, right-wing politicians in the US to whip up anti-Islamic sentiments, despite revolving around a building that was neither at Ground-Zero and wasn’t even a mosque.


Far-right politicians, willing to let society burn in order to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, employ words and rhetoric that threaten the peace and harmony of society – with the full knowledge that they can always refuse to accept responsibility later.

Indeed, Geert Wilders was quick to distance himself from the Oslo killer – who had named him as one of his inspirations – but it is hard to accept that the man who spent years fanning flames of anti-Islamic hatred can suddenly absolve himself of all responsibility for the ideology that directly led to the massacre in Utoya.

While the West grapples with trying to deal with hate figures like Geert Wilders, controversial characters like Zakir Naik and Bilal Philips have inexplicably been invited by the Maldivian government to preach to the public – despite several other countries denying them entry citing serious allegations ranging from terror links to hate speech.

Local political parties and NGOs that have conferred upon themselves the onerous burden of representing Islam in the Maldives adamantly deny that they have any role to play in the increasingly radicalised Dhivehi society – and the rising numbers of Maldivian jihadists being discovered in militant madrassas or war zones of tribal Pakistan.

This denial comes despite their openly stoking flames of anti-semitism and anti-feminism, despite their emotionally charged diatribes on public podiums and radio talk shows, and despite the rapidly mushrooming “Islamic” book shops in Male’ that openly sell Jihadist literature with fiery titles and apocalyptic chapters glorifying war.

At least one English Defence League activist, currently hiding abroad, has admitted that his opinions could have directly influenced the destructive Islamophobia in Breivik.

And yet, the EDL– a toxic, occasionally violent British group accused of racism, have also denied the ties with the mass-murderer in Norway, despite the killer himself claiming close association with them.

Just as their right wing brethren in the Maldives, they too “reject all forms of extremism”, and vow to fight against it.

Hyperbole at home

The Maldivian society’s decided swing to the right in the aftermath of democracy is startling – the political dialogue is marked with hyperbole, and dishonest, wild rhetoric.

Reasonable concerns about establishing diplomatic ties with the state of Israel ended up getting blown up into a full-fledged conspiracy involving evil Zionist doctors plotting to steal body organs from unsuspecting Maldivians.

A proposed change in curriculum was vocally derided as a sinister Israeli plot to undermine national sovereignty.

Disagreements over a regulation that would have permitted the tightly restricted sale of alcohol to foreigners at a business hotel, ended up being painted as a death blow to the very religious foundations of the Maldives – thanks to a shrill campaign started by the Adhaalath (Justice) party and aligned opposition groups that was marked with emotive language, and rhetoric carefully calculated to whip up fear, paranoia and hatred.

Adhaalath party leader Shaheem Ali Saeed would later boast at a recent party congress that it was their tiny party that “organised the largest mass-protests in the country”.

Yes, but at what price?

Birds of Feather

Emotive politics of the far-right contribute to, and depend on, a climate of fear and insecurity.

It is within this shelter of blind hateful ignorance that killers like Anders Breivik emerge, casting themselves in self-aggrandizing roles of ‘warriors’, ‘crusaders’ and ‘mujahideen’ to protect their religion and country from the evil, scheming subversive forces that only exist in their heads.

“If Muhammad was alive today,” he wrote, “Usama Bin Laden would have been his second in command.” The Norwegian killer spent over nine years working on his “manifesto” – but in reality, he could have just taken any random Islamist propaganda leaflet and substituted “Christendom” for “Caliphate” , the “Crusades” for “Jihad” and “Knights Templar” for “Mujahideen”.

Not surprisingly, despite being an avowed Islamophobe, he found ideological similarities with the al-Qaeda – and repeatedly makes references to al-Qaeda’s training manual.

Breivik also found that his ideology seamlessly fit with the Hindu fundamentalist groups in India as well. His “manifesto” quotes from several Hindutva propaganda websites, and applauds Hindutva advocates who ‘do not tolerate the injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control”.

Decades of sowing animosity towards Indian Muslims brought Hindu fundamentalists led by AB Vajpayee from fringe obscurity to national power.

But within their one term, the emotionally charged politics of the day resulted ultimately in the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Hindus in the Gujarat communal riots. The same forces would later unleash violence against Christians in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

The battle of Badr used by Jihadist leaders to stoke fire in their soldier’s hearts, finds its equivalent in the Crusades for Breivik – whose online “manifesto” honours such medieval figures such as Vlad the Impaler and Charles the Hammer.

One can thus easily see that there really isn’t any difference at all between these seemingly competing intolerant forces that are both the victims and perpetrators of the same far-right wing ideologies obsessed with their apocalyptic visions of global domination.

A suitable response

A quarter of a million people took to the streets of Oslo on Monday, to remember the dead.

Unlike nations like Pakistan that have swung so far to the right over decades of ideological poisoning, that thousands actually came out to garland the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, a liberal politician who spoke up for minority rights, Norway’s response to the horrors of July 22 reflects its vastly more mature, and strongly liberal social ideals.

“We will punish him, not by killing him or torturing him, but by defying his every wish”, said a teenager, whose friend was among those killed in the Utoya massacre.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside a tiny Church where a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam performed a joint memorial service for Bano Rashid, an 18 year old Muslim girl whose promising life was prematurely snuffed out by the fanatic violence.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg greeted the audience at another memorial service in Oslo with the Arabic greeting “Salaam Alaikum”, drawing a cheerful applause – and pushing a stake through the heart of the dark forces that had sought to strike a wedge between the Norwegian people.

The King and Queen of Norway, who openly wept in a Church service for victims, had a similar response of defiance; in his address, the King said that freedom is more important than fear.

Across the board, Norwegian politicians have vowed to respond to terrorism with “more democracy”, “more diversity”, “more peace” and “more tolerance”.

The time has come for media and citizens around the world – including in the Maldives – to stop viewing the theatre of violence through the narrow lens of religion and nationality. The only solution to division, hatred and violence is to confront the language, thoughts and tactics of short-sighted, opportunistic politicians whose only political gimmick is to create a climate of fear and hatred towards foreigners, Jews, Muslims, Christians.

While the scourge of ultra-right wing extremism is the enemy of all societies and peoples, there is a strong message sent out when resistance emerges from the very people that these bigots claim to represent – when whites fight against Aryan supremacists, and Jews protest against Israeli military aggression, and Muslims fight against Islamist violence and hate-mongering.

The Norwegians have shown the way with a dignified, determined response of hope, and peaceful idealism that characterise their society.

It is now up to the rest of the world to follow in their footsteps and extinguish the climate of fear and hatred that allow these abhorrent acts to take place.

In Jens Stoltenbergs’ words: “No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. We must never stop standing up for values… our answer to violence is even more democracy, more humanity”

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]