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]

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36 thoughts on “Comment: “No animal shall sleep in beds…with sheets””

  1. Yaamyn rasheed,
    you are the only man in maldives to have ever seen George Orwell's book. You know best to twist things. C'mon bro. You know it. I know it. everybody knows it. The demands were not about what you portray it to be here. We all agree with you when you say "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."

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  2. Encouraging to read reasonable people. There is a lot of work to get done in the Maldives with those backward people who insist that there is no Dhivehi culture, that there is only wahhabi stuff. There is some culture left in Maldives and you need to rescue it from those repressed mullahs.

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  3. actually i have read the book too and it was brilliant work from the author, which point exactly what is happening right now and let me tell you we can not allow that to happen, if not for our sake for our children.

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  4. the real infidels have now been exposed.. it was those who were pretending to protect Islam and now suing the government because their 'massage parlor' brothels had been closed... god will never guide them to heaven but to hell as stated in the Quran... http://haruge.com/?p=201

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  5. @rasgefaanu. couldnt have said better myself! we know all this, but who cares right>?

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  6. nice article yameen! wholeheartedly agree with you. we have become sidelined pawns, expendable, in the petty games that our politicians play only to boost their ego.

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  7. the qualifier's significance is real. Islam is a pragmatic religion which will not be halted by technicalities. In our present case, Islam forbids us Muslims to drink or serve alcohol but Islam does not forbid non-believers from drinking or serving alcohol. So the contention Yaamyn is raising is trivial.
    One practicable solution to this sale of alcohol in the country would be to outsource the sale, regulation, tax and everything pertaining to alcohol to a competent non-muslim entity. Like we did to the airport this too can be outsourced and i am sure there would be plenty of non-muslim parties interested to deal with these items for resorts.

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  8. Subhanallah! Why has minivan news allowed this Jewish writer to write articles mocking our glorious religion? This is madness! Yaamyn Rasheed, I sincerely ask you to repent before your creator, Allah SWT, and follow the sunnah of the greatest man who ever walked this Earth, MUHAMMED SAW! Otherwise, I fear that being a jew, would lead you nowhere save for the deepest parts of hell, where Jews, women and the idols they used to worshop would fuel the black flames! Surely, nobody would want to burn for eternity! Repent, before it's too late, Jew Yaamyn.

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  9. We all have read a little of Orwell here and there in our young age. It's relevance to the Maldives is particularly significant in my opinion but not for the same reasons as included in this blogpost/article.

    In standard Orwellian fashion we all believed a change of leadership was needed for our farm to better our lives. We felt distanced from our old leader and truly believed that he and his government was the sole reason for our problems and hence the only solution as well.

    So we gathered around what some believed to be a promising alternative, while others believed was a true man of the people while yet others took as the only viable solution at the time.

    However, once Nasheed, backed by popular demand to oust Qayyoom (please note: that same demand was never to elect Nasheed) seized power, his rule turned out to be a mere regime change.

    The Anni we all loved and admired for his activism and down-to-earthiness disappeared almost overnight. Anni became His Excellency the President just like Qayyoom evolved into that same creature. Our lovely Mari and Moosa became the same money-hungry leeches that we thought we had brushed off completely when we got rid of Qayyoom. Our hasty choice in electing Nasheed proved fatal as he and his cohorts do not seem able to administer to a State or conduct themselves in a civilized manner.

    I am not saying the opposition are saints. I am just saying that the actual lessons we should take from Orwell are that a simple change of hands is not a solution to anything. We need to strengthen our institutions, we need to find it in ourselves to work for our betterment, we need to stop depending so much on the government and other people, we need to make informed choices without swallowing statements from politicians whole and we also need to look for homegrown solutions to our problems. We cannot import systems and processes from abroad and expect them to save us from our plight.

    Next time around, I know I am not voting for Nasheed and so won't many other people, but shall we try and make a decision based on information and based on an assessment of what we are choosing. No choice is without risks so things might go wrong now and then, but let us all make a choice that will not doom us to the situation we are in now.

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  10. Yamin... yes but if the president doesn't fact the opposition down now, they'll never shut up about islam because they think that is the best tool to bash him with. Only by outflanking them on religion and making them back down can he take religion out of politics once and for all.

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  11. Anni may be able to work out a winding path acceptable to his political opponents, businessman and the Islamic Clerics. Perhaps even introduce clear Laws legalizing the controversial issues and thus give greater confidence to the investors in the tourism industry in the Maldives.
    However, certain issues of democracy and International human rights that are not compatible with Islam will remain unresolved in the international political arena and will have impact on our political religious ideology from time to time.

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  12. The article paints the true picture of the religious politics played by the hypocritical business men.

    It is the Lord of the Flies being played... only in real life with real stakes...

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  13. @Leena:

    In my humble opinion religion can never be taken out of politics especially in societies like the Maldives or America.

    The majority of our population are not men and women of letters and what they lack in academia are not often compensated by worldliness.

    A people who lack awareness should not be attacked and bullied. Their shortcomings should be factored in when making political decisions or introducing new concepts.

    If the Nasheed government actually had any sincere plan to shift the mind-set of the common man they would have focused more on the education system rather than on short-term popular campaigns.

    Give it time Leena and Yaamyn. People like you who know a thing or two and who truly believe in a cause should try and dedicate their lives to the betterment of your country rather than ranting over this and that.

    Yaamyn is right in pointing out that the MDP government and Nasheed is a leader is the wrong choice for our benighted nation. We need someone who commands majority support backed by a government of stronger administrators. We need less confrontational politics and more focus on economic stability.

    This is where Yaamyn and I disagree. In societies like ours stability cannot be achieved through debate and dialogue. The fundamentals of engaging in debate is as yet very much different in our society than in more developed civilizations. The majority of our population do not like to hear varying opinions or different viewpoints. They function better when guided in one direction.

    You will both come to realize this letter in your life Leena and Yaamyn. Your youth makes you think that others should catch up with insights that you chanced upon. But the average fisherman in Thuraakunu and the wannabe-politicians in Thoziy Cafe down at Male's Western side are not ready for a lot of what you propose. Let them progress at their own speed and opt for compromise whenever possible.

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  14. Very good article Yameen. I hope that your name sake is also that sensible and does not try and destroy thi country for his personal gain.

    What this has shown is that Gasim, no matter how rich he has become is an idiot and should never be handed the Presidency.

    Anni has as you rightly say become a demagog. This is not what most Maldivians voted when they wanted " Another Maldives".

    Isn't there any sensible Maldivian who can save us from all these imbeciles, who are trying to destroy our country?

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  15. @Shaikh Imran Abdulla thinks he is the funniest bastard in the histry of funny bastards! pakaaaas

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  16. Maldivians don't find tourism detestable. The protesters called for a ban on brothels on "inhabited" islands, which indeed do exist disguised as massage parlours and spas. This is the kind of thing that religious preachers love to talk about, not just muslim preachers, and the stuff religious people love to hear. nothing unusual or extreme about that bit. The ban was initially aimed at a particular person's resorts. the public didn't call for what the govt has claimed that they called for. there are reasons why the govt is called unislamic, and they don't have anything to do with tourism. they criticise the govt connections with for instance religious (not islamic) organisations, for instance.I'm sure you would've picked this up, if you actually did listen to what they said. anyway, it's a reckless and arrogant move by the govt, lost my vote.

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  17. the demands made by protesters claiming defending Islam in the country are baseless accusations. A monument turned an idol of worship by some religious scholars based on their own hypocritical fear mongering tactics was in fact burned down and what remains of it is an ugly mess!Why then should they demand it! Brothels are being run in the name of saloons,traditional medical clinics, etc and like what happens inside of it can never be blamed as a failure of the government.
    As for allowing an Airline to travel to Maldives, no human being with common sense will believe it could endanger the national security of a country. We are forgetting the fact that there are more Muslims in Israel holding their citizenship and even traveling to Mecca for Hajj!
    All we could see is the manipulation of an ignorant public with no proper knowledge of Islam. Hence we need to educate our younger generations and expose them to outside world.
    Thank you Yamyn for the excellent and factual and honest insight of a conspiracy forged by religious leaders backed by business tycoons and politicians.

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  18. When we voted for a change we never thought that the very people who joined hands with Anni will turn their back on him for the greed of Power. We never thought Doc Hassan would back out giving lame excuses of a mid term election. We never thought those very people who joined hands with the reformers to oust the previous regime joined hands with the ousted regime again to oust the present one. This is just a battle for power nothing else. The people who are enraged with President Nasheed for the way he is handling this crisis will be singing the same songs if or when another from the opposite camp come to power. Then you will be saying how good President Nasheed was it goes like that on and on, we will never be satisfied, we as a small country got freedom with the help of President Nasheed is miss using it, by just blabbering without thinking........

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  19. @Sheik Imran.. go fugg yourself.. you said the protest was religious, there was nothing other than your pathetic political bullcrap.. so just go fuggggggg yrself... you pathetic idiot...

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  20. @Rasgefaanu

    If you think I speak in jest, when defending the glorious religion of Allah SWT, then I fear you are deeply mistaken! I also fear that Jews have corrupted your mind! Repent now, before Malakal Mouth pays you a visit, for then, it would be too late!

    @Aldan

    What sort of a name is that? Is it Jewish? Why is a Jew speaking to me! That itself is madness! And for your kind information, the protest was in fact, religious! We wanted nothing but to defend the glorious religion of Islam from the Jews! I do not associate with the likes of democracy, as it is a system of kufr. However, I want Islamic Shariah established in the Maldives to its full extent, which would include stoning, amputating limbs etc. I hope I have made myself clear. Now, go repent, because Jews will be in the deepest parts of hell on the day of judgement!

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  21. Sheikh: Who are yo to decide any of us be a Jew or we go to hell. Try to live in a shell that fits you. What you played on 23rd was a political drama and you became the victim of your own deed.

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  22. Keep writing. This country needs you to keep writing right now, even though i disagree on Prez Nasheed.

    From his position, the choice was either a fold or raise. Any middle ground would have messed this whole issue beyond the reach of any reasonable discussion.

    Yes, he could have executed this better though.

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  23. @ SHeikh Imran, we obviously can tell that ur faking all your extremist wording, hell i can even see you smirking while writing it.

    Could you just grow up?

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  24. Your article is utter bull. Everyone knows the loudmouth shrills against alcohol are mere political posturing. It is a non-issue. No one is going to compromise our economy.

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  25. A lot of wise words have been already said here by my friends. The only relevant point I'd like to add is that our increasing intolerance in religious matters is NOT due to more religious understanding. In fact, it's the opposite.

    We have a sizable group of semi-literature scholars of Islam. As a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, their followers pose a real danger to larger society. An example of this was given by Dr Bari recently. According to Sunnah of the Prophet, Friday prayers normally start at 12:45. Now, some of our comrades have heard this from their Mullahs and have translated this to mean that every single mosque in the country must start their Friday prayer at 12:45. If they don't they they are not following the Prophet!

    This sort of misunderstanding applies to the question of alcohol, pork, massage houses etc. The Islamic Ministry and their colleagues have the choice of educating the Rekifuthaas of this world from these misunderstandings. However, I see these learned men burying their head in the sands of Arabia and pretending that nothing much is happening around them. It will take a lot of effort to spread the word of true Islam to our bearded, short trousered and Burugaa and veil wearing comrades!

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  26. @Ahmed bin Addu bin Suvadheeb on Wed, 4th Jan 2012 6:59 PM

    "It will take a lot of effort to spread the word of true Islam to our bearded, short trousered and Burugaa and veil wearing comrades!"

    And I suppose you latte' sipping fornicators with your fancy degrees in bucket thumping and atheism are going to lead the charge to enlighten us religious folk.

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  27. i totally agree with the article. Nicely presented. The 23 Dec demonstration was really pointless. It sure was scary as hell to see so many people there that day. But honest be known majority of the people want to SHOW they are muslims - so they went. And others went because THEIR political party was represented. So all in all, it was a very misguided demonstration and gathering.
    And the demands lol ... no Maldivian in their mind will believe we could do away with the sale of alcohol and places like spas.
    Nasheed response might seem harsh and nulafaa. But come to think of it you can fight fire only with fire... or what ever.

    And Yameen I like this phrase
    "tin-pot politician seeking an audience"
    🙂

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  28. see..this is not a religious issue..we want spas in resorts, alcohol in resorts, pork in resorts for tourists. we just don't want them available in male' and the newly demarked areas on inhabited islands. so which part is not clear to u ? this is from "us" the non extremists of both sides..regular maldivians.

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  29. @ Sheikh Imran Abdullah

    Why have you called the writer of this essay a jew? I find this comment offensive, obnoxious and racist. I request Minivan News not to publish comments like this.

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  30. “Ban the sale of alcohol… on inhabited islands”

    OR

    "Do not start selling alcohol on inhabited islands"
    without a "qualifier"

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  31. Book was published in 1945 to 1946. Brilliant article. Minute error no big deal just pointing out. 🙂

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