Comment: Open letter from refugee Abraham Naim to people of Maldives

Abraham Naim is a Maldivian who claimed asylum in New Zealand last year for fear of persecution at home due to his homosexuality – a crime under the Maldives’ Shariah-based legal system.

Naim made international headlines last month after New Zealand media wrote about his prize-winning drag act, performed under the pseudonym Medulla Oblongata.

To the people of the Maldives,

There have been a lot of things said about me in the media back home, and I would like to say a few things in response.

Firstly, I am not a transgendered woman, I am a drag queen. What I do is performance art. I do not wish to live as a woman. I entertain people and talk about issues that have affected me while living in the Maldives and abroad.

I am not crazy and I am not a monster. I believe in human rights for all Maldivians, and for all the people of the world. I am exercising my right to self-expression. I care deeply about people no matter how they happen to present themselves physically. Human rights are for all people, no matter how they choose to live their lives.

Some of you think I am an example of what is wrong with Maldives’ society.

I am not what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Kleptocracy is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Child prostitution is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. State sponsored drug trafficking and addiction is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Poverty and corruption is what is wrong with Maldives’ society.

I am a Maldivian and proud. I ask all of you that you to take a good look at your situation in the Maldives, rather than at me. You may try and dismiss what I have to say, but try to see the truth: you live in the country that I fled. My asylum was absolutely legitimate. You live in a place deemed one of the twenty-five worst places to live in the world.

I refer you all to the Biological Behavioural Survey of the Maldives done in 2008. The survey was done in conjunction with the UN, WHO, and UNESCO.  It discovered the illness in our society. It exposed the truth that HIV rates climb as people fall victim to something so easily preventable through education, that drug use begins as young as eight in the Maldives, that injecting drug use starts as young as twelve in the Maldives; that prostitution also begins as young as twelve in the Maldives; and poverty and inequality hangs in the air like an odourless gas.

This is not the way society should function. The children of the Maldives, YOUR CHILDREN, are being terrorised and destroyed by this evil – and yet here you all are getting upset by one little drag queen.

Some of you have asked me if my friends and I have lost our minds.

We have not lost our minds, we are exercising our freedoms. I can’t tell if your comments imply disbelief in my lifestyle or a misplaced religious concern for my immortal soul, but let me explain something to you: I am doing nothing wrong by living my life the way I want to, the way that makes sense to me. The way that makes me feel happy.

I am an honest person; what you see on my pages is how I think and feel, and there is nothing in our culture that prohibits me from doing so. I believe you are making up the rules as you see fit, based on the ideas you have about the world and what you feel comfortable with. As the French political thinker De Tocqueville noted, ‘society has a network of small, complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom’. These small, silly rules oppress you just as much as they oppress me. How are they serving you exactly?

To all the Maldivian people who are messaging me on social media:

Many of you have been messaging me just saying “hello” and do not know what to say when I message you back. I am a busy drag queen and I am not able to try and befriend all of you, particularly as I never know whether your intentions are hostile or not. If you have something that you want to say, something thoughtful to say, please say it. Otherwise you are free to read my posts to find out what I think.

Some of the messages I get from you have asked me to come back to the Maldives to be some sort of political activist and fight for your rights. If I go back to the Maldives I will almost certainly be killed. The request to come back irritates me no end. I have only just been granted asylum, I am only just settling into my new country and the upheaval I went through in becoming a refugee was enormously upsetting.

I had to leave knowing I would never see most of the people I truly care about ever again. I would not see the young children in my extended family grow up and become adults, and I would have to leave a part of my life behind forever.

If you want to change Maldives society, then change it. The old fat men in power who squeeze the life out of our country only have as much power as you give them. You can be the change that you are looking for.

It may no longer be my place to try and force new ideas on this country that perhaps cannot, or will not change before it slips back into the Indian Ocean, but I still believe all of you deserve so much better. I will not censor myself because what I have to say might make others feel uncomfortable. That I cannot control.

Although I am abroad I promise to keep fighting for what I believe in – civil and human rights. I am always happy to hear your stories. I am happy to talk about the oppression you are facing, my door is always open, and I will always support you.

Before I am a drag queen, before I am a gay man, and before I am even a man, I am human.

As the philosopher Kierkegaard once said; to label me is to negate me. It may make it easier for you to see me as the enemy, but I am simply a person trying to live my best life in peace and happiness, and I wish the same for all of you.

I promise to do everything I can to bring your voices to the international stage. I know how hard it can be. I have lived it.

Live the life you want.

Sincerely,

Medulla Oblongata A.K.A.Abraham Naim

P.S.*

I would also like to address my winning performance at Miss Capital Drag this year, which many Maldivians were very upset about. It was reported in the Maldives as me winning a stripping competition. It was not. It was a drag competition. Nobody in the Maldives has ever seen the performance because only a snippet was uploaded on to the internet.

The Maldivian reaction to what I did thousands of miles away speaks volumes about the brutal outlook of the country. I am not saying that you are wrong because you don’t know, care, or understand what drag is; but what I am saying is that the government reacting to the performance by sending thugs around Malé to viciously assault anyone who seemed a bit too well dressed or sophisticated was disgusting and pathetic and hurt me deeply.

There are cultural aspects of what I did that may be lost in translation, but I will try to give you an idea of what it was all about.

In the West, drag is part of the rich cultural tapestry that reflects the diversity of people and outlooks. It is a vibrant part of the world’s cultural history, and has been an art form in one way or another going back since before ancient Greece.

I wanted to talk about myself through my performance. I wanted to show that I was from the Muslim world using an iconic piece of clothing, the abaya, a garment that is worn by both men and women. I removed it to reveal a tailored haute couture garment that I had been sewn into. I am not the first drag queen from the Muslim world to have worn Muslim attire.

Indian drag queens can wear divine hand painted saris, African drag queens can wear the most colourful tribal attire, but somehow because the outfit I wore was symbolically Islamic, it has taken on almost sacred qualities. Have any of you ever stopped to consider that the issue existed before I stepped on to that stage? I did not create it; Muslim women’s attire has been a battleground since before I was born. Yes, I was aware of that. I have been aware for some time that exploring many aspects of my culture holds implicit criticism, because they are things already bathed in controversy.

The mere concept of what appears to be a woman removing Islamic clothing and revealing western clothing has scandalised a nation all the way over in the Indian Ocean somewhere. You have surrounded women’s appearance in so much mystery that it has overtaken a deep part of the cultural psyche. I performed this for the benefit of the audience that was there on the night, not for Maldivians to choke on their breakfast reading the morning paper. The hang-ups of people in a society which ostracised and oppressed me, and ultimately caused me to seek asylum in a foreign country are no longer mine to worry about.

*This is an edited version of the original postscript which can be read in full here

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55 thoughts on “Comment: Open letter from refugee Abraham Naim to people of Maldives”

  1. Well done, all the best to Naim, enjoy your freedom.

    There is a long way to go for Maldivian society, we need to educate and create more awareness, bring them out of thier little bubble.

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  2. The real issue in Maldives is not specifically gay rights, it's human rights. Gay rights are accepted in the developed world as a basic human right. But we Maldivians still haven't accepted the fact that different people will need different things in life in order to be happy, and just because it's different that doesn't mean it's bad.

    It's bad if you're taking away the rights and freedoms of other people, like what Maldivian law is doing to its citizens. People like Abraham Naim are not bad because they are not taking away the rights of other people, they just want to live life the way that makes them happy. Isn't that what we all want? Is that such a crime?

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  3. hey bro,

    We are the people of the Maldives, we dont need to be educated about our sexuality. We follow a strict hetrosexual culture and I believe the majority of us are happy with our lives! U can happily live ur life there! I am happy for u! since you get all the happiness you need! Iv met alot of gay ppl in my life! and I know there are two types! 1 people who are really gay! 2 People who are gay to gain attention! I think we all know what you are! Just get off the lime light! dont brand yourself as a Maldivian since you are a Kiwi now!

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  4. Dear Abraham, May you find peace in whatever you do. You sound like a reasonable man with some decent arguments. I respect you for that. But, please, know that religion and homosexuality is still (sadly) a touchy subject in the Maldives. Please respect that too. Wish you all the best, always

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  5. For god sake today is the Independence Day of Maldives and Minivan news didn't had anything better to write?

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  6. The main problem with the mordisians is the ignorance.

    Ignorance out of isolation for centuries. Arrogance born out of ignorance, cultivated by the Bedouin desert cultures branded as the divine message.

    You, Medula, live your life. You don't have enough time to worry about your enemies, and then live your life. Nobody does. Enjoy your time here on earth. But then again, it's your sensitivity that drew you to your current life....but try to forget Mordis,

    Anyways, Mordis is not going to welcome you. Mordisians don't realise that they have been duped, taken advantaged of, intimidated, scoffed at, subjugated, by the leaders. Under the spell of going to heaven, they are whipped into lap dogs, minds stupefied by Arabian chants, which we know nothing about. About half of their productive time is spent on yoga, begging for something,asking for forgiveness for a crime they have not committed, from who they have no idea of...

    The result is a dumbfounded nation, the leaders manipulate like soft clay. The supposed prayers have no meaning. No help ever received, against the ongoing genocides, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, wars, all of which we're promised by the leaders, would not happen, by divine protection.

    Mordisians are a lost nation. A speck in the middle of the ocean. We don't know where we stand. Centuries of darkness, literally made us blind and stupid.

    You made the right decision. Regardless of your sexuality, leaving Mordis is a very good decision.

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  7. Hi Medulla
    I'd like to meet you in the comfort of my home. Come to Little Hut in Wellington.

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  8. Maldivian people say respect their ignorant ways, I say educate.

    Good on you my sister. You've come a long way!
    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  9. Naim, do as you wish, call it drag queen or gay queen BUT don't promote your anti islamic agenda in Maldives. and "minivan" news, this is what you advocate and its not surprising how you are trying to play with minds of Maldivians.

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  10. Moral values sermons from drag Queens !!! - perhaps the only thing thats missing in Maldives.

    Thank you Minivannews. This is such a perfect present to Maldivains on Independence day from the British.

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  11. As a New Zealander living & working in the Maldives I am gratified that my beautiful country has been able to offer Naim sanctuary, safety & freedom. We each of us deserve the opportunity to be our most true & best selves. Naim is a courageous young man for pursuing this opportunity in the face of personal sacrifice & struggle. Kia kaha my kiwi brother, arohanui.

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  12. This is not good. Tomorrow some of the people who left comments here too are going to wake up and turn gay or start worshiping the Sun. Such fragile people should not be subjected to anything anything but what their mullahs and priests want them to.

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  13. There is no way this could be accepted if you are a maldivian. You have your rights but we just hate your behaviour. Dont talk rubbish. Does gay allowed in islam?

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  14. Since the fellow is now a New Zelander and relinquished being a Maldivian, why all the fuss.

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  15. You don't belong anywhere.. You need to time travel and be in Sadhoom so that u be perished with all other sinners.

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  16. Dear Ibrahim Naeem, I know you will be continuously checking for comments to see how people react to your open letter. I would like to say a few words in response. You have all the right to choose how you wish to live your life. But a happy life is often struck when people find an equilibrium with the environment they live in. The very reason why you left Maldives is because you could not in your mind strike that equilibrium with our society - your letter states all your personal reasons why our society is not the ideal society for you. That is your opinion and you have the freedom to express it on free media given it gave you lime light. But i would like to ask you would you rather be happier living your drag queen life in New Zealand where society accepts you with open arms. Why go on a crusade to help all want to be drag queens in the Maldives? There maybe two reasons for it. You are so overwhelmed by your new found happiness, you want to give back OR you have issues with which you are still struggling and you had to write this letter to explain yourself to a society that you fled and a society that does not accept you. I would kindly advice you to seek happiness there, you have found freedom, you have found people who will love you for who you are and how you want to define yourself. They have given you awards for your performance for something you could get killed if you performed in Maldives. So, please go ahead and not bother about the Maldives and Maldivians. Live your life. Don't worry about what people think of you. No need to explain yourself too.

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  17. "Ann on Sat, 26th Jul 2014 6:08 PM
    For god sake today is the Independence Day of Maldives and Minivan news didn’t had anything better to write?"

    Ann,

    The irony of your question kills me!

    Independence Day, on a website called "Independent", a comment article about personal independence.

    The fact that this was lost on you shows the lack of depth in your thinking.

    It's easy to regain this grasp on reality - close your eyes lie back and think about who you are as an individual, your desires, your religion, your style of dress, choice of partner etc

    Then imagine if this was taken away from you, deemed inappropriate and illegal. The same indignance which you would feel, is expressed by the author.

    You may cite our religious texts, and the law. Laws change and religious texts like the Quran and Hadith always emphasise forgiveness over punishment, besides what are our priorities? Before we point fingers don't we need to correct our own flaws?. We have always done so, until a new dogma of selective enforcement of Islamic code has radicalised our society.

    Forgiveness, kindness, charity, self improvement has taken a back seat while we enforce selected laws with Un-Islamic fervour of vindictiveness, hypocrisy, bigotry and intolerance.

    Think about it.

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  18. Dear Oblangata Naim. After reading your article carefully, I have to say that I am convinced that you are a decent human being opinionated based on your knowledge, education and your worldview. You have every right to live your life the way you see fit. Hats off for your efforts to improve other humans and save them from supernatural spell.

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  19. Common , freedom and human rights doesn't mean to humiliate (islam) our religion . If you are your own god or whatever u say queen ,be it wait for the aftermath , Maldives will b and always be a 100% Muslim country and we don't accept gay . There's no rule it says drugs,sex,corruption is accepted in our society . By saying that u have agreed about ur level of degradation

    Good luck

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  20. Using drugs, been prostitute or even doing any other thing is also freedom. In an atheist world, it is animal Kingdom, do what thy desire. Morality is a culture or a religious nuisance. The survival of the fittest is the basis. Why not even kill those who you don't like. You are free, be a queen or homo. Death is ultimate, and there is no coming back. Enjoy, even be paedophile. Sorry

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  21. Abraham, congratulations on making the giant leap from the seventh century to the twenty first.....no need to seek approval or explain yourself.....you will be wasting your time.
    Because of segregation of the sexes, homosexuality is rampant in muslim countries yet Muslims deny the fact and brutally repress homosexuals.

    Stopover in New Delhi if you are ever this way.....you can buy short tight dresses, great makeup, wigs, fake jewellery and lashes, mehndi and skyscraper heels in men's sizes!!.....the boys are not bad either.

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  22. Wow. You have better guts than I would ever have. To leave your family and life for freedom takes an immense amount of courage.

    Most of these people commenting here have no clue how isolated and helpless you feel when your beliefs/etc compel the 99% of your country to kill you despite you having not harmed another living person.

    They are so "powerful" with their come back home and face justice speech. We all no how that will just get you a short string a a small drop.

    I am happy for you. I envy you. And good luck on everything in your life, having escaped the "morality" of Maldivians

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  23. No matter what you say or how deeply concerned you are with what goes on in the Maldivian society, you cant change the fact that The Islamic religion see homosexuality as a form of infidelity. Also you cant change the fact that you are a homo. Drag queen my ass.. and u portray to be something you're not. that's a LADY.
    god Im tired of this shit..ciao!

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  24. @MissIndia. You are very correct about fake stuffs . You are full of fake stuffs .

    Even if you hate so much about Islam, we don't care and you can not eradicate Islam from Maldives and neither you can force us to part for your Cow God.

    I suggest you to try to stop rapes happening among your cow worshiper before blaming muslims .

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  25. Miss India, most of your country is still stuck in 17th century. The men here stare at women as if they have never seen women before. And atleast most Maldivians have the freedom to marry whoever they want, most Indians have to marry whoever their parents want them to marry and hence do not have the freedom to choose their spouse... and yet you have some nerve talking about my country. You can talk about how terrible Maldives is when Indians have gotten rid of arranged marriage and the caste system and given young people the right to marry whoever they want without fear of intimidation and the threat of being assaulted.

    And just because you people give the right to people who want to cross dress it doesn't make you anymore civilized, especially when most of the cross dressers are beggars who grope people on the streets and harass them trying to intimidate people into giving them money. There are gangs of cross dressing men here who regularly come up to people and grab onto them and stop them from walking etc.

    Oh and it's not very civilized for people to piss on the streets, so don't worry about us being in the 17th century, you should first try to get your country past the stone age before worrying about us.

    And that's just a few things of the top of my head

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  26. This is propaganda by the westerners to promote their culture. They will try to spread fituna amongst us inorder to control the world and spread their influence. Imagine if westerners can not sell their products like music, technology,toiletries, food and their man-made belief with conflict such as making jesus a god and sirk. What condition they will be like. Just nothing to be proud and useless and cannot express their arrogance. I have an obsession against doing things what others do as a fashion and I am happy not to be a monkey or a donkey. I just don't like man-made culture and I trust in Allah only and mohamed is his messenger. This is a mind/fikury war by westerners as they don't want muslims to progress by the devine powers of science. They will always try to influense us by man-made theories and books which is no benefit for us.

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  27. Dear abraham & minivan news
    As we all knw ur purpose of posting this on the occassion of indepedence day. Independence doesnt ever mean to leave ur religion & start moving on being gay.
    U r happy being gay & openly saying it but let it be upto u or where u r & thts newzealand.
    Minivan news this is one great article on this occasion.

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  28. Naeem, you are much better than those Maldivian Wahabis fighting and killing in Syria and Iraq. We respect you, you are a true hero.

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  29. Hey minivannews, you know mvyouth? The guys who wrote an article on "how to stalk girls like the sicko you are"? They wrote an article claiming that mister Naim was promoting "homosex" in his letter.

    Thought you'd like to know.

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  30. If this is what you call freedom why not go and kill someone when because you have the freedom to do so. Keep in mind every action has a consequence. You may live like you please right now, but we all know whats waiting for u afterlife if u keep this up

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  31. I don't understand why anyone has to have a say about how he chooses to live his life, as long as he does you no harm. Let him be...he is happy. And for everyone who is concerned about what he has to deal with in the 'afterlife', you don't have to answer for it do you? Live and let live.

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  32. Live life the way it makes you happy
    Not bieng forced to believe in a religion in a corrupt nation and stuff
    Enjoy the freedom
    What you wrote is amazing

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  33. I am so touched by the fact that minivan posted this. Abraham Naim, you may not want to be an activist in maldives but your acting will touch people from where you are now! thank you for typing this, i just wanted to say that you have a lot of support in Maldives. They just are too scared to speak up, or even comment something on here. but i bet there are a lot of people that just got a little feeling of hope after reading this. "you are not alone, we are unstoppable" as another queen recently shouted on stage... Love to you abraham, even the ignorant ones will one day understand.

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  34. You can with seeing some of the remarks easily understand the warped, illusionary and narrow-minded way people think when isolated, easy prey for manipulation. Notice some of the same attitude on my last trip to Haiti, where you have many believers of Black Magic.

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  35. We have a constitution and its citizens must follow. This Gay rights are not even given majority of European countries.

    We have full freedom now unlike Nasheed and gayoom regime , today things are 1000 times better .

    This is idot freedom can not be exercise without happening our freedom. So individual freedom will come later than the clocetive freedom of many people.

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  36. 1. Even marginal issue can make a big headline in a small country

    2. Even a marginal news outlet can have a voice in a small country

    3. 99% percent of Maldivain would not have a concept of a drag queen, let alone seen one. Even normal liberal westerners do not see drag queens. But it seems this guy is quite a star

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  37. The most obvious fact is that this not "news" in the Maldives and nobody really cares except those who want to make a bid deal out of it in minivannews for their own obvious agenda.

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  38. Maldivian are far behind to understand and respect the value of individuals on the basis of his or her thought process. Partly it is not their fault, they have been conditioned to this way and without being exposed to the real world living in isolation for all their history, don’t you think it will not be easy to get along with multicultural and cosmopolitan way of life. What you expect from Amazon tribal people, and also it is basically violation of their rights and can be considered as a torture by messing up with their indigenous culture. Where is human rights to voice against those who abuse Maldivian society like Miss India insulting their social norms.

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  39. Maldives was ruled by queens centuries before female teachers in the West were even allowed to wear pants; if anything Maldivian society has regressed.

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  40. To "facts" - you say "that this not “news”! well DUH! it is a LETTER not an NEWS-ARTICLE. so - not an article. Minivan is the only forward-thinking newspaper in maldives right now. so let it be and move along since you just want to spread hate with no regards to REAL FACTS...

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  41. This drag queen is 'very Minivannews' so to speak.

    Would be nice to see his (/ shis) powdered face on Minivann banner.

    Good job.

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  42. We are Maldivians living peacefully here in these small islands.You can be whatever queen you wish. don't try to promote your ill and shameful sickness to our society. plz just don't try to disease us.You live your life with kings .Enjoy.

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  43. Sorry....but..what hate r u talking about.this is the kind of thinking and allegations that create hate and division.i merely pointed out to the obvious that the whole expose is only on minivannews to make a big deal out of something which is mostly ignored in Maldives....something gay activists HATE.

    There is a far important point being Overlooked by minivannews team in their strategies and agenda.....and that is the tming and sensitivities for articles like these.does it actually lead to the enlightenment of a society or feed into extremist propaganda....a very important question ...ignored by minivan news team and some MDP activists.
    It's really hurting moderates and progressives in Maldives.....and feeding into extremists world views.
    Many hot heads can say we should not backdown from such ventures just so as not to be seen helping extremist propaganda , we will never get the society to open up if we try and please the norms of society all the time.
    That is true...but when you keep pushing the traditional norms of a society All the time....without being careful about methodvand timing....the result is actually devastating in the long run.
    I mean consider the fact that this article is published In ramadhaan, near the eid, and during which anti Israeli feelings are at a high.
    Are u guys aware that the eid sermon today was about people who are trying to destroy the is maid creed....? Who do you think they mean.....how do you think the publics reaction and understanding will be affected by articles like these during these times.
    Do not be fooled by the positive comments that are posted here...they do not represent the vast majority of those who have seen this article.
    As a person who trusted and voted MDP...I find disheartening we have not learned from our mistakes of the past year.and it is costing us dearly ......
    Just my opinion...no hate intended for anyone.

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  44. Sorry..correction ...i meant to say the eid sermon was supposed to be about those who are trying " to destroy the Islamic creed."

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  45. @Another fact

    I dont think "the government hiring gangbangers, drug traffickers and paateys to crack down on people they hate and label as homosexuals" count as 'ignoring'.

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  46. Hero with his Dhinglish.This is a real funny guy,just like his Idol Omar bin Abdul Naseer and musailamathul Kazzab bin Imran.Kaloa dhivehin liyan ulhey kaloa ah ranglhah ingireysi neygen naamun.At leat miss india uses good grammer

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  47. Well done naim! For standing your ground! Amazed and in awe of your courage !

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  48. Naim honey, you should stand for President of Maldives.....I am sure you will make a better president than some of the old queens and cross dressers in the present government.

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