Letter on democratic culture

For democracy to prevail over the ominous threat of the return of tyranny to the Maldives, it is imperative that enough politicians and Maldivian people take seriously this notion that democracy really does start from the heart through the cultivation of what one may call a democratic ‘culture.’

Etymologically, culture simply means something which has been cultivated.

Structural approaches to democratisation which have not vigorously attempted to cultivate an attitude of tolerance, compromise, willingness to listen and work for the people, have failed.

In the seventies and eighties, the US Government supported right wing dictators all over the world preparing these nations for “liberal democracy.” (Commonly termed the top down democratisation approach.)

The dictators main job was to secure the economic interests of the rich and control the poor with both religion and brutality until the poor were rich enough to be trusted with freedom.

However, wealth did not always trickle down the way it was supposed to. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Dictators did not simply step down once an economy was ‘ready’.

Amartya Sen’s idea of bottom up democratisation, seemed to have more success, as so many struggled and suffered at a grassroots level to bring down dictators through activism. Many freedoms were won. Yet can they be maintained without the cultivation of a democratic culture?

Some would suggest that once people are economically developed and free, a democratic culture would emerge naturally.

Karl Marx, offering an inversion of Ludwig Feurbach’s application of the Hegelian thesis on Consciousness, said that consciousness does not determine one’s economic well being and life, but that ones economic situation determines ones consciousness. This seemed to be taken for granted in much of this bottom up democratisation theory. It was thought that if people were poor, they could not be reasonable, and if they had wealth, they could be reasonable and moral.

So, instead of teaching people to be reasonable in the voting arena or anywhere else, if you helped them become economically self determining and independent, then reason and moral consciousness would be created as a natural response to the economic development. Therefore, you don’t have to teach people critical thinking and morality, it grows by itself with economic self realization.

At least, that was the theory.

However, many radical Islamists who push for Jihad are educated and wealthy. Education and wealth does not often stop those inclined to support gangsters from supporting gangsters. It just makes them support the gangsters with wealth and more power.

For corruption and tyranny to be eradicated, people’s hearts need to be changed, and, only a combination of suffering and compassion, can teach people compassion, reason and a sense of true humanitarian moral justice.

I am advocating old fashioned ideological determinism, but something more, that nothing can change, unless the heart is changed, and the heart can be only changed through self sacrificial love.

Perhaps the first change that needs to take place is that the hegemonic super-structural cultural capital of a Maldivian society (I am using the word hegemony in Gramsci ‘s sense rather than the conventional sense meaning ‘power’) needs to promote compassion and tolerance rather than prejudice. That’s right; I am talking about your Islam.

As Islam is the heart centre of Maldives’ cultural capital, it is imperative that a tolerant, compassionate form of Islam is promoted.

Religious identity is at the centre of a person’s subconscious being. What one believes about the ultimate nature of the universe will determine their attitudes in all other areas. If ones ontological foundation is an intolerant, unreasonable deity, such will not be able to be politically open minded enough to be able to have and sustain a democracy.

Other factors are also involved. One needs to be disciplined enough to overcome personal hatreds. One issue which makes politics difficult in Maldives is that things so very easily become personal seems Maldives is such a smal society. This needs to be overcome.

If Maldivians are serious about democracy, and in fact in harmonious existence altogether, respect for diversity and tolerance has to be promoted vigorously before it is too late!

Kindest Regards

Ben Plewright

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write a letter piece, please submit it to [email protected]


11 thoughts on “Letter on democratic culture”

  1. Ben, thanx a lot for highlighting a concern and issue that we must talk about and do something without any delay.

    Do u know we have 2 types of school here, Islamic and other....i don't really know other schools belong to which category....
    for example, Institute of Islamic Studies is an Islamic school and Majeedhiyya & Ameeniyya and rest of the schools, i really don't know whether Islamic or not.

    So, I have already recommended to Dr Nazeer on the type of school that Maldivians are looking for.

    I have noticed our schools must recognize that Spiritual and Character education is as equally important as Intellectual education.

    Our schools adopt the IGCSE Curriculum and that's fine. But I doubt very much if our schools enhance students' spirituality through wonders of the natural phenomena, congregational prayers, Quran studies, halaqah (study circle) and observe Islamic adhab.....i think this is what we all lack and that Politicians, both dirty and clean taking maximum advantage at times of elections. So, my dear brother, u imagine what a Democratic Culture such a society could enjoy!!!!!

  2. Democracy cannot survive in the absence of economic freedom. There cannot exist political freedom without economic freedom. This is why democracy never survived after the Bolshevik revolution or any revolution that did not protect economic freedom.

    The US not only propped up right wing dictators in 70s and 80s, they still do it now. This is seen as a form of colonialism by the jihadists. They mix up anti-globalisation, anti-caplitalism, anti-american, anti-western groupthink with religious calls for jihad (striving) to bring about violence.

    They are no better than the dictators they claim to replace, as for sure, they would grant no human freedom if they are given power. Yet they claim to follow the 'true' islam as defined by them. By their own definition, they are the purest in heart.

    What they fail to realise is that Islam (that i know of) is very much a protector of human rights, which has more in common with modern western notion of human rights (not all of them though). They also fail to realise that private property and mutual exchange lies at the heart of islamic society, yet they are anti-capitalism.

    Given that humans are deficient in all these and hence corruptible and tyrannical, what ever social system
    must incorporate that human nature. Any system that gives overly high powers to selected people (be that king or democratic majority) will be detrimental to the very idea of human freedom.

  3. @Saeed, thankyou for your information, and thankyou for being Gracious and Merciful enough to be kind towards a simple Faqir (beggar before Allah) such as myself. I am humbled by your benevolence and wish all Muslims were like yourself.

    Traditional Maldivian Islam which I saw was very tolerant, but intolerant forms of Islam are coming in and have to be removed.

    Islam promotes human rights, tolerance, respect for diversity, willingness to compromise. It concentrates on the cultivation of the Galb, the heart. If your Ministers from the Majlis were open hearted, they would be willing to compromise and discuss differences and work out a synthesis of ideas so that all ppl's needs are met without going to what is close to a civil war. It is very tragic when beautiful, innocent civillians hurt themselves fighting for their favourite parliamentarians because your parliamentarians, on both sides of the spectrum of blue and yellow, can't figure out their differences in a civil manner (through dialogue.)

    @meekaku: Thankyou, you also are too kind. I am a bit shy because out of frustration at what I have seen I have said all sorts of insulting things on this site about Maldivians being power hungry and narcisisstic, and then you guys come along and act all nice and I am all deeply ashamed of myself and afraid to talk out of guilt! I realize after all that 90 percent of Maldivians are actually very kind and beautiful, but I jump to vicious conclusions based on a few bad experiences, for that I am sorry!
    Milton Friedman highlighted that economic feedom leads to human rights and other freedoms, Amartya Sen highlighted that freedom leads to economic wealth. Well, we can see this, as money and information flows into Maldives, people are becoming very cosmmopolitan! I see no 'typical' Maldivians but a plurality (not that there ever was a typical Maldivian perhaps).

    But still, good values need to be installed.


    Jazakallah Khair

  4. There will never be a society in time or space which does not need good values to be installed into it forever.

  5. This is the best I have read from Ben Plewright. It is so good because now he seems to know what he is talking about.

  6. Ben, hats off to you! If this were a speech it would be one that commands a standing ovation!

    It's so refreshing that a non-Maldivian can digest and disseminate the dilemmas of the Maldivian collective consciousness without the need to indulge in colonialist discourse. Look at our Maldivian journalists regularly regurgitating narratives similar to that of S. P. Huntington.

    This is spot-on. You've dissected us succinctly, and I hope there's more where that came from.

  7. @Michael: Thanks. I read one of your comments somewhere here on minivannews stating you were in self-imposed exile. I wish these situations did not need to exist.

  8. @Abrahamsen: thankyou so kindly.

    There are Maldivians I love. These are my own kids and wife, and her brothers etc... My Son, he looks like me, but many of his characteristics are his Mothers family. He is really sensitive and intelligent, you know, he is really soulful and deep. I don't want him, nor my daughter, to be oppressed by the kind of anxieties created by the social fears which tear some Maldivians apart. I hate to see the pain of anxiety which I see in those senitive souls.

    Intelligent Maldivians will naturally want to question Islam or adapt their own Sufi like or personalized understandings of the religion in the same way intelligent Christians in the West may question their parents religion at a certain age, reject it or develop some sort of personal understanding of it.

    I see a plurality in Maldivian society, yet one which it seems dangerous to adknowledge publically.

    Whilst I feel that the generally peaceful Maldivian Islam of the past is something beautiful, it enrages me to see people struggling, dying within for fear of pursuing their hearts questionings.

    I am angry at the pain of anxiety I see.

    Most Maldivians struggling with this can't just move abroad to escape because most can't afford it. There are sadly problems in the West as well. Sometimes, sadly, Maldivians will experience racism and other issues, as the Western world (often) does not see the struggle within Islam itself, they just see Muslims as terrorists sometimes.

    Anyway, if I had it my way, any Maldivian, or anyone struggling with fear or threat of physical and or emotional persecution because of their opinion or mind should be welcomed into my nation which is Australia. sadly, I have no power to make this a reality but I fight for it.

    I HATE the fear and anxiety I see in your most intelligent folk, which as I see it, is often responded to through anger, depression, or power hunger.

  9. oh by the way, i need to explain that the general Maldivian I know strikes me as very warm and kind, but on sites like minivan we tend to make broad generalisations because we read about corruption and crime and it is natural to make generalisations about a ppl reading about the sensationalist elements! Natural, but wrong. I may start a blog post on a different beautiful Maldivian person every week, from a typically stupid, naive Faranji who is madly, head over heels in love with this romanticised, idyllic, idealised Maldives in a completely naive, childlike, utopian and idiotically Western manner! Social frustration has started an almost anti-Maldivian sub-culture amongst some Maldivians and I now realise I had been wrong to buy into this anti-Maldivian Maldivian sub-culture no matter what!

  10. For some crazy reason I thought I would correct a part of this letter which I wanted to correct the second I submitted it. Where it says, "Karl Marx, offering an inversion of Ludwig Feurbach’s application of the Hegelian thesis on Consciousness..." It should say... "Karl Marx, offering an application of Ludwig Feurbach’s inversion of the Hegelian thesis on Consciousness..."

    Feuerbach inverted the Hegelian concept of man realizing himself as God (as one philosopher described it... not quite pantheism but panatheism..." in stating that our experience of God was the proejected personification of a King, or as had later been said, the projection of the 'collective conscioussness,' and Marx APPLIED that inversion... I knew that since I was a teenager, but I mixed it up here through sloppiness... Too late now... Well, just in case I had misrepresented Feurbach, or Marx, I have now corrected myself after all this time...


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