Former Police Intelligence Chief Mohamed Hameed has expressed concern that a recent outbreak of graffiti, in which dozens of homes and public buildings have been spray-painted ‘laadheenee’ (‘irreligious’), could trigger hate crimes in the capital.
Hameed said the “highly provocative act” required precautionary action from the police.
“The ‘laadheenee’ graffiti on many walls in Male’ is a serious issue, possibly leading to hate crimes. This has come up at a time when politicians are often speaking of religion, and [former President] Gayoom has himself just recently said that there are two ideologies in the country: religious and anti-religious,” Hameed stated, referring to a recent speech by the autocratic leader of 30 years.
“The graffiti came up shortly after that, and is mostly in yellow paint. It can be said it is targeting a specific group of people. This can lead to retaliatory acts from the target groups,” Hameed contended.
“With the looming elections, this might be an act deliberately orchestrated by a particular group of people to attempt to create chaos and delay elections, saying the country does not have a conducive environment in which a free and fair election can be carried out,” he said.
“It seems like the graffiti was put up late at night. Now, since there are no shops or cafe’s open 24/7, there are only a minimal amount of people out late. The police are out patrolling the streets at all hours so it should not be too much of a task for them to find out who is responsible for this. I think they probably already have an idea. I believe it’s very important the police investigate this matter and take precautionary measures,” Hameed stated.
The graffiti has since been altered to form a variety of other phrases ranging from “MullahDheen” (‘Mullah religion’) to “BinLaadheenTha?” (‘Is it Bin Laden?’).
“Political activism doesn’t strip me of religion”
Minivan News spoke to people living in some of the houses who woke up to see the label “Laadheenee” scrawled over their walls.
“We are not a high profile family, and usually just stay to ourselves, so I was very surprised to see this derogatory word on our wall. Perhaps it is because one of my sisters is very active in the anti-coup protests,” said the eldest son of one such house.
“None of us, even my sister, is intimidated by this. Why can’t people with opposing political views be like us? That’s what my Dad said too. We don’t run around vandalising the property of those sheikhs who preach hate, or their followers.”
A small street in Maafannu ward had the graffiti on a quarter of the houses along it.
“This street definitely has a lot of people living on it who support the MDP, but that doesn’t make us anti-religious in any sense,” said one resident, a 53 year-old housewife. “Political activism doesn’t strip me of my religion. This just displays their lack of maturity and political ineptitude.”
Another resident, a 24 year-old man, called the act ‘childish’, adding, “Seeing the graffiti, it was mostly anger I felt. This is obviously politically motivated. What right do they have to go around damaging the property of people they do not know at all?”
A 38 year-old man who lives alone in a house in Henveiru said he felt the graffiti was the start of something “larger and more menacing.”
“It’s like they have marked down the houses of people they mean to attack. The saddest thing is, although the word refers to religion, I doubt their intentions are anything but political. I hope the police look into this and ensure that none of us come to physical harm.”
“‘Laadheeneee’ is an old song, no one’s interested”: MDP MP
MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described the painting of the graffiti as “a desperate political move” and “an old song that people simply are no longer interested in listening to.”
“All this talk of religion and being anti-religious is a politically-motivated ploy used by a handful of politicians who have nothing else to come to the public with. They have no pledges, no manifesto, no policies: and because they have nothing to speak of, they resort to labelling those who do with derogatory terms,” Fahmy said.
“This particular instance is a crime according to both international law and the local law; I refer to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the Religious Unity Act respectively. Because of the state our law enforcement system is in at the moment, we see no action being taken against crimes like this,” Fahmy said.
“It is this failure to act that led to the February 7 coup d’etat. The sad thing is that both the law enforcement forces and the judiciary are not working to deal with serious matters like this,” he continued.
“Religion does not belong to any man. It is between God and oneself. There is no justification for abusing religion in the competitiveness of politics,” he said.
Police Media Official Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press.
Religion and politics
During an address given in Denmark, former President and MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed stated that the Maldivian people had largely rejected Islamic extremism, and, in a veiled reference to the Adhaalath Party – the only local political party which claims to be based on a religious ideology – noted that “the Islamists were never a credible electoral threat.”
“The Islamic extremists also didn’t like the Maldives’ new democracy because they were unpopular. They failed to win the presidential elections in 2008, they failed to win local government elections – in 2011 they won less than four percent of the vote. But now, after the coup, extremists have been rewarded with three cabinet positions in government, and in many ways set the tone of the government communications. They are busy trying to indoctrinate people with a misguided version of Islam,” Nasheed said.
“There is idea of wanting to return to Hejaz as it was in the 7th century. This is Wahhabism in principle. And it is difficult and worrying,” he had said at the time.
The religion based political party condemned Nasheed’s comments, alleging that “Nasheed misled them about the party he fears and envies most: the Adhaalath Party.”
The next night, the National Movement – comprising of Adhaalath Party and a number of NGOs – organised a several hundred strong march around Male’ calling on authorities to penalise Nasheed, with some calling for him to be hanged. They alleged that Nasheed had mocked Islam, the Sunnah of the Prophet and verses of the Quran.
Meanwhile, the MDP has released a statement condemning the use of “irresponsible and misleading” political rhetoric against Nasheed over his remarks on Islamic radicalism.
The party said “misleading” statements were made in the media by political parties and “those wearing the hats of sheikhs to use religion as a weapon.”