Taliban in paradise – what awaits these virgin islands?

The first war of the twenty first century, US President George W Bush said after 11 September 2001, will be “a new kind of war”. It will be “a conflict without battlefields or beachheads”.

Well, almost 10 years on, we can see he was a bit off the mark with the battlefields – Afghanistan is one, Iraq another, Iran is a strong possibility, Yemen cannot be ruled out entirely. Some of us foresaw the prospects for disaster in many a decision made by President Bush before he blundered, swaggered or smirked his way into them. But I bet no one foresaw that he could also be wrong about the beachheads.

There could yet be many a beachhead in the ‘War on Terror’. Hundreds of them. Around nice pristine Maldivian beaches. The Taliban were “smoked out” of the caves in Afghanistan – will they be fished out of our waters, or simply blasted out? And at what cost to our lives? In Afghanistan the civilian death toll was over 2000 in 2008 alone… what fate awaits us?

Safety first

“Taliban feels that the safest place in the world for them right now is the Maldives”. Less than a decade after the world’s strongest military power declares war on not just the ‘terrorists’ – but also on those who “harbour them, feed them, house them, encourage them, and comfort them” – the Maldives offers them a peaceful retreat. With no military power to speak of, being of little or no geo-strategic consequence, not quite the most sophisticated of movers in global realpolitik – we go ahead and provide the Taliban a beautiful sanctuary where they can sit and plan their next move, with nothing to fear except perhaps a wayward coconut.

The government response to the discovery of the Maldives’ novel status as the Taliban’s new BFFL (best friend for life) is to tell us it is a compliment. A compliment, dear citizens. Pluralism personified, the New Maldives – a Taliban sanctuary, where religious extremists are a protected species. Follow the government line of thinking on this, people and you begin to see the advantages. Given the burgeoning numbers of people following their brand of Islam, we might not have to hang up our tourism hat just yet. There is an untapped market with huge potential out there. Think of the ads – “Tired of being vilified? Find unconditional adulation in the Maldives”; “Sick of being loathed? Come and feel the warmth of the Maldivian embrace”. “Sun, sea and blind faith”; “Maldives – no bad news, no bombs”.

Countering terror

A week later, and the same government is about to formalise a counter-terrorism agreement with India. The same government spokesperson that told us to be flattered by Taliban’s friendship, tells us that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be signed with India is “very important because it gives notice that the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations here.”

I beg to differ. The MoU is to be welcomed, if there is anything the Maldives can do to help shore up the security of the exemplary democracy that is India, we should to it. But, the agreement does not in anyway signal to us Maldivians that “the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations”.

How can that be, when the government is positively preening from the Taliban’s exclusive attentions; and continues to form subversive and inexplicable alliances with political parties and dubious NGOs who are making Maldivians look, speak, behave, eat, have sex, punish and procreate according to the teachings of the Taliban?

What the MoU, coming as it does on foot of the government’s warm embrace of the Taliban, signals to us is that this government does not have a cogent or coherent national security policy. It is being formed on ad hoc basis, according to whatever political interests that needs to be served at a given time. We can sign hundreds of agreements, treaties and conventions. On paper, it makes the Maldives look good. But for the people who are living this enforced politicization of their religious beliefs, and being told to see this sea-change in Maldivian culture and identity as ‘pluralism’, it signals impending disaster, and a government that is unable to see the threat from within.

The Maldivian government was unaware of the Taliban hosting secret talks on our islands or was unable to detect their presence in the country because it can no longer tell the difference between a Maldivian and an Afghan, or any other follower of the Wahhabbi sect for that matter. We cannot tell who is Ibrahim Maniku and who is Abdul-Ibrahim bin Abu Muharram, or whatever other name we are now apparently required to have in order to be Muslims.

While the government was busy allying itself with religious parties for political gains and shoring up sandbags to ward off sea-level rise, we have all been turned into sheep in Muslim clothing, following blindly those who have assumed leading roles in remote islands through their preaching and their sermons, filling a leadership vacuum left by the appointment of so-called councilors as a reward for faithful campaigning regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

One of the biggest questions asked of the disastrous last government was how and why heroin was allowed to permeate the very core of Maldivian society. How could the authorities not stop the destructive drug being smuggled into this small island nation? Well, Wahhabism is the new heroin. It has got our youth addicted, it has robbed them of their identity and it has taken possession of them to the exclusion of all else. Why is this government allowing this to happen? No amount of posturing on the international stage, or pieces of paper signed promising our co-operation in the ‘War on Terror’ is going to be sufficient to protect Maldivians themselves from being sucked into this ‘endless war’ that has already claimed so many lives in every corner of the world.

Anti-terror agreements signed with one hand while holding the door open for the Taliban with the other are going to be ineffective, otiose. What will a Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign ally, however well-intentioned, do for our own protection when we have yet to understand that the biggest threat we face is within?

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


17 thoughts on “Taliban in paradise – what awaits these virgin islands?”

  1. Munirah Moosa don't be blind, such a drug cannot be forcefully stopped. An ideology transcends borders.

    In my point of view peace talks should be welcomed and encouraged. Maldives should and welcome hosting peace talks be it between Taliban and Afgan government.

    I fail to see the sense in the gist of your article except for personal rhetoric.

    I loved the game Beach head.
    Beach Head live coming soon.

  2. When you first wrote a piece on Munivan news I was quite impressed. But this piece goes on and on about what others have been saying as well with no added value, given your educational background. Yes many of us are deeply concerned about our youngster being pulled into terrorist activities, our women being used in the name of Islam, our children not given the chance to enjoy childhood ..... Your piece would have been again impressive had you bothered to offer some solutions, pointed a way out instead of just criticism.

  3. I do not see any facts given other then writers own personal opinion on this. Maldives government is being pretty neutral on all fronts and well in liberal sense is that not what is called diplomacy. Or do you believe that diplomacy only applies towards those who agree to your view. I might have another view, but in no way should a government just take my personal belief or another and go with it.

    They can consider it, discuss about it and come to their own conclusion. Then there is the elections, that is where people get to express their opinion on the government based on their own opinion. Current government is the best that we have at the moment, but maybe next might come a better one. Only Allah (swt) knows what we know not.

    It seems before the country is even ruled by an Islamic government, few individuals are scared because they see a growth in support for religion in the country. Without actually asking around why or considering that others have the right to their own view, these individuals start scaring others as the US and UK tries to do with their own population.

    When we won the elections, we expected the previous government and others to accept it as the majority vote, which many even if they did not like it have. So credit should be given where it is necessary. Ofcourse as there is now against the thought of having a religious majority in the Maldives, soon after the last election there was still loads of propaganda by some opposition parties against MDP simply out of greed for power. I have come to this conclusion by seeing their actions and words before the elections, after the elections and now. Its ever changing and very contrasting depending on their positions at the time.

    I do not see religious people asking the government to clamp down on the liberals. All they have been saying is to let them practice their religion without interference. However secularist start to attack them verbally in trying to scare the population with phrases like "Maldives might be the next Afghanistan" and without facts, pressuring government to act on a few secular and pro-western lobbyist view against growing number of people turning to Islam fully.

    Also reminds me of how the current opposition attacked the government before the election stating that MDP will bring in Christianity into the country. Eventhough some individuals have lobbied for this in the government, most I believe are very much against this due to pressure from within their own families. No one wants to go back home to an unhappy family ey.

    With all respects to the writer, but I do not know where the writer got the idea
    that Afghanistan has been wiped out of the Taliban. If we listened to the news recently, the US and UK has come to the conclusion verbally that they cannot defeat the Taliban, so what do they turn to? They are now discussing on the possibility of buying (bribing) the Taliban off to lay down their weapons. Interesting how this is so. They hated the Taliban to the bone just as many secular Muslims do and talk bad against them. But yet the leaders of these democratic movement has realized after 7 years of failure, that they are losing just as the Russians did. Why? because unlike secularist, the religious ones are patient through hardship since just as they won against the Russians, they know that they have time on their hands. What does the West have? - elections where their citizens are wanting for answers and a deadline to bring their dying children back home. The longer it takes, the more likely that party will not win the next election. Ironic how democracy works to defeat itself at times, even though it has a few good points to it.

    I have to agree with current government strategy in communicating and having healthy debates with conservative Muslims in order to clear misunderstandings about religion. I might not agree with all the decisions taken by the Government, but again I can only express my opinion. It is the responsibility of the Government to decide in a righteous manner which is fair for all. But they should not listen to either sides propaganda and scare tactics.

    Do we not let Americans visit our country or even Israeli citizens? Are they not involved in an illegal war? If so, why not arrest them. This is just some examples of accusations that the other side can give and is logical by International Law. However we do not see these type or rhetoric from the conservatives towards the Government because they express their views, but do not pressure the government to go against anyone. If they did pressure the government on anything, it would be been according to Islamic Shariah (which Im sure we all could take some time researching before screaming that it is a lie, etc.)

    To me, I personally respect the Muslims that even though they are not good Muslims and they admit this, and they do not try to scare people against Islam. I know of few people like this who are very nice individuals personally. Just because they are not religious, they are not the type that talks against those who try to practice their religion to the fullest. They have good knowledge about Islam, but on their own decision they have not embraced it fully. Ofcourse it saddens me, but it is not my place to force them just as it is not his place to stop me from practicing my religion. Honesty which is a fine character in them.

  4. Muad, You say you don't see conservatives clamping down on liberals - but the fact is that they are. Jamiyathul Salaf's gathering, their programs - its a demonstration of power. That they are a force to be reckoned with. And them, along with elements of the Islamic Ministry is fighting liberalism. This summer I brought an Imam - Salih Yucel - who has been an Imam for over 35 years. Who has preached in the US, Turkey and Australia. Who is a Professor and a clear authority on Islam. After his first sermon at Islamii Markaz, the Ministry cancelled the rest of his sermons. TVM was too scared to air him - and after spending a couple days in Male' - going around to different mosques and meeting with members of the community, he started to fear for his saftey. We had to cancel our trips to Kulhudhuffushi, Hanimaadhoo, Fuvamulah, and Addu because he didnt feel safe traveling around the country anymore. He told me of the conversations he had, the prejudice he had seen - though not necessarily directed at him, and he was under the impression that Maldives was just not ready for MODERATE Islamic ideologies. Is this what you call turning to Islam fully?!

    These conservative elements are going to destroy our society and our country. Its a shame that you are promoting and reinforcing their views. And it is a greater shame that you're using Sandhaanu to do it in such a blatant fashion. Along with the articles and new section on conservative Islam, let me use one of the "article polls" as an example:

    -Your Poll:
    --Should Death Penalty be given to murderers, torturers and those that have multiple records of attacking people with knives & cutters?

    -With the choices:
    -- No to death penalties.
    -- Maybe after a parliament debate.
    -- Yes, to make Maldives peacefull again.

    Don't you see how incredibly bias this is?! It breaks every single rule that guides the conduct of polling.

    Muad, you are at least tolerant of those Muslims whom you see as less faithful than you. Unfortunately most conservatives are not even that. I'm perfectly fine with people having their own sense of view - but if the view is restrictive, then the imposition of that view on to others is not acceptable to me, and akin to tyranny.

    Munirah, I admire the spirit of your article, but I wish you used your real name/identity when writing.

    With this recent incident, yes a lot of us were a little scared when we saw the headline that the Taliban considered the Maldives a haven, however - these are not people that are currently classified as terrorists. What we had in Maldives was a meeting between members of Karzai's government and representatives of the Taliban. The Taliban controls a third of Afghanistan, and their only hope for peace is in talks. Everyone of the people who came to Maldives was cleared by the US military/State Department for travel.

    On the other hand, your point is still valid because the fact that they feel as though the Maldives a safe haven is extremely disturbing in itself.

    As for criticism that you are only drawing attention to the problem without solutions, I see no problem with that. People don't understand how bad the situation really is. If we allowed the Holiday Inn to have a liquor licence tomorrow - with strict restrictions and monitoring - I believe that we will have not only riots, but also arson attacks in the name of Islam. This is how bad the situation is.

    The conservatives are exacerbating the latent tensions in our society towards their own purposes. Some are convinced by their argument and ideology of intolerance, and defend them to a fault. And the rest of us are being led like sheep to the slaughter.

  5. Salim, you have a duty to return to Maldives and help create this liberal brand of islam. nobody else will do it. bring more Tucels to maldives - just take them straight to TVM next time and bypass adhaalath. at moment we only have the conservatives preaching and no other point of view. you can help change that. really dont see anyone else prepared to do it... they are too scared

  6. Hi Munirah... When George W. Bush referred to “a conflict without battlefields or beachheads”, he ought to have added “or identifiable enemies”. The problem with the War on Terror is that those who prosecute it (and perhaps I as well) are too scared to identify the enemy whose true identity we all know- and it is not the Taliban or even Wahhabism. It is not just the Maldives that is harbouring this enemy; every echelon of the US Government does too, including the Pentagon. Elements of the enemy are even invited to offer advice to the US defence and security services on how to prosecute the War on Terror. In a World War II context this is like letting the SS in on the planning for the D-Day landing. Until we name and shame the real enemy, the conflict will not abate. Another excellent article and great sense of humour, Munirah! (P.S: I like that name Abdul-Ibrahim bin Abu Muharram. Would have been great if I had thought of that one when I keyed in my article on the “Maldives Name Nazis”)

  7. Dear Salim Waheed,
    I didn't knew that you brought Salih Yucel.People like you should be ashamed of your self not Muad.You are selling your religion and your country just to impress the western governments.
    I read the interview given by Salih Yucel who said that religious freedom should be given in the Maldives.No one will doubt that bringing other religions will disunite and open doors to bloodshed.Even now (democracy )political rivalry had created more violence and disunity among us than ever recorded in history. Brothers and sisters think for a while Saudi Arabia and Maldives are the only two countries in the world without churches and temples.This is a great blessing of ALLAH(SWA).PEOPLE LIKE SALIM WAHEEED ARE TRAITORS WHO HAVE BETRAYED OUR RELIGION AND OUR COUNTRY.THEY ARE SUPPORTED BY WESTERN HYPOCRITES WHO ARE MAKING USE OF THE OPPORTUNITY TO DISUNITE OUR ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD AND CORRUPT OUR ISLAMIC BELIEF.

  8. The comments for this article summarises how devisive and extreme the two ends of the religious debate is.

    I think retaining the good value system of Islam is the way to go but I disagree that should be imporsed by law. No human being or soceity should have the right to restrict other fellow human being's freedom beyond what is strictly asked for by Islam. I'm no mullah but I know doing so will have to be one of the biggest sins in Islam. However, in Maldives we are seeing lots of restrictions and impositions being placed in the name of protecting the religion. We did not see the same happen at the time of the prophet when things are many many times tougher than the situation now.

    Was there non-muslims under our prophet's rule? Was there places of worship for other religions under our prophet? So what right do you have to say no under your own rule?

    As I said before, I support spreading the great way of life of islam but it should be managed under islamic affairs. Not imposed under law.

  9. Rilwan,

    So, I'm not supported by "Western Hypocrites." I'm supported by my parents, the Vice President and Second Lady of our country.

    I am no traitor. I have traveled around our country and seen the effects of conservatism first hand. Do you know how many islands have disallowed bodhuberu even? People like you are taken in and brainwashed. Convinced to support terrorist groups like the Taliban. Do you honestly think their War is supported by God?! How lost you are in this world. How lost so many of our people are.

    You claim that democracy is abhorrent, that it is against our interests as a nation. This is not okay. Democracy is our only hope that we can be free of dictatorships and tyranny. That no more of our blood will be split for corruption, power, and greed. And we're not there yet, but at least we've taken the first step. For you to attack it is to invite violence.

    I am only saying that we should have plurality - in politics and in social development. You are advocating hate. Espousing repression.

    This government will never support other religions to come here- but yes, I am tolerant of them. I am confident in my faith, and I am always willing to befriend those of other faiths as well as those who are more conservative than I am in Islam.

    You say that I am a Traitor for advocating peace, tolerance, and freedom from repression. That my parents are hypocrites for supporting me? Well then, why don't you go demonstrate outside of Hilaalige, and show your ignorance. I'm sure there are plenty of sheep who'll join you.


  10. @rilwan..

    I carry a Maldivian passport, and I am not Muslim, so the Maldives is already not a 100% muslim country. Peace be upon you.

  11. Salams again, thanks for the input brother Salim. Your criticism is most welcomes eventhough it is negative. If any religious leader calls himself a moderate, I do not support them because there is no such thing as a moderate Islam other then one promoted by a US think tank NGO called RAND. Pls look up on it and thanks for any time spent on this in advance. When a scholar is freely able to go to western countries without much restrictions, there is a question to be asked there.

    Just as the Friday 13th demonstration in Maldives were at its peak, I heard some Imams come out and ask us to go back home peacefully because as they claimed at the time - demonstrating was not the way of Islam. It was a clear example of when an Imam is sponsored by a state which allows him to work as long as he confirms with the state's interpretation of Islam. If he did not support the state, he would be out of a job. Just as the judge who sentenced my Dad said to us, he had a family to feed. Which was actually true if you look at it in worldly sense. But if his Iman in Allah (swt) was strong, he would not be scared of any state, person, prison, etc because his faith is in his Creator. His concern would be the punishment of Allah (swt) for his actions or words. This is what makes a believer so admirable. Same with the Imam who gave a false calling to not demonstrate and the judge. If anyone does good, I try my best to give credit where in my opinion it deserves (Insha Allah).

  12. @MuazMD: The title does say 'comment and opinion'.

    @Salim: Good job with that doctor. I say bring more of em. Re your comment on Munirah's alias. Do you blame her? If she reveals her real name then she'll get the usual death threats and her family will be ostracized. She is the Bat-person to your Harvey Dent ;0

    @Riluwan: We don't need 'christians' to come and shed our blood. Our fellow citizens routinely shed each others blood every night in Male. I have a feeling you are just jealous of Salim's goatee.

    @Munirah: Save yourself and sign up to Adhaalath. They will then send you to heaven where they'll provide you with fountains of wine that don't give you a hangover, tight bottomed boys whom serve you the alcohol, and eighty eight(?) maidens whom you can do whatever you want with.

  13. can someone please put salim in charge of islamic ministry. i don't want other religions in maldives but i like his message of peace, love, respect and equality. that is the real power and beauty of islam

  14. great insight and humor. i used to think, at somepoint, that such analysis and opinions are too harsh and overly done. But having seen much since, its a thing to fear here in Maldives. there is a great days of darkness and tyranny to come if the current status-quo continues.

    i donot understand why the need for an enemy is so strong in people like Muad or Rilwan. why the "Us-against-THEM" mentality. what is this fascination with west or East? black and white? little humans aren't we?

  15. A bit critical of an ideological US president.. hehe

    I think u've taken his statement out of context. He was referring to von Clausewitzs' perception on war. The essence of war has changed and at the forefront of this paradigm shift lies the so-called 'war on terror'. If Carl saw the current state of war-mongering, he'd have a heart attack!

  16. Wading into the debate:


    I agree with you that peace talks should be welcomed and encouraged. I do not agree with the policy of ‘absolutely no negotiations with ‘terrorists’’. Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement would have been impossible had the British and Irish governments held onto that policy at all costs.

    However, there is a difference between the Maldivian government acting as an honest broker in peace talks BETWEEN the Taliban and other actors; and being unknowingly thrust into the role of ‘hostess with the mostest’ for talks held among a group of people following an agenda the Maldivian government was entirely ignorant of, let alone one they had given official clearance to.

    @Muad MZ, the above is relevant to the point you raised. Diplomacy should, of course, be a route open to all actors on the international stage in need of meditation. I do not understand your use of the word ‘diplomacy’ in this context, though. From my understanding of International Relations, ‘diplomacy’ has come to mean ‘a mediation of MUTUAL estrangements BETWEEN states’ (Der Darian 1987: 110).

    Given that (1) the talks among members of the Taliban are not talks between states; and (2) the Maldivian government was not a mediator in these talks – I fail to see why you have chosen to take my criticism of the Taliban holding what is said to be peace talks in the Maldives as amounting to a supposed disregard for the right to diplomacy for anyone.

    @ Aishath – I am sorry you feel let down by the lack of policy suggestions in my article. I am not a positivist and take a post-structuralist approach to criticism and critique. I do not believe that every criticism needs to be presented with a set of accompanying policy suggestions or solutions – if my criticism enables the process of freeing up space for dialogue and deliberation, that is an achievement in itself. If policymakers become the ultimate end-users of the dialogue thus facilitated, it would be a welcome bonus. I do take your point on board, though, and will bear it in mind in the future.

    @ Stewie – the need to create an imagined ‘Us v Them’ goes to the very heart of our current identity crisis. Those who engage in this type of thinking most fervently, as you have noted, are those who are trying most desperately to forge a new identity for Maldivians. This new identity can only be constructed through difference, therefore, their continued reliance on the ‘Other’. Without holding the ‘Other’ in direct opposition this new ‘Us’ cannot exist – hence the continuous carping about Us v Them.

  17. wow ..by the responses that i saw..i feel that as predicted a Muslim country will support Islamist..and u guys prove me right..i think we in India will have to send a war ship eventually to clear the talibans or else americans will carpet bomb the whole coutry.. Sane voices in muslim coutries never make the diffrence..(munirah moosa)..


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