A skewed foundation will not a straight building raise, so goes an old Maldivian saying. The arrest of a Criminal Court judge by the army does not belong in a democratic landscape. We all cry foul – Unconstitutional! Dictatorial! Autocratic! Yes, of course. If the judge being removed was put on the bench constitutionally, our current situation would indeed be beyond the democratic pale.
But the abuse of the Constitution which gave rise to ‘Justice’ Abdulla Mohammed did not occur when he was arrested on 16 January 2012. It happened on August 7, 2010, when Article 285 of the Constitution, which required the judiciary to be cleansed of the unqualified and the criminal by that date was allowed to lapse without so much as a murmur from the general public or the civil society. That was the time when we should have cried foul, when the NGOs, the Human Rights Commission, and learned members of the judiciary should have come out to protest the abuse of our democracy.
But no one did, except for a lone individual who was mocked, ostracised and finally stabbed in the back for her efforts. It was on this day that we began our journey on this crooked path, it was then that we all became complicit in today’s actions – we knowingly allowed criminals, child molesters, fraudsters and mobsters to remain on the benches of our courts. We did this, and now, as we confront the consequences of our (in)actions, we conveniently forget our role in it.
The 2008 Maldivian Constitution must be one of the most abused such documents in the history of democracy. Within the space of three years, it has become the plaything of every Mohammed, Ahmed and Fathimath within arm’s length of political power. When Parliamentarians are taken to court for embezzling millions from the public coffers, it is the Constitution that is cited as containing no stipulation that makes lying or fraud a crime. When opposition leaders malign the executive and the country itself with baseless lies, it is the Constitution that is once again cited; its provision of freedom of expression held up as freedom to defame with impunity. When religious intolerance is exercised to such high levels that living a life free of fear is all but impossible for a Maldivian in the Maldives, it is the Constitution that is once again cited as the source for legitimising such repression.
The Maldivian Constitution does not allow criminals to be judges; it does not give free reign to defamation; and it does not condone religious intolerance. Those who say that ‘Justice’ Abdulla Mohammed has been removed unconstitutionally, read Article 285 and compare what it says against the man’s criminal record and his penchant for victims of sexual offences to re-enact their abuse in court to satisfy his twisted appetites. Those who cite Article 27 of the Constitution as giving freedom to defame, read Article 33, which says that everyone has the right to a good name and protection of their reputation. And those who cite Article 9 of the Constitution as stipulating that every Maldivian citizen must remain a Muslim by law, it would be a worthwhile exercise to re-read it with some due diligence.
Article 9 (d) says that nobody can become a Maldivian citizen unless they are Muslims. The word ‘become’ requires the taking of a deliberate action. Children born to Maldivian parents, which cover well over 99 percent of the population, do not have to become citizens, they are born such. The Constitution also says that nothing can take Maldivian citizenship away from an individual that already possesses the same. Where then is the Constitutional requirement that demands every Maldivian citizen to be a Muslim? And where does all this talk of having to be a Sunni Muslim come from? The Constitution only requires the President, and members of Parliament, the Cabinet and the judiciary to be Sunni Muslims. As far as ordinary citizens go, there is not a word in the Constitution about which sect of Islam a citizen must belong to.
The facts of the matter are that we are a people who have become pawns in a game played by a handful of oligarchs who want to retain political and financial power at any cost. All the talk of fighting for democracy, for ‘Islam’, for the people – it is nothing but a register of words conveniently deployed to build a façade of legitimacy both nationally and internationally.
Just look at the people involved in all these ‘crises’ that have rocked the country in the last two months. There were few among the leaders of the ‘Defending Islam’ protest on 23 December 2010 who did not own a tourist resort or did not have a vested interest in the industry. That these people who make millions of dollars everyday from peddling their products to ‘infidels’ would be so audacious as to call for the purification of Maldivian Muslimness is shocking in itself.
What is more breathtakingly shameless is that among those calling for strengthening Sharia in the Maldives was DQP’s Dr Hassan Saeed who co-authored the book, Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam (2007), which is introduced as ‘a contribution to the thinking that freedom of religion is a fundamental principle of Islam…’
That the co-author of this book would be at a gathering that protested against religious tolerance and rallied people to strengthen Sharia rule in the Maldives is a betrayal not just of the Maldivian people but of the ethics and principles of the wider academic community to which he belongs. It beggars belief that such a figure would stand up in an effort to work people up into a frenzy to support the other side of his own argument, and is now on a crusade to prove an alleged hidden ‘anti-Islamic agenda’ pursued by the current government. There could be no more blatant an example of just how low these ‘political leaders’ of the new Maldivian democracy are willing to stoop to get their backsides onto the executive chair.
If the Maldivian democracy is to be rescued from the clutches of these oligarchs, we the public need to take ownership of our Constitution. Their vested agendas have been made clear: (a) take Maldivians to the depths of religious intolerance which would stop the general public from laying a claim to their rightful share of the tourism industry, hence leaving them in control of the billions that pour in every year; and (b) bring down the current government whatever it takes. Or, to put it in their own words, ‘put President Nasheed behind bars’.
We need to distance ourselves from these political games. It should not matter to us whether it is President Nasheed, Rasheed or Waleed that is in power, as long as we, the people, are able to retain and exercise our will to be governed democratically. And to do that, we need to begin to think for ourselves rather than jump on every malevolent bandwagon that comes our way.
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