Comment: Culture and misfortune

The Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort disaster reminds me of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I read in June. It has a story, about how Korea Air became one of the safest airline (almost overnight) from being the worst. The author explained, justifiably, without emphasis on the number of accidents or the technical issues behind, rather how our culture (Asian culture) was responsible for the misfortune events that occurred before the Korean government took responsible measures. The specifics of the case related to a concept defined by the Dutch Geert Hotstede. Our Vilu Reef case, I feel is very similar to Korea Air story.

The story unfolds into pointing the conversations between pilot and the co-pilot of a specific flight, recorded in a black box. When the conversation was critically analysed, the Korean government accepted how much a role their culture had taken in the death of thousands. This was serious, but Koreans learned and corrected.

According to Hotstede, there are five major variables of life in a society. Where I feel we are at, on these scales are irrelevant. These are questions each and everyone has to confront in life!

Maldivians, as I have perceived, have preferred explicit rules, of the quiet sort, accepting uncertainty as a fact of life. We accept without questioning and we limit our boundaries. We are of a culture where employees remain with the same employer for a long period of time.

We are not of the culture where rules are flexible or implicit, or where activities are more of the informal. That being the majority, I observe there is a minority amongst us who are at the other end of the spectrum. They are either have convictions in hypocrisy or hidden. A recent estimate by an International NGO said two percent.

The composition of the collectivist thought far outweighs the individualist. The Individualist thoughts progress more quickly in wealthy communities. What the observation though, is a collectivistic counter-fight at its extreme, to a wealth enjoyed unequally. I wonder if the Individualist has the same ideology towards sexual relationships – the multiplier index for the divorce rate. I would think so.

The Long & the Short Term orientation varies according to people’s expectations from future. Some agree with responsibility to the future, while some stay with history and present. Persistence/Perseverance, thrill, thrift and shame is acceptable to the futuristic mind.

Reciprocation of favours and gifts is non-compulsory. Some stand to claim history being futuristic, when it has always proven otherwise. Else time stops. However, stability is more prone to the short-term oriented. On the other hand, instability during early gear-shifts is summoned to futuristic changes and therefore more associated to short-term orientation. A futuristic citizen understands the costs of instability and bears it responsibly.

The masculinity & femininity index measures, without any consideration of its literal value, how strong a value we put on relationships and quality of life as opposed to competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition and the accumulation of wealth.

The feminist elaboration is deliberate. Relationships can strive, with longer and healthier features although softer, even with the Individualistic. Difference acceptance is a survival vitality. Femininity and Individualistic is not therefore mutually exclusive. This index seems to exhibit a dependency on other indexes as well.

Power distribution and its acceptance varies from the consultative, democratic, and equal treatment regardless of position, as to paternalism or autocracy. Positions command power in less democratic approaches, and subordinates acknowledge and accept power of hierarchical positions, compromising critique and contribution. Power distribution doesn’t explain the motives of the people, rather a practice.

One may ask if these indexes relate to the current event, I would love to counter-argue that it very much is so. Ignorance is not bliss for me.

Reflecting on the contents of the video, how did one become accustomed to abusive language such as words like “Nagoobalhu” or swine to mirror a human? These are not just aesthetics but deep rooted in ourselves. I can vouch for hearing such crude language on our streets on a daily basis. Even close friends refer to each other with these words. The embarrassed nimbly tries to ignore it while the receptor tries to outsmart being addressed as such with equivalent or more abusive language.

We need to ask where we are, how and why we arrived at this point. It’s time we tried to measure our scales.

The book was an insightful read, although some stories were very slow in ripening. The gist of my note is that we need to take responsibility to what has happened on Vilu Reef. We need to reflect deeply on the incident and understand the deep rooted issues within. We need to study them, acknowledge them, apologize to those who were hurt, rectify and start over where necessary.

How critical an analysis should our Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture consider when developing the regulatory framework, policies and laws to implement and monitor standards?

Should we not investigate the psychological implications that led to such behavior – is there a role for the Ministry of Health here? Can we study the trends in human development in the context of the Maldivian environment?

How should the education system be overhauled to lay the educational foundation for the development of the children towards growing up to be responsible young adults – is this a responsibility of the Ministry of Education?

When can we start listening to our children? Can parental education be introduced to ensure that the children and youth are supported with social, personal, and other skills required to be part of the growing up community, encouraging critical thinking and promoting freedom of expression?

Should we not study how employment regulations affect the rights of geographically-restricted staff with limited means to reach legal assistance? How do we integrate conditions for employees welfare to meet his social, educational, personal and spiritual needs in a purely working environment such as a resort – what about Ministry of Human Resources, Youth & Sports?

How can the religious education embrace a more holistic and human rights based approach that can instill values in Maldivians – define the role of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs? What about ethics and values of our society including the business community? Shouldn’t Ministry of Economic Development be concerned about why foreign investors think twice before venturing with a local partner?

It is time for serious national action, for we cannot let this be repeated. Or we will hurt ourselves, again and again. We shouldn’t allow this to be swept under the carpet, after a short lived juicy-story-hype, with political veils. The government shall not just condemn it but take responsibility for rectification. Reports have to be published. The government should be questioned over its steps of rectification.

Punishing is not just a solution. Pointing a finger is not a solution in singularity. Apology without corrective action is not a solution. The solution is within us, which we cannot neglect to admit anymore. We need to learn our issues – issues of principle. We need to fix it and fix it soon.

The repercussions are a serious cost to each and every Maldivian. I believe it is the worst of its kind Maldives has had to face in its history and scars will remain for a long time. Reconciliation with the world, with nations and with religions and cultures is pre-requisite to restore Maldives.

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


31 thoughts on “Comment: Culture and misfortune”

  1. it is not a problem of resort peoples only or some others it is morality degradation process in culture/it is egoism,
    no respect for foreigners and collapse of education sistem /

  2. I was shocked at this story, but I guess I should have not been, considering how much Muslims hate nonMuslims and foreigners. This resort, and Maldives in general, will be badly punished economically, and it deserves it.

    They need to learn and they need to suffer. For many many many years.

  3. Well said in the above article, treating the symptoms will not cure the disease it will reappear unless corrected the root cause. It is the religious hegemony, that these people have belief that they are the right people accepted by God, the rest are swine or not perfect human to be respected.

  4. I think there must be a reason why Muslims believe Christians are swines or pigs. Maldivians are in general very neutral about other people's religion. Of course with the rising of fundamentalism intolerance on non-muslims is also in the rise. But on the whole we Maldivians do not bother about the religion of other people. To call nagoobalhu, ooru, kuththa to others in anger is quite common too. In some cases we say these names in fun too. Maybe those people who are in the video did not mean any harm. They were having our kind of fun but with the wrong people. That is where they made a big and very harmful blunder. Let us keep our kind of fun to ourselves and keep foreigners outside.

  5. I have previously commented elsewhere on this incredibly sad story and must take exception to the view of John Thompson above.

    I first visited The Maldives ten years ago on a flight-only ticket, and spent a little while in Male before transferring to Bandos and later to Cocoa Beach. To fall in love with your country is as easy as it is for a man to fall in love with Claudia Schiffer who reportedly, much to my chagrin, had left Cocoa Beach a few days before I arrived. I am well aware, of course, that she is an internationally famous super-model, who would not look at me twice, unless perhaps, a shark was chasing her and I was the only man with a harpoon gun! So my disappointment at her depriving me of the chance to buy her a drink, was short-lived. Such love affairs are shallow and unattainable. My love affair with The Maldives is not shallow, and you have striven and invested millions to make it attainable for people like me, all over the world.

    My first visit had such a huge impact on me, I returned five months later with my family. Had I been subjected to the humiliation of the couple in this story, I doubt if I would have ever returned. Fortunately, I met Maldivian people during that first visit, who have remained some of my closest friends anywhere in the world. I walked around Male alone at night and felt safe. The fact that you are Muslim and I am atheist did not matter. We simply acknowledged our differences of opinion with respect.

    When the Boxing Day tsunami hit you, I spent a frantic two days hoping that you were all okay. When I finally reached friends by telephone, I was as relieved as I would be to hear from missing family members. I flew out the following week to spend some time on Bandos with my friends. I was the only tourist there I think; everyone else had been flown out. The Maldives did not sit behind their begging bowl, asking for International aid, you are too proud for that, you simply wanted the tourists to return so you could get back to work. I wrote an article when I returned to the UK, which was published as a centre spread in a regional magazine, telling people that it was business as usual in The Maldives and to book their holidays with you. I hope it helped in a small way. Last year, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in The Maldives and so I can empathise with how this couple must have felt to discover that staff had metaphorically spat on their wedding ceremony.

    I am not a rich man, but I know that to relatively low-paid workers, all of us who are lucky enough to afford to jet round the world to a paradise like yours, must be the subject of some envy. That is human nature regardless of your religion. I also know that many of the people serving me daily, with courtesy and a smile, were away from their families for weeks at a time. That cannot be easy. So I can easily understand how an incident like this could have come about.

    It might have been a sinister, deep-rooted resentment of the hoards of non-Muslims and foreigners who visit you every day of the year. Such intolerance would not just be sad, it could be the most damaging PR disaster ever to befall a country, which, from my experience, does not deserve it. If the humiliation was simply unfortunate and distasteful humour, I would be less concerned. We British have the most tolerant sense of humour in the world and we laugh at some of the most distressing and repugnant jokes. However, a couple’s wedding ceremony was most definitely the wrong place for those ‘jokes’ to be aired. I would even argue, and I accept I may be alone here, that had there been no malice in the abuse, and had nobody published it for the world to see, then no harm would have been done. However, if it was done out of hatred and was not simply some clown ‘playing to the crowd’ then those people responsible do not deserve to benefit from the hard-earned dollar of the tourists for whom they showed such little respect. However, I firmly believe that economic sanctions should only be meted out to the guilty. That includes management, if they were aware these events were taking place and condoned them with their implied consent. But the calls to close the resort are unfair to all the staff with families to support, who played no part.

    I would argue that if the guilty staff members were acting out of puerile high jinks, then they should be retrained and shown the disastrous consequences of their stupidity. If there is evidence they were acting out of racial or religious bigotry, then sadly you must use the law to punish them. You must then take steps to lead and demonstrate to anyone harbouring similar opinions, that such dogmatism is not only immoral and inhumane, it will also lead to unimaginable damage to The Maldives greatest export - a chance for people like me to experience a brief encounter with paradise.

    Kevin Armes.

  6. Ali,

    By declaring the way Maldivian make fun of other religion you have made more damage tot he society. You guys have to change your attitude towards non Muslims or otherwise it is going to hurt your economy very badly.

  7. Did not understand what Mr. Nazim is saying here. But I do agree that for foreigners trying to understand the typical Maldivian mentality, the Korea Airline cockpit miscommunications example (which lead to many accidents and eventual banning of Korean Air over Canada) is a good way to understand the Maldives society too.

    Korean language has 7 levels of speaking and addressing the superiors. Thus even when the pilot makes blatant a mistake, the co-pilot cannot say it directly for fear of disrespecting his superior. He is supposed to address his superior very formally even in a situation of life and death. So at one time, the Korean airline had most crashes. This problem was corrected later by training the pilots to speak in English in the cockpit.

    Ordinary Maldivains face the same issue in their everyday life. Dhivehi has 3 levels of speaking. In practice this translates into 3 subcultures of people.
    How do you reform a society like that.. Do not think foreigners have a clue of how convoluted that is..

  8. I think we need to learn more about religion rather than we get as a grant. We have very limited knowledge about Islam and that leads many time, we cannot accept anything, and that limitation entrap us evil thinking. For example I guess every one accept prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Islam at the same time as Muslims we equally respect Jesus (PBUH) and Moses (PBUH). Therefore if we are true muslims there is no room for us to hate Christians or Jews, just they don't agree what we believe. We can have dialogue but hatred is not a solution.In my opinion 21st century Muslims are facing the same fate,as Jews suffered in 19th century. The clash of culture and religion is all what we see now.

  9. Ali, you are right...there is a reason why some Muslims believe Christians are swines or pigs. Because you and people like you are full of hate. Yes, keep your sick humour to yourselves...the world to happy to close its door to you.

  10. The couple who were abused by those morons is civilized people, I am sure they will understand that those people were from a backward society, their abuse was nothing more than some barking dogs.
    The matter of fact is that the real humiliation was to those people themselves, who even did not respect very people who fed them. What a disgrace to the Maldivian who are one of the most morally corrupted societies in the world.

  11. "maldivesresortworkers on Sun, 31st Oct 2010 2:22 AM

    The racial element to the story was inserted by Minivan. The marriage officiator was far from being a religious extremist."

    What is religious extremism to you then?

  12. We r who we r. You r who u r. try changing that my friends.

    This is a well thought out comment. 2 thumbs up.

  13. Mr. Nazim, Wonderful comment. There are human rights orientated interpretations of Islam, and this is the Islam which seems much needed...

  14. "backward society" indeed...i was spit upon and called a "paki" on the streets of London....granted those stupid men were misguided, bigotted even ,calouse and completely out of order. however dont try to make this about islam, they mocked their own religion, not just the poor couple. if a coloured person or a muslim does something cruel to a white person, its beacuse the whole country is fanatics or backward. there are elements in any society like this just as there are decent human beings in every society. i bet more people from the country of origin of this couple would have abused and mistreated non whites and muslims throughout their history than Maldivians ever have

  15. Aharen, you are correct. I would be the first to admit, that whilst this incident is so rare in The Maldives (and has therefore been much publicised) incidents of racial and religious intolerance, hatred, abuse and violence occur in the UK not yearly or monthly but every MINUTE of every day. I am ashamed at some of the comments I read from my countrymen and would hate people to associate me with them just because I happen to have been born in the same part of the world. Morality should come from within and have nothing to do with nationality or beliefs.

  16. So you take a tale of naivity and exploitation and manage to twist it into yet another Muslim against every one thing - well done!!! Do you ever tire of your OCB?

    When I was young, I had a summer job in the hotel intercontinental at hyde park - which in the summer of '74 was full of rich Arabs. Many of the staff openly dispised them and some would even mutter pretty vulgur racist obscenities while smiling at them. This is just another facet of the same thing, only reversed in a way...and those idiot commentators that would try to twist this into some sort of Muslims v infidels thing probably share the same small minded mentality as the co-workers I had all those years ago. Small people only see themselves everywhere they look...

  17. Minivan you amaze me.

    "Reflecting on the contents of the video, how did one become accustomed to abusive language such as words like “Nagoobalhu” or swine to mirror a human? These are not just aesthetics but deep rooted in ourselves. I can vouch for hearing such crude language on our streets on a daily basis."

    Are you saying that no other society uses swear words in the rest of the world? You are DEEPLY DELUSIONAL if that is your claim. It is a more common thing for kids to swear in front of their parents in the UK or elsewhere in the so-called civilised world. You spout the same colonialist ideology of how the natives are ill-mannered and savages.

    "How can the religious education embrace a more holistic and human rights based approach that can instill values in Maldivians – define the role of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs?"

    I think the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has done enough and it should not even exist in the first place. But to spin this issue into some 'religious ignorance' angle was extremely IRRESPONSIBLE on your part. This has more to do with EMPLOYEE RIGHTS and how their grievances has never been heard since time-beginning. They work for a ridiculous pay, under exhausting working hours, in alarming living conditions (5-6 people sharing a toilet)and most importantly are treated like the 21st century version of the slave trade (afford me some room to sensationalise and exaggerate as you do that for a living). I am agnostic and EVEN I can see that these people seen on the video are making a mockery of Islam itself in this parody-esque wedding ceremony. Anyone who watched this can see that, but you failed to see it because you are willing to spin anything to your own end.

    I found the Guardian article on this story more informative, straight to the point and up to journalistic standards. (
    Although he completely misunderstood Said's Orientalism, he has touched the relevent issues when it comes to this story.

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

  18. The video incident has been rigthly condemned by the concerned resort and the Maldivian authorities. The Maldives media also reported that the resort would contact the victims, apologise to them and pay them compensation. This is very encouraging.
    However, it is difficult to understand that those who made this video were motivated by religion. In fact, the video seems also to make fun of Islam, Maldivian culture, especially, the officiating of Maldivian weddings and Maldivian law. No one seems to be outraged by this abuse of what a large majority of Maldivans hold dear to them.

  19. When the emperor wore his new clothes, everyone celebrated it until the little boy pointed his finger and cried out...The King is naked.

    Maldivian Society like many others before (for e.g.South Africa with the apartheid, Germany under Hitler)and even now, ignore the real issues.

    Very often the symptoms are treated by downplaying the cause by criticizing and punishing and putting away the offender.

    While some people in their embarrassment, feebly laugh to hide away the joke on them, some would not even think about it. A few people would admit it there is a problem but would go on simply letting it be. Others who are more courageous will stand up to it and work to change it.

    In the light of a grave incident like this, those who try to point it as a joke are feeble. Those who say it happens in other society are feeble when it is done as to imply its no big deal. Those justifying it in any form are feeble.

    Those foreign commentators who wish harm to the Maldives are revengeful and stand on the same level as Maldivians who are discriminatory and who propagates against any other race, religion or culture.

    It took years for the Western World to become what it is today and there is still incidents of prejudice but it is not a collective attitude of the West where human rights, tolerant and fairness prevails to the larger degree.

    The article has tried to help readers to reflect on the issues and its root causes. It would be great to have more constructive comments and intellectual discussions to this article rather that emotional and ridiculous outbursts regardless of where it comes from.

  20. Usually, The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is very noisy about moral values. I wonder why they are playing dumb and deaf on this incident!

  21. Trust Bari and his clan to think they have the solution by NOT letting renewal of vows or mock marriages to take place.(

    Well, here is one Maldivian Woman who will not even register her own marriage in the Maldives. I don't need this farce.

    I don't care if my marriage is not recognized by a bunch of idiots and as long as the institution is not fair to the man and woman recognizing the civil and human rights, I do not need their freaking endorsement.

  22. meaoowww hahahaah i want to do my wedding in vilureef hahhahaha seriously i am not joking...i am sure they have learned their lesson and most definitely they would have taken measures in great length now to provide a much much better wedding service...without chaos you u cant give life to a dancing star

  23. this whole thing is hilarious if not sad for thousands of people..

    1)Vilu Reef management delegating something which the management should have taken seriously to a joker

    2) Relating this thing to religious hatred..coming from a guy who makes fun of quran and seerath just to make others laugh..yes the same guy..

    3)Minivan translating his non coherent jabbering and presenting it as an Islamic religious sermon filled with hatred to white non Muslim Christians..

    4)Minivans effort to make it look like good journalism

    Of everything that came out of this, the only thing that I can accept but with regrets are the flurry of articles which came after the translation stressing that maldives and maldivians are not worthy of their dollars..
    congratulations MINIVAN!!!

  24. I blame minivan to some extent for blowing this out of propotion and insinuating its somehow a muslim attitude to non muslims. Minivan is not independent, and extremely biased to MDP thinking. By all means expose incidences like this, but keep it within the context, and hold on with the muslim bashing. It is extremely offensive when our own people try to portray us as jaahilu, like when HEP in an interview abroad insinuating there were numerous extremist jihadis from maldives in Pakistan, making putting many students in pakistan at risk and making it difficult for people with maldivian passport to get visas

  25. Please, we dont care if anyones a chritian, buddist, aethis, muslim or whatever...ISLAM teaches us to repect all types of also teaches us to guard our also teaches us to be kind...even to dogs

  26. A culture of hostility.

    Maldivians who do not conform to beards and veils are subject to similar harassment.

    Making a scapegoat out of one unfortunate young man would not change the culture. Unfortunate, for he is the one on the video that's become public!

    Surely, it wasn't just that one wedding that was videoed. Even if the resort do not do official videos there's sure to be friends and family who record their own. Would it not be prudent to take a look at a few? Is this a once-off litany or a practiced art? Who and who are on these videos?


  27. Just a slight correction. Its NOT Geert Hotstede. It's "Geert Hofstede."... great article dude. keep it up.


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