Comment: Making sense of the rejection of the Other

The resurgence of religious politics is a global phenomenon.

From Khomeini’s theocracy in Iran to the rise of Islamic movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Islamist politics has continued to be a salient feature of the Muslim world.

Religious politics, however, is not limited to the Muslim world.

Hindu nationalism in India, ultra-orthodox politics in Israel, Protestant fundamentalism in the US, religious politics in Australia, Catholic ultra-conservative politics elsewhere, and the crises of secularism in several Western European countries, mean religion is a global political topic.

The first thing that we should keep in mind therefore is that religion is not an issue unique to the Maldives.

This is important in order to avoid the false sense of an outside ‘Civilised World’ in possession of all good values. The truth is reasonable accommodation has become a profound issue in several of the so-called liberal democracies.

The second point is we need to avoid the mistake of blaming solely Islamism in our failure of reasonable accommodation. Islamism in the Maldives is a recent phenomenon, largely coinciding with democratisation since 2004.

Our shrill polemics could hardly clarify the main underlying issues around religion in the Maldives. I believe the issues around religion run deeper than recent Islamism. Let’s, for instance, take the recent cases of SAARC banners and monuments.

There have been broadly three main groups of positions on the issue: a) those who reject the monuments and the banners largely because they supposedly show imageries of other religions; b) those who accept the imagery saying they are not really supposed to be religious imageries or idols as such; and, c) those who decry Maldivian ‘intolerance’, ‘ignorance’, or ‘fanaticism’.

a) What is largely true for the first group is that their publicly cited main excuse for rejecting the monuments and banners is not particularly or only Islam. For it would be extremely hard to justify destruction of imagery and idols of other religions purely based on Islam. It would be impossible to cite a purely religious rationale to reject freedom of religion.

b) What is true for the second group is their assumption that if the imageries were really supposed to be religious imageries or idols in the public sphere, it might be OK to reject them.

c) What is largely true for the third group is there is a collective, generalised image of the Maldivians: thus, we hear remarks such as ‘Maldivian intolerance’, ‘undeserving people’, ‘fanatically intolerant state’, and so on.

If so, I think there is something common to the reaction of all three groups. The underlying issue is not Islam as such. ‘Intolerance’ as such does not explain it either.

Based on these three sorts of reaction, I submit there is something about the Maldives as a nation that does not allow reasonable accommodation. Indeed, the dominant Maldivian national identity is uniquely exclusionist. It automatically excludes the possibility of any reasonable accommodation.

Therefore, much like the Muslim veil is seen as an affront to the secular character of France, any non-Muslim religious symbol or imagery in the public sphere is an affront to the Maldivian national self-understanding.

This national self-understanding has now become our background national self-understanding. That is, we are not necessarily even aware that we act under its hegemonic influence. It is our taken for granted identity.

Fortunately or unfortunately, national identity is not given or primordial.

Identity is a construction of discourses, symbols, and myths. Political and other leaders could be effective agents of construction of identity. For this to happen, modern developments such as newspapers or other communication media are necessary.

It is no trivial matter that a chapter in President Gayoom’s biography, A Man for All Islands, is entitled ‘A Sense of Identity’. When Gayoom came to power in 1978, the Maldives hardly had any sense of collective identity.

Maldivians, of course, were Dhivehin. However, despite President Amin’s initial efforts since late 1940s, Maldivians had not imagined themselves as a nation.

It came down to Gayoom, with the widespread availability of means of communication, to construct such an identity.

Today this national identity is coming under immense strain.

With the pluralisation and fragmentation of religious discourses, with the increasing number of migrants of other faiths, and the Maldives becoming part of the globalised world, life would not be either easy or just with an out-dated national self-understanding.

It’s time for us as a nation to consider seriously Islam’s universal values of equality and love.

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]


12 thoughts on “Comment: Making sense of the rejection of the Other”

  1. At last, a balanced and less confrontational discourse on the ongoing political divisions to the country.

    Shall we also not ignore other factors in the divide in Maldivian society which we carelessly term "religious differences".

    Pluralism is always not a good thing and the "pluralism" we see today stems from differences due to:

    - Social status
    - Economic status
    - Political affiliation
    - Clan
    - Gender

    A lot of these main differences rear up under the veil of religious conflict now and then. These differences cannot be solved overnight and a lot of them need consistent attention if we are to accommodate a socially-conscious global labor force and multinational investments among Maldivian communities.

    1. A sense of ownership would help whereby the people are assured that such investments directly benefit them.

    2. Another important factor is that such investments are not seen as closed-off to the local communities and afford equal opportunity to local employees. This is especially difficult because training institutes would need to be aligned with the expectations of employers in such multinational corporations and also potential employees need to be taught to adjust to the culture and work ethic of such employers.

    3. Government itself needs to be seen as responsive rather than a clique organization which caters exclusively to its own supporters. To achieve this herculean feat, government power needs to be constrained by rules and regulations. This goes for the executive, parliament and judiciary. All three institutions need to have their powers constrained by well-defined boundaries so that the individual could contest those actions which cross these legal limits.

    4. A national character that is agreeable across political and social differences needs to be articulated so that it can act as a rallying call for the people to unite under common goals. The agenda, manifesto and symbols of a single party will not suffice as such a rallying call.

    5. The living standards of the common Maldivian needs to be gradually improved and a better standard of public education and public health awareness as well as widespread availability of foodstuffs and medicines needs to be facilitated so that children can be raised in a safe, happy and nurturing environment. The absence of such an environment is a pressing issue at the moment.

  2. "Pluralism is always not a good thing and the “pluralism” we see today stems from differences due to:
    - Social status
    - Economic status
    - Political affiliation
    - Clan
    - Gender"

    Oh!, not again! Social engineering theorist. I thought they had gone out of "fashion" since the Nazis.

  3. I believe the real problem with Maldivian society lack proper education in general.
    When I child he or she grow up the parents without proper knowledge teaches the children to criticize other religions faith and creeds.
    Further, when the child starts schooling here also the same philosophy fed to children and when they are adolescent the children are well prepared to hate other religions with out their consent. Now you can imagine the state of school drop will be!

  4. the current religious issue is due to the secular and pro athestist lead propaganda! Real master minds behind this is top government officials such as Dr.Waheed and his son Jeffry Waheed. and many others. this is just a dummy to show Maldives is an intolerant society!!! I wonder what Dr.Waheed did in Mecca recently!!

  5. When I was in school (Majeedhiyyaa) I was taught to hate other religions and cultures. I was told that they are inferior and stupid. I was made to believe that there wasn't much to see or study except Islam and where it was practiced. My teachers made fun of other religions and cultures. They expected me to follow them.

    I am glad that I didn't buy it back then but also not happy that some people still buy into this shit.

  6. Q1:

    Haven't you heard of Neonazis?


    Quote me out of context and pin a negative label on me - standard tactic.

    How about the rest of my long-winded tirade? Nothing to say about that?

  7. Everyday I see on Minivann a speculative 'theory' on Maldives society and often one theory opposed to the other.

    One day it is lack of democracy and rights, the next day it extremism, then backwardness, island mentality, feudalism etc..

    Do not misunderstand - at least Minivann provides a forum for discussion in English that the educated and the elite could access.

    But like all media in the country, you have either one of the two purposes. You are either there to a) provide a forum for objective discussions OR b) to muddle the real debate.

    To objectively discuss the society and issues, I would suggest Minivann to exercise some editorial standards. This could include research and references and viewpoints of experts, common people, past literature.

    Good luck

  8. I don't know why people who have lived most of their adult lives outside Maldives are so keen in writing what Maldives is about and what Maldives should be.

    It puzzles me more that such people tend to think their view is the view prevalent in Maldives.

    Their views are nothing close to relaity but only a satisfaction of their own whims and fancies. When compared to actuality, the unpatriotic views of these people are parallels of modern-day folklore; if not fiction.

    Minivan News seems obsessed with the articles of such people. They do nothing to balance out these highly biassed articles. In fact, they appear to enjoy these articles -- their own articles are too often from the same segment of the spectrum.

    I do not have to pinpoint and state what these articles are and who writes these for Minivan News. But people have often accused Minivan news of running a "propaganda" for good reason.

    One day they will publish one O'Shea's article about our history; the other day they will publish Yaamyn Rasheed's article about our religion; the next day Azim Zahir's article about Maldivian religio-social life. And the list goes on and on.

    None of these people have lived even 10 years of their adult lives in Maldives. Yet these people believe they are the "experts" about all matters concerning Maldives.

    The danger lies in the fact that people who do not know much about what goes on here in Maldives, tend to believe the "expert" opinions of these people.
    What they do not know is that they are being duped.

  9. @ Rooster

    I don't think its so much about where the author has lived for most of his or her life, than about what is actually being said in the article. Sometimes "outsiders" looking in may have a better perspective on what is going on here than those of us who are living here. And while the quality of these articles do need to be improved a lot, the objective here is to debate about different view points and its good for people to NOT agree on everything that is being said. Even if a person who has been living here since birth writes an article about these issues, there would still be people who would disagree on different arguments.

  10. rooster, perhaps you can find it in your heart to forgive the author his youth; he hasn't had the chance to live much of his life, let alone adult life, anywhere in the world.
    it may be that he's completely off the mark, but at least he's trying. and as you're privy to actuality as regards the situ in our country, and concerned that we run the risk of being mislead by this ragtag bunch of europhile miscreants, perhaps you should write to minivan with the full authority of your one true perspective to prevent us from being duped by the likes of azim zahir.

  11. Islam's universal value of equality and love?

    Hahahahaaa, is this some kinda joke?

  12. Quran says fight unbelievers; unbelievers in today’s world are those who reject science, rationality and common sense. Who are unbelievers today? They are mullahs, anyone fights Mullahs is a true Muslim.


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