Comment: Extreme times…extreme measures?

Are you familiar with the game of ‘chicken’? It’s when two testosterone (and probably alcohol) fueled teenagers, egged on by their often scheming and cowardly friends, challenge each other to get into a car and drive towards themselves at high-speeds to see who will back-down or steer-away from certain collision and probably death. The first person to do so is then regarded as a ‘chicken’, with subsequent consequences on pride, relationships and social standing.

Over the last fortnight in the Maldives, we are witnessing the silliest, but most high stakes game of chicken being played by politicians who really should know better. From both sides of the political spectrum, rational individuals who should know better are getting into their respective cars – that on which the entire country relies on – and simply revving up their engines and let go of the brake.

By their side, we have the bearded Islamists, egging them on and waiting for the entire foundations of the Maldivian economy to self-destruct – so that the atoll caliphate can be reborn in all its glory.

In the old days (i.e. the time right after Maumoon forgot his criticism of Nasir for allowing alcohol to be sold), we were told that a central tenet of islam was : to each, his own. If you wanted to be a Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Scientologist – that was your right and we will not try to change that. It conveniently allowed an ideological space for our tourism sector to grow.

However, according to the new religious authorities of the Maldives, this is no longer the case. A Maldivian economy that relies on the money of Kafir’s drinking and sleeping with their unmarried partners in our hotel rooms is hypocritical and should be overthrown.

These are extreme times we are living in. However, it is perhaps becoming slowly but abundantly clear that the existing status quo is slowly disintegrating. History has shown that when there are two parties of people living on the same area with wildly different ideas of what society should be like – the only sad solution is separation. Think India and Pakistan, West and East Germany, North and South Korea, South and North Sudan…etc.

Or perhaps take a more domestic metaphor – for many years, the relationship between the tourism industry and moderate Islam in general, and the firebrand conservatism of the current Islam in the Maldives, was like a marriage of convenience. Like any partners in a marriage, they each had their idiosyncrasies. However, for the sake of a young growing nation, both sides simply put their differences aside and tried to work it out. Today, both sides argue that the other are simply not playing fair and making unreasonable demands on each other. For the sake of the children (and future generations), isn’t it time now to consider a divorce and go their own separate ways?

Now, I’m not saying that a separation is not going to be a messy affair – what separation is not? However, in our case, it does not have to be.  The Islamic conservatives do not want to have anything to do with the tourism industry. So naturally Male’ atoll and Ari Atoll will be part of the Liberal Maldives – where most of the existing resort infrastructure are. Male has also been built on money ill-gotten from trading in alcohol, adultery (not all tourists who stay in resorts are married), and generally haram behavior. Every single aspect of the existing economy has been tainted with it, so surely they cannot in good conscience live in Male’.

So for the Islamic conservatives we provide them with a part of the country and call it the Islamic State of Maldives (or the Arabic name for Maldives) – say North or South – they can choose – and they will give up their existing land in Male’ so that people from that part of the country can come and stay there. Now I am not so certain quite what they will base their economy on – but surely they must have ideas (fisheries, agriculture, Islamic banking hub, Islamic tourism) And to be frank, good luck to them. I value diversity, and I hope they are successful and show us an alternative way to live to the western dominated environment destroying globalised economy.

The other part of the country will form the Liberal Democratic Maldives. The nature of that liberal democracy is one that puts individual freedom at heart – and runs an economy on the basis of that. The role that religion plays in this society is clearly complex – as it is in any society. It could be a moderately religious place (i.e. like Malaysia) or it could be one where religion has no place in public life but only in private life. It could for example be a dual economy – where a different set of rules apply to visiting tourists than to locals in terms of what they can and cannot do. Or it could (Allah forbid) be one where people are free to practice whatever religion they please.

As you may be able to tell from my tone, I have a small bias towards the liberal viewpoint and my preference is to live in the LDM. However, I truly and genuinely respect that you may have a conservative viewpoint. Your idea of Islamic banking and Islamic tourism hub may work like a charm – I mean they do say that Europe is now a dead economy. And who knows, as I grow older and as my wife grows uglier, I may be convinced of the joys of a second younger wife – and then, I’ll be on the first boat to your side.

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