Comment: Oh, what a circus

Act One: A cure for apostasy

A medical doctor with no formal religious training takes centre stage as an Islamic scholar to tickle the Maldivian youth’s religious fancy.

One man questions his own faith and asks the scholar for his learned opinion on apostates. The good doctor diagnoses the man’s malady as possessing too much intellect – a condition that prevents belief cells from forming and developing in the brain. The doctor prescribes a specialist consultation with the ‘Non-Islamic-but-Muslim government’ for a remedy to his condition.

The government provides him with ‘counselling’, which proves to be just what the doctor ordered as, lo and behold, the man is cured within days. He apologises to his Muslim brethren who put away the swords they had unsheathed and enfold him in the warm embrace of their attar-scented hijabs. ‘Insha-Allah!’ cry the audience.

Act One, Scene Two: Modesty slips on banana

Enter Wife of a Preacher Man. Qualified to preach by default as spouse of a non-qualified Preacher, she warns her Maldivian sisters to cover up.

“Rape is your due if all ye sisters do not conform! For the men folk, they know not how to control their lust!” is the message.

Having wowed the audience with her compassion for the sisterhood, she exits the stage centre left. [Curtains close and open].

Wife of a Preacher Man is now straddling a blow-up banana with a throbbing engine. She rides it across the lagoon of a tourist resort where Western heathens lounge about in bikinis. “Look at me! I am covered up, and I can still ride a banana with modesty!”

In one of the Act’s most dramatic scenes, she falls. The set moves to a hospital. She remains silent throughout her treatment. A good patient never asks questions of a Doctor. Questions are the first symptom of that very dangerous disease: too much intellect, or as described in preacher/doctor vernacular – ‘extra-smartism’.

Act Two, Scene One: The measure of a judge

Enter a group of nine learned men, and one woman. They discuss the character and qualifications of those who should be allowed to sit in judgement of other Maldivians.

Known collectively as the Judicial Service Commission their task, as stated in Article 285 of the Constitution 2008, is to ensure all judges appointed prior to the new Constitution possess the qualifications necessary for a judge as stipulated in Article 149.

So far so boring? Do not underestimate this circus, though, for there is indeed an impressive twist to this plot.

The Chair of the Commission is also a Supreme Court Judge. And a fraudster! The then Anti-Corruption Board found him guilty of making false claims for overtime as a judge. His plea in mitigation behooves a man of such stature: any findings of the Anti-Corruption Board has no legal authority. Only a qualified judge, as his esteemed self, may pronounce a citizen guilty or not guilty. Ergo, he is innocent.

Act Two, Scene Two: Judgement day at the Commission

Eight of the ten members are present, and a draft of the standards to which Maldivian judiciary should be held is put to vote. Four vote in favour. Four against. A majority is declared. Huh? If there are four on one side and four on the other, does that not mean the two sides are equal? From whence cometh the majority?

It is yet another twist in the tale, audience! It turns out that one member realises – after the vote is taken – that he meant to abstain. Some members of the audience may be of the opinion that the intention to abstain is declared before a vote is cast. Were you not told underestimating this circus would be a mistake? The tricks here are mind-boggling.

The Standards, passed by a ‘majority’ of these most learned members ensures the Maldivian judiciary would include not just fraudsters found guilty-but-not-guilty, but also sexual offenders among other varieties. The unfolding scene is of a just and happy society where embezzlers, sex offenders and petty criminals all stand a good chance of being judged by an equal.

All rejoice at this exemplary egalitarianism. Cue a standing ovation from the audience.

Act Four: Bra burning lesbians

Enter Lesbians Disguised as Feminists. How brilliant is their costume that this discerning twenty-first century audience cannot tell the difference between the two groups. Most audiences of the last three decades had been able to make the distinction between them, but this one is fooled.

Not for long, though. One section of the audience, with just the right degree of religion-abiding smartness, is on to them. There and then, a truly daring exposé is performed. The Feminists are Lesbians! It is clear from their penchant for women’s underwear.

Come on, audience, put your thinking hats on: Feminists + women’s underwear = Lesbians. Consider this: they sent the underwear to a male Muslim scholar. On Valentines Day. That particular Lesbian fetish for sending underwear to male Muslim scholars is the missing clue here, dear Watson. Feminists = Lesbians = Sissy Nation.

Bring them out from their underground holes and flog them before they plait and tie pink bows to the beards that proudly proclaim Maldivian patriarchy to the world. “Aaaah!”, enlightened, the audience sighs contentedly as the curtains close. Blessed are we to have Adhaalath among us.

Forthcoming attractions: Angels & kangaroos

The Ringmaster, or he who thinks he is the ringmaster, is away with kangaroos of a different sort to those at this own court. Meanwhile, the real Ringmasters prepare for a new act that will make the audience cheer and applaud even more than they did at the Biggest Event Ever of last month on any of the above acts.

A preacher with the name of an angel and a message of true divinity (which some – clearly deluded and ignorant – critics have described as one of hate) will take centre stage shortly.

All Muslim brothers and sisters, recently restored to your glorious 100 per cent Muslim status, are invited to attend. Dress code: Hijab and beards for men; Full Buruqa preferred for women. [Leave Buruqas off at your own risk].

It is also advisable to leave most grey matter behind. Extra-Smartness is strictly forbidden.

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]

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Comment: Playing God’s Advocate

‘Ambiguities’ are stalling the speedy passage of The Regulations to Protect Maldivian Religious Unity. If this document does not get on the government gazette ASAP, this country will degenerate into religious chaos.

Evidence clearly shows Maldivian religious unity to be a perilous façade, having managed to endure without legal enforcement (apart from the small matter of the constitutional stipulation that every citizen be a Muslim for only 800 years).

As citizens who are so closely consulted in the open and democratic lawmaking process of the country, it is our duty to highlight the problem areas so the Ministry can move rapidly to pass The Regulations and pre-empt the imminent religious war.

What is unambiguous about The Regulations is that The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is The Supreme Entity. Omniscient, but not omnipresent, it will choose a learned group to act as its eyes and ears in society. This select group, or The Board, will report to The Ministry any utterances, actions and opinions expressed or held by unlicensed-scholars, citizens and/or visiting aliens/infidels deemed to possess the potential for creating religious disunity.

Recognising the gravity of The Board’s responsibility, The Ministry has set the appointment criteria very high indeed. Members must: (1) be at least 25 years old; (2) possess at least a first degree in Islamic Studies or law; and (3) should not have committed an act defined as a punishable crime in Islam.

Given how difficult it would be to find a 25-year-old graduate who has not fornicated, The Board has the potential to become one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the world.

The Regulations states as its raison d’être ever-increasing disputes between religious scholars that threaten to tear the country apart (Article 1.2). The Mullah to Mere-mortal ratio has not yet been tallied in the Maldives, but evidence suggests it could easily be 1:2.

In such a situation, The Regulations will prove invaluable in helping us distinguish the ersatz scholar from the genuine Sheikh. Besides, ‘the liberals’ have long agitated for the government to muzzle over-zealous Mullahs, so it is now time to make a gracious retreat on the issue, happy in the knowledge that your local Mullah is not just any Mullah, but a bona fide Mullah With a License to Preach.

Chapter 4 states that it is a requirement of every Maldivian citizen to actively protect Islam (Article 4.21). Is this a legal requirement? And what does the duty entail? What exactly is it that we need to peel our eyes and cock our ears for? And how do we go about reporting our suspicions and findings? Would there be a 24-hour Infidel Alert hotline manned by a Licensed Mullah?

The Regulations bans any religion other than Islam from all public discourse. Being citizens active in protecting Islam, should we from now on categorically deny other religions exist, or is it sufficient to regard Them with condescension and/or loathing whence acknowledgement is required? Article 6.32 bans any utterance or action that is insulting to Islam in any way. What is the definition of the term ‘insulting to Islam’? Would, say, leaving out the PBUH after Prophet Mohamed be deemed an insult? Or does it have to be material such as those published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 before it is found to be insulting? What is an utterance that constitutes an insult against a mosque? Would criticism of its architecture – say the suggestion that its dome would have looked better if elevated five inches more – amount to an insult, or would the criticism have to take in the state of its badly landscaped garden, too, before it is deemed an Offence Against a Mosque?

Non-Muslim expatriates in the Maldives – best wean yourselves off the habit of holding garage sales to sell religious memorabilia at discount prices like you invariably do every Sunday ‘back home where you come from’. Any such sale in the Maldives would flout The Regulations (Article 34.a), so resist the temptation to make a quick buck, and firmly turn away the Maldivians queuing outside, desperate to get their grubby apostate hands on your old rosary beads or your Krishna statue for a Bai Rufiyaa.

You should also be aware that even though religion is most likely to have been your favourite conversation starter and probably the source of your best pick-up lines back home, it will not aid your hectic social life on this island paradise in a similar manner. In fact, Article 34.b makes it safer to drop religion from your vocabulary altogether. As a precautionary measure, before The Regulations are passed, you should try and remove any reflexive exclamations that may have embedded themselves in your oral register over the years such as ‘Oh my God!, ‘Jesus!’, ‘Harey Raam!’, etc. If you are more accustomed to saying ‘Jesus [insert expletive] Christ!’, however, it might help your plea of mitigation. Remember, though, a precedent is yet to be set, so proceed with caution.

Article 6.35 is a veritable quagmire of ambiguity. What constitutes a television programme or a written publication that is offensive or insulting to Islam? Where do we look to for guidance? The Taliban? The Emirates? Saudi Arabia? Insulting to whose version of Islam? Can a woman be shown wearing a bikini, or should a burqa be superimposed on her image before she appears on our airwaves? Does every shot of a church, temple and/or synagogue have to be removed from any film that a Maldivian watches? What does it mean that all advertisements should be ‘respectful of the beautiful customs of Islam’ (6.35c)? Apart from beauty being an entirely subjective concept, does this mean that only veiled women can appear in advertisements now? What if she is selling shampoo? Will all Gillette advertisements have to be axed? Books, too, are to be screened by The Board before it is available for Maldivian consumption (Article 31). If this gives us some reprieve from ‘literature’ such as The DaVinci Code, such a regulation might not be entirely without merit, but hardly justifies a group of 25-year-old male graduate virgins deciding our choice of reading matter.

Can The Ministry please clarify why it is necessary to burn the house down to roast the pig?

It has been a surprisingly risky business highlighting the ‘ambiguities’ in The Regulations. This article contains the p-word; names someone whom over a billion non-Muslims regard as the Son of God; allows Lord Krishna a cameo appearance; speaks of women in bikinis; discusses an instrument of shaving for men; and mentions places of worship other than a mosque.

Would The Regulations be applied retrospectively? If Sheikh Shaheem of The Ministry is to be taken at his word, the consequences may not be too dire. Even if found guilty of the Offence of Mockery, he has assured, the author will not be imprisoned, but will receive ‘counselling’. Whether ‘counselling’ involves a psychiatrist’s couch, one-on-one preaching sessions with a Licensed Mullah, or water-boarding, remains undefined and open to interpretation. As is much of The Regulations.

Criminalising (dis)belief will never be free of ambiguities.

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]

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Comment: That’s a Maldivian in the corner, losing his religion

When Ayatollah Khomeini issued his death fatwa against Salman Rushdie in February 1989 for writing the Satanic Verses, 44 out of the 45 member states of the Islamic Congress (1989) condemned the ruling of the Ayatollah as un-Islamic.

Many critics have pointed out that this was a fact ‘the West’ chose to ignore in its rush to present the Ayatollah’s ruling as representative of Islam’s ‘true nature’ as a religion of intolerance.

It appears the ruling is one that the purveyors of ‘true Islam’ in the Maldives – members of the Wahhabi sect – have similarly chosen to ignore by calling for the beheading of a Maldivian journalist who dares express views contrary to their own. We are told to listen to these voices as ‘true Islam’ while turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the actions and policies of organisations such as the Islamic Conference which recently made it clear that it:

Condemn[s] the audacity of those who are not qualified in issuing religious rulings (fatwa), thereby flouting the tenets and pillars of the religion and the well-established schools of jurisprudence.

The fact that there are now people within the Maldivian society who feel comfortable enough in their own rightness, righteousness and ‘learnedness’ to flout the teachings of Islam in its name by calling for the beheading of a fellow man for his views clearly demonstrates the extent of human intolerance Maldivian society has come to tolerate in the name of religion.

Anyone who does not agree with this particular brand of Islam is now being denied, among other fundamental rights, their right to exist. The only Muslims who will be tolerated in this society are those that follow Wahhabism.

Ironically, this is a kind of practice that the first Commander-in-Chief of the ‘War on Terror’, George Bush, found rather suited to his own policies – he denied members of al-Qaeda the right to be Muslims by doggedly and repeatedly describing them as ersatz Muslims who had ‘hijacked the religion of Islam’; and by pursuing policies that, in turn, validated all such claims.

In defining Islam according to his version of it (‘Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, Moms and Dads’) Bush denied the self-proclaimed ‘holy warriors’ the very religion in the name of which they were sacrificing themselves. In so doing, he effectively removed any justifications of their cause, at once turning them into ‘Evildoers’ with no motive and no cause other than Evil, pure and simple.

It is this very practice that followers of Wahhabism in the Maldives are engaging in – by making their beliefs the only ‘true Islam’, they are denying a large section of the Maldivian society their right to be Muslims; and in so doing, are removing the right of many a Maldivian to be treated as equal citizens with the same rights as those who do not practise the same brand of Islam as theirs.

By re-defining what it means to be a Maldivian Muslim they are rendering those who do not conform to their teachings irrelevant to society. Non-followers of Wahhabism are being re-cast as non-citizens, and non-Muslims. Furthermore, they are being made non-human by calling on laws of the jungle, rather than the law of the land, to be applied to them. They become beasts whose heads have to be cut off, a beastly scourge the rest of society should be cleansed of. No longer Dhivehin, no longer Muslims. And no longer human.

The discourse of the ‘War on Terror’ worked in precisely the same manner in successfully rendering ‘detainees’ or ‘enemy combatants’ (not to be recognised as prisoners of war, lest there be any rights) in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib into non-human ‘Evil’ entities with no place in civilisation. As Godless, faithless, non-human creatures outside of legality itself, they could be kept in indefinite detention without trial, abused, tortured and then abandoned.

This is what the followers of Wahhabism are doing to the Maldivian society. Rendering a part of it Godless, faithless and non-human. Their removal from society if they do not conform to Wahhabism thus becomes not just justifiable, but necessary.

Soon, there will be no Maldivian left who does not follow the brand of Islam that they advocate, not because everyone has willingly followed where they previously refused to tread, but because Wahhabism would have become the only definition of what it means to be a Maldivian Muslim.

If – and it is a big ‘if’, given the obfuscation and vacillation of official policy – this is not the future that the Maldivian government has envisioned for the country whose democracy the current President fought so valiantly for, then it should act soon to provide room for the freedom to grow of the Maldivian Muslims who do not follow this brand of Islam.

Let people know – or at least open up the channels through which people can find out – that Wahhabism cannot lay claim to ‘true Islam’ any more than Bush can deny bin Laden and his followers the right to call themselves Muslims; and that there is nothing even remotely like a consensus in the Islamic world regarding the supremacy of the Wahhabi teachings over and above others in the religion of Islam.

If pluralism is the government policy, then make it possible for people to see, and provide the opportunity for them to understand, the pluralism that exists within Islam itself. Expose people to the other side of the debate, let other voices resonate with equal vigour in the various venues and lecture halls the Wahhabis are so effectively frequenting.

The followers of Wahhabism have a captive audience in the Maldives because they are the only act in town, because their script is emotive, and because they have chosen ignorance as the stage to act out their drama. Let the audience develop some discernment, and it will become possible to, at the very least, ensure Maldivians make an informed choice if and when they decide to take this country into a future of being an Islamic State with Sharia as its only law.

Let the Wahhabis know that the government will not let itself or Islam, the religion that it has written into the Constitution, be used as instruments of power in establishing the supremacy of one particular brand of Islam in the Maldives.

Equally important is to stop allowing Wahhabism to (re)define into non-existence a substantial part of the Maldivian population that makes this nation Maldives.

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 of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Comment: The heady brew of religious extremism, democracy and public opinion

This government is legless, three sheets to the wind, incapable of walking a straight line, has blurred vision and cannot remember from one second to the next what decision it made yesterday, never mind last month. If only this was heaven, the real mother of a hangover that is sure to come could have been avoided.

But alas, this is real life, and it is time this government stopped being intoxicated by the sense of achievement that has come with having given the Maldives deliverance from an autocracy. Wake up, and smell the theocracy that is in the air. Is it not sobering enough?

Wahhabism is in the Maldives to stay. Osama bin Laden made it clear that his ultimate aim is to establish an Islamic Caliphate across the globe. There are many who are willing to die for the cause, and many of them are now in the Maldives.

If the government continues to oscillate, gutless and indecisive, in the current manner, the Maldives could easily become the first member of this envisioned Caliphate. Twice now the government has changed its mind about bringing in new legislation regarding the sale of alcohol. Twice now it has back-tracked, citing ‘public opinion’. What is at stake here is not the availability or lack thereof of alcoholic beverages, but the ability of the current government to be a strong and capable leader of the nation.

Who is the ‘public’ that the government cited? The Wahhabi clerics? Has it come to the stage now where a Maldivian man is only a Maldivian man if he wears a bushy beard that covers his face?

Is a Maldivian woman only a Maldivian woman if she has covered herself from head to toe, or at least covered her hair with a Buruqa that complements the figure hugging PVC cat-suit she has on?

Is a Maldivian only a Maldivian if s/he is happy to listen to the Qur’an or some Dharus or another all day, every day?

Is a Maldivian only a Maldivian if s/he believes that women are inferior to men?

Is that the ‘public’? And what is ‘opinion’? Even if one does not buy into the elitist position that public opinion can never be informed enough for it to ensure that all democratic decisions are informed decisions, it is a valid question to ask of this government: what has informed this ‘opinion’ to which you have once again bowed? How has this ‘public’ arrived at this ‘opinion’ that has you so cowed?

Opinion, by definition, is a judgement or view based neither on fact nor knowledge. When the lack of knowledge is used by a particular group of people to ensure – through religious propaganda – that everyone holds the same view, what is expressed is not an opinion but dogma. Religious dogma.

The majority of Maldivian people are not free to think for themselves any more. After thirty years of being told what to do – from good table manners to good praying etiquette spelled out by the Great Leader – and being denied the opportunity to develop intellectually as free thinking people; the void where knowledge should have been is now being filled with unrelenting religious propaganda that saturates the Maldivian airwaves.

Every single medium of the various types available in the twenty first century is being utilised by these well-organised and well-funded Wahhabbis. They have numerous websites (dhiIslam.com; Dharuslive.comClick4Islam.com; Raajjeislam.com; Islam MaldivesDharuma.net to name but a few) and a strong presence on social networking sites and YouTube. They organise public sermons and lectures covering everything from Valentine’s Day to good husbandry and housekeeping. They fly in international scholars to preach their message and convince the youth that life is better lived after death.

To respond to this well-organised, well-oiled invasion of our country, this brutal rape of our identity in broad daylight, this daily negation of our rights under the name of Islam by suggesting that all ‘beloved citizens who might harbour what might be considered extremist ideas and opinions’ should perhaps ‘moderate and soften their ways of thinking’ makes President Nasheed look as effective a political leader as a newly crowned Miss World breathlessly avowing her goal to attain world peace.

‘Might’ harbour what ‘might’ be considered extremist ideas and opinions? Where is the doubt coming from about the extremism of their ideas? They are openly and clearly saying that women are inferior to men. They are indoctrinating Maldivians to believe that Wahhabbism is the only form of Islam that Allah recognises. Might be considered extremist?

Yes, public opinion is vital to democracy. There is, however, no system in place to effectively measure public opinion in the Maldives. There are no regular polls, no surveys, no studies to gauge what the public’s view of anything is. Nobody has their finger on the public pulse, just a hand around its throat.

Hiding behind the buzz words of democracy is not going to deliver Maldivians democracy – it may be rule by the people for the people, but it might well be worth remembering that people at religious boot camp with Wahhabbis may not have had the freedom to arrive at a considered opinion about anything of their own free will. ‘Freedom of opinion’ as a democratic right extends not just to freely expressing an opinion but to freely forming it as well.

Staggering from one side to the other (a foreign policy that finds allies in counter-terrorism; a domestic policy that is victim to an extremist Islamic sect) and bending over backwards to appease both sides while trying to stand upright; that kind of behaviour is far better suited to a public house than to the house that runs the public, would you not agree?

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 of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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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]

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Comment: Silence is not always golden

Silence is not always golden, and never so under compulsion.

The Maldives is travelling on a road not just less travelled but abandoned by most other nations – the road of regression.

Reading the headlines of a Maldivian newspaper is like travelling back in time. Female genital mutilation (FGM), concubines, under-age brides, calls to bring back capital punishment, deportation of ‘suspect’ foreigners, increasing acceptance of man’s alleged superiority over women… concerned about this state of affairs?

The key, apparently, is to say nothing, because whatever you say is certain to be used against you as evidence of your apostasy.

This is the most common and invariably pejorative accusation against any critic of the current Maldivian condition. This emotive allegation is akin to Godwin’s Law, which states that the longer an Internet discussion grows, the higher the probability that a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler will arise, shutting off further discussion.

Similarly, criticise practices negating people’s human rights, obliterating traditions and marauding national identities in the name of ‘Islam’, and the probability of being called an apostate hits the roof, ending any further discourse.

Jürgen Habermas’ initial description of the public sphere may have been utopian, but a democracy cannot function without such a space for rational debate about subjects of societal concern.

Saying Maldivians are being robbed of their identity and culture by those importing a certain brand of Islam into the country is not a criticism of Islam itself. Nor is it a declaration of intent to follow in the footsteps of hate-mongering apostate Muslims who came pouring out of the woodworks following 11 September 2001 such as Dr Mark Gabriel, a doctoral graduate of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Brigitte Gabriel and Walid Shoebat (to name but a few).

Gender regression

To point out that it is wrong for Maldivian women to be pushed back from a position of relative equality with men to being nothing but obedient child-bearing vessels, and to single out such thinking for criticism represents neither the perusal of a hidden political agenda nor a criticism of Islam per se.

Indeed, Quran 3:195 states: ‘…be you male or female, you are equal to one another…’

It is those who ignore this spiritual equality between men and women that 3:195 makes so clear, and preach contrary messages, that are being put in the dock for thorough and thoroughly required cross-examinations.

When criticism is leveled against the practice of butchering the genitalia of young girls, again, it is not Islam that is being criticized but those who are forcing the Maldives to regress into ancient cruelties its people have virtually abandoned. There is absolutely no mention of ‘female circumcision’ (as some who prefer to package this cruelty refer to it as) made in the Quran either directly or indirectly.

Neither is there a Hadheeth stating the act is required in Islam. While Prophet Mohamed did not explicitly ban the practice neither did he condone it, advising that if it were to be practiced, it should not be needlessly cruel. Criticism of FGM is a criticism of those who, under the name of Islam, are taking the most vulnerable Maldivians back to the times before people knew better.

Intolerance

Nor is it a criticism of Islam to decry policies of intolerance against people of other faiths – the most recent example being the imminent deportation of an American family because they are ‘suspected’ of being missionaries. It is to point out that ‘Islam’ is being manipulated to achieve certain aims and to pursue particular agendas.

Quran 49:13 states: ‘O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another’ [own emphasis].

Recognition of differences, pluralism – not a false dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – that is what Islam asks of its followers. For Muslims to do otherwise is ‘un-Islamic’ and for Maldivians to do so is, additionally, ‘un-Maldivian’.

Maldivians, until recently, were renowned for their openness and friendliness. The suspicions with which Maldivians now treat foreigners are consequences of this audacious robbery of Maldivian traditions and nature.

It is this loss that is being lamented by critics, the loss of the friendly Maldivian. The friendly Muslim Maldivian who welcomed foreigners with warmth and endearing curiosity. The Maldivians who have been indoctrinated into treating ‘the other’ with suspicion rather than with recognition as they once did – or as their religion tells them to do – it is they, and the practices that have made them so, that are the cause for concern and criticism.

No clash of civilisations

Islam is not monolithic. Nor is ‘the West’. Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations theory is a dangerous and vacuous idea based on Orientalism, colonialism and imaginary lines drawn across civilizations that he conjured up. Read the late Palestinian American intellectual and cultural critic Edward Said for a robust critique of the theory.

Unfortunately, it is a theory that many saw as proven with the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. Criticism of what is happening in the Maldives in the name of Islam does not mean the critics are in favour of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, or are swooning fans of George W Bush who initially used the word ‘crusade’ to describe this seemingly endless ‘war’.

Nor does it mean being in favour of the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that turned international law on its head and established the so-called Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes. Neither does it automatically imply these critics are cheering at the inhuman treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib; the ‘extraordinary renditions’; or the continuing surveillance and monitoring of Muslim communities in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’ and prevention of ‘radicalisation’.

Interpretations of Islam

It means none of those things because it is possible to be a Muslim and disagree with regressive and draconian policies that are being implemented in the name of Islam; and because it is possible for a Muslim to agree with certain ‘Western’ ideas and practices without abandoning their own faith.

Just as it is possible to be from the West and/or be a non-Muslim and disagree with inhumane and illegal policies implemented in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, or those that create the undeniably unjust North/South divisions of today’s world.

Such agreement and disagreement are possible precisely because, as quoted from the Quran before, human beings are ‘distinct peoples and tribes’ that should ‘recognise one another’ as such. It is wrong to try and erase these distinctions through violence and/or other means in order to establish a false homogeneity or hegemony of one group/religion/region over another.

In this disturbed world, the Maldives – had it been allowed to be itself and practice Islam the way it had done for centuries – could have stood as an example to the rest of the world that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, that it is diverse, and among its many followers are people of distinctive cultures.

Sadly, that Maldives is being taken away, its people being cookie-cutter-molded to fit the appearance and behaviours of a particular sect of Islam. A vast majority have allowed themselves to be led down this path, like rats by Pied Piper. Those that refused to be lured have been forced into silence, gagged by the implicit threat of being branded apostates, non-believers, Infidels.

Loss of identity

There still is time, yet, to fight the complete loss of Maldivian identity, to stand against the enforcement of this imported alien uniformity. It cannot be done if the first response to rational criticism is irrational accusations of apostasy.

Differences are inevitable and should be not just tolerated, but welcomed. Muslims are not the same world over. It may surprise some of those re-making themselves, willingly or otherwise, in the image of a particular sect of Islam to learn that the biggest concentrations of Muslim populations can be found in non-Arabic countries.

Not every Muslim is an Arab or every Arab a Muslim; nor does every Arab Muslim practice their faith in the same way. Seven percent of the world’s Muslims (over 50 million) live in Europe; two percent (over 7 million) in North America. Muslims today do not live in a world divided between an ‘Islamic civilization’ and a ‘Western civilisation’ nor do they conform to one look, one appearance, one set of customs – just the one God.

To sit and say nothing while Maldivian identity is taken away, while individuals are systematically turned into copies of a non-existent ideal with the argument that the right to individuality and to individual rights is but a covert tactic of ‘Western neo-colonialism’ – all in the name of Islam – now that would be a sin.

Accusations – of having been rendered brain-dead by the seemingly all-powerful silver bullets of Western media; political bias; and, above all, apostasy – should not, and will not, be allowed to silence the voices of reasoned criticism.

In the words, not of a lowly mortal critic, but the Quran itself: ‘there shall be no compulsion in religion’ (2:256).

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]

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Comment: To be saved or to let drown, that is the question

President Nasheed is away fighting valiantly to save the country from drowning, lobbying hard for aid and assistance from the developed West at Copenhagen.

At the time of writing, there is talk that Britain should open its borders to climate refugees from Bangladesh. Surely the Maldivians, too, would be glad to find some space in a UK asylum centre or two once the islands go under? Or would they?

The problem is, we are talking about Britain here – the great colonizer, who – according to Adhaalath – ‘enslaved’ the Maldivians for so long. And, as if 78 years of slavery was not enough, once it had granted the Maldives a ‘bogus’ form of independence in 1965, Britain and ‘they in the West’ have been waging a covert war to corrupt the hearts and minds of Maldivian youth with Western decadence and hedonism.

Surely Maldivians would not be accepting any assistance from these people of ‘the West’? I wonder how Adhaalath feels about the manner in which President Nasheed is back-stabbing his valuable political ally, making Faustian pacts with those evildoers. How ungrateful.

One wonders, too, what ‘the West’ would think if they knew what one part of the government, represented by the genial President Nasheed with his charm and show-stealing ideas for saving the world, really thinks of ‘them’.

Maldivian history, á lá Adhaalath

According to Adhaalath, the Maldives was a British colony from 1887 to 1965. The difference between being a colony and a protectorate may have been lost at sea.

The numerous countries that were colonised, whose identities were robbed, languages stolen, who were forcibly ‘civilised’, made victims of rape and pillage, who fought centuries-long wars of independence, against whom genocides were committed, and whose lands have been forcibly occupied by the ‘civilised settlers’ – they may feel a wee bit peeved at the loss of distinction between colony and protectorate.

But, let’s not be pedantic. Adhaalath says the Maldives was colonised, and not just by the British, but also ‘others’.

History has always been a bit murky in the Maldives. Take for instance the official narrative of how the Maldives converted to Islam in 1153 – the Infidel genie was (literally) put into a bottle by a visiting Moroccan Muslim scholar pretending to be a sacrificial virgin girl (don’t ask), and, voila! All Maldivians became 100 per cent Muslim overnight with no force, no blood shed, nothing.

Anyway, the other ‘colonisers’ that Adhaalath says enslaved the Maldives were individuals – an Andre Andre and a Raja with a double-barrel name. According to the dictionary, a colony is a country that is under the control of another country, not a wayward traveler (even if a Raja) or possibly the captain of a pirate ship (even if he sounds as good as Captain Jack Sparrow). But, never mind. Gratuitous pedantry can be unbecoming, and should be avoided.

The West, according to Adhaalath, once its colonies were lost, remained determined to infiltrate the beautiful Muslim world, with its strong community spirit, always living in peace bound by their strong faith in the Ummah.

You have to admit, you would be hard put to find a Muslim community in conflict in the twenty-first century.

This beautific Muslim world would have remained forever happy, if not for the stealthy shenanigans of the pseudo-intellectuals of the West. ‘They’, according to Adhaalath, have infiltrated Muslim societies such as the Maldives, luring the youth into materialism and philosophies of individualism through promises of education and progress.

Masking their jealousy and anger under benevolence, they have seduced Muslim youth with atheist and agnostic theories. This has been the ultimate goal of the West, their hidden agenda – the undermining of the firm religious belief that has been at the very core of the Muslim identity. This is the ‘neo-colonialism’ that the West now pursues, and it is aimed at Muslim youth.

Alas, the Maldivians have become easy victims, forgetting the beautiful ‘Islamic culture’ that made them Maldivians, forgetting centuries of tradition and culture.

Lost culture, or lost mind?

What is this ‘Islamic culture’ that Adhaalath accuses the West of stealing from the Maldives? Are they referring to the custom among Maldivian women that dictated they go topless until their first periods, no matter how old or how well endowed they became in the meantime?

According to the writings of the 14th Century Muslim explorer, Ibn Batuta, Maldivian women chose to ignore his criticism of the said custom when he came across it in his travels, and continued to practise it for many years after.

Dare it be said that in the ‘shameless’ West, women were literally swallowed up by cloth around the same time?

Perhaps Adhaalath is referring to the ‘Islamic culture’ of the free and fiery nature of Maldivian women much admired by Marco Polo in his travels? Or is it the ‘Islamic culture’ in which women reigned as queens for many years?

When Adhaalath says that the West has taught the Maldivian women – through the media – to sing and dance and expose themselves, are they referring to the women of the Thoddoo Badiyaa group and their ilk? Surely these pretty girls in their little pleated frocks and frizz-bomb hair did not learn how to powder their faces with white Cuticura and paint their lips with crepe paper from the West?

Hands up anyone who thinks that the dance moves of these women were learned from the West. Even the best of Top of the Pops did not figure a single move similar to the ones these ladies specialised in, waving their hair to the right and left so vigorously that one was afraid a head or two might fly lose at any time.

Or is the ‘Islamic culture’ that Adhaalath talks about the one that is reflected in the Maldivian women’s traditional clothing? You know, the dress with a neckline that plunges so deep that even Dolly Parton would blush, or the accompanying skirt that cannot even be bothered with stitching but wraps around the waist with a slit that goes up to the waistline itself?

Or is the ‘Islamic culture’ they want to protect the one where the Maldives once held the highest divorce rate in the world? Or the one where women ran after men going ‘Eid bolah gon’, accosting men from behind in a move that would have shocked even their ‘shameless’ Western contemporaries for its forwardness in pursuing potential husband material? Mr Darcy would never have been won with such unladylike displays.

Again, what ‘centuries of Islamic culture’, exactly, is it that the Maldives is losing because of the West?

Adhaalath is painting a false picture of a particular kind of ‘Islamic Maldives,’ that has never existed, then accuses the West of stealing it. The Maldives has been an Islamic nation for centuries, yes, but it has never had the culture that Adhaalath laments the loss of.

Rewriting history

Maldivians have practised and believed in the religion undisturbed, in their own way. Adhaalath wants the Maldives to forget whatever history that has been recorded, and pretend that Maldivians have been living the lives of some other people, following rules of a society and tradition these unassuming islanders have never before been familiar with.

Is the idea to get the Maldivian women to follow the ‘natural order’ of submissiveness while getting the men worked up about having a false identity stolen from them, and pitch them against ‘the West’ in an imaginary battle of civilizations that does not exist? These writings of Adhaalath are familiar and can be heard in the voices of those very same radical preachers who are recruiting vulnerable young people into a ‘war’ against an imagined enemy in the name of the ‘West’.

A Faustian Pact

Now, in the unlikely event that President Nasheed does manage to secure aid and other assistance from ‘the West’ to help save the Maldives from climate calamity, would Adhaalath be in favour of accepting the help?

Surely that would be hypocritical? Would it not be better to find a way to decamp to a burning hot desert somewhere where the women could keep their natural timidity and shyness intact under 500 yards of cloth, walk five steps behind her boss/husband, and breed in the safety of their tent while the man milks the camel while bravely battling the elements?

The children reared by the docile women and uncorrupted by the West can then go sacrifice themselves for the greater good in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

The true Maldivian culture, the one that Maldivians did not know was theirs until it was revealed by Adhaalath, will then be able to blossom and bloom – finally letting Maldivians be independent, and free to be real Dhivehin.

It is becoming more and more clear that, yes, the chances are that the Maldives is destined to drown if it is not saved. What is harder to predict is which waters will sink it – the rising sea levels, or the ‘holy’ muck being used to brainwash its people.

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]

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Comment & Analysis: Me sheikh, you woman

What would you think if US President Barack Obama were to appoint Benjamin Netanyahu as his special advisor to the Israel-Palestine conflict right after his speech offering an unclenched hand in friendship to the Muslim world? It would be a move that makes as much sense as President Nasheed’s recent appointment of Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed as the minister of state for home affairs.

The ministry is in charge of the police and defence forces – the maintenance of law and order in the Maldivian society. Its portfolio includes the treatment of prisoners. Was it not recently that Sheikh Rasheed voiced his wishes for re-introduction of capital punishment and amputation into the Maldivian penal code? And did President Nasheed not fundamentally disagree with Sheikh Rasheed’s position?

What confounds logic even more is that President Nasheed is putting Sheikh Rasheed in a leadership role in a ministry which says that shaping the social fabric of the nation is part of its mission and remit. An examination of the social fabric that Sheikh Rasheed would like the Maldives to be clothed in shows it to be of a cut and design that is hardly tailor-made for a democracy, to put it mildly.

Adhaalathian Utopia

For Sheikh Rasheed’s Adhaalath Party wants a Maldivian society in which there would be not just capital punishment, amputation and flogging. It would also be a patriarchal society that would function according to something called the ‘natural order’ of things. The natural order, Fate, Karma, God’s Preordained Blueprint for Life, or whatever one might like to think of it as, is one in which men and women are quite irrevocably different from each other.

The main proof lies in the biological make-up. Male and female reproductive organs are different. For those who cite biology as the reason for man’s superiority, the reproductive organs also testify to man’s mental superiority over women. One might ask whether, by the same logic, it follows that the intellectual superiority accorded on the basis of biological differences mean that it is these reproductive organs that are put to use when such men need their mental faculties to function – but one should not be so supercilious in one’s attitude towards such learned, scholarly dignitaries, so let us move on.

Even a perfunctory empirical examination of the societal idyll that Adhaalath Party has outlined for the Maldives, in their various publications online, renders one aghast that the leader of this party has now been appointed to a position that would allow for such thinking to be actualised. There is plenty of material to choose from, but the focus of this article is on the place women are to have in this ‘Adhaalathian Utopia’.

Women are equal to men, says Adhaalath. When it comes to domestic violence, that is. Take for example Lorena Bobbitt who in 1993 cut off her cheating husband’s ‘male organ’, as Adhaalath so very delicately put it. Rather than being a one off incident (excuse the pun), for the Adhaalath party it is representative of womankind as a whole, and shows just how wrong it is for women to claim such an ‘entitlement’ to victimhood in domestic abuse.

Now weigh this against the World Development Report of the same year which stated that ‘violence causes more death and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15-44 than war, cancer, malaria or traffic accidents’. Or measure it against the fact that 70 per cent of women experience violence from men in their lifetime or the fact that ‘at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her’.

No matter, the enraged Mrs Bobbitt’s impromptu surgery on the very part of the philandering Mr Bobbitt’s anatomy that stood as testament to his superiority proved beyond any reasonable doubt that these ‘notions’ of ‘victimhood’ that women entertain are just silly female ideas that have no place in ‘the natural order of things’.

“Somewhere around Bombay”

Similarly, women cannot honestly claim to have no equality when it comes to rape either. For Adhaalath – without reference to any source material – provides ample ‘proof’ that this is simply not the case. One Adhaalath commentator, for example, tells his readers of having spotted a headline in capital letters [if it is in capital letters, then surely it must be true] in some newspaper somewhere in a remote part of India that a group of women used to phone a hapless doctor to come make house calls only to be gang-raped by a group of female ‘patients’ when he arrived at the door.

Adhaalath can also inform readers that ‘somewhere in or around Bombay’, sometime in 1989, another group of women gang-raped a boy who died in their violent sexually-depraved hands. These are not isolated cases – although they do appear to be concentrated ‘somewhere around Bombay’ – for there was another case where a farmer was raped by a group of horny women whose violent sexual machinations robbed the poor farmer of his life.

‘These incidents should be viewed as discriminatory, bigoted ideas about women being victims of sexual violence at the hands of men. Men are suffering on a similar scale at the not-so-delicate hands of women. ‘It is an injustice in itself to think that women alone are victims of violence in this world’. No one is claiming this to be the case, but then again why listen to these ridiculous ‘Western notions’ in their entirety?

Anyway, the only reason that studies and figures from world organizations investigating such matters are mainly concerned with women’s victimhood is probably because they have failed to include this particular area ‘somewhere around Bombay’ in their data collection and analyses. Ah, the laxness of research these days.

Now that it has been established it would be wrong for anyone to think that Adhaalath Party is of the opinion that men and women are entirely unequal, let us return to the ‘natural order’ according to which the ‘Adhaalathian Utopia’ would function. It is a picture best painted in the words of Adhaalath itself – no one else could render it quite so evocatively as their writers, nor be as eloquent in the depiction of their vision for a new Maldivian society.

The following is an extract of a publication by on the role of women in society. The Adhaalath material is an abridged translation from an article that appeared on the Adhaalath website in July 2008.

“The ‘natural order’ is one in which men and women simply cannot be equal. This is as natural and irrefutable a fact as the earth revolving around the sun. Human lifestyle is based around the very same natural order, the same organizing principles as those found in nature.”

(…)

“All human life is run according to this ‘natural order’. The problem that we are confronted with today is that there are an increasing number of people trying to upset the system. The main problem is the increasingly loud voices of ‘certain people working for women’s independence who insist in calling for gender equality’. ‘These people’ are claiming that men and women are equal! ‘This is absolutely and completely against the natural order’ of the world. This policy has devalued the family by destroying the family structure that forms the very foundation of society.”

(…)

“It makes absolutely no sense that the family should be exempt from the rules of management that apply to any other business – a manager is appointed to run the show and the minions follow him. To appoint the husband as the director/manager of the family is not to say that the wife is inferior, nor is it to say that the husband is superior. The husband should be in charge of planning, strategizing and running the business of family – this is the natural order of things, and what God intended. Just like He intended the earth to revolve around the sun, and that night should follow day.”

“Should we listen to ‘those people’ agitating for equality between men and women, catastrophe and destruction will follow. For appointing the husband the head of a family is as natural as appointing a boss over employees, a prime minister over ministers – this is only a matter of practical and administrative concern, not a suggestion of superiority of one person or group over another.”

“In terms of status, men and women are equal; both sexes deserve equal respect. Sometimes women are even more equal than men. It’s just that they need guidance and supervision of men without which they would be helplessly bumbling about, trying to make sense of a world without order.”
(…)

“This is the main problem of modern times. According to notions of equality fostered by modernity, men and women rushed into employment together. This has led to increasing unemployment because it deprived men of their [God-given] rightful place in the labour force. Once women forgot their place at home the so-called problem of unemployment arose. There is no tangible development or benefit to be seen from women having joined the workforce.”

(…)

“Now that they have joined the workforce, nothing is being done at home. As a direct consequence, the whole society is rife with problems. This is the real reason behind such mayhem: women forgot their place in the natural order.”

What (or should I say, with what) possibly could President Nasheed have been thinking? Can anyone see the logic behind his appointment of the learned Sheikh Rasheed as state minister for home affairs in light of such ‘enlightened’ policy his party espouses? No doubt that Sheikh Rasheed is popular and that he is ‘the great Islamic scholar’ that his 194-strong Facebook fan-base tells us he is. But, what place does the kind of thinking espoused by his Adhaalath Party have in a democracy? By giving him such a portfolio, President Nasheed is upholding policies and ideas that should be anathema to a democracy. Shame. And here we were almost convinced by those learned men that timidity is an entirely female characteristic.

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]

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Comment & Analysis: From the rising sea into the crossfire

Jihadwatch is watching the Maldives. Jihadwatch, set up by the David Horowitz Freedom Center in the United States after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York, is run by prominent rightwing American conservatives convinced that Western civilization is in danger of being annihilated by ‘Islamic terrorism’.

The chief aim of Jihadwatch is that of ‘correcting popular misconceptions about the role of Jihad and religion in modern-day conflicts’.

This has meant reducing the inherent complexities of the Islamic concept of Jihad to a singular understanding of the term: Jihad is a Muslim Holy War against the West. Some of the contributors to Jihadwatch are among those who have made the most prolific contributions towards cementing the dangerous theory of a clash between Islam and Western civilization.

With the announcement by President Nasheed on 21 November 2009 that he was seeking advice on whether or not the Maldives should ban places of worship for other religions, the Maldives provided Jihadwatch with just the kind of material to spread their message of Islam as an enemy of human freedom and civilization. The article itself, and the comments left by visitors, make interesting reading for the government, and for the purported religious readers that currently seem to hold sway over what happens in the country.

Clash of civilisations

The issue here is not that the Maldivian government should let its policy be informed by the output of a website such as Jihadwatch. After all, it is such advice and thinking that informed the policies of the previous U.S. administration that led the world into the disastrous ‘War on Terror’.

No, the reason why being watched by Jihadwatch should be of concern to the Maldivian government is because it raises the question of how the Maldives ended up being involved in this ‘Islam versus West’ debate at all.

If President Nasheed is seeking ‘advice from religious scholars on Islam’s position on allowing non-Muslims to worship in an Islamic community’, he would also do well to seek advice on how to deal with the dangerous issues that the country will have to face once it finds itself well and truly caught up in the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’ debate.

The most pressing issue here is that the Maldivian government should realize the direction in which these ‘religious leaders’, with their proposals for introducing intolerance into Maldivian laws, is taking the country.

If the government fails to recognize the implications of allowing them to lead the Maldives into the maelstrom of the dangerous Islam versus the West debate, the nation will soon find itself in deeper waters than those that threaten to force it under rising sea-levels.

Imported

For centuries the Maldivians have been Muslims. Its constitution has always dictated that to be a Maldivian citizen, one has to be a Muslim. Yet, until now, it has managed to avoid being predominantly identified as an ‘Islamic state’ – extremist or otherwise – in western security discourse. Even in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001, the Maldives escaped from being grouped into either of the two camps into which the former US administration divided the world: ‘either you are with us [the West], or you with the terrorists’.

This is no small achievement, for a nation of 300,000 people who have been Muslims by law since 1153 AD. How did the country manage to distance itself from being typecast in this crude manner?

By practicing Islam peacefully. By being Muslims who were not dictated to by the diktats of sects and factions within Islam. By adhering to the tenets of Islam that make it a religion of peace. By being united in their faith in a manner that was uniquely Maldivian.

The Maldives has escaped war, ethnic conflict and civil strife in this war-torn world precisely because its people have been united in their belief and practise of Islam in a manner that has been unique to their own cultural and social identity.

In the last eight years or so, however, a particular brand of Islam has been imported into the country by persons whose underlying motives the government has failed to question and whose activities the government has left unchecked. The number of ‘learned clerics’ whose methods and sources of learning no one knows, have mushroomed with breathtaking rapidity.

The Muslims of the Maldives and their unique identity have been marauded by the force of the dubious religious rhetoric that now reverberates in its parliament and its public sphere.

Thought-revolution

There has been a thought-revolution in the Maldives the force of which has affected the Maldivian people as profoundly as Mao’s Cultural Revolution affected the people of China.

The government needs to question how this silent yet so starkly visible revolution happened without protest, how a people’s identity has been taken away so completely, how they have been so easily persuaded into leaving centuries of cultural norms and ingrained ways of practicing their faith for methods and practices that have been imported en masse from other cultures, from certain sects within Islam.

The last government and the barriers it had set up against intellectual development is just one of many reasons. But there is more, and the government needs to ask the right questions and find the answers, if it is to halt the relentless regression towards disaster that the Maldives is currently caught up in.

If the Maldives continues along this path of radical change, it is going to come under more than just the watchful eye of those trying to blame Islam and its teachings for all the woes of the world. The saddest development of all is that a country such as the Maldives, which until now has been a shining example of peace, among Muslim nations is now providing ammunition for those who are perpetrating the belief that Islam is engaged in a war against the West.

President Nasheed fought long and hard for a democratic government in the Maldives, and made personal sacrifices to achieve the goal. He has been busy attempting to bring about much needed reforms.

But, he is showing himself to be extremely weak in facing up to the forces that are impeding his progress. It is time for President Nasheed and his government to realize that if he fails to stand up to these agents of conflict and intolerance, the loss will not only be to his political ambitions but to the nation that he has promised deliverance from dictatorship.

It is laudable to try and save the nation from going under when the sea levels rise; but the ability to hold cabinet meetings underwater is not going to help stop the nation from sinking into troubled waters once it gets caught in the crossfire of the ‘War on Terror’ and the advocates of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

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 news policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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