In the Maldives, it’s not just knives that journalists are being threatened with: The Independent

“Anyone searching for #Maldives on Twitter over the last week, and expecting to see endless pictures of an idyllic desert island holiday, may have found themselves slightly perplexed by the seemingly random image of a machete lodged through a door,” writes Neil Merrett for the UK’s  Independent newspaper.

“The door in question belongs to Minivan News, an independent online publication that has provided coverage of the country’s often painful transition from an autocratic theocracy to a democracy.

Minivian News journalists were then once again threatened with their lives via SMS. ‘You will be killed next,’ Minivan News’ current deputy editor was told.

The machete, pictured above, was a gift from suspected gang members on a self-proclaimed spiritual mission to “eliminate” suspected secularists, atheists and homosexuals. Conveniently, these labels are almost always attached to media outlets, NGOs, opposition politicians and bloggers.

What started with a machete through the door of the Minivan News office, soon escalated into arson threats being issued against the publication and Raajje TV. Police moved quickly to evacuate the offices of both media outlets, while providing them with ongoing protection.”

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Comment: Truth, justice and water boarding

For a foreigner living in the exotic hybrid of tourist paradise and Islamic state that is the Maldives, it can be a sometimes tough, occasionally exotic, yet never-boring life as an expat.

But the last few weeks have been particularly odd, with the world seemingly coming to an end amidst the build up to an imminent world war of ideologies.

The emerging conflict I speak of is the growing cultural divide between us, accelerated by ‘nutjobs’ both Islamic and non-Islamic, with sanity – as usual – caught in the middle.

And yet with all the drama triggered by the acerbic comments of the Florida-based pastor, Terry Jones, who recently proposed a ‘Burn a Quran Day’ in his 40 person Gainesville church, there appears to be an unlikely middle ground at the Ameenee Magu offices of the Male’ Water and Sewerage Company.

After all, the potential threat of a global religious war and its resulting nuclear holocaust can only go some way in recreating the monthly spectre of having to waste a lunchtime queuing up to pay a utility bill in the nation’s capital.

But it is in these moments, hunched among Maldivian strangers, that you begin to gleam some hope for society. Awaiting the sight of your ticket number flashing up on the screen – still a hundred or so people away – so one can pay their dues for the privilege of coffee and hot showers, an unlikely solidarity seems to form.

As a distinctly non-Maldivian looking chap amongst a very alien local populace, I was surprised to find myself not excluded from being passed old tickets from my fellow lingerers in a modest attempt to speed up one’s own personal waiting hell.

Between muffled and confusingly pronounced “fank yous” and “shukiriyams”, everyone is soon passing tickets on to one another – whether black, white or anything in between – with a growing sense of ceremony and desire to beat the system. It is about as much fun as you can have paying 500 rufiyaa of your own money over a counter.

Sure, it may not be a significant blow for world peace, but for my fellow queue buddies in the line on Monday afternoon (September 13, 2010) – thank you, it was a hoot, and I look forward to passing on the tickets again next month.

So some advice for Terry Jones and the violent Islamic protestors: whether Maldivian, American or just a pasty white redhead, before giving up in despair at the state of the world, go pay your utility bills and get some faith in your fellow man. It’s what the Male’ Water and Sewerage Company would want.

Neil Merrett is a Maldives-based British writer and journalist and most definitely not an employee of the Male’ Water and Sewerage Company.

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