President dismisses outcry over Gitmo inmate resettlement

President Mohamed Nasheed has dismissed public outcry over the resettlement of a two Guantanamo Bay inmates in the Maldives as “political waves through misty clouds.”

“I don’t really think there is much of an outcry. I first mentioned this sometime last year in December, and this has been public knowledge since then – not a single person has said anything about it all this time,” he said.

The agreement, in which the United States will fund the transfer of two Muslim inmates to the Maldives on humanitarian grounds, has met with consternation from opposition parties who argue the move will make the Maldives look like “a terrorist paradise rather than a tourist paradise.”

“I will say again, they are not terrorists,” Nasheed said during a press conference today. “It was very clear back then that people were arrested [and put] in Guantanamo without proper checks. People were just taken from all over and incarcerated. Today, when the jail is being dismantled, and the Maldives is among the few 100 percent Muslim countries in the world, if we can’t care about them, where is the example we are showing to the international community and other people of the book [Jews and Christians]?”

Nasheed said the Maldives and the US State Department had “looked into who [he] is, and who his relatives are.”

“Just think, these people have been kept in a small cell in handcuffs and chains for six or seven years when they’ve not done anything at all [to deserve it]. Do you know how they kept? We’ve seen the photos. So when we help one of them and people talk about it [negatively], I don’t really want to listen to it at all.”

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan meanwhile told newspaper Miadhu that “overreacting” to the resettlement of the Guantanamo Bay detainees risked “losing the focus on more realistic issues.”

Parliament’s National Security Committee had arranged a meeting on the issue on Wednesday to identify potential legal problems with the resettlement, however Minivan News understands this has been rescheduled.

Nasheed meanwhile said there were no obstacles in Maldivian law, constitution or customs preventing the Maldives from resettling the inmate.

“I don’t think that the people of this country is against such a humanitarian assistance or deed,” he said.

Speaking to Miadhu, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed derided opposition criticism of the move as politically motivated, noting that the same party that had led a no confidence motion against him for strengthening the country’s diplomatic relationship with Israel now disproved of the Maldives helping Muslims.

The inmate was a Palestinian man who was arrested and taken to Guantanamo while preaching in Pakistan, Shaheed said.

“According to the information I have, his home was demolished by Israeli troops and that many of his family members are being intimidated by Israel,” Dr Shaheed told Miadhu.

The only Maldivian held in Guantanamo Bay, Ibrahim Fauzee, was flown to Male in May 2005. Fauzee was arrested in May 2002 in Karachi, where he was studying.


Ministers who applauded criticism of government should resign immediately: Reeko Moosa

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader Moosa ‘ReeKo’ Manik called on any ministers who applauded when the government was criticised to resign immediately.

His condemnation was likely meant for those ministers present at the GIP rally led by Vice President DR Mohamed Waheed Hassan on Saturday.

Moosa said that cabinet ministers had a responsibility to assist President Mohamed Nasheed’s work.

“If they think their responsibility is to applaud whenever someone criticises the government they should resign immediately,” Moosa said.

He said that government’s senior posts “should be filled only with people who support the MDP manifesto and accept the President’s thinking.”

”When someone starts criticising the government, even if it is the Vice President, it is a must for MDP to criticise him,” Moosa claimed.

”Everyday early morning we drape the national flag on our body and are ready to make essential laws for the country,” he claimed.

Press secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair said that President Nasheed would respect the words of MDP and Reeko Moosa.

”If the national congress of MDP says that it is their decision [to dismiss any cabinet minister], President Nasheed would have to do it,” Zuhair said.

He said that the Vice President’s acts were politically motivated.

”His aim is to promote himself and his party outside of the government,” Zuhair said. ”The new regulations says that any political party which does not have a minimum 3000 members will be disbanded.”

Zuhair said the Vice President’s party contains nearly 3000 members and that the VP was intending to increase the number of members by gaining support.


Parliament passes bill on broadcasting corporation

The parliament yesterday passed a bill establishing a broadcasting corporation, with board members to be appointed by parliament and responsible for controlling public media TVM and Voice of Maldives.

The bill effectively gives legal weight and parliamentary backing to the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), which already runs state media.

Out of 69 MPs present, 42 voted to pass the bill. The bill was presented to the parliament by the government, with MPs attempting to introduce 35, but during the vote only 18 amendments were passed.

Spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Parliamentary group Mohamed Shifaz said he was happy with the broadcasting bill but was unhappy on how the broadcasting corporation bill was passed.

Shifaz said that according to the bill the board members would be appointed by the parliament.

”The parliament will be appointing people for the board,” Shifaz said. “Parliament will do the interviewing and select people.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahloof said he was “very happy” with the bill, suggesting consternation within the MDP over the appointment of board members was “because TVM is the only media now which promotes the government.”

Mahloof said the MDP MPs were worried that if TVM became independent, “there will be no one to promote the MDP.”

”TVM would never report anything negative to the governemnt,” he said. ”It always promotes the government, that’s why they are worried that TVM might become independent when the parliament appoints board members for the broadcasting corporation.”

He said if the bill was approved by the president, media in the Maldives would become “free and independent.”

MDP MP Ahmed Easa said that appointing the board members by the parliament, announcing for interested applicants for the position and interviewing the applicants by the parliament made the parliament “a place where business is done.”

Easa said that the opposition MPs passed the bill because “they want to change the public media the way they want to.”

”It is fine if the parliament monitors the board,” he said, ”but if they are appointing people for the board that means the parliament is [participating in] the country’s business community.”

DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom said the bill was passed with majority support of MPs.

Mausoom said the President Mohamed Nasheed should “be very happy” with the way the bill was passed claiming that many people blamed the government for attempting to control the media.

”Now the president can say he has no power over the media,” Mausoom said.


Police patrols now pedal powered

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) will begin using bicycles to conduct patrols, unveiling the new fleet yesterday on the 77th anniversary of the service.

The new bicycles were given a test run on the streets of Male’ during the inaugural ceremony by President Mohamed Nasheed, First Lady Laila Ali, Vice President Mohamed Waheed and Commissioner of Police Mohamed Faseeh.

Police Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the police bicycles would commence patrolling with the other police vehicles 24 hours a day.

”It is a new method of police patrol, like foot patrol,” Shiyam said.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the new police bicycles would ease congestion on the streets and make it easier for police to patrol.

However, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP and former minister for environment, energy and water Abdulla Mausoom said the new initiative proved the Maldives was “going backwards day by day.”

“This will make it easy for people to attack police,” he said, noting that Male’ was a “risky environment” and there had been an attacks on police last year.

The Maldives ”does not have to go back to the stone age to be a carbon neutral country,” he said.

Zuhair said the DRP were stuck in the past “and do not understand the new political environment.”

As well as a gesture towards the country’s ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2020, the government hopes the sight of police riding bicycles on the streets will set a precedent and inspire others to follow.


Akon to perform live in “the biggest ever event in the Maldives”

Well known R&B singer Akon will perform a live show in the Maldives, after he was denied a visa in Sri Lanka because of a scene in one of his videos depicting a woman dancing around a Buddha statue.

Director of Platinum Entertainment Lasantha Samarasinghe, the company organising the ‘Super Fest 2010’ show, said it would be be held at the outdoor cricket stadium on the 23 April and would be “the biggest event ever held in the Maldives.”

“We are expecting 25,000 people to come to the show,” he said, including many tourists.

Samarasinghe said if this event was successful the company “will bring even more Hollywood superstars to the Maldives.”

Press secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government had given the permission for the show to take place, saying it “fully supports these kinds of events.”

“It will promote the country’s tourism sector and provide a good opportunity for Maldivian singers,” he said.

Zuhair also said that President Mohamed Nasheed was keen to attend the show.

The show’s main sponsor will be Villa Television, with ‘official drinks’ provided VB Mart and Foco energy drink.

A Villa spokesperson claimed this was “the first time a superstar is performing in the Maldives.”

Tickets will go on sale from Friday.


Comment: Democratic bargaining over religion

Although an Islamist party heads the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the coalition government of President Mohamed Nasheed, he chose not to mention religion either of his two presidential addresses to the parliament so far. This is only the latest incident that has led to suspicions of ‘almaniyya’ pursued by President Nasheed.

On the other hand, the more liberal or ‘moderate’ Maldivians have lamented over the ‘leglessness’ of the government in the face of the steady growth of religious puritanism and conservatism in society.

It is no easy job for any president or government to carve out a religious public policy that will satisfy both these groups at the same time.

History’s lesson for us is that it is only through a painful process of democratic bargaining over the place of religion in government that we can consolidate liberal democracy.

Price of ignoring or thwarting religion

The history of several Muslim majority countries shows that governments cannot afford to have a top-down policy of ignoring or thwarting religion when religion is a significant part of social identity.

The Iran of Pahlavis, where religion was either ignored or thwarted by the government, only contributed to the rise of mullahs and a bloody Islamic revolution giving power to an elitist group of religious guardians who surpassed their secular predecessors in imposing their brand of Islam on the Iranian population.

Equally true is the case of Turkey where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk pursued a rigid French Republican style laïcité ignoring the religious sentiments of the population. This hard secularism had failed to provide a tolerant and fair democratic system for Turkey, where an Islamic party now heads the government (their second term), which was a slap on the face of the secular establishment.

Top-down secular modernisation programmes have failed in all post-colonial Muslim societies, which are instead mired in corruption, religious and political suppression and autocracy. As a consequence, in these societies, religious puritanism, Islamism, and re-Islamisation have steeply gained ground, and a home-grown, bottom-up, democratically-negotiated secularism has not materialised.

The calls for a so-called Islamic state have been the rallying cry in the wake of these crises.

But is an Islamic state the solution?

Men behind Sharia: the illusion of an Islamic state

A typology of religious views in the Maldives could show that there are at least three broad positionings on Sharia and its place in government. They include the more nuanced, eclectic and ijthihad-friendly version of Gayoom; the more conservative-Islamist yet religion-government-conflationary version of the Adhaalath; and, the more government-independent and insular versions which despise ‘democracy’ and similar concepts as bid’a and Western constructs.

The rule, rather than the exception, is that there are deep religious-political disagreements among these camps, as depicted by their different politico-religious groupings which compete and contest with one another, even when they are doing the same things!

Now, whose interpretation of Sharia would you like to implement?

Such disagreements are the inevitable outcome of the fact that both Sharia and fiqh are products of human interpretation of Qur’an and Hadith. There is no way one can delineate the anthropocentrism involved in this. Even the categorical injunctions like “cut off hand for theft” are bound to be differently interpreted, for instance, as to the exact meaning of the words ‘cut off’ or ‘theft’. Even more disagreements are bound to happen where their practical applications are concerned.

To take an example from among our own clerics, for instance, Sheikh Shaheem’s translation of verse 59 of Al-Nisa (in his book entitled ‘Islam and Democracy’, 2006, p. 15)[1] is literally very different from any of the translations (Yusuf Ali, Shakir, Mohsin Khan, Pickthal, or even the recent Dhivehi translation commissioned by President Gayoom) that I have read.

The religious reason for such disagreements is that even if there is a divine concept of Sharia that is eternal, there is no divine interpreter of Sharia amongst us. If so, whatever interpretation of Sharia you want to enforce as public policy, that is inevitably a human choice, not Allah’s. If so, such policy is strictly speaking always secular. And such policy can always be contested.

It is then not just too naïve to rally blindly behind an illusory ‘Islamic state’ as the final solution to all our problems. It is also dangerous. The only thing close to such a so-called Islamic state is utter political despotism.

The first step

As elsewhere in the Muslim countries, ‘secularism’ is a very negatively loaded term in the Maldives. Unfortunately, it is also a misunderstood concept – both in the Muslim world and in the West.

Dhivehi, like several other languages, including Arabic, do not have an equivalent term for the concept. We have seen in recent Divehi religious literature a term called almani – meaning ‘worldly’ – for ‘secular’. Originally in Muslim literature, the term dahr – roughly ‘atheist’ – was used for ‘secular’, which explains the pejorative view of the concept early on.

Influential Muslim intellectuals such as Jamaluddin Al-Afghani, Sayyid Qutb, Maulana Mawdudi, Ayottalah Khomeini, Yusuf Qardawi, Sayed Naquib al-Attas of Malaysia, who have voiced against ‘secularism’ referring to it as ladeeni, only added to our dislike towards ‘secularism’.

They, like Sheikh Farooq’s article on the 12th March 2010 issue of Hidhaayathuge Magu, assert religion will wither away or is relegated to private sphere in liberal democracy.

But the fact is, in the United States where there is a constitutional separation of religion and state, to this day religion is very much alive and active in the public sphere. Religion has been a strong voice in public policy and law making. Incidentally, Islam is also one of the fastest growing religions in the US.

On the other hand, how many of us remember that even in this 21st century, for instance, Scotland, England, Norway, Finland, Greece, Denmark, Iceland, and the Netherlands, could have officially recognised religions? Or why have Christian parties often ruled in several European countries?

What then is the ‘secularism’ proper for liberal democracies?

To be a liberal democracy, the minimum requirement from religion is that no religious institution must have the constitutional right to mandate a government to implement their views without a due democratic process or have the right to veto democratic legislation.

This minimum institutional separation of religion from state does not preclude religion from politics. If you want to implement amputation for robbery, you must go through the democratic process of convincing others through accessible reasons.

The right steps

Religion is an important part of our identity – even our political identity. As the historical lesson has shown in other places, it is therefore naïve, cruel and arrogant for a government to ignore or suppress religion.

Bringing on board religious people in public affairs or using religious language where appropriate does not make a head of state any less democratic or liberal. If President Obama, as in his Cairo speech, can quote from the Bible, Qur’an or Talmud, and speak about his policies towards religion, including Islam, and still be a liberal democrat, why cannot we be? President Nasheed therefore can show more of his religious side.

But, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ mandate must be overhauled so that they do not have an undemocratic, and unfair bargaining position to influence the national education curriculum and use public resources unchecked as a platform to promote their own interpretation of Sharia both within the government and society. This is unfair and religiously unjust because there are other religious groupings that do not have a similar advantage. Their mandate must be limited to undertaking training in Qur’an recitation, looking after mosques, regulating zakat, managing annual hajj, and similar non-interpretative religious matters.

This does not mean religious parties do not have a role in politics. On the contrary, religion can and should be part of the political process. It is unreasonable to ask from religious people to separate their religious identity and religion-based norms from politics whenever they step in the public sphere. A case in point is the recent protests on the liquor issue: religious individuals played a politically legitimate role to influence the government.

It is not toothless of the government to respond to those protests, given the profundity of religion in our social identity. Those who opposed the regulation – which itself was not democratically legitimised – might be a minority. Yet the alleged majority was simply democratically dead.

And, this brings us to the single most important arena where we ought to tackle religious issues: civil society.

Through the bloody wars of religion, it is with long, painful democratic bargaining of the role of religion in public affairs that we saw liberal democracy consolidated in Europe. It is only through difficult hermeneutical exegesis of religious texts and reformulation of religious views within the public sphere that we saw its tolerance in Europe.

This was not done by governments. The State, as a coercive apparatus, simply does not have the democratically appropriate resources to tackle and interpret normative issues.

In the face of growing conservative-Islamism and Puritanism in our society, what we need is a functioning civil society, bargaining for religious tolerance and promoting the universal goals of justice and equality envisioned in Qur’an.

What we need are our equivalents of the Sisters-in-Islam of Malaysia or our Sunni equivalents of Iran’s New Religious Thinkers, who will use the resources of religion to engage with the Islamist and puritan appropriations of religion.

We need to invite people like Khaled Abou El Fadl, who will help us ‘Rescue Islam from the Extremists’ who are committing a ‘Great Theft’ in daylight by sacrilising Mohamed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, who was even opposed by his own father and brother Sulaiman Ibn Abdul Wahhab.

We need an Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im who will help us ‘Negotiate the Future of Sharia’ and bring us ‘Towards an Islamic Reformation’ by teaching us the possibility of re-interpretation of religious texts through abrogation and teaching us more about the tolerant, pragmatic Mecca period of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

We need a Mohamed Charfi to clarify the ‘The Historical Misunderstanding’ of Liberty in Islam and show us that our practice of Sharia is not fixed, as, for example, the dhimma system, slavery and concubines (all allowed and practised under traditional Sharia) have become untenable and officially banned in several Muslim majority countries.

We need a Nurcholish Madjid who will challenge those for whom “everything becomes transcendental and valued as ukhrawi” while the Prophet (PBUH) himself made a distinction between his religious rulings and his worldly opinions when he was wrong about the benefits of grafting of date-palms. Is Sheikh Shaheem fully certain that when the Prophet (PBUH) is believed to have said “those who appoint a woman as their leader will not be successful” whether or not he was making a personal opinion?

What we need is not another religious minister, but an Abdulla Saeed to teach at our schools what a more tolerant and just Islam will tell us about ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’, and engage with (Islamic NGO) Salaf to argue that Qur’an as in verse 4:137 assumes situations when an apostate (however we dislike it) continues to live among Muslims.

We also need a reformed former president Gayoom to lecture in the Faculty of Shari’a and Law to show that the ‘door of ijthihad is not closed’ as he argued in a lecture in Kuala Lumpur in 1985.

Last, but not least, the Richard Dawkins-style or Ayaan Hirsi Ali-style calls from fellow Maldivians for outright rejection of religion and exclusion of religion from politics can only hinder such ‘immanent critique’ of religious puritanism and Islamism.

It is through a religious discourse that is democratically promoted within civil society that we could negotiate with our fellow Islamists, puritans, and the rest that Islam’s permanent and ultimate goals are liberty, equality, justice, and peaceful co-existence – that is, constitutional democracy.

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]


President councludes European tour in Finland

During the last days of his European tour, President Mohamed Nasheed met with the Speaker of Finnish Parliament Sauli Niinistö, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb, and former President Martti Ahtisaari.

President Nasheed spoke to the Speaker about inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Finnish Parliament and the People’s Majlis.

The president also met with a parliamentary association of scientists and deputies.

President Nasheed then met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They discussed the importance of EU’s leadership in tackling climate change.

The president met with former Finnish President and NObel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari. They spoke of President Ahtisaari’s Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), which works on peace-building and conflict resolution.

President Nasheed also signed an MoU with Winwind, a Finnish company that builds latest-generation wind turbines, to begin work on a wind farm in the Maldives.

President Nasheed returned to Malé on the afternoon of 18 March.

The president said his European trip was very successful and he hoped it would bring more assistance to the Maldives.


Amendments to Armed Forces Act dismissed by Speaker

Parliament has thrown out the proposed amendments to the Armed Forces Act, put forward last week.

The Majlis was stalled last Wednesday after two contradictory amendments to the Armed Forces Act were proposed.

The first amendment came from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Manimaadhoo Amhed Mujthaz, proposing Parliament should ultimately have the power to approve or deny the president’s choice for army chief.

The second amendment came from Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD) MP Mariya Didi, which was meant to counteract DRP’s proposal.

MDP’s proposal sought the Act to remain unchanged, and for President Mohamed Nasheed to have sole discretion in appointing or dismissing the army chief.

DRP’s amendment was tied at 35 on each side and was settled by Speaker of the People’s Majlis Abdulla Shahid, who cast his tie-braking vote in favour of DRP.

However MDP’s subsequent amendment passed at 35-33 votes, causing both contradiction and chaos.

“The Constitution allows me to vote only if there is a tie,” Shahid said, adding that he should not comment on the issue since his role was an impartial one.

Shahid said he “consulted the two major parties [DRP and MDP] and the leaders advised me to throw out the amendments” and leave it open for the process to be started again.

He said he thought the amendments would be resubmitted in the future, but were currently no longer on the floor.

Mariya Didi said “now the bill is as it was before,” noting that “the Speaker has exercised his discretion” and decided the bill should not be considered at this time.

“You don’t make bills and pass legislation to cater only for that day, but for the situation to be better in the country,” Mariya said.

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said he personally thought giving the power to parliament was “a dangerous move” and the motives for the proposed amendments were “purely political”.

He said the fact that the amendments were thrown out showed “the country is moving in the right direction.”

Adil added the Parliament “should not put their hand in the judiciary or executive branches” and each branch should remain independent of the other.