The Indian Ocean paradise Maldives, until recently a moderate Muslim state, is the latest Asian country to witness a troubling rise in ultraconservative Wahhabi Islam imported from the Middle East, writes Annapoorna Karthika for the Asia Sentinel.
On June 2, Ismail Rasheed, popularly known as ‘Hilath,’ was attacked outside his home when his throat was slit through his trachea, missing a vital artery by millimetres. Rasheed, an outspoken blogger advocating freedom of religion and a fierce critic of the growing religious extremism in the archipelago country, is expected to survive the near-fatal attempt on his life, the second.
The gruesome assault on Rasheed cannot be treated as an isolated episode. It is an upshot of the rising religious radicalization in Maldives, whose constitution does not allow any national to practice a religion other than Islam.
Maldives, like many other countries in the world, fits a description of democracy in which popular attention to real democracy remains constrained, with the government paying only lip service to its forms but not its core values. According to the scholar Amitai Etzioni, the world today conflates its understanding of democracy with liberalism. The casting of votes by the people of a territory toward electing a government is indispensable for a flourishing democracy irrespective of the commitment of the elected government toward liberal principles such as individual’s freedom of speech and expression, indispensable civil liberties and rights of individuals.
In Maldives, the parliament’s decision to create a multiparty system in 2005 was upheld as significant progress in welcoming democracy to the country. In this regard, the emergence of the conservative Adhaalath party is criticized to have contributed toward the precarious swelling of religious intolerance, which threatens the realization of substantive democracy in Maldives. Although many scholars believe in the compatibility between Islam and liberal democracy, the Wahhabi movement in Maldives has been able to radicalize the religion by encouraging the use of violence to suppress voices of dissent.
Yet Maldives continues to be called a democracy. The forthcoming days are critical to see if they affirm the fundamentalist belief that democracy is a scourge to the freedom and individual rights of Maldivians.