By S. Chandrasekharan
Opposition political parties with over 130 NGOs of all hues staged a combined massive rally in the Tsunami Monument Area on 23rd December with the ostensible purpose of protecting Islam though the real intention was to use religion to further their political ends.
For one thing- Islam was never in danger in Maldives, but what should alarm the people was the way the opposition political parties used this occasion not only to politicise the whole issue but also to whip up frenzy to accuse the Government of trying to wipe out the “Islamic faith of the people” by subterfuge.
The rally unlike the earlier one in the first week of May was fortunately peaceful, but what needs to be noted is that the opposition having failed to create “Tahrir type” of revolution to topple the Government in the first ten days of May 2011, should persist with the same game with added strength and with added vigour on a very sensitive issue (Islamic faith) in Maldives. ( See my paper 4525 of 3rd June 2011 on the subject).
I had also commented in another paper recently in 4710 of 23rd September 2011 that the “New Religious Unity Regulations Bill” to control extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam will neither bring in unity nor prevent extremism. The bill was to control the influx of extremist scholars who were indulging in whipping of extreme positions in Islam.
But what we saw in Maldives on the 23rd was that the Government need not look beyond Maldivian shores for “extremist preaching” and that they have sufficient otherwise sensible people to whip up religious frenzy to further their own political objectives. As I had said before time and again that the politicians are trying to use religion as a political tool and that it would have disastrous consequences. My paper 4459 of 1st May 2011 and the earlier one 3894 dated 27 June 2010 may be referred to.
There were media reports to indicate that the rally was financed by Pakistan and it could as well be by Saudis too as many of the NGOs do get their money from abroad.
Gayoom is culpable
It is regrettable that one person who should have stopped this unfortunate development, instead took a leading role in getting the rally organised and getting his statement read out in the rally as the “star event.”
This was the former president Gayoom- He said in the statement that was read out -“Maldivians are not forced to be Muslims but they chose to believe in Islam and allowing a religion other than Islam in Maldives will create division among the society. Maldivians should have the right to defend the religion of Islam. I call upon the government to stop its efforts to weaken the Islamic faith.” No one least of all the government was trying to introduce any other religion!
Is it not an irony that a person who claims to have brought in democracy in Maldives should go to such low levels to whip up frenzy only in the hope of getting elected once again as President in 2013?
In this he was joined by Dr. Hassan Saeed the former Attorney General who had felt the taste of extremism in Maldives when his book on Apostasy was banned in Maldives. ( Refer to my paper on his book on freedom of religion and Apostasy Paper No. 2747 of 25-6-2008)
Look at the irony of the presence of Gasim Ibrahim the multimillionaire and head of Jumhorree party, who is making profits by sale of alcohol and resort “spas” that are alleged in the media to have shady activities? Even the Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohammed Abdul Majeed Bari is said to have stakes in the resort business!
Or the presence of Gayoom’s half brother Yameen who accuses the present president of not caring about Arabic Education!
One cannot imagine Gasim who was not on good terms in the best of the times joining hands with Yameen in participating in the rally against the government. Politics make strange bedfellows!
The Five Demands of Rallyists
In the rally, five demands were made:
1. Removing the SAARC monuments- monuments that were gifted by other SAARC countries during the SAARC Summit. ( The gifts given by other countries were deliberately vandalised- on grounds that they were “anti Islamic.” The Sri Lankan state symbol of Lion was vandalised. The monument given by Pakistan hat displayed the Harappan civilization figures were destroyed. Strangely, even the gift of Afghanistan- an image of Jam Minaret which features Quranic Phrases and accepted as a World heritage Site was vandalised!
2. Condemning UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay’s comments on Islamic Sharia. It looks that it was Navi pillay’s Statement in the People’s Majlis that triggered the demonstrations and the rally on the 23rd. Navi Pillay is not a small person- but the head of the UN Human Rights Commission. She was a guest of Maldives and the Maldivan Parliament gave a great honour in letting her address the Majlis ( Parliament). She should have been very discreet and nothing is gained by condemning the practice so openly in the Parliament where one was a guest.
She called for a moratorium and a public debate on flogging as punishment for fornication. She said ” flogging women convicted of extra marital sex -is one of the most inhuman and degrading from of violence against women. She also called on Maldives to remove the “discriminatory” constitutional provision that requires every citizen to be a Muslim.
Navi Pillay may be right but certainly the Majlis is not the place to express her views and this had embarrassed and enraged her hosts. It is not that the progressive people in Maldives do not know about it but she should foreseen the “tsunami” she had created in a country that is struggling with extremism. The protesters were quick to follow with banners like- “Islam is not a toy.” , “Ban United Nations.” , “Flog Pillay”
3. Not allow Israeli Airlines to operate flights to and from Maldives.
4. Close the brothels in the country. Many of the resorts in the country have spas which people say are just brothels. The Government will be forced not only to close the spas but the resorts too and that is going to affect the Government revenues.
5. Reverse the decision in declaring areas of inhabited islands as uninhabited for the purpose of permitting alcohol sales. Without alcohol, the tourist flow will be reduced. Without tourist flows the country cannot proper. This is a vicious circle and it is not the invention of Nasheed’s government but the practice introduced by Gayoom in his time to circumvent religious objections. It is strange that Gayoom who knows the difficulties should associate himself with this demand.
President Nasheed’s Approach to Extremism
From what we see, no one is more aware than President Nasheed himself of the country going radical. It has been his belief that over a period of time, people with more education and awareness will give up extreme positions and take a moderate line. But he seems to be overtaken by the opposition groups who are eager to use religion as a political tool. Nasheed has no time to wait.
The ruling party MDP arranged a counter rally on the same day to “reject religious extremism and continue to support the traditional form of Islam that has been practised for over 800 years. President Nasheed addressed the gathering and asked for moderation in dealing with Islam.
The idea of the rally was to demonstrate to the world at large of the number of moderate people identifying as Muslims as opposed to extremist Muslims. In this they only partially succeeded!
In reacting to the remarks of the Human Rights Chiefs and the virulent response it invoked- Nasheed said that Maldives missed an opportunity to demonstrate the nobility of Islamic Sharia to the world by reacting with ‘jehadi spirit’ to controversial statements made by visiting UN Human Rights Chief. He chided the people that they should have confidence in themselves and not have their faith shaken by listening to statements and opinions of others!
What he did not say is that the Human Rights chief should have been more circumspect in making such remarks which though true are not the right thing to say in a country where the opposition groups are waiting for a chance to use religion for their political ends.
So far India has been spared and there has been no criticism of India in all the demonstrations and subsequent developments. On 22nd November, a group of people did try to vandalise the Indian monument located in Seenu Atoll, but no damage could be done as it was made of copper. Strictly speaking India had nothing to do with the developments but in some of the neighbouring countries anti-Indianism is mistaken for nationalism.