By B. Raman
Certain recent events in the Maldives attributed to Islamic hardliners and their opportunistic political supporters need the attention of the Indian authorities. These events indicate support from small sections of the population for an Islamic campaign in favour of an ideology that seems to have been inspired by that of the Taliban of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The number of people supporting this ideological campaign is still small, but the fact that these forces, however small, have established a base for their activities in a country known for its tolerant society should be a matter of concern.
The Maldivian authorities have till now succeeded in keeping these forces under control by rallying the tolerant sections of the population, but there is a danger of the anger over the economic difficulties faced by the population being exploited by Islamic hardliners for a religious radicalisation of the population.
A wake-up call was sounded during the SAARC summit in November when these elements vandalised and allegedly stole two monuments gifted to the Maldives by President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani of Pakistan. They objected to these monuments as anti-Islamic on the ground that they contained idols.
It was reported that the monument gifted by Sri Lanka contained a statue of a lion, the national symbol of Sri Lanka, and that the one gifted by Pakistan had a depiction of the Buddha. Following protests by the Islamic hardliners, Pakistan reportedly agreed to re-design the monument in order to remove the depiction of the Buddha, but despite this attempts were allegedly made to set it on fire and it was stolen.
The religious Adhaalath Party and the party of former President of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), proclaimed those responsible for vandalising the monument to be “national heroes”.
The Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla told the local media that the monument gifted by Pakistan “should not be kept on Maldivian soil for a single day” and “should be removed immediately.” He added: “We believe it conflicts with the constitution of the Maldives, the Religious Unity Act of 1994 and the regulations under the Act because it depicted objects of worship that denied the oneness of God.”
A Member of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Ahmed ‘Marz’ Saleem, filed a case with the police against the Maldives Customs Department for allowing ’idols’ to be imported to the Maldives for the SAARC Summit. He accused the Government of attempting “to erase Islam from the country.” He alleged that the Government had dissolved the Quran Department, the Arabiyya School and separate mosques for women.
These incidents were followed by two demonstrations on December 23,2011, one in support of the Government and against the Islamic hardliners and the other organised by the Islamic hardliners. The demonstration by the Islamic hardliners reportedly attracted about 5000 people whereas many more responded to the demonstration in support of the Government.
The demonstration in support of Islam was spearheaded by a coalition of six parties and some non-Governmental organisations. The demonstrators were wearing T-Shirts reading “Maldivians in defense of Islam”. They carried placards and banners reading as follows: “We stand united for Islam and the nation”, “No idols in this holy land”, “No to the Zionist Murderers”, “No to El Al Airlines” and “We stand for peace” . It has been alleged that to promote tourism the Government has allowed Israel’s El Al Airlines to operate a service to the Maldives.
The speakers at a meeting organised by the hardliners denied that they are supporting jihadi terrorism. Till now the indications are that the main aim of this coalition is to use the slogan of danger to Islam as a weapon to win the Presidential elections due in 2013. It should be a matter of concern if their ill-advised exploitation of religious issues to discredit President Nasheed plays into the hands of fundamentalist elements alien to the tolerant culture of the Maldives and creates a mini epi-centre of Islamic fundamentalism to the south of India.