The dark side of the Maldives



7 June 2005

This opinion and others linked here are contributed by a group of Maldivians who call themselves the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Maldives.This web site and its editor do not have any input into these opinions or the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Maldives, other than providing a forum, as required by Law. This opinion is published within the context of Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.We do not publish material from those who do not provide sufficient personal information to enable us to establish their identity.

Maldives is a place visited by many tourists. All tourist brochures describe the country as paradise, a beautiful place where worries are not known and which is in a constant state of bliss.

There are many people in Maldives who like to believe in the tourist-brochure view of their country. They like to think that Maldives is a peaceful and quiet archipelago, like some small country in the Pacific or the Caribbean.

United States Department of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

International Religious Freedom Report 2004

"President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom repeatedly has stated that no religion other than Islam should be allowed in the country, and the Home Affairs Ministry announced special programs to safeguard and strengthen religious unity. The Government has established a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to provide guidance on religious matters."

But nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is that the Maldives is no easy-going tropical island country, for it is at the top of the list of states where religious persecution is harshest and most relentless.

Among the roughly 180 countries of the world, the Maldives is placed in the sixth position, concerning intolerance against and harassment of minorities.

World Watch List ranking of countries according to index of religious persecution (first 7)

    1. North Korea
    2. Saudi Arabia
    3. Vietnam
    4. Laos
    5. Iran
    6. Maldives
    7. Somalia

Note that none of the countries mentioned in that list is an attractive destination for tourists. They are bleak countries, some of them like Laos and Vietnam scarred by war, or religious or communist tyrannies, like North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which no one in his sane mind would like to visit for a holiday. Lastly, note that Somalia, which comes in the list AFTER the Maldives, is the most lawless country in the world, but even there the harassment of religious minorities is a notch less bad than in Maldives.

This should be alarming enough, but Maldivians tend to think that claiming that their country is 100% Muslim is a harmless statement and, instead of being ashamed, the government actually wants its citizens to be proud of it. But the fact is that it is a gross violation of human rights for many Maldivians who secretly would wish to have the right not to be religious.

One reaps what one sows, so when instead of human rights, and mutual respect and affection, Islamic religious fanaticism is actively promoted by the state, as well as by the so-called 'democratic' opposition, it is very unlikely that a peaceful and tolerant new generation will emerge in the MaldivesThe government in Malé repeatedly slanders and vilifies progressive and open-minded Maldivians. It claims that Maldives is a 100% Muslim country in order to sideline possible reform movements, stressing that belonging to anything else but the Muslim ideology would be against Maldivian tradition. But this is a fallacy, for Maldive society has gone through deep changes in the last three decades and the traditional Maldivian mellow Muslim society is in practice no longer existing.

Many years ago the Maldive Islands were a very isolated country and there was almost no influence from abroad. Then, around 1970, President Ibrahim Nasir opened up the borders of the country and welcomed tourists and foreign investment. Therefore, beginning about thirty years ago, all Maldivians have been heavily influenced by the modern societies from overseas. For the first time in this island nation's history, many Maldivians entered into contact with tourists, visiting businessmen and teachers, while many other traveled abroad as sailors and students.

But during the past two decades, after Gayoom came to power, the Maldive society underwent a polarization. For the first time in history, a significant number of young Maldivians went to Arab schools and let themselves be indoctrinated against modernism and progress. Their new brand of Islam was no longer the traditional laid-back Maldive form of Islam, but a new intransigent, militant Islam, hitherto unknown in Maldives. These new hard-line elements destroyed that ancient traditional Maldivian Islam and set out to influence the whole Maldivian society.

Even so, these hard-liners are still a minority in the Maldivian society and the truth is that these present-day Islamic militants are a recent development, not representing Maldivian tradition in any way. And since the clock cannot be set back because the traditional Maldivian way of life has disappeared, most Maldivians, given the choice, prefer the influences of modern civilized societies over the influence of Arab intolerant ideas. Therefore many Maldivians would like to live in a modern secular state, but they are too afraid or too intimidated to come out into the open and say so.

These open-minded and progressive Maldivians are dismissed as non-existent by the government because they are too scared to speak out or because they have been persecuted and tortured into submission. These Maldivians have not dared to come to the surface and their number is as yet unknown because President Gayoom is not doing anything to restrain Muslim extremism. And radical elements within the Maldivian society would threaten and endanger the lives of those Maldivians who would dare to speak openly for tolerance. The reason is that Islam cannot tolerate criticism, and it is unable by its very nature to be fair and democratic. In these conditions, lacking the necessary protection and encouragement, open-minded Maldivian minority groups will be continually terrorized into silence and secrecy.

The MDP draft manifesto states as one of its goals, to "facilitate the progressive protection and promotion of the Islamic faith that will strengthen the moral fabric of the society and create civility amongst
the peoples"

The reference to "peoples" makes one wonder if MDP has an agenda beyond the borders of the Maldives.

The MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) is the only significant opposition movement in the Maldives. It claims to have the moral support of the European Union.

The present Government's policies, if anything, are encouraging the Islamic radical groups within the Maldives. Instead of empowering liberal, tolerant and democratic forces within the Maldives, Gayoom has co-opted the religious hard-liners. Since he fears and respects them, he keeps relying on them to counter civilian opposition. By raising the ghost of Christianity, Gayoom is depriving the very few Maldivians who are democratic and tolerant-minded of an even playing field. In these conditions, not even the so-called 'democratic' opposition groups have dared to confront the lack of foundational human rights for the Maldives.

The Maldivian truly democratic forces are still hiding. They are weak and lacking in conviction, so they cannot develop in the harsh pro-Islamic environment created by Gayoom Instead, their very weakness makes them a soft and easy target for his dictatorial policies.

The Maldive civil courts that enforce Islamic law still sentence women who give birth as a result of rape to being flogged in public. The above photograph shows a woman in Iran who was subjected to this barbaric, inhuman and degrading punishment. While tourists bask on Maldive beaches, it is possible that some unfortunate rape-victim is being scarred for life by ruthless mullahs somewhere across the serene waters.

The situation is bleak because so far there is no political force in the Maldives that strives openly for the establishment of a secular state. The present government is active in promoting hatred against everything "Christian", making it anathema to Maldivianness.

Thus the present government, as well as the government that is likely to rule the Maldives in the immediate future, are both incompetent to rule a country which is being visited by European tourists, because these are perceived as "Christians" by the Islamic hard-liners. Pandering to Islamic religious extremism from one side while welcoming non-Muslim tourists from the other could be building up forces of potentially disastrous consequences that the Maldivian state will be unable to control in the future.

It is a matter of serious concern that the double-faced and short-sighted policies of Maldivian politicians, both in the government as well as in the opposition, could be unleashing hatred and violence among the Maldivian youth in the future.

This potential menace could easily be directed at European tourists visiting the Maldives. But so far tourists visiting the Maldives are unaware that such close-mindedness, intolerance and hatred are being built up against them by the people ruling the society that is supposed to welcome them.

During his last tour to India at the beginning of April 2005 Gayoom lectured Maldivian students in Delhi, Chennai and Trivandrum. It is worth noting that the main line of his speeches was directed against open-mindedness and tolerance. Gayoom argued that Maldivians studying abroad should not deviate at all from the strict Islamic policies set by the Maldivian government and that they should strive hard to avoid the influence of new ideas, including liberalism, tolerance and outspokenness.

One reaps what one sows, so when instead of human rights, and mutual respect and affection, Islamic religious fanaticism is actively promoted by the state, as well as by the so-called 'democratic' opposition, it is very unlikely that a peaceful and tolerant new generation will emerge in the Maldives.