Tagged: Islamism

Does this government support Maldivian Jihadists in Syria?

Azra Naseem

In the last week two Maldivians died in the Syrian conflict. About twenty more are fighting in the war. The news was brought to local papers by a group calling itself Bilad Al Sham Media, which insists furiously that it is run by a group of Maldivians based ‘in Syria, not in the Maldives’. Bilad Al Sham refers to what is known as Greater Syria, currently the main attraction for the world’s Jihadis who are lured to the conflict by what many believe is a divine promise that jihad there ‘will set the stage for the emergence of the true Islamic state’.

According to the Lebanon-based newspaper Al-Akhbar, the various nationalities currently fighting in Syria—Lebanese, Jordanians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Tunisians, Libyans, Saudis, Yemenis, Afghans and Pakistanis—are divided among many factions and schools of thought. Three among them espouse the most hardline takfiri ideology: al-Qaeda’s Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Doura Fighting Group, and the Jabhat al-Nusra li-Bilad al-Sham. The Bilad Al Sham Media group, which appears to have been set up for the purpose of publicising the activities of Maldivian ‘Jihadis’, has confirmed that the Maldivians are with Jabhat al-Nusra, the deadliest of the three.

Al-Nusra first announced its existence in January 2012, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2013 and in April 2014, started its own weapons factory. To remove any doubt about Maldivian fighters being affiliated with Jbhat Al-Nusra, Bilad Al Sham Media posted an Al-Nusra issued identity card which it says belonged to the second Maldivian who died in the conflict. Affiliation with Al-Nusra is a matter of great pride for them.

Bilad Al Sham Media has a strong online presence—it has a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a YouTube channel, and a blog. The group is making full use of all the platforms to bring detailed news of their activities in Syria to the Maldivian public. According to its Facebook page discussions with followers, the decision to go public was not made lightly. It was aware that being out in the open could mean that future Jihadists would find it more difficult to leave the country and join others in Syria as authorities crack-down on them. But, in the end, it decided that the gains of going public—calling others to ‘Jihad’ and attracting them to their cause—far out-weighed the potential harm.

Bilad Al Sham Media appears to have been spot on in its calculations: they have got a far bigger response from their followers and wanna-be Jihadis than from the government. Whereas the glorification of their ‘martyrdom’ has increased with the publicity, the government response has been virtually non-existent. Maldivian Jihadists, it appears, have nothing to fear from this government. In fact, the government appears to be tacitly condoning the whole enterprise if not actively encouraging it.

Bilad Al Sham Media warned the police not to investigate them, and instructed the Islamic Ministry to stay out of it.

The Islamic Ministry is following the instructions to a tee. Minister Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed responded to news of the Maldivian suicide bomber by saying that while he personally disapproved of Maldivians fighting in wars abroad, the Islamic Ministry itself had nothing to say on the matter.

President Yameen, meanwhile, has come out with a statement that makes suicide bombing in Syria sound similar to a minor transgression such as throwing some rubbish on the streets of Singapore where there are strict regulations against such behaviour.

Yameen said that the government had always urged Maldivians to maintain discipline abroad, adding that the responsibility for any crime wilfully committed by an individual must be borne by the individual himself.

Bilad Al Sham Media has made it clear that Maldivians in Syria are well trained fighters killing in the name of God; not ‘a family of Maldivians’ who, while travelling abroad, have somehow found themselves in a bit of a kerfuffle in Syria, as Yameen appears to suggest. Rest of the president’s utterances on the subject, offering financial assistance to the fighters if they have found themselves stuck in Syria, smacks of someone who is totally ignorant of the phenomenon of violent radicalisation or is having a private laugh about it.

Does the government’s astonishingly blasé attitude to one of the most pressing security concerns in the world today stem from ignorance, or is it calculated? Is the government deliberately turning a blind eye to the radicalistion—both violent and non-violent—of Maldivians? Does it consider the ‘Jihadists’ to be engaged in a Holy War to protect Islam? Its actions, or lack of them, since the news broke certainly suggests this to be the case.

Most people were still reeling from the shocking news of the Maldivians killing and being killed in Syria when the national Martyr’s Day rolled around on Friday, 30 May. Death of the second Maldivian had been announced only three days before. Bilad Al Sham Media was busy putting out statements promoting their deaths as martyrdom, a Jihad for Islam, when Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon addressed the nation on the occasion of Martyr’s Day. Shockingly, in all the talk of martyrdom, she had nothing to say about the Maldivians dying in Syria. Still conspicuously not remarking on the Syrian ‘Jihadis’, she defined martyrdom as ‘loss of one’s life from an attack by the enemy in a Jihadi war being fought for religion and for the country’s freedom’. She later said, ‘if we were to lose our lives during a sincere effort to protect our country’s sovereignty, that death will without a doubt be martyrdom.’ There was no such clarification of whether or not the government considers those killing themselves and others in Syria fits into her definition of martyrs for religion.

Other government officials were even more vague. Here is, for example, Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s Tweet to mark the occasion:

Which martyrs is he speaking of? The Maldivians ones of days long gone who died fighting for the country’s freedom, or the self-proclaimed Jihadis killing and being killed in Syria?  

Never the sort to waste an occasion for nationalistic rhetoric, on Saturday evening the government held an official ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day. As Chief Guest, Home Minister Umar Naseer added to the ambiguity. He focused on the changed nature of modern warfare, saying that days of fighting with swords and guns are long gone. Today’s war, he said, is ideological; what is under attack are ‘how people think of their countries, and their religion.’ There was no mention of whether or not he, or the government, considers Maldivian ‘Jihadis’ fighting in the Syrian war as soldiers in that ideological war.

Added to this recurring ambiguity is total inaction. Although it is the Maldives Police Service (MPS) which has a dedicated counter-terrorism department, recent media reports have quoted the police as saying Maldives National Defence Force is responsible. In this case, however, the buck seems to have been passed to MPS. Bilad Al Sham Media, which has warned the police that probing into their activities is anti-Islamic, is right not to be too concerned. The MPS was unable to identify Justice Abdulla Hameed from the leaked sex videos despite his identity being obvious to the naked eye. And, it was only in last October that the MPS Counter-terrorism chief flew to London with a ballot box for the presidential election and disappeared only to be found when he posted pictures of himself at an Arsenal football match.  

In addition to the cluelessness, it is not just Bilad Al Sham Media that is warning police that investigating their ‘Jihad’ is anti-Islamic. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 7.46.53 PMThey were recently told the same thing by hardline Salafi preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim (of Andalus fame) selected by the government to address the police on the occasion of Martyr’s Day. What he had to say to the police is not the least bit surprising. He recast national heroes of history in today’s Islamist terms— ‘Mujahedin who had martyred for Islam’ and the country. He said all police should always be determined to become a martyr, and took pains to tell the force just what a glorious position Islam has for martyrs. Nothing, of course, was said about it being wrong to blow themselves up, and kill others, in the name of Islam in the Islamists’ ‘Holy War.’  

The government’s non-action; its sanguine reaction to the news of Maldivians fighting in Syria; its complete lack of any counter-extremism or counter-radicalisation initiatives; its failure to state its position on whether or not it regards the Maldivian fighters who died in Syria as martyrs or not; and its sanctioning of an Islamist preacher to glorify martyrdom to the Maldives Police Service all combine to make a very loud statement—this government tacitly supports Maldivians fighting and killing themselves in the ‘Holy War’ to establish an Islamic state in Syria. Interesting, given that the Jihadists themselves have little respect for it; and we have already had some experience of what Islamists do to governments they have no respect for.

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The long road from Islam to Islamism: a short history

Maldivian women at an Adhaalath-led rally on 23 December 2011. Photo: Aznym Maldivian women at an Adhaalath-led rally on 23 December 2011. Photo: Aznym

 

by Azra Naseem and Mushfique Mohamed

Popular Maldivian history does not go much further back than the 12th Century, when King Dhovemi Kalaminja converted to Islam and ruled that all his subjects must follow suit. Long forgotten or neglected history books, however, tell us that life in the Maldives—or Maladvipa; Dheeva Maari; or Dheeva Mahal as it was known in antiquity—began centuries previously. The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle of The Mahavamsa connects the origins of Maldivian people to the Sinhalese through the story of excommunicated Indian princes from the Kalinga kingdom in the 6th Century. More recent Maldivian research, A New Light into Maldivian History (1958), traces Maldivian life even further back to the 3rd Century. Some historians have theorised that the first settlers in the Maldives could have emerged as soon as Greco-maritime trade began in the region making it very likely that the first Maldivians were “Prakrit speaking Satavahanas of the Deccan, Tamil speaking Chera, Chola, Pandyas of South India, and Prakrit speaking Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.”

Among these early Maldivians who predate the arrival of exiled Indian princes were descendants of the Tivaru people of ancient Tamil origin who later came to be known as ‘Giraavaru people’. They practised an ancient form of Hinduism involving Dravidian ritualistic traditions venerating Surya, the Sun god. The Giraavaru people, although now so totally assimilated into Maldivian society as to be indistinguishable from the rest, maintained a variety of their distinct traditions and culture until as late as the 1980s. It took a concerted, and often inhumane, effort by the government to finally make them conform to the majority’s norm. Successive governments also made sustained and systematic efforts to wipe out all history of the Buddhist community that had long existed in the Maldives until about 900 years ago. Just like the history of the Giraavaru people, however, the digging does not have to be too deep to uncover just how ingrained Buddhist ways and culture had been in Maldivian life for years. While archaeologists like HCP Bell have uncovered Buddhist structures buried underground, ethnologists like Xavier Romero-Frais have traced the origins of much of classical Maldivian cultural, linguistic and traditional traits to the Buddhist era.

The beginning of the end of Maldivian Buddhism came with Arab domination of trade in the Indian Ocean in the 7th Century. Just as the rise of China and India, and the US foreign policy’s Asia Pivot, have made the Maldives geo-strategically important today, so it was with the ancient Silk Route. Foreign powers were drawn to the Maldives by its location and its abundance of cowry shells, the currency of many. The spread of Islam along the Silk Route is well documented. In the Maldives, it is a widely accepted ‘truth’ that the conversion of the Maldives population to Islam was peaceful—people willingly converted with their King. There are, however, historical accounts that dispute the narrative exist in the form of writing on copperplates (Isdū Lōmāfānu) dating back to the 12th Century. These have not been made widely accessible to the public. In their place is a legend, first told orally then formalised as historical fact and included in primary school text books, which depicts Maldivian conversion to Islam as a reaction to the cruel deeds of a sea demon. As the story goes, the demon appeared like a ‘ship of lights’ once a month, demanding virgin girls to be delivered to it at night to a designated location. In the morning the demon would be gone, and the virgin would be found dead. A Berber or Persian, who was visiting Maldives at the time, volunteered to go to the demon in place of the chosen virgin one night. He stayed up all night reciting the Qur’an. When the demon appeared, the sound of the Qur’an gradually diminished it in size until it was small enough to be put into a bottle. The Arab traveller sealed the bottle and disposed of it into the deep blue sea, banishing it forever. A grateful King Kalaminja converted to Islam, and his obedient subjects followed suit. Hundreds of years of Buddhism disappeared, allegedly, without trace. From then on King Kalaminja became Sultan Muhammad Ibn Abdullah and Maldives became 100 percent Muslim.

The first major threat to the new Maldivian way of life came four centuries later, with Portuguese occupation in the 16th Century. Unlike latter colonial powers like the Dutch and the British, the Portuguese occupiers did not allow Maldivians autonomy in their internal affairs. Stories of Portuguese wine-drinking and merry-making abound in Maldivian historical accounts of their presence. One of the most potent weapons used to rally Maldivians behind the efforts to oust the Portuguese was religious rhetoric—the biggest threat from the Portuguese occupation, it was said, was to the Islamic faith of Maldivians. The day on which the Portuguese were defeated is now marked as the National Day, and the chief protagonists in the story of their ouster are venerated as the most heroic of figures in the history of the Maldives.

Religious rhetoric as a means of rallying support for political change, established as a success during the battle against the Portuguese, was once again deployed with similar triumph in the 20th Century. In 1953, while Maldives was still a British Protectorate, Mohamed Amin Didi became the first President of the Maldives. Amin Didi is largely credited with ending monarchy and steering the country towards a Republic. He is also known as a moderniser and an advocate for women’s rights. Amin Didi’s presidency—and the First Republic—lasted less than a year. Just as religious rhetoric was successfully used in ousting the Portuguese, so was similar discourse produced to brutally end Amin Didi’s presidency. Even the famine caused by WWII was tied to religious discourse and blamed on Amin Didi.

The Maldives’ first experiences of ‘Western modernity’ began during the Second Republic, with the arrival of tourists from Europe. The world had just lived through the counter-culture of the 1960s, the Maldives was no longer a British Protectorate, the Second Republic had been established, and Ibrahim Nasir was the President. Unlike its neighbours and contemporaries in other parts of the world, modernity was not enforced on the Maldives by a foreign power—it arrived with tourists and was adopted voluntarily by many locals, especially in the capital Male’ and surrounding areas. The Islam that existed in the Maldives at this time was an amalgamation of Islamic teachings, Buddhist Eveyla traditions and Sufi practises and rituals. Writers and historians such as HCP Bell, Clarence Maloney, Francois Pyrad and Xavier Romero-Frias have provided rare insights into Maldivian Islamic traditions. Many of them have now disappeared, or been made to disappear, as Western modernity and Islamism took hold of and begun to dictate Maldivian life. The total obliteration of Islam as it was practised in the Maldives for centuries began in earnest with the assumption of power by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Maldivians in 2014: WTF are we?

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I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market place, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women. – Abubakar Shekau

It took these words by Nigerian ‘theologian’ and leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau—spoken in a video tape released weeks after the group kidnapped over 200 young girls from their school on 14 April—to shock a couldn’t-care-less world into action. After mostly ignoring the news of the girls’ tragic fate for two weeks, Shekau’s words finally galvanised powerful countries into sending their experts to join the lethargic Nigerian government in its search for the girls. And, in what appears to be the most important sign that the 21st Century world is paying attention, the kidnapped girls now have their own hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

Shekau’s words appal me and they most likely appal you, but his is not an unusual view in today’s many radicalised societies. Would those outraged by Shekau, for instance, be shocked to learn that such views are more likely than not shared by a substantial percentage, if not the majority, of the Maldivian population of today? Consider the following:

Two days ago, on 11 May, most local news headlines carried the story of a 14-year-old girl who has given birth, for the second time in her short life. The first time she was only 12. The child-mother as well as her two children are currently under the protection of the Gender Ministry, and the accused is under 15-day remand. He is said to be 53 years of age. According to newspaper reports, at the time the child gave birth, the man was being investigated by police for allegations of blackmailing and threatening her. What do Maldivian people think of the event? Following are translations of a large number of comments that appeared below the news published in Dhivehi on four popular online news outlets: Sun.mv Haveeru Online, mvyouth.mv and CNM.mv. As a measure of their popularity—Sun has close to 44,000 Facebook Likes, Haveeru over 48,000, mvyouth.mv more than 26,000 and CNM almost 30,000. The comments appeared from the time of publication of the news on the various outlets on 11 May till 1:00 a.m local time on 13 May 2014.

Sun.mv was the first to publish the news. By 1:00 a.m 13 May, it had gathered 40 comments in total. Several looked for the right authority to blame—parents, the Gender Ministry [which is mandated with child protection], the government, drugs, society at large, etc.? Some made no sense. Only five (12.5 percent) clearly empathised with the girl and was openly supportive of her. In contrast, 16 out of 40 (40 percent) was overtly critical of her, deeming her an adult, a slut or a criminal or all three. Here are the comments:

Do children give birth? A miracle (liked by 233, disliked by 34)

Can you first define what you mean by ‘children’? Are there children who can give birth? (Liked by 104, disliked by 13)

Do children give birth? Hehehe It says children give birth (liked by 107, disliked by 18)

What do you mean [abused by] ‘a person in position of trust’? Who in what position is that? In what capacity did he do it? Need an answer. (Liked by 96, disliked by 3)

Please. Do children give birth! (Liked by 68, disliked by 9)

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha LOL…sss…I am in bits laughing…it says a child has given birth a second time…look you idiots…what you are saying is the same as saying a chick has laid an egg…if a child gives birth it would be the biggest miracle the world would ever see…people who look at science, study science a bit more to understand what a child is…we, however, will not prioritise science in anything, Insha Allah..the reason is that to everything that is said in the right religion revealed by Allah we Muslims say – Sami’una Wa’athauna (have listened and obeyed)…then, na-na-na-na (Liked by 84, disliked by 6)

Can a child give birth? In that case this five year old of mine can also give birth…scary (Liked by 68, disliked by 10)

Whatever she is called [child or adult] she is liable for Hudd [punishments]. It’s not relations, it’s fornication (Liked by 39, disliked by 7)

Children giving birth is a sign of Armageddon (Liked by 25, disliked by 7)

It’s OK to do DNA testing when girls want to save themselves from blame. But, apparently, it’s not OK to do DNA testing when a husband wants to find out whose child his wife is having. A miracle. (Liked by 17, disliked by 5)

These are children even when they begin and end a year by giving birth!!! Let me tell you something, Gender [Ministry]! Even if young, these people who are giving birth know what they are doing is wrong. Fornicate and call it rape!! Rape is done by violently forcing supplication. Rape is what happened on the bus in India! Take that! Arrest that woman and the man and punish them as due, I say. (Liked by 43, disliked by 23)

Pakaas…oh, these goings on…laughing so much my head’s splitting (Disliked by one, Liked by none)

You people, do not go near fornication. It is the dirtiest of sins…repent fast, and fear Allah (Liked by one, disliked by o)

Once a girl has her period, she is an adult according to Islam… (Like by 5, disliked by 0)

Apparently the one who gave birth and the child she gave birth to are both children. Two children. When will they grow up? (No likes, no dislikes)

I think the Maldivian constitution should be amended to change the age of a minor to below 25. Then all children will be having babies…what is this 18 years that’s brought in to decide a child…if things continue like this, by the time someone is old enough to marry, they would have 4 children, won’t they?? (No likes, or dislikes)

Haveeru published the article a short while later, and had a total of 20 comments by 1:00 a.m. on 13 May. 11 of them — 55 percent — regard the girl as being the ‘criminal’/’sinner’ and deem her deserving of punishment.

What this proves is that the female human being gives birth not just over 18 years of age but also at 12 and 14! This reveals that a human being can reach puberty and become an adult even at 12 and 14! (Liked by 120, disliked by 27)

Haveeru should publish a picture of the arrested man. Isn’t that how we’ll know who it is? (Liked by 105, disliked by 5)

This child’s parents, are they neglecting her? (Liked by 87, disliked by 3)

This child needs to be lashed. This has happened a second time because it [lashing] wasn’t done the first time. (liked by 73, disliked by 34)

If she isn’t 18 despite having given birth twice, she must be dealt with as a child as the law says. According to how magistrates in courts interpret the law, they cannot authorise such children under 18 years of age to marry…now there are [people] under 18, carrying three children, begging near the Market area…If courts applied ‘Islamic community principles’ and the main principle of the current Constitution when interpreting law, such matters would not be going from bad to worse…! Note: The chapter on Interpretation in the Maldives Constitution says that its main principle is Prophet Mohammed Sunna and the Holy Qur’an…! If these things are to be confused and convoluted it would bring great tragedy upon the nation. (Liked by 54, disliked by 8)

As long as it remains an illegal act to marry that woman even if she goes on to have 5 children before the age of 18, those people who destroyed Allah’s law and made and implement their own are as sinful as the man who did the deed. (Liked by 108, disliked by 12)

What’s the agenda behind using a certain type of photo? Don’t have the guts to call fornication fornication. Why not? ‘Don’t judge’ is the policy these days. Remember the scenes from ‘Anbaraa‘? Don’t you see reports of how girls are running away from their parents? Don’t you hear about the way girls are itching to marry drug users? (Liked by 133, disliked by 26)

Hasn’t achieved much really. [If she had] given birth one after another, now that would have been an achievement… (Liked by 16, disliked by 1)

Who is to take responsibility for this, Human Rights, Gender Ministry, parents, society, or the child when she is 18. Is it still not time to wake up. Certainly, it is a question to ask that has there been a solution despite the crime being repeated. These things can be solved only by Islamic Shari’a (Liked by 8, disliked by none)

‘the child who has been a victim of repeated sexual abuse’ — Haveeru has not written this news correctly…You must reveal whether this girl became pregnant both times as a result of rape or by fornication. In spreading news and information let us give priority to accuracy… (Liked by 10, disliked by 6)

That’s a joke..!!! 10, 15 days on remand…why arrest…let him stay home :)

mvyouth.mv published the news roughly the same time as Haveeru. By 1:00 a.m. on 13 May, there were three comments. Two of the three saw the girl as having done wrong. The third, while identifying the man as a criminal, called for the harshest forms of punishments possible for all criminals. All of them are translated below:

How the headline should be written, A Maldivian woman has fornicated twice by the time she turned 14. Why are you trying to hide the truth. You can’t confuse the truth. Remember that the only people who get confused are those who try to confuse the truth. (Liked by 10 people, disliked by 3)

This has to be stopped even if it is by sealing the place with mercury (Liked by 4, disliked by 0)

It would be a good sentence to pass for the male organ of people who commit such crimes to be cut off. That is — hands of those who steal are cut off, therefore penises of people who fornicate with children must be cut off! That’s the end of that! (Liked by 13, disliked by 3)

CNM.mv a recently established online publication with a rapidly increasing readership led with the headline: “A ‘small’ ["minor"?] Maldivian girl has given birth a second time”. Why was small in inverted commas? Was it the paper’s stance that she is not that small after all, you know, given that she had given birth twice and all that?

22 hours after publication, there were two comments:

Do not believe that a child can give birth…

Very sad news…I call for heavier penalties for child abusers like this.

Such harsh views as expressed by many in the translated comments above would have been unlikely in the Maldivian society of even a decade ago. Unfortunately though, today it is more the norm than shocking. A substantial percentage of the Maldivian population believe that a girl becomes a woman as soon as she hits puberty; that she should then be made to marry so that she can avoid the sin of fornication; that it is possible for a child to consent to sex with an adult; that anyone who has sex outside of marriage whether they are forced to or underage, should be punished with a hundred lashes in public.

A large number of the world population currently expressing their sadness for the plight of the Nigerian girls via hashtags and other such modern means is also likely to be aware of the plight of the 15-year-old Maldivian girl who was condemned to a 100 lashes for fornication. A popular petition did make the rounds after all. Following the international ‘outrage’, her punishment was suspended. For now. But, as can be seen from the commentary translated above, the radicalisation of Maldivian society continues unabated. Meanwhile Maldives remains top of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations. It is only when the Shekaus begin to reign that worldwide virtual ‘outrage’ translates into something even resembling action.