by Azra Naseem
Bilad Al Sham, the media section of Maldivians fighting in Syria, has released a YouTube video describing the country’s leaders as Taghut – unjust tyrants, opponents of the Prophet, or evil powers—they are at war with. Makers of the video describe it as ‘a small warning.’
The video is accompanied by a nasheed – a piece of music sung a cappella, popular among fighters in Syria and Iraq. The words are said to have been written by Abu Nuh, a young Maldivian who died in Syria in 2014.
The video shows clips of all recent Maldivian presidents—Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978-2008), Mohamed Nasheed (2008-2012), Mohamed Waheed (2012-2013), and Abdulla Yameen (2013-present). In one clip Gayoom is shown in front of a group of school children who appear to be bowing to him.
Another clip is of Nasheed giving a speech in which he says, “people do not want amputations, executions, or stoning in the Maldives”. Superimposed onto this is a picture of the Maldivian constitution to time with the singer’s words speaking of their [the fighters'] refusal to obey earthly laws. “We will not approve, even if beaten, we will not approve, even if killed, we will not approve,” he sings.
The number of Maldivians who want Maldives to be governed strictly according to the Shari’a and Shari’a alone has been steadily increasing in the last decade or so.
The clips of Nasheed are followed by a picture of Yameen with the Maldives constitution in hand, at the ceremony in which he was sworn in as President. “We will not obey a human who disobeys the Creator”, says the song. Accompanying this is a video clip of Gayoom welcoming former US President Bill Clinton to a local airport, followed by a video of the Maldives parliament, in a session presided over by Waheed. Video effects show a slow fire spreading across the screen.
“Oh, Allah, Allah, I distance myself from this land of oppression, from this cruelty”, says the singer, accompanied by videos of the violent confrontation between Maldives police and a group of men who laid siege to a mosque on the island of Himandhoo in September 2007. It was the first incident to draw the world’s attention to changing religious practices in what was then considered to be a wholly ‘moderate Muslim country’.
These clips are followed by a video of Waheed and then speaker of parliament Abdulla Shahid during an honour guard. In this video, too, a fire slowly rises to consume the figures on screen. The video then shows pictures and clips of Maldivian fighters in Syria, before cutting back to a celebratory crowd in Male’ who seem to be moving in unison to music. “I distance myself from this infidelity”, says the singer. The video then cuts back to Maldivians in Syria.
“O Taghuts, weak humans, this is a small warning, a war we are waging. O unbelievers, the mobs of Satan; what we want, however much you disapprove, is to free slaves from the slaves”. This part of the song is again accompanied by video clips of the violence between police and the men who laid siege to the mosque in Himandhoo.
The video begins and ends with a man shooting live bullets from a machine gun at a makeshift target, a thin frame holding pictures of three men: former presidents Gayoom, Nasheed and Yameen. The bullets tear through the men, causing the pictures to fall to the ground.
In the last frame, the shooter tramples on them with his boots.
The issue of Maldivian fighters in Syria has become a political hot potato with the government accusing the opposition of inflating figures to suit its own agenda, and the opposition accusing the government of deliberately underrating them.
Leader of the opposition, former president Mohamed Nasheed, convicted of terrorism charges in a trial the UN and other international organisations condemned as a travesty of justice, has spoken on various international fora of the large number of Maldivians leaving to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq. Nasheed has consistently put the number of Maldivian fighters in Syria at over 200.
Yesterday, speaking in London at the launch of a new United Opposition in exile, he put the number at 250, saying Maldives has the world’s highest per capita foreign fighters in the region. On one occasion his international lawyers warned of the likelihood of a Tunisia-like attack on the Maldives’ tourism industry.
The government has, in turn, moved to downplay the issue, variously putting the number of Maldivian fighters at well below hundred, 50, or even 30.
Such low figures are hard to accept given the regular flow of Maldivians leaving for Syria since 2014, sometimes in large groups and quite often as entire families. The government has imposed a policy of blanket silence on the issue, refusing to divulge any information to journalists. Prior to the implementation of this unannounced policy, the country’s largest newspaper Haveeru (now closed down under court orders) and Maldives Independent, along with other news outlets, used to bring regular coverage of Maldivian fighters leaving for Syria and Iraq. This has now come to a virtual standstill.
The government’s policy of denial has made it hard to understand the true extent of the spread of ‘Jihadist ideology’ in the Maldives. Efforts to research, analyse and understand the phenomenon are also hindered by the government’s refusal to publicly share any steps it is taking to address the issue, and what kind of programmes, if any, it has initiated to stem the flow of fighters leaving for Syria.
Nor have the authorities revealed who is behind the undoubtedly highly successful recruitment drives within the Maldives encouraging locals to leave their home ‘country of sin’ to be ‘true Muslims’ waging war in the name of God.