Dhivehi Sitee is returning today, on 23 April 2021, to comment on Maldivian affairs in times of forced exile. I am teaming up with Mushfiq Mohamed, also forced into exile, to talk about what we see happening in the Maldives, who is making it happen, and how we see it happening.
Mushfiq and I are among many Maldivians thrown out of society for not conforming to the Salafi ideology which dominates contemporary Maldives. We are the lucky ones, for however many difficulties we, and others like us in forced exile, encounter as a result of being expelled this way, we are still alive, still breathing. Still thinking. Others, like Yameen Rasheed, Ahmed Rilwan and Dr Afrashim Ali, have paid with their lives for openly rejecting some, or all, of the many edicts and the fatwas narrowing fundamental human rights in the name of ‘true Islam’ in the Maldives.
Mushfiq and I, like many other Maldivian citizens, believe contemporary Dhivehi society should be one that is free from discrimination against people, be it on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, colour of skin, race or religion. For holding this belief in the equality of all human beings who possess certain inalienable rights—the first of which is the freedom to think, and to speak what we think—we are labelled Laa-Dheenee and violently expelled from Dhivehi society and Raajje. ‘Non-violent’ Salafi warriors band together behind the rallying cry of “Thi aalaathakunnah migaumaku jaaga eh neiy” to mobilise outrage and anger against us ‘laa-dheenee aalaaths’ until our choice is to either flee or be killed by the sect’s more violent warriors, the so-called Jihadis.
Maldivian rulers have, for centuries, relied on banishment to cleanse society of rivals or undesirables, just as they have relied on religion as a form of socio-political control throughout written history. The stranglehold over Dhivehi free thought, however, has never been as strong as it is at present, with the dominance of Salafi ideology as the only religious belief worthy of entertaining; and, consequently, the dominance of the Salafi Maldivian as the only legitimate Maldivian identity of the present.
We believe this conviction has been made possible by the willingness of successive Maldivian rulers and their supportive bodun and beykalun to use religion as a means of controlling the populace and retain their power. Taking advantage of an already repressive Constitution, which stipulates that every Maldivian must be Muslim, current political leaders have joined with The Most Learned Salafi Clerics to impose the spoken (and yet so far unwritten) regulations that demand every Maldivian citizen be not just Muslim but emulate the al-salaf al-salihin to be accepted as a Muslim, as a Maldivian, or even as a human being.
It is not just the path to personal freedom that is blocked for modern Maldivians. The political Islam and tourism industry complex which presently exists also prevents the economic and financial freedom of its people. Benefits of the exclusive tourism industry reaches the average Maldivian only on a trickle-down basis while a handful of Maldivian Big Men and billionaire international hoteliers maintain total control of their earnings, deposited offshore without even having to enter the Maldivian monetary system. It suits the handful of Maldivian resort owners to maintain the exclusivity of their little club. Government endorsed religious policies that depict non-Muslim visitors as Infidel Others who must be avoided—hated even—serves well the resort owners (who often fund governments or politicians).
The power relationship between the elite (politicians/resort owners) and religious clerics keeps the resort owners–the Maldivian elite expected/accepted widely to be above the law–in control of the tourism industry. And it keeps the politicians they bankroll in control of the government, and the religious leaders they support in control of the population and their conduct. These power relations and the intricate web of socio-political control they have come to exert over Maldivian society is such that they threaten the existence of the country’s fragile environment, its way of life, and the life of every citizen who dares dissent.
We are bringing Dhivehi Sitee back at a time when critical voices are subdued, when the local civil society has been reduced to just a handful of government-approved NGOs—be it local or international–willing to maintain the status quo and ‘work with’ the tourism industry’s policies of excluding Maldivians from ownership and enjoyment of the industry and with the Salafi clerics’ teachings of excluding Maldivians from enjoyment of their lives in any manner not known to or accepted by Muslims who lived in the first three centuries of Islam.
We write knowing we will again become targets of vicious hatred, be non-human Laa-Dheenee aalaaths fair game for persecution, prosecution, and assassination. We write because we have things to say, and the freedom – from our places of exile into which we have been forced – to say what we want to say. We write from exile because it is impossible to speak when at home and it is impossible not to speak when outside of it.
Dhivehi Sitee was originally launched in April 2012 as one among many voices against the 7 February 2012 coup which ended the country’s first ever democratically elected government and the subsequent illegitimate government led by Mohamed Waheed. Under the banner ‘Life in the time of coup d’état: Maldives’ it reported on, analysed and critiqued major political, social and legal events that made possible what should have been impossible: widespread national and international acceptance as ‘a legitimate transfer of power’ the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government. In August 2013 Dhivehi Sitee launched a special sister site to cover the long-overdue election which was finally held on 16 November 2013 and ended in victory for the coalition which had planned and executed the 7 February 2012 coup. After stopping coverage at the end of election day, Dhivehi Sitee was relaunched, and returned to the original site, on 21 April 2014.
Dhivehi Sitee welcomes contributions from other writers, and their pieces are published with byline in the Guest Contributors section.