Category: Religion

Criminalising Takfiri speech in the Maldives

by Mushfiq Mohamed

Less than a month after the bomb blast in one of the busiest areas in Male’, targeting the country’s speaker of parliament and former president, Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives was yet again thrust into a conversation of explosive nature, this time through the discourse on freedom of expression. A government-endorsed bill was submitted to parliament, proposing amendments to the penal code, criminalising hate speech, with renewed plans to tackle the country’s growing scourge of Takfirism induced political violence.

Takfirism is a technique used by extremists to accuse people of Muslim heritage of, working against Islam, being irreligious, or being a non-believer. Local clerics have stated the polysemous nature of the word, suggesting it doesn’t declare another of being a non-Muslim or sanction vigilante violence. Although the word may mean different things to different people; it has functioned as the catalyst of many instances of intra-Muslim violence in many parts of the world. By extension, it is a way of gatekeeping what is considered the true version of Islam. It is often people of Muslim heritage, whether practising or not, that get labelled as such and become vulnerable to targets of criminals disguising their thirst for violence with born-again religiosity.

Does free speech include the freedom to offend people and criticise all ideas? In a country like the Maldives––where universal and positivist ideas could be punishable, and others that are less so are freely expressed, highly circulated, and legally recognised as above criticism––the limitations on speech ravage its freedoms. In this newfangled political arrangement in power, protected by the international community, many Maldivians are opting to censor themselves as the State machinery is policing individuals for expressing their thoughts, despite facing threats from violent groups.

The Maldives tends to create fancy new laws that remain mainly as ink on paper. Although attempts to criminalise hate speech in the toxic and politically violent landscape are commendable. Hate speech in this context, is the root cause, the ideological scaffolding (if you will), that creates and promotes Takfiri speech and violence in Muslim communities.

 Corrosive politics

Maldivian authorities have a way of taking a hundred steps backwards with every step forward. Their anticipation for pushback means that the day after the government, through parliament, introduced plans to criminalise hate speech; the Attorney General announced that the government plans to explicitly define ‘blasphemy’ as a criminal offence in the penal code. It seems the government believes cajoling extremists and their supporters can have a ‘de-radicalising’ effect on them; but we all know this about winning votes in a deeply polarised Islamic country that is becoming violently intolerant.

The government-endorsed bill to amend the penal code to include hate speech as a criminal offence criminalises any act of publicly labelling or characterising a person of Muslim heritage as anti-Islamic or a non-believer, sowing hatred in the guise of religion. The proposed bill also makes it a criminal offence to encourage hate speech or join campaigns smearing people based on religion.

The bill states that if hate speech results in vigilante violence, the active participants of the attack are committing a crime. The proposed legislation also criminalises physical attacks against a person based on their political views. Maldivians who do not identify as religious also cannot be called irreligious, unless they explicitly admit to it. What does this mean in the magical world of semantics where words are defined by the intentions of the speaker rather than the effect it has on whom it is attributed to.

If the bill is passed, additionally, it will also criminalise discrimination and hate speech against individuals on the basis of national, ethnic, and racial origin.

The freedom to be shackled

In a perfidious move, following the media circus around the hate speech bill, the Attorney General’s Office doubled down to diffuse the situation, stating that the government plans to clearly define ‘blasphemy’ as a crime. To any objective observer, this government looks unstable as it is ungainly, traversing issues in a vertiginous state.

Instead of repealing anti-democratic laws, the government seems to be rapaciously caught up in sectarian rhetoric, the kind it is supposedly trying to criminalise.

The Attorney General’s announcement comes as a surprise because there are currently two provisions in the 2014 penal code, articles 617 on ‘criticising Islam’ and 1205 on ‘hudud offences’ that criminalise alleged anti-Islamic activity. Further to that the Religious Unity Act 1994 also criminalises any act that ‘disrupts Maldives’ religious unity’.

The government may be able to fool many Maldivians through its contradictory steps, but these are all blatant efforts to promote religious homogeneity in the name of creating unity. It surely implies that everyone must think and act the same for the country to have stability – what is the point of a government that cannot ensure safety, diversity and representation of all who live under its rule.

The Dhivehi Inquisition

Why do we need a hate speech law? The sense of injustice and equality is breeding a new brand of political violence since the inception of multi-party democracy in the Maldives in 2008. The country’s constitution states that every citizen must be a Muslim, it goes further than that to explicitly state that all prospective candidates contesting for public office must be adherents of Sunni Islam. As far as Maldivian law is concerned, religious and sexual minorities do not exist, and the government hides behind the illusory halcyon of a homogenous society. The root cause of many of the problems the country faces lie with the hypocrisy that is rife in the political classes, widening the gap between the affluent and the downtrodden.

In one sense, freedom of religion in the Maldives has classist overtones. A Maldivian with social mobility can easily enjoy the freedoms of the first world without having to leave the country. It is a ferry ride away. Indeed, the luxury tourism industry operates under a different set of rules than that is subject to the local Muslim population.

Academic freedom, and any talk of human rights, let alone activism, is severely curtailed through this legal framework. It has, through the abuse of democratic freedoms, given a platform to those with the most obscene views on religion.

According to the Freedom in the World Report published by Freedom House in 2020, “School and university curriculums have come under increased influence from hard-line religious leaders, resulting in some content that denigrates democracy and promotes jihadist narratives.” The locally banned NGO, Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), was arbitrarily expelled from the country for criticising this increasing grip religious hardliners have over the country’s religious affairs.

The swift banning of MDN after a smear campaign, in late 2019, over an allegedly “blasphemous” study, compared with the freedom for clerics to spread hate and violence, perfectly illustrates the stalemate the government finds itself in. After religious hardliners campaigned for MDN’s ban, it was the Islamic Ministry that legitimised these claims initially made by extremists, by alerting the police and stating that the authors of MDN’s 2016 report on violent extremism deserved execution, even when MDN had apologised for hurting public sensitivities.

Inertia in the air

Over the past month, the changes to the bill may end up weaponizing those it wishes to curtail. Islamists in the Maldives, including those in political parties in the governing coalition claim the bill is an attempt at secularising Maldivian society, while the Maldivian Democratic Party states it aims to combat Takfiri speech and sectarian violence.  

“In relation to a specific religious matter where clerics’ views don’t have an established consensus, individuals cannot be labelled as anti-Islamic for taking one side over the other”, number 1 of the proposed penal code amendments’ Article 124(a) states.

Others weighed in, stating that criminal intent behind the hate speech must be established for it to amount to criminality. “In a country where being accused of being anti-religious poses a real threat to one’s life, it would be necessary to prohibit speech that make such allegations. However, any criminal sanction must only target if the intention of the allegation was to get that person killed”, Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, tweeted in Dhivehi.

The criminal offence of hate speech is defined as follows under numbers 3 and 5 of Article 124 (a) (1): “If one does not explicitly leave Islam; and does not act or openly express views contrary to Islamic principles; others cannot actively label that person as an ‘apostate’ or ‘infidel’—or partake in characterising one as thereof.”

Earlier this month, local media reported that the bill went through committee stages, after consultations with the Islamic Ministry, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Prosecutor General’s Office and the wider public.

The HRCM’s press statement published on 24 June rightly pointed out that any changes to the penal code, criminalising hate speech, should adhere to international best practice. “We propose that ‘the six-part threshold test’ outlined under the UN’s Rabat Plan of Action be used in defining the perimeters of the criminal act which constitutes hate speech,” the HRCM statement said in Dhivehi. The statutory human rights body also urged the parliament to abide by Principle 12 of ARTICLE19’s Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality, outlining guidance on outlawing ‘incitement to hatred’, in addition to following the UN’s Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech unveiled in June 2019.

The lexicon of hate

The Chair of the Judiciary Committee at the People’s Majlis, MP Imthiyaz Fahmy responded stating that the parliament sought advice from established religious clerics, who recommended that it should be a criminal offence to label a person as anti-Islamic or non-Muslim without a court process establishing disbelief. “The bill has been widely amended to an extent we hadn’t anticipated,” Fahmy told Adhadhu, a Dhivehi language news outlet. Disgruntledly, Fahmy said he is unsure if it can even be called a hate speech bill anymore.

Fahmy’s frustration is understandable. The People’s Majlis saw MPs harangue over these proposed changes to the penal code, remaining intentionally ignorant of the innocent lives that hate speech and vigilante violence has claimed in the politically turbulent island country in its burgeoning experiment with open democracy.

The dehumanising smear campaign against MP Hisaan Hussein who submitted the bill is sufficient proof of the urgency for criminalising Takfiri speech and incitement to violence. Instead, political and religious actors used hyperboles to describe the consequences, claiming that these proposed provisions relinquish the status Islam has in Maldivian society. Others hid behind academic cartwheels that were far removed from the situation on the ground, opting to flash cerebral flexes rather than speaking constructively on the much-needed objectives of the bill. It is true that the Maldives are made up of islands, but it cannot be an island on an issue that is suffocating even the oldest and most robust democracies in the world.

Hate and Hadith in the Maldives

by Azra Naseem

Shouldn’t the right to be come before the right to criticise for being? 

If Adhaalath Party wants the freedom to criticise people who are LaaDheenee, shouldn’t people first have the freedom to be LaaDheenee?

When Adhaalath Party insists that the right to criticise those they regard as LaaDheenee must exist without there first existing a right to be LaaDheenee, isn’t it essentially asking for the authority to be a vigilante religious authority or a religious police force? 

If the right to call someone irreligious must be protected in order to protect freedom of speech, mustn’t we also protect the right to be irreligious? If the right to criticise non-religion must exist, must not also the right to criticise religion?  

Can the right to freedom of speech exist without the right to freedom of thought? If we cannot say what we think, then what purpose does the right to speak serve?

If, as Adhaalath says, the Anti-Hate Speech Bill fails to fit UN principles and standards, what international standards and principles does criminalising of the irreligious fit into?

Many questions come to mind as I think about the Anti-Hate Speech Bill. It proposes an amendment to the Penal Code, making it a crime to call a Muslim not a Muslim. This proposition has essentially been boiled down by Adhaalath Party to mean the right to call a person or organisation LaaDheenee should the party and its affiliated clerics deem them to be so. 

The word LaaDheenee is the singular most powerful word to have emerged in recent Maldivian socio-political lexicon. Dhivehi blog Mandhoob has provided a genealogy of LaaDheenee which reflects the word’s journey into the centre of modern Maldivian power politics. Having entered common Dhivehi parlance more or less at the same time as the term democracy [via Gayoom and his fellow Al-Azhar alumni] LaaDheenee has—from its original emergence as meaning irreligious—gone on to mean secularist, Enemy of Islam, apostate, and a target for Dhivehi violent extremists. The term gained most traction, and was used most frequently, when Mohamed Nasheed became president and when the opposition to his presidency was at its height. At the time, Nasheed was the premier recipient of the label, and it was used in contexts that conveyed the whole gamut of its definitions—anti-Islam; anti-religion; Bishop; Pope; Christian Missionary; Enemy of Islam. 

Once Nasheed was ousted—for a large part for not being a Muslim enough leader for Maldives—the label began to be more liberally applied to any or everyone who spoke against Adhaalath and its clique of conservative clerics and friends. Adhaalath and its affiliates have denied that applying the label LaaDheenee marks people out as targets for extremists. But the facts speak for themselves. Outspoken critics of intolerant conservative Islamic practices who have been labelled LaaDheenee are all either dead, almost died, or have been evicted from society.

Now that lawmakers have finally proposed a long overdue law that will make it a crime to accuse a Muslim [which all Maldivian citizens are legally required to be from birth] of being a non-Muslim, Adhaalath has formed a new group of ‘religious intellectuals’ called 101 I’lm Verin (101 Masters of Knowledge or Masters of Kowledge 101) who have come together to re-define LaaDheenee as a label to be applied to ‘deviant’ Muslims who do not fit their criteria of a “Good Muslim”. This is a much watered-down version of what LaaDheenee has meant till now. But, for the sake of argument (and given that definitions by such ‘I’lmverin’ tend to stick), let’s go with their new definition of this very fluid term: the right to call someone LaaDheenee is merely to censure them for not being a good Muslim. 

This new definition has allowed Adhaalath and affiliates to not only distance itself from the role they played in motivating and religiously justifying the killings of people they previously labelled LaaDheenee, it also provides them with the opportunity to provide backing from the Quru’an and the Sunnah for their agenda which, I believe, is to not just retain the right to be our moral police, but also to codify that right as law. The proposed Hate Speech Bill, by removing the right to call out Maldivians for not being Muslim enough, is in a sense removing Adhaalath and company their very reason for being: calling out ‘bad Muslims’ and ensuring they are punished (i.e: killed by the law of the state or killed by a pious Jihadist to purify society). These 101 Masters will, therefore, stop at very little to ensure the Bill does not become law. As usual, these men who come out in one big bearded pack to release statements and pose for group photos, are running a sophisticated and (to those who care to see), a familiar campaign based on Hate and Hadith to try and sink the Bill even before it gets to the Majlis table. 

“Hisaan Bill”: making it personal 

There have been many individuals in modern Maldivian society who have been picked for targeted hate campaigns which are deeply personal. Women are especially vulnerable in such situations because personal attacks against the female gender come with the additional right to criticise not just the behaviour deemed wrong but also against the women as private individuals. Challenging women, or women who challenge the status quo, are deemed fair game if their conduct is outside the invisible, yet increasingly powerful, measurements of acceptability imposed on our society by the 101 Masters. When Aishath Velezinee challenged society for disregarding Article 285 of the Constitution, she became such a target. Much of society has done the same to former Attorney General and lawyer Azima Shakoor whenever she was not on their side of the law, and it does the same to Aisha Shujune for being a Supreme Court Justice. Aishath Aniya, whose campaign for a democratic Maldives has been relentless, is often a target and, of course, Hindha Ismail of MDN (Maldivian Democracy Network) receives the same treatment. Now the time has come to add MP Hisaan Hussain to the group, and ensure all the pent-up outrage of the Masters 101 is directed at her. Avas newspaper has been particularly eager to make the bill about Hisaan, and not what it says.

Seemingly, this tactic is meant to discredit the Bill by a) making it seem like an idea proposed by someone woman and therefore inherently stupid; and b) making it seem like an idea proposed by not just a woman but also a LaaDheenee woman, and therefore not just stupid but also anti-Islamic. I would not be surprised to find out that Hisaan’s Timelines are now filled with messages of hate. There will be women falling over each other and over men to call her a slut, and to tell her go take a shower because she looks dirty, and tell her to cover herself up because she looks naked. They would be asking her how she dares live, and they would be telling her there is no room in society for her. MP Sun Siam said to Hisaan’s face what a lot of people thought: that bitch should be hanged, and I won’t even go to hell for it. But, of course, why would he? She is LaaDheenee after all. 

Incredulous as it may seem, this tactic works. I am willing to bet that at least one third of the people who disagree with the Bill do so because it is proposed by some loose LaaDheenee woman who really shouldn’t be in parliament at all. 

Secular Bill: Making it LaaDheenee

‘Artwork’ at what appears to be the beginning stages of the right to hate campaign against the Anti-Hate Speech Bill with required hashtag #BanSecularBill

The anti-hate speech proposal is also being called the Secular Bill, even as it is being criticised by the same people for not being secular enough. On the one hand, says Adhaalath, this bill wants to introduce the secular notion of anti-hate directly against the teachings of Islam; on the other hand, also says Adhaalath, it is not secular enough in its definition of hate speech because it doesn’t allow people to call each other whatever they want. This tactic of getting people to hate the anti-hate bill on the basis that it is being introduced by closet secularists is a powerful one that resonates with a lot of Maldivians. 

As the murders of Ahmed Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed showed us, secularism and any talk of reducing the predominance of religion in public spaces or of increasing tolerance of Others, are not welcome in the Maldives. This tactic also allows the 101 Masters to link the Bill with MDN, which has already been found guilty without trial of attempting to introduce secularism to the Maldives in cahoots with Western states. The fact that the government has not punished the authors of the MDN report which included sentences deemed offensive to Muslims is, according to Masters 101, the biggest challenge to Islam in the Maldives today. What they want is for the authors to be punished severely and made an example of. Secularism and people who want to relegate religion to a more private place and those who put human equality above a sense of superiority derived solely from being a Muslim, are not allowed to belong to the Maldivian society of the present. 

Calling the anti-hate speech bill The Secular Bill is another tactic meant to undermine it, and get a significant section of the population behind the hate campaign that is now taking off. If, in addition to Hisaan, the hate campaign can also have the face of Hindha—and other LaaDheenee women along the way—it is assured to go ‘viral’, which is the very modern goal of these purists who want to revive the past. When the #BanMDN campaign took off, in one month there were over 200,000 Tweets of hate with the hashtag. That was just one out of about four or five months of concerted, concentrated nationwide hate from the relatively small number of Twitter users in a total population of less than half a million people. If the 101 Masters can channel that hate towards the ‘Hisaan Bill’, there is little doubt Ibrahim Mohamed Solih—whose government regards Twitter as the official barometer of public opinion—would withdraw the bill. And he may not even shed a tear.

Forbidding Evil: Making it God-given 

How can there be a counter argument if what Adhaalath is fighting for is a God-given right? 

The flurry of press releases, statements and social media posts Adhaalath and the 101 Masters have issued since the Bill, in addition to defining LaaDheenee people as deviant Muslims rather than as Kuffars, have all sought to do one thing: get people to see the anti-Hate Speech Bill as against Islamic teachings. The main argument put forth by these ‘intellectuals’ is that the Bill, by criminalising the right to accuse a Muslim of not being one, is obstructing the Islamic right and duty to forbid what is evil and encourage what is good. For Adhaalath, the Penal Code and the laws and regulations that already exist—supposedly based on the rule of law—are not sufficient to govern society and ensure the good conduct of citizens. For that to happen, society needs (if not instead then in addition to existing laws) Adhaalath and its 101 Masters of Knowledge to police our conduct and ensure our morality. In other words, by objecting to the anti-hate speech bill, the 101 Masters of Knowledge want to retain and increase the authority they have gained in the last decade to act as our moral police. If the right to call someone LaaDheenee is taken away from Adhaalath and supporters, there remains little reason for their being. If they cannot nahee the munkaraaiy—even if they remain free to encourage that which is good—their purpose remains insufficient.

I am not a Master of Knowledge—I lack the prerequisite beard, the Arabic and the coverings necessary to make such a claim—but I know enough about knowledge itself to be certain there is a whole world of Islamic literature, learning and jurisprudence within which are contained many arguments that challenges Adhaalath’s claim that without their surveillance and monitoring of people’s conduct, and without their enforcement of what is right and what is wrong, Maldivian Muslims cannot make a moral judgement on their own. 

Why is there no room for arguments within Islam that counter what Adhaalath is saying? This is where the importance of calling the anti-hate speech bill The Secular Bill comes into play from another perspective. By making opposition to the Bill secular—which in the vocabulary of Adhaalath means anti-Islam—it shuts out any counter arguments that can be made based on less conservative interpretations of Islam and its teachings than what Adhaalath and its Salafi clerics furnish as the only understanding of Islam. That any plurality of debate or discourse from within Islam on this matter is non-existent provides definitive proof of what has been staring us in the face for a long time: Salafi and other ultra-conservative sects of Islam are not just predominant in modern Maldives, they are the only forms of religious belief allowed. 

Outsourcing morality: making it about fatwas

What a pity.

For by following Adhaalath Party into believing that their interpretation of Islam and its teachings is the only way to understand and practice Islam in the Maldives, we are shutting ourselves to a whole world of Islamic thinking that is more in line with the democratic reforms this very society once fought for so passionately. Adhaalath is pushing their thinking—based on the Hadith and the Qur’an—that we cannot be allowed free will while shutting out all arguments—also based on the Hadith and the Qur’an—that say we should be allowed to exercise free will and resort to reason in our understanding of Islam itself and the world around us. Adhaalath is peddling the belief that Maldivians as Muslims must accept that they cannot by themselves, judge what is right and what is wrong—things are good because God said they are good, and things are bad because God said they are bad, regardless of the implications for the society in which they live in.

For example, Ali Rameez knows that marrying a little girl is the right thing to do because he can find justifications for it in religion—his own ethics (if there are any) matters little because what he is doing cannot be wrong. This way he feels no shame sitting smugly on television in 21stCentury Maldives telling us what is right and wrong while presenting a case for marrying a little girl or for keeping her from getting an education. Similarly, not speaking out against corruption among political and business leaders even when they are all obviously mired in it, can be explained away by saying it was not forbidden in as many words. Maybe it is easy to turn a blind eye to the MMPRC Corruption because the scandal is not explicitly mentioned in the body of knowledge to which they refer. This sort of morality, as I recently read, is very common in conservative Islamic nations where people, like the 101 Maldivian Masters of Knowledge, have shut the doors of Muslim minds to critical thinking, reason and free will. 

We can leave aside for now the universal questions I asked at the beginning of this article, and leave the question of religious freedom aside for the moment. What about freedom within religion? Is even that available to Maldivians of today?

Hate critics like me that you brand secular and therefore anti-Islam if that makes you feel on higher moral ground. But instead of spending your time and energy on insulting the irreligious, if you are so interested in defending your faith, find answers from within Islam that would stop Adhaalath and these 101 Masters of Knowledge from enslaving you and us from within. Do you really want to outsource your morality to Dr Iyaz? To Zaid? Do you want Ali Rameez to decide what is right and wrong, good and evil, in the society you live in?

Maldives tries to kill ex-President for not being Muslim enough

A message posted on FB by a group calling itself the Extreme Cartilages an hour before the attack on former President Mohamed Nasheed

by Azra Naseem

Former President Mohamed Nasheed who has dedicated his life to the struggle for democracy in the Maldives; who was imprisoned, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for using his voice to express the distress of the voiceless; who has promised to expose the people in power that stole hundreds of millions from us; who is valued voice in the global fight for climate action and climate justice; a father, son, brother, relative, friend, human being– Mohamed Nasheed of Kenereege, one of the most influential figures to have emerged in modern Maldivian history, reduced to nothing but ‘a piece of shit’.

Someone tried to blow him to pieces last Thursday evening in Male’, because Nasheed is not Muslim enough.

Other motives have been considered, such as Nasheed’s determination to expose the MMPRC scandal. There is almost always a convergence of politics and religion in the Maldives. Because state and religion are so interwoven, it’s hard to know where the perimeters of one ends and where the other begins. But, in the end, it’s the dehumanisation allowed by militant Salafi discourse against non-Muslims that makes these killings, and the impunity that surrounds them, possible.

Maldives today (for Maldivians) is a place where violent death awaits those who openly disagree with the religious establishment that dominates society. A powerful IED, sophisticatedly put together, was exploded right beside Nasheed as he walked to his car parked a short distance from his house. The culprit was waiting for him with a remote control device, ready to detonate the explosive hidden under a motorcycle parked between Nasheed’s home and his car. He sustained serious injuries. After an entire night in the operation theatre and multiple surgeries later, he is now recovering in hospital.

This attack should have surprised no one. It is the culmination of a long, nationwide campaign of vicious hatred against Nasheed based on Islam. It dates back to the collapse of the first coalition government in 2008, and the subsequent political power struggles. Adhaalath Party which, having wrangled an Islamic Ministry out of MDP as part of their demands for staying in government, reneged on the deal in 2011 citing Nasheed’s reluctance to follow their religious advice as the main reason. Nasheed is not Muslim enough to be the leader of the Maldives, was their message. All Nasheed’s political rivals fell on Adhaalath’s accusations of anti-Islamic behaviour from Nasheed like birds of prey on the carcass of a lion. The media, most privately owned by political rivals, declared open season on him and his alleged non-Islamic behaviour. Every action was poured over, scrutinised for its anti-Islamic implications not visible to the naked eye, and labelled as Laa-Dheenee.

This word–Laa Dheenee–a neologism created specifically by religious leaders to variously mean Irreligious, Anti-Religious, or Anti-Islam, is the most pejorative label that can be applied to a person in contemporary Maldives. Nasheed and Laa-Dheenee became woven together in millions of sentences said by politicians, journalists, and Salafi clerics every day throughout the day on different platforms on mainstream and social media.

A recent effort to explain what LaaDheenee means by a supporter of death for Laa-Dheenee people

This project for making Nasheed into a “Muslim-hating Jew”, a Jesuit, a Christian Missionary, An EU Spokesperson for Gay Rights in the Maldives, an anti-Muslim crusader on a mission to annihilate Islam from the Maldives–or any of the other covert irreligious motives assigned to him–was strategically and enthusiastically pursued for years jointly by political rivals and religious leaders led by the Adhaalath, Salaf Jamiyyaa and other such groups. People who knew better, like Dr Hasan Saeed–who co-authored books such as Freedom of religion, Apostasy and Islam —joined in the free-for-all against Nasheed, publishing material such as President Nasheed’s Cunning Plans to Destroy the Islamic Faith of Maldivians, a 30-page booklet alleging that the Nasheed administration harboured an overarching anti-Islamic agenda that underpinned all governmental actions and policies. These political/religious leaders took to every available podium to denounce Nasheed as La-Dheenee.

It’s not personal. I am devoting so much time to Nasheed because the Qur’an says the ignorant should be made aware […] Nasheed is an enemy of Islam. He is an agent  trained, briefed and sent here by people who want to destroy Islam and our nation.

Imran Abdulla of Adhaalath Party, now Minister of Home Affairs, at a rally in 2013.

It is clear from the words of Nasheed that he is not a Muslim

– Sheikh Fazloon, December 2020

The campaigns, which still continues, incited so much hatred against the former president that it persuaded a large portion of the population that he was a clear and imminent danger to the survival of their faith and should be removed from office. Not only did these people strip him of the presidency, they also dehumanised him as much as possible. Reduced him into nothing but a non-Muslim. In other words, according to Maldivian jihadists, a piece of shit. Whose life is worth nothing.

The bombing of Nasheed is the result.

That’s how it goes, the story of every person labelled Laa-Dheenee and singled out as anti-Islamic by Salafi/political leaders. We are all legitimate targets.

A culture of hate

Mushfiq recently wrote about the impunity with which violent criminals can act in the Maldives, especially Salafi Jihadists. The DDCom report says the Commission examined Afrasheem’s death as possible to have been committed by either political rivals or religious rivals. Ultimately the Commission was satisfied Afrasheem was killed by Jihadis. Afrasheem believed differently to the Salafi, and he had to go. DDCom found Al Qaeda Cells to have been behind the abduction and murder of Ahmed Rilwan and the murder of Yameen Rasheed. The three men were labelled LaaDheenee and singled out for harassment, abuse and finally murder. They were ‘pieces of shit’ that, according to this sadly widespread ideology in our society, needed to be killed.

After so many murders and attempted murders, and after talking to several people whose lives have been made impossible in the Maldives by Salafi activists–violent and non-violent–it is possible to see a certain process at work. First, Salafi influencers, like former pop-star Ali Rameez, single out people who are not Muslim enough. Then someone like @SiruArts, an ‘artist’ whose oeuvre is a ‘portrait’ collection of should-be Jihadi targets, starts disseminating infographics with pictures of Laa-Dheenee Maldivians who should be hated for the sake of Islam because because they have been deemed not Muslim-enough, anti-Islamic, or an Apostate. Their followers everywhere then begin adding to the graphics, or making their own, until hundreds of posters commanding the public, as Muslims, to hate the figures so singled out.

Here is an example of a typical hate campaign in the name of religion, at the beginning stages:

Had this particular campaign not been interrupted by the attempted murder of Nasheed, this campaign against Sabra Noordeen, senior policy official at the President’s Office, and Aminath Shauna, the newly appointed Minister of Environment, would have taken on a momentum of its own at this stage. By now they would have been publicly maligned, their characters assassinated, their looks scrutinised, their children and family brought into the mud-slinging, their private pictures leaked to the media, and every possible means of social humiliation, often gender-based, would have been brought to play against them.

These women, and other outspoken women like them, have always been targets. Simply for being women, for having influence, for speaking out, and for not being submissive. Enough to be Laa-Dheenee in some books. The new campaign against them was meant to escalate the abuse, to get them to be the focus of the hate that Salafi influencers can command nationwide almost at will, in the name of Allah. The Laa-Dheenee label, which has already been applied to them quite successfully, would have been amplified with hashtags and Facebook posts, Telegram posts and Viber group chats.

Had it run its full course, the campaign would then have gone ‘viral’ as believers take up the mantle of hate in various islands and atolls of the country. The two women would soon have ceased to be human, becoming only LaaDheenee beings. The formal and informal networks of religious clerics across the country would at this stage have whipped up such performative outrage against them that, in the end, they would be faced with a simple choice: leave the country, or be killed.

Below is an example of how the ‘artwork’ of these pious believers progress once a campaign of hatred is launched.

Jihadi ‘artwork’ against Hindha Ismail of MDN, hounded out of the country for being Laa-Dheenee, shows the type of content produced by Maldivians who agree Maldives is only for a certain type of citizen

This kind of ‘artwork’ and other such publications focusing on Nasheed has been produced in their thousands and distributed across all media platforms in the Maldives and on the Internet for a decade now, with no consequences for any of the ‘artists’. It is simply accepted as a given today that speaking against the repressive control of society in the name pf religion would–and should–get you killed.

What happened to Nasheed, to Afrasheem, to Hilath, to Rilwan and to Yameen will happen again. Because nothing happens to the killers.

The failure is not just that of the law enforcement officers who are blaming the public for not having foiled the plot. It is also the fault of those in society who agree that unless you are confirmed as a good Muslim (by the Salafi establishment), you are a worthless piece of shit that cannot be allowed to exist in contemporary Maldives.

See how they gloat.