The Silk Road to Addu

by Azra Naseem

On a rainy afternoon at the end of October 2020, the Secretary of State of the United States, Michael Pompeo, visited the Maldives to announce plans to open an American Embassy in Male’, the capital of the Maldives. Less than a month before, on 10 September the Maldives and the U.S. signed a defence agreement to “deepen engagement and cooperation in support of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean. The terms of the agreement have not been publicly disclosed but both sides committed to “a free and open Indo-Pacific that promotes the security and prosperity of all nations in the region”. Days after, Pompeo was in Male’ pledging U.S. aid to help Maldivians meet the challenges of climate change, promising scholarships for Maldivian students in the U.S., hinting at future U.S. business investments in the Maldives, and excited at cooperating with the Maldives in the “good work that democracies do together.”

Pompeo’s rushed visit to the Maldives came just six days before the U.S. Presidential Elections in which a continuation of the Trump Administration was far from assured. The Maldives is a developing nation, making itself a likely name on Trump’s list of ‘shithole countries’. The Maldives also identifies itself as a ‘100 per cent Muslim’ country. In early 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order so clearly aimed at restricting Muslims travelling to the U.S. that it became known as the Muslim Ban. Trump also described terrorism as an ‘Islamic threat’, and has pointed to mosques as breeding grounds for hatred. Conservative Islamic beliefs are widespread in modern Maldives and, at the height of the conflict in Syria and the ISIS in Iraq, the highest number of foreign fighters per capita in the region came from the Maldives.  Pompeo also made another pledge: to assist the Maldives in meeting the challenges of climate change. Trump has been vocal on his doubts about climate science, and has described climate change as ‘mythical’, ‘non-existent’ and a ‘hoax’. Pompeo views it as a business opportunity. In an interview with a Maldivian TV station he described the Paris Agreement, from which he withdrew the United States, as ‘a joke’. If the sea-levels rise as most scientists predict, the Maldives would be one of the first countries in the world to sink, making environmental refugees of its entire population. Yet here were the foreign ministers of the two countries, avowing cooperation across vast ideological divides. 

Why?

The question was not put to Secretary Pompeo who was welcomed with open arms by the Maldives government and a somewhat fawning press. No one asked why the US would want an embassy in the Maldives. It has never really been interested in Maldivian affairs—the U.S. rarely has friends, it has interests. And this tiny little island archipelago in the Indian Ocean with little to offer in terms of material wealth or geostrategic advantages held little interest for the U.S. It has happily managed to conduct all its relations with the Maldives through the US Embassy in Sri Lanka with a tiny budget—often a few hundred thousand dollars a year in total—and one Maldivian Policy Officer. Most of the budget allocated to the Maldives goes back to the US anyway, paid in grants to American democracy think-tanks and NGOs that occupy Maldivian civil society space often at the expense of local ones.

Pompeo’s rushed visit didn’t allow questions to be asked, even if a journalist were so inclined. As usual, the Maldivian government was happy to hide the answers. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid joked with Pompeo about how the rushed visit left him deprived of a visit to the Maldives’ luxury tourist islands. The real Maldives, he must have surely been told. Now that is a good joke.

Six months later, everyone is ‘shocked’ by a decision made by Modi’s cabinet in India to open a consulate in Addu, the second largest city in the Maldives.

Why does the consulate shock when there is the Police Training Academy in Addu, also funded by the Indian government? What need was there for this enormous facility in the Maldives built at the expense of the absolutely breathtaking, and extremely fragile, environment?

Photo: Twitter

The building can accommodate 320 officers at a time for training, and is capable of hosting 800 people at a time. It also has a football field, a tennis court, a basket ball court, and a football field. All this fenced and gated, and given to the very lovely Maldives Police Service who would , says the Commissioner of Police, allow some government and school people to use the facilities from time to time. Thank you so very kindly, Sir. The people of Addu, meanwhile, wait for social housing or go on a waiting list for a flat in one of the many high-rise apartments being built for locals on the beautifully artificial island of Hulhumale’.

That marvellous facility in Addu, however, is not enough for ‘capacity building’ for the MPS, always in service of the people. According to Foreign Minister Shahid, there is yet another police academy being constructed on the island of Vaanee in Dhaalu Atoll. Commissioner Hameed showed off the facilities, and himself, recently over in Dhaalu Atoll. The people of Dhaalu must be delighted development has finally arrived at their doors, even if via a police academy.

In September last year, Foreign Minister Shahid was launching second phase of construction at the Vaanee academy, and talked about how training police here would ‘help the community’. India had generously given MVR 8 million for the centre. Compared to the budget of MVR42 million it had given for the Addu Police Academy–‘the largest in the world’–Vaanee cost India very little. But, said Mr Shahid, the MVR42 million is only a minuscule amount of the total MVR106 million the Maldives had so generously received from India recently. It is not clear which particular grant Mr Shahid was referring to when he was speaking here for there have been many grants and agreements and MOUs and IOUs between India and Maldives in the last few years.

In June 2019, for example, when Maldives welcomed Narendra Modi (of Gujarat fame) with open arms, just as it had welcomed Pompeo, the two countries signed six agreements, vowing mutual cooperation on a range of issues from military information sharing to terrorism and even civil service training. “Today I want to emphasise that every Indian is with you for the strengthening of democracy in the Maldives,” he said. Just as he has strengthened Indian democracy, no doubt. The visit also included lots of pledges of money, the most valued political commodity in the Maldives of today. A Line of Credit agreement worth US$800 million was part of the deal.

Almost two years later, a few months after Pompeo’s visit and the new defence agreement between Maldives and the US, there was another flurry of agreements between the Maldives and India, and the extension of yet another Line of Credit, this time in Defence, worth US$50 million. This new agreement, signed by Defence Minister Mariya Didi and India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar allows India to build and maintain a coast guard harbour and dockyard on Uthuru Thila Falhu. The Uthuru Thila Falhu story goes back to the Yameen government and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, and their active courting of Indian interest in the project looking for–as always–investment money. Indian journalist at The Wire, Devirupa Mitra explains the saga here in excellent detail.

Problem was, by the time India got interested, Yameen had moved on to courting China, which had more open and deeper pockets and cared less about the smokescreen of democracy.

In Yameen’s time, he actively courted Chinese involvement in The Maldives. China’s infrastructure projects boomed in The Maldives, especially the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, Chinese-stye high-rise housing structures on artificial islands; Chinese resort islands. By the time Yameen lost the election in 2018, he had put Maldives in debt to China to the tune of a few billion dollars. Yameen’s various decisions that favoured China over India in terms of finding a domestic foothold in the Maldives angered India so much that Modi left Maldives out of his tour of Indian Ocean island nations in 2015. The Maldivian government’s decision to cancel the agreement with Indian company GMR soured India-Maldives relations to such a level that a top government official was refused entry to India while angry Maldivians marched on the streets shouting “India Out, India Out!”. With his foot firmly on the Chinese side, the Yameen government hummed and hawed and stalled over allowing India to develop the port facility. It suited Yameen’s political goals better to remain with China.

India and Maldivian domestic politics

Things have changed again in the Ibrahim Solih government. Apart from the loudness with which the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge screams Maldives’ indebtedness to China, bilateral relations between the two countries have grown quiet. The uncharacteristically outspoken Chinese Ambassador who regularly engaged with the Maldivian public through his Twitter account, packed his bags and left in April this year, and there has been no replacement since.

Chinese Ambassador Mr Zhang Lizhong leaving at the end of his tenure this April. Photo: Chinese Embassy, Male’

The proposition to open a consulate in Addu, meanwhile, has returned India-Maldives relations to the forefront of public debate. Some are gearing up for another #IndiaOut campaign, angry at what seems to be a slow encroachment on Maldivian sovereignty by India. Others are gearing up to defend the decision as one that would eventually lead to a modern Addu, probably with a green Embassy belt with well-to-do diplomats riding around in tinted Mercedes. What prestige. Yet others accuse the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih government of incompetence, or of selling out. 

The steady friendship between India and the Maldives, where each kept out of the other’s internal political affairs, changed with multiparty elections in the Maldives when individual parties began to lobby for India’s help to bolster their place as the leading power in the newly democratic Maldives. India and the Indian High Commission played an unusually involved role in the early breakdown of Nasheed’s government, and it was the first to accept the transfer of power on 7 February 2012 as legitimate, setting the stage for the CoNI inquiry, and lending the coup d’état an air of respectability and acceptability which it would not otherwise have received.

Maldives-India bilateral relations have been an integral part of Maldivian domestic politics ever since. Nasheed’s decision to award the contract for developing the Male’ International Airport to Indian company GMR became a key factor in the opposition’s drive to mobilise public support against Nasheed. Accused of “selling Maldivian sovereignty to India”, the opposition organised protests against Nasheed throughout his short presidency, and during his subsequent bids to return to power. Nasheed held-off the keenest of Chinese interests in the Maldives through his close ties with India but once Abdulla Yameen came to power, India realised it was dealing with a different sort of statesman altogether. Yameen’s hand on Maldivian foreign policy was tight, and it was dictated not by friendship or cultural ties but greed. He steered Maldives clearly towards where there were most dollars to be made: China, Saudi Arabia and other sources willing to become close friends and buddies of the corrupt Bro Economy. India-Maldives relations also took a hit when Dhivehi Sitee leaked the draft of a planned Status of Force (SOFA) agreement between the United States and the Maldives in April 2013. Relations between India and the US has always been tense, given the role the U.S. has played throughout history in the militarisation of Pakistan.

At the time when the Waheed government was getting ready to sign the SOFA, India was unhappy with the idea of the United States playing a more powerful role in the Indian Ocean, especially The Maldives, which it regards as being in ‘our backyard’. Indian media has speculated that Delhi was behind the scuppering of the agreement, causing it to be leaked to much public outrage.

Today, in India’s Modi, the story is different, and so is the role India sees the United States playing in the Indian Ocean. Having come to share Trump’s–and now Biden’s–view of the Chinese Communist Party as the largest threat to global and U.S. security, Modi’s India is more than comfortable allowing The Maldives to sign defence agreements with the United States to allow a more powerful role for the United States in the security of the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Yameen drew Maldives deep into the gambit of China’s ambitions to revive its power and influence across the world along the ancient Silk Route. Under the Yameen-Xi friendship plan, The Maldives became a fully-fledged signatory of China’s Belt and Road Initiative–the very thing which the US and China are gearing up to challenge. It is China’s ambition to extend its influence–via major infrastructure projects—along the countries and states that now situated along the ancient Silk Route. The Maldives is one such location, sitting as it does along a route that could choke all trade traffic on its way to and from China. China’s inroads into various geostrategic Maldivian locations were made deep into the country during Yameen’s regime.

But, just as the islands that have been ‘lost’ in the MMPRC corruption can no longer be got back, those agreements that we signed with China to join their various expansion projects in the Indian Ocean remain as valid and real as the enormous bridge that now dominates the Male’ skyline, a constant reminder of the soaring debts we now owe to China.

In the grand scheme of things

The road to an Indian Consulate in Addu is thus paved with the ambitions of global superpowers who seek to dominate not us but each other. We are but collateral. The answers were there, when Pompeo visited. It is in the agreements we have signed with China, with India, and with the US. It is in our willingness to be okay with not having a foreign policy that is geared towards protecting our interests. It is in the letting of our foreign policy be decided by political parties and politicians, and by diplomats with global ambitions instead of letting it be motivated by our collective good.

The United States has, throughout its history, needed an enemy against which to define itself, and its Exceptionalism. “Islamic Terrorism”, which has driven U.S. foreign policy decisions since 2001, has lost its central location, and the new enemy is “The Chinese Communist Party”. The next global confrontation, the U.S. reckons, will take place between the U.S. and its allies and China. And the great theatre of this new war would be? The Indian Ocean.

All this enhanced cooperation, this “standing shoulder to shoulder” against terrorism, the vaccine diplomacy, the rush to open embassies and consulates and coast guard stations and observatories and cricket stadiums, and installing Maldivians in top diplomatic positions, it is all about this: the geographically strategic location that we occupy in what is to be the new global order where ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ will be recast as China versus the rest.

The road to an Indian consulate in Addu is also paved with the discord among us Maldivians. We spend hours, days and weeks discussing the seeming pros and cons for Maldivians in having an Indian Consulate in Addu. And, as we take sides and double down on our opinions, the rafts of agreements that we have bilaterally signed with each of the three large powers in an upcoming global conflict continue to be implemented. Top diplomat Shahid, with one eye on the presidential seat at the UN General Assembly and another on the presidential seat in 2023, continues to fly here there and everywhere, speaking of another ‘eagerly anticipated’ police academy, another bag of money in aid from India, a truckload of vaccines from the U.S., more military expenditure from both to ‘combat terrorism’ (to great success, as we have seen). As we take the China side, the US side or the Indian side, we forget to take our side. We forget that that these arguments serve no purpose other than to shore up support or ensure defeat for local politicians.

In a way the Maldives has come full-circle in its foreign relations. It is along the ancient Silk Route that Maldives began its first foreign encounters in written history, and it is China’s attempts to reconstruct the ancient Route—which it once dominated—that is once again making Maldivian foreign relations relevant to the world. Unlike yester years, though, the present Maldives on the modern Silk Route has let itself be nothing but a pawn in the power play between and among global and regional super powers vying for world domination.

Unless we look at the whole picture, all these protests to get India Out–which focus only on the politically useful part of a much larger whole—remain nothing but political naatak.


    Luxury for tourists, lockdown for locals

    by Mushfiq Mohamed

    The number of COVID-19 related deaths in the Maldives have surpassed the number of Maldivian fatalities from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Yet the Maldivian government efforts to generate tourism revenue equivalent to pre-COVID19 levels are lending to the spread of the new variant of the lethal coronavirus in the island country. On Thursday it recorded a coronavirus related case of black fungus or Mucormycosis. This petrifying case, and the surge in COVID19 fatalities, coincide with increasing coronavirus cases in India and the rest of South Asia. The country is bracing itself for yet another national lockdown. 

    Leaked images show that the Maldives has been offering stranded tourists “quarantine packages” to kill time in the islands before moving to their destination. Bollywood actors and athletes have also chosen the country as their site of reprieve from the pandemic, as if Maldives were immune to the unfolding global health crisis. 

    Although the country’s famous tourist resorts are on private islands, most of its staff are local. In a sense, held captive in substandard accommodation without the ability to freely travel to their families on local islands, a fact further exacerbated by the COVID-19 restrictions. Social media posts showed photos of squalid staff quarters in world-renowned five-star hotels. Nevertheless, the mainstream media continually centres on the ‘plight’ of stranded Western tourists, never highlighting the unacceptable situation of the unobtrusive local workers who manpower the luxe-tourism industry. 

    The Maldives’ tourism market represents the ether of high-end indulgence. The tourist resorts look like elysian spaceships that have beamed down on desert islands scattered in the Arabian Sea, divinely assembled for its visitors. Underwater wine cellars and restaurants that boast Michelin-star chefs. Overwater villas with rooftop waterslides that vortex you into the turquoise sea underneath. 

    The ownership and enjoyment of the Maldives’ natural beauty are swiftly slipping away from the hands of ordinary Maldivians. 

    It took us Maldivians a long time to realise that there existed an apartheid system between the flourishing elite in Male’, and the people from the outer atolls that were historically deprived from having a stake in the country’s economy. Only the industrious middle-class (from the islands and Male’) and some of the descendants of landed nobility (concentrated in the capital) bag influential chunks of the industry that brings in 60% of foreign income. It is also true that most of this money is never really injected into the local economy, it vanishes into bank accounts in offshore tax havens owned by the global hospitality industry oligarchs. 

    In 2019, Maldives had 1.7 million tourists. The Tourism Ministry’s figures show that the pandemic gutted the 5-billion-dollar local economy in March 2020, and it has not recovered since. Despite this, in late 2019 and in the last few months this year, the government found creative ways to revive it at the expense of the Maldivian people. 

    Pandemic profiteering 

    Maldives was one of the first countries to open for tourism after lockdowns globally, at a time when the pandemic was raging in Europe, which includes the top-10 countries whose nationals frequent the island nation. Tourists were exempt from the lockdown measures, restricting inter-island travel only for locals. Male’ especially was closed down possibly due to its proximity to the country’s busy international airport in Hulhule’. 

    Negative PCR tests are required since October 2020 but when the pandemic was at its worst in Europe and North America last year in July, guests were flowing in and weren’t required a negative test. The borders were open without any test or tracing procedures. 

    A tone-deaf Forbes article mentioned that the Maldives was “desperate” enough to fork out its vaccines for visitors. It was also an article that centres multinational corporations, eliciting criticism over how these companies are twisting the arms of a poor country. A premature announcement by the Tourism Ministry that had no word of the public health officials or the Maldivian people.

    Within the industry, lockdown restrictions discriminated against guesthouse tourism. In April, when India was recording unprecedented COVID-19 related fatalities, the government only shut its doors on Indian guests seeking to holiday on inhabited islands. Meaning affluent Bollywood stars could still have their Maldives’ escapades if they can afford to go to a private resort island (considered ‘uninhabited’ islands). Small businesses are routinely bearing the brunt of discriminatory lockdown measures.

    The government announced lockdown measures early this month for locals. But the borders remained open. After the HPA demanded the borders be closed for South Asian tourists, the government finally stopped issuing tourist visas on 13 May, in the same breath reassuring that these measures will be reviewed later this month. 

    None of this prevented Australian cricketers stranded in India from quarantining in the Maldives before heading back down under. In the same way that the government allowed Asian Football Federation (AFC) to send football teams to the Maldives for an AFC Cup playoff match between Bengaluru FC and Eagles FC. It was only when Maldivian social media users began criticising the move, amid circulating photos of players strolling around Male’, in breach of restrictions, that the youth minister cancelled the planned AFC matches. 

    Bollywood in the Maldives

    This year, as corpses piled up abandoned in Indian cities, the country’s elite decided it was time for a change of scenery. While the virus was completely devastating South Asian cities, Maldives was hosting Bollywood actors in a bid to resuscitate the tourism-dependent-economy. The move backfired in both countries, with many shaming the celebrities for their lack of conscience during a once-in-a-century pandemic. 

    ‘The Sunny Side of Life’ felt like an awkward choice for Bollywood, an industry plagued with colorism. It was purely status-signalling. Indian social media conversations on the Maldives are fascinating. Some suggest the Maldives belongs to the Indian Ocean, and is therefore part of India. There was little reflection over Maldivians’ cultural and linguistic affinity to India – the focus was on marking territory. On their Instagram accounts, the location indicates the Indian Ocean. In the captions, they marvelled over the glimmering seas that form their ‘backyard’, which some could not even bring to name or locate.  

    Ventilator corruption

    Last year the government was embroiled in a corruption scandal worth over MVR30 million (USD 1.9 million) involving ventilators that were unlawfully procured from a Dubai-based company. 

    This initially slipped the radar of the anti-graft body, which later found that the former health minister and 11 employees benefited from the scam violating local public finance laws. 

    A year later, the embattled government is nowhere close to reclaiming state funds lost to yet another massive corruption scandal. 

    The less luxurious side 

    According to the Reuters vaccine tracker, around 42.9% of the country’s population have received the first dose of the vaccine, including some 90% of frontline workers, consisting of tourism staff. Tourist workers, and others who depend on the industry have suffered the most during the pandemic. Tourism Employees Association reported approximately 25,000 tourism employees have been laid-off within the past two years. 

    When the pandemic hit the Maldives last year, South Asian migrants working in the frontlines were the first to be adversely affected. Many were trapped in congested accommodation without pay and the means to return home. Those who protested forced unpaid labour were quickly arbitrarily deported without awarding damages. Many news outlets ran xenophobic headlines blaming impoverished Bangladeshi, Nepali and Indian workers for ‘spreading the virus’. 

    In this way the pandemic has exposed the existing structural inequalities in Maldivian society. If you are a politician or a businessman, there are no COVID-19 rules that get in the way of what you want. None of these Big Men suffered the consequences of breaking the rules; fines for violating restrictions were ironically deployed against those who cannot afford to pay it. 

    Whether it is campaigning and holding local council elections or opening the country up for luxury tourism as the numbers skyrocketed, the consequences have trapped the locals in with the new variants of a dangerous disease in a country whose capital city’s congestion levels rival Hong Kong and Manhattan. 

    Conclusion

    As the Tourism Minister promises endless vaccines, the reality is a lot more finite. It seemed like yesterday when India was the exemplar of COVID-kindness, generously donating vaccines. Today, the Indian government’s feckless response to the catastrophe has been rightly described as a ‘crime against humanity.’  

    Indeed, the Maldives’ tourism industry does not want its wealthy tourists to be troubled by the inconvenient existence of a local population. The seemingly innocuous imagery invoked by the 3-billion-dollar industry cannot be divorced from the structural violence it regularly detonates against ordinary Maldivians. 

    Perhaps we are to be blamed too, for popularising the image of the Maldives as blank-slate beaches awaiting consumption by the West, and more recently the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, India, and China. 

    “No news, no shoes” reads a tagline of a resort where tourists spend millions per night. The world, and all the chaos within it, happen elsewhere. A proliferated untruth that costs ordinary Maldivians the chance to live a life in dignity. It is an industry that relegates locals to second class citizenship through a structure that is displacing and killing Maldivians, concurrently making the Maldives’ vulnerable eco-system uninhabitable.


      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.