A deviation today from the usual focus on Maldives’ insane politicians: the spread of revolutionary Islamist thought in the Maldives, and some of its regional implications. This week I went to a conference in New Delhi about culture as a factor in regional cooperation in South Asia. These are some of my thoughts and observations from the conference.
Maldives and China haven’t had much to do with each other in much of their modern histories. In fact, so negligible have bilateral relations been that it is very likely Maldives is the only country in the world without a Chinese takeaway run by a Chinese cook.
Things have taken a dramatic turn in the last few days, though, with Maldivian legislators finding a sudden, until now undeclared, love of China, and all things Chinese. This sudden armour stems not from a particular change in Chinese policy towards the Maldives, or from the exponential growth in number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives. No, like many passions declared intensely by coup-supporters, it seems to stem from hatred of the other: in this case ‘the West’ in general and the Commonwealth in particular.
The new Maldivian government welcomed Palestinian leader Dr Mahmood Abbas yesterday. It was the first time in 28 years an Arab leader visited the Maldives. The last such visit was by Yasser Arafat in 1984.
Maldivian people, like other Muslims across the world, have sympathised with the plight of Palestinians for decades. All Maldivians over thirty years of age will remember a long-running campaign on national television in the 1980s, with a picture of the golden dome of Masjid Al Aqsa. It was an appeal to Maldivians to make donations to what was called the ‘Qudus Fund’ to help the suffering Palestinians.
None of the rhetoric of the time relied on anti-Semitism to help gain public support for the Palestine cause. It was a campaign run on empathy with Palestinians and not hatred of Israel.
Fast forward some two decades, and it is an entirely different story–what drives our Palestinian policy now is not love of our ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’ but hatred of Israel and Jews; and political point scoring. Evidence of this was on full display during Dr Abbas’s visit today.