These are just some musings on the recent goings-on in the Maldives. It may be a bit train-of-thought-ish, so I may end up being completely incoherent.

What Happened?

So there’s this guy, Ibrahim Ismail, chairman of Mandhu College, who apparently tweeted something critical of Islam. Then, the news website Vaguthu supposedly twisted his words in a slanderous and oh-so-typically-Maldivian attempt at journalism which caused something of a public outrage, which again, is very Maldivian. This led to protests by people who think of themselves as righteous defenders of their faith, but whom others have accused of being drug-dealing gang members (apparently those are not mutually exclusive categories). All of this resulted in the vandalism of the college building (a glass door was broken, but I don’t know if anything else happened). There was also an incident where people harassed Ismail and threatened to light his car on fire.

And now everyone’s going a smidge insane. People are showing off their religious conviction with calls to vanquish all traces of “laadheenee” (“anti-religious”) thought/speech. Here’s one protester’s sign calling to “erase” laadheenee people:

Laadheenee Protest Sign.png
“ފޮހެލަން”…I wonder if that’s a euphemism…

Here’s something that’s more reasonable, although it does have some sinister undertones:

iyaz tweet
Basically he says we have to talk to non-religious people nicely and help them think

And here are some tweets from Layal Manik, who is well-known for her rational, insightful opinions and constructive, well-thought-out contributions to national conversations:

layal manik tweet 2
Calling for protests against non-religious people before things get “out of control”

Layal Manik Tweet 1.png

And more recently, we have these women protesting against the Laadheenees. I find this one especially hilarious and incredibly ironic. It excites my inner troll for obvious reasons, but I won’t say anything here. Read the article here. See more pictures here.

And this barely scratches the surface; everyone’s got an opinion, ranging from “kill all Laadheenees”, to “Laadheenees should just keep to themselves”, and worst of all, “Laadheenees should be allowed to say whatever they want”.

What do I think?

I think all of this is the result of a society that has become increasingly polarised. None of this happened out of nowhere. The past few weeks have been more tumultuous than usual in terms of the dialogue between “Laadheenee” (non/anti-religious) and “Dheenee” (religious) people (or, if I may coin a more accurate term, “Maadheenee” people). This Mandhu thing just sent things over the edge. Here’s a tweet which summarises things nicely (including more recent events, although the planet thing happened last year too):

Laadheenee summary.png

However, this fails to mention the build-up that has been happening over the past few years. During this time, the gap between people who subscribe to different ideologies (and note that ideology is different to religious views) has grown wider and there has been less room for common ground. Not only that, but it also seems like there has been no attempt to look for a common ground. Only recently have I seen invitations for peaceful dialogue (and it mostly seems to be coming from the “Laadheenee” side, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone). So really, with everyone looking for ways to demonise the other side, it was inevitable that we would get to where we are today:

The Maldivian War of Ideologies (MWI)

I think this phrase captures the current zeitgeist of the Maldives. It provides a useful lens through which to examine current events, and it is undoubtedly a defining characteristic of socio-cultural/political thought in this era of Maldivian history. Funnily enough, the MWI mirrors the widening left-vs-right political divide taking place in the Western World.

Also, I wanted to give it a cool-sounding name, so hopefully it catches on.

Moving Forward

I can’t say for sure whether these recent events will lead to something more substantial and hopefully constructive, or whether they’re just the latest in a string of incidents where people get all riled up before calming down again (before getting riled up again).

True progress has to involve peaceful dialogue. The “war” has to be elevated from the realm of threats and insults (and actual physical violence) to the realm of proper intellectual debate. And for this to happen, there are some things that both sides have to understand.

Here are some general principles/guidelines to follow for this to happen:

These first three apply specifically to the “Dheenee” side:

  • Don’t be violent, and don’t passively promote violence by insinuating that others deserve it. It makes you look bad, it makes Islam look bad, and it gives your ideological opponents more reasons to hate you.
  • Understand that your side has the most power right now. If you use that power to silence others, people will assume it’s because your ideas are weak. You have to give the other side a platform. If your ideas are as strong as you believe them to be, there is no need to silence opposition, because you will win.
  • Understand and appreciate that diversity of thought exists in your camp. If you label everyone who disagrees with your interpretation of Islam as “Laadheenee”, then you risk alienating those who may have actually been on your side, which pushes them to the other side and ultimately makes you weaker.

The next ones are specifically for the “Laadheenee” side:

  • Don’t insult the other side. This is the reputation your side has now, and if you keep perpetuating it, you will only be thought of as angry, hate-filled agitators, rather than worthwhile intellectual opponents.
  • Remember that most people in your camp were probably on the other side at one point as well. It is very hard to go back to a certain way of thinking after abandoning it, but you really have to see things from your opponents’ point of view. Only then can you properly convince them of your way of thinking.

And the rest are general ideas for both sides:

  • Don’t respond aggressively to what you perceive is an attack. Know when the other side just wants to provoke you. If you give them the reaction they want, that makes you look bad.
  • Don’t call the kettle black, by which I mean weed out the hypocrisy on your side (and recognise that there is hypocrisy on your side)
  • Critically examine your own beliefs. And I don’t just mean religion; what I mean is, if you believe a certain course of action is best for society, justify that belief. If you believe a certain group of people deserve certain treatment, justify that belief. Look for holes in your own reasoning and see if your logic stands up to scrutiny. This will give your side a stronger intellectual foundation.
  • Learn how to argue. To the “Dheenee” side in particular, understand that your side is very well known for fallacious reasoning and appeals to authority. Do your homework. Know what your side is saying and why. Don’t defer to others who have a “better understanding”. Better your own understanding.
  • Ancillary to the previous point, come to an agreement on what constitutes a valid argument. The “Dheenee” side will have to learn to base their arguments on something more concrete than religion. And the “Laadheenee” side should not rely so heavily on anecdotes.
  • Learn the other side’s arguments. Do not just dismiss them. Find flaws in those arguments and go from there.
  • Listen to what the other side is saying and try to find common ground. Believe it or not, both sides are trying to attain/maintain a type of society that they feel would be best for everyone. Based on this fact alone, I think it is safe to say that your ideological views might not be as different as you first thought.

One more thing to consider (and this might sound like a conspiracy theory) is that it is probably in the best interests of the powers that be to keep both sides fighting. It’s no secret that politicians pander towards the “Dheenee” side and use the “Laadheenee” side as a scapegoat for their own failings, which ultimately means that they want this ideological war to go on as long as possible to retain power. All they care about is power, and if the “Laadheenee” side could show themselves to be a significant voting block, the politicians would change their perspectives instantly. The corrupt politicians are, in a sense, the common enemy of both the “Dheenee” and “Laadheenee” sides. This is not to say that the “Dheenee” vs “Laadheenee” fight is pointless, but the politicisation of this fight adds another layer of complexity which should be addressed if progress is to be made.

Conclusion

These recent events have gotten the ball rolling once again on discussion around this ideological chasm which has been growing wider and wider for a long time now. Rather than letting things go until the next inevitable controversy, let’s use this opportunity to start to put things right. We have to move past threats and insults to proper dialogue and debate, and both sides have to up their games in order for this to happen. An ideological war cannot be won on a physical battlefield.