The largest political party in the Maldives has long allowed itself to be ruled by right wing ideals, particularly the religious right. When MDP's assistant secretary-general Aishath Aniya received death threats for questioning the need to wear the buruga, or the headscarf, from conservative Islamists within and outside the party, neither Anni nor Munavvar uttered a word to condemn the threats or to defend Aniya's right to the freedom of expression.
Now, both these 'reformists' have openly gone against Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by publicly saying Maldivian citizens can only practice Islam. MP Ibrahim Ismail or Ibra, head of the officially unrecognised Social "Liberal" Party, has also repeatedly said that the country can only have Islam as its religion. As a member of the UN, the Maldives should in theory support its declarations; unfortunately in practice the UDHR is not binding. In 2005 the Maldives, under pressure, signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political and Rights or ICCPR with reservation against Article 18, which regards the freedom of religion, thought and conscience. Dictator Gayoom, in his last terms in office---and let's hope they are his last---signed any international treaty he was asked to sign, but continues to violate them at will.
Meanwhile, the religious right has bullied its way into the Maldivian way of life, by infiltrating its every facet. From the media to education, from family life to politics no institution has been spared. When a man was slashed and burnt severely on the island of Himendhoo in Alif Atoll, allegedly by its religious militants, police dismissed the case as one of self-infliction. The Adhalath Party had earlier advised them to practice extreme caution in its resolution. Today, we're so scared of the religious right that even marriage between "Haaby" adult males and underaged girls are failing to register public protest.
Earlier in the year, when MDP members proposed an ammendment to the new constitution to bar women from running for presidency, its leadership failed to distance itself from the motion. Notable 'reformists' like Mohamed Shihab MP voted for it, while the 'liberal' Ibra abstained. Abstinence in this case can only be interpreted as siding with the misogynists, an accusation Ibra has repeatedly fail to address. Paradoxically, it was due to Gayoom's much criticised unelected members that this particular right of Maldivian women will now be preserved in the new constitution.
And now, the religious right are targeting the arts. A recent meeting by former pop singer Ali Rameez's NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf, with representatives from the MDP and the government's supreme council for Islamic affairs, proclaimed music as "haraam", or prohibited in Islam. Ali Rameez, who made a fortune singing hundreds of songs to tunes stolen from Bollywood, is a success story in the religious right's infiltration of popular culture. The right wing organisation held the meeting in a reaction against the emergence of more liberal interpretations of Islam, especially by Dr. Afrashim Ali, who holds a PHd in Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence.
Failing to challenge Dr. Ali in public debates, the religious right have resorted to character assassination and, even, physical assault. But what is disturbing about these developments is the part played by MDP's 'reformists' in the systematic rubbishing of liberal views. Believing Dr. Ali to be a stooge of Gayoom because of Information minister Nasheed's backing for him, the opposition has effectively joined forces with the likes of Ali Rameez, and the odious and hyprocritical Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, to stem the spread of liberal interpretation of Islam at a time when the country most needs it.
Liberal scholars quote from Verse 2:256 of the Quran, and other texts, to argue that Islam prohibits Muslims to force any person into Islam. Interestingly, Dr. Hassan Saeed, in a book he co-wrote with his brother, "Apostasy in Islam', takes a similar position. In his manifesto, his first priority appears to be to strengthen Islam in the Maldives, but through moderate and liberal teachings. But Dr. Saeed has not come forward to defend liberal Islamic interpretation, suggesting that he intends to take a less risky road for his presidential campaign.
For musicians and artists who hold genuinely liberal views, the immediate future looks bleak. As democratic ideals and human rights get buried under pop-politics, and music overtakes the buruga as the latest target of choice of the religious right, it is becoming all too clear that Maldivians can expect little help from the self-proclaimed 'liberals', 'reformists' or 'human rights activists'.
Anni's "Hygienic Life" could well mean a life clean of democracy, human rights, and music.