Sunday, March 30, 2008

Murdering music

When former MDP chairman Mohamed Nasheed launched his campaign for the party's presidential nomination, he chose to call it "Thaahiru Dhiriulhun" or "Hygienic Life". While Anni may officially take hygienic existence to mean being able to afford ice cream every month, no one can fail to notice the right wing connotations in the phrase. It shouldn't, therefore, come as a surprise that Anni describes his party as a centre-right party. 

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.


Simon said...

You have put this issue in a way that most people can digest it without getting their balls on fire.

Excellent article...

Raahul said...

Nice Shot.

Could you please double check if Maldives is a signatory of the Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have heard otherwise from some NGO based in Maldives.

Educating the masses on a way to think beyond the enforced religion could be a step bloggers like you can start doing now. but it will take time to shift the thought system.

Maldiveshealth said...

Good post. You are very right.

nowhere man said...

you have outlined the growth of a movement that has been left unchallenged for too long. you definitley got everthing from ali rameez's dubious background to the political parties' hypocrisy... although there is one thing i would like to inquire... what has the international organizations such as UNFPA, UNICEF been doing? if they truely believe in univeral standards then who should be speaking out against the violations of such codes.... i don't believe that they would lose their impartial stance in politics by defending those universally accepted right. especially since all the politcal parties seem to be harping the same song. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster guide us. Ramen!

moyameehaa said...

very nice post. as simon said, you have done it without 'hurting the delicate sentiments' of some people. clever.but im sure 'some' people will be hurt by this too.

Nowhereman; the whole world seems to be giving in to this stupidites.The UN secretary general condemns a the fitna movie, fearing it might have broken muslim hearts. i dunno whats with these people. and in maldives it is time some people do something about these kinda things. else we will end up living under the mv talibans. ayaan hirsi was right when she said" tolerance of intolerance is cowardince"...because it is..and we will have to pay for our cowardice someday... so why not stand up now? they wont be happy and not hurt unless everysingle person on the face of earth converts to their version of islam. we be cowards to avoid putting our lives to risk...but if we dont stand up, we will put our freedom , our future , our lives and our childrens lives to risk.

dissidentmaldives said...

rahul, thanks for your comments, i've checked a few things and changed the post accordingly.

simon's blog has more information on the anti-music gathering, and i was surprised to learn that one of the people calling for a ban on music is a member of the maldives human rights commission. here's the url: