By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, May 11: The three arrests made thus far in the case relating to the bid on the life of the Maldivian Parliament Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed in Male on May 6, show that Islamic radicalism is alive, kicking and deep-rooted in the Maldives.
According to the Commissioner of Police, Mohamed Hameed, the three suspects arrested, Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed (25), Mujaaz Ahmed (21) and Thahumeen Ahmed (32), belong to a “dangerous extremist ideology”. Hameed stopped short of identifying their ideology, but it is generally accepted that they owe allegiance to a radical Islamic group.
Radical Islamic ideology has developed deep roots in the Maldives since the 1970s. More often than not, this trend has had open or clandestine State support. From the Presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to that of Abdulla Yameen, governments have used Islamic conservatism to bolster their regimes and serve their partisan ends. This has led to the growth of radicalism. Radicals set off bombs, killed a liberal blogger and a journalist, went to fight for the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and campaigned for Sharia law in the Maldives. Only Mohamed Nasheed has been consistently speaking against Islamic radicalism. He may have been the target for this.
In his 2011 thesis on Islamism and radicalism in the Maldives submitted to the Naval Postgraduate School in California, Hassan Amir says that while the Maldives has been Islamic for centuries, it was President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who used Islam as a political instrument first. A graduate in Islamic law from the Islamic Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Gayoom created in 1980, the Mauhadu-al Dhiraasaathul Islamiyya, an educational institute dedicated solely to Islamic studies, with assistance from Islamic countries. Under Gayoom, Maldives started to play a prominent role in the Organization of the Islamic Countries (OIC).
“ It was at this time that significant numbers of Maldivian youth began attending various Islamic education institutes in places such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and India. These youth later became the vanguard of the Islamic revivalist movement in Maldives,” Amir recalls.
Although Gayoom propagated a moderate form of Islam in order to develop his country as a major tourist destination, he used Islam to shame and oppress those who thought differently. However, Gayoom’s suppression of the democratic opposition, made people look upon radical Islam as a rallying point and a panacea for their secular problems.
In 2005, when political parties were allowed to operate in the Maldives, these parties too used Islam to gather support and oppose rivals. Besides, an avowedly Islamic party, Adhalath Party, came into being. These parties branded their rivals as heretics and agents of Western ideas and agendas, including Christian proselytization. President Yameen made such accusations against his rivals, Mohamed Nasheed fist and then Ibrahim Solih.
Relevant Social Conditions
Maldivian society is small and conservative. Large extended families tend to live together and act as a security net. Families are connected to one another through intermarriages or kinship ties. Therefore, social pressure to conform is great. The Maldivians see strict adherence to Islam as a shield against political and cultural encroachment by Western and South Asian non-Islamic countries. With increasing globalization this urge to preserve its identity has only grown.
Globalization entering through tourism has led to GDP growth, but it has also brought cultural degradation. Drug abuse is one of the most pressing concerns in Maldivian society. Drug abuse and gang violence have often gone hand-in-hand. Given the moral degradation, there is a tendency to see radical Islam as a panacea. This has resulted in “Arabization”. And Arabization enables Maldivians to easily receive and internalize radical Islamic thought from troubled West Asia.
Impact of Tsunami Aid
In her paper dated March 22, 2021 in Global Risk Insights Antonia Gough says that following the 2004 Tsunami, various Saudi Salafist (Wahhabi) non-governmental organizations came to the Maldives on the pretext of helping rebuild badly affected areas. “Members of these organizations brainwashed young Maldivian men who were living below the poverty line into believing that the Tsunami was a punishment for failing to follow the true teachings of Islam. Over the next 15 years, radical Islamist ideology infiltrated the social fabric of the islands,” Gough observes.
Hassan Amir recalls that one Moosa Inas, a mysterious aid financier, later became one of the perpetrators of the Sultan Park bomb incident of 2007, which injured twelve foreign tourists. Charity fronts such as Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq (IKK) came into being. The IKK is affiliated with Jamaat-u-Dawa (which is engaged in Tabligh, i.e., active proselytizing) and the more sinister Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistani-based terrorist groups responsible for numerous attacks in India, Pakistan, and other areas across the region.
In an interview to CNN-IBN in 2009, Mohamed Nasheed said that thousands of Maldivian youth were being recruited to join Jihadi operations in Pakistan to fight in Afghanistan and further afield. In 2009, an al-Qaeda propaganda video showed a Maldivian by the name of Ali Jaleel who subsequently died in a security force installation in Pakistan. There have also been Indian intelligence reports linking Maldivians to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Gough says.
She even charges that “Salafist ideologies have not just infiltrated the young islanders, but also the islands’ security forces, who play a part in recruitment of young men to ISIS.” A ruling Maldivian Democratic Party activist said that he has no hope that the attempt on Nasheed’s life on May 6, this year, will be properly investigated as he fears that the security forces have been infiltrated by Islamic radicals.
Gough quotes official figures to say that 173 Maldivians travelled to Syria to fight and 432 have attempted to go. As of December 2019, there were approximately 1,400 “religious extremists” located on the archipelago.
In 2014, the Maldivian government passed the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This second Act led to the creation of the National Counterterrorism Centre in 2016. Yet, the Abdulla Yameen government took a soft approach. Instead of punishing radicals it sent them for rehabilitation. In October 2019, President Ibrahim Solih announced a five year counterterrorism plan to lay out how the country’s security apparatus will coordinate and cooperate in response to a terrorist incident.
In 2014 an independent journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, was abducted and possibly killed. Rilwan was critical of both Yameen’s government and Islamic radicalization in the country. Yameen stopped the investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance and declared him dead early in 2019. Yameen was accused of being directly involved in Rilwan’s disappearance and his possible death. Blogger Yameen Rasheed, known as a critic of the political establishment, was stabbed to death in his apartment in 2017.
In October 2019, President Ibrahim Solih announced a five year counterterrorism plan to lay out how the country’s security apparatus will coordinate and cooperate in response to a terrorist incident.
However, Gough points out that in February 2020, three foreigners were stabbed on one of the islands. Soon after the incident, a Maldivian radical group affiliated with ISIS took responsibility for the attack via a video message. In this video, three masked men announced: “The portrayal that this [Maldives] is paradise […] has become a mirage. From now on, the only thing they [foreign travellers] will taste [in the Maldives] is fire”.
Gough points out that two months later, the ISIS claimed responsibility for an arson attack on one of the islands. “In what was their first attack on the islands, no one was killed but five boats were destroyed, in that attack.”
Tourism is the single largest contributor to the Maldivian economy. If Islamic radicalism, which is threatening it, is not reined in, the country would suffer grievously.