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The fast rise of extremist Islam in Maldives

When Hussain Rasheed started talking about his son, a sob choked his voice.

Hussain Rasheed (left) and Shauna Aminath (rightmost)

His feeble reply wasn’t even audible to the small gathering for sometime. When he regained his composure the first question he asked: Why was my son killed? What was his crime?

The only crime of Yameen Rasheed,an independent blogger, was that he was a fierce critic of the radical Islamic forces and the government of President Abdulla Yameen, he said.

The Maldives today does not brook any political dissent and abhors any criticism of extremist Islamic forces, according to rights activists.

A predominantly Sunni Islamic country, the Indian ocean archipelago has seen an alarming rise of extremist forces ever since Yammen has assumed office in 2013.

The radical forces found a willing ally in Yameen who has been using extremist groups to entrench and expand his autocratic political footprints in the country, activists claim.

The devious bonhomie seems to reflect in the way the government has responded to the killing of Rasheed in the last week of April. No serious investigation is underway to trace the killers, according to Rasheed.

Yameen’s close friend Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a journalist with The Maldives Independent, also met the similar fate when he disappeared in a mysterious condition.

Unhappy with the way the blogger’s death is allegedly being pushed under the carpet, his father came to Delhi last week to seek the support of the media and the Indian government to intervene in the Maldives to save the country from getting into further chaos.

“We want justice for Yameen”, says Rasheed in a choked voice. “Why does somebody have to kill him. Is it a crime to talk about justice, democracy and humanity,” the father asked.

He calls India “to intervene in the Maldives and save the country from falling into the hands of radical Islamic forces.”

RISE OF THE RADICALS

Invited by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a New Delhi based think tank, to talk about the death of his son that drew considerable international attention, the senior Rasheed came along with Shauna Aminath, a prominent human rights activist to talk about the current situation in the Maldives.

Aminath is one of the prominent voices of dissent in the island nation today.

A former advisor to Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, she has been fighting hard to counter the present dictatorial regime of Yameen, who has unleashed a war against liberal and democratic forces of the country ever since he came to power four years ago.

In a freewheeling discussion at the ORF Aminath painted a very alarming picture of the country and if the situation is not arrested now it will lead to a stage “where it would threaten threaten not only internal security but the security in South Asia and that should worry India”.

“If there is no intervention in the country now the situation would soon become irreversible”, rues the young activist, who is also actively involved in promoting independent media in the country.

She says the danger is not only from the polity turning repressing and autocratic, the menace lies in the rise of Islamic radicalism in the country.

Even though Maldives has a population of around 400,000, 200 are estimated to have left to join the ISIS, making the small island nation the No.1 external contributor of human resources to ISIS on a population-adjusted basis.

What is alarming is the government’s active collusion with the Islamist forces, Aminath says, accusing the Yameen regime of instituting repressive measures to stop any criticism of the alarming rise of Wahabism in the archipelago.

Political opposition has almost been silenced. Most of the prominent voices of opposition are exiled. Former president Nasheed has been declared persona non grata in his own country.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for thirty years, and one of the alliance partners of Yameen, has also fallen out with his the president, who happens to be his nephew.

Today the situation has been made so difficult that it would be tough for Gayoom’s party to participate in the next year’s elections.

According to different reports, more than 1700 people of different political parties are facing criminal charges, two liberal newspapers have been forced to shut down, one TV channel has stopped its operation, and some of the prominent journalists have been forced to leave the country.

Aminath says that the defamation case has been criminalized and this has restricted the civil liberty to a great extent.

“It’s extremist ideology that is killing the liberal values and voices in the country, and threatening the very democracy of the nation,” laments the activist.

She asserts that the Yameen regime is highly unpopular in the country.

Citing the example of a recent local elections in the island where the president’s party got just 24% of the vote, Aminath says that if “democracy is allowed to function properly Yameen will not be able to retain the mandate.”

She looks up to India for an “urgent intervention” and “silence” would be counter productive for everyone.

“We look upon India for support. Its India which inspired democracy in the Maldives and it is its responsibility to play proactive role in the country”, feels Aminath.

She also calls upon the civil society groups in India “to proactively engage with the Maldives before it becomes too late.Such robust engagement is important for the larger good of the subcontinent”.

The Maldives is at a crossroads again.

Though overwhelming majority of the population belongs to Sunni Islam, the country has been very liberal with most of women not wearing the hijab.

However, the growing influence of Saudi Arabia and the Wahabi form of Islam has radicalized a section of the population, which wants to convert and rule the country according to conservative Islamic practices.

Such radical forces have been getting an active political patronage by the Yameen regime for the last four years.

With the active support of the extremist Islamic forces the president wants to entrench his authority in the country. For him and radical groups democracy is a challenge and therefore, they are actively conniving to shunt and shut liberal and democratic voices in the country.

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