Books

The Maldives: sun, sand and fanaticism

J.J. Robinson fears that the paradise that was once the Maldives may be lost forever to Islamism

5 December 2015

9:00 AM

5 December 2015

9:00 AM

The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy J.J. Robinson

C. Hurst, pp.360, £16.99, ISBN: 9781849045896

Suddenly, the Maldivians are in the news. Earlier this year, they locked up their first democratically elected president, and just recently they declared a state of emergency. It never used to be like this. The Maldives was just a place you saw in brochures, looking expensively turquoise.

It has a population no bigger than Barnet (350,000), and 99 per cent of the country is covered in water. Until recently, even its neighbour, Sri Lanka, hardly seemed to notice it. During my time in Colombo, visiting Maldivians were merely a source of idle curiosity. They flew into town either to pick up a secular education or to get roaring drunk. It did make you wonder what went on at home.

Well, now J.J. Robinson has some of the answers. He describes a society that has always been conservative, and whose variant of Islam is particularly vehement. The country was a British Protectorate from 1887 to 1965 — not that you’d know it. By the end of the 20th century, it had become eerily medieval.

In 1978, Maumoon Gayoom took over, and ran it as his own mini-caliphate for the next 30 years. During his reign, he acquired a $9 million yacht, 55 cars and a golden loo. Meanwhile, his citizens were getting by on an average of $664 a year, and the Maldives became ‘one of the world’s strictest Islamic countries’. Adulterers were flogged (or at least the women were), and a band of thugs, known as ‘Star Force’, kept everyone compliant.


Then something odd happened, and a window of democracy appeared. In 2008, Mohamed Nasheed forced an election and won. Educated at Dauntsey’s in Wiltshire, he’d spent most of his life in jail or banished abroad. During his exile, some old school friends had helped him establish a government-in-exile in a fireplace shop in Salisbury. From here, he made a euphoric return to the Maldives, and for a while all went well. The yacht went on eBay, and Nasheed started weeding out the judges (a quarter of whom had criminal records).

It was a short but glorious interlude, and fortunately Robinson was there to record it all. At the age of 25, he’d flown out to Malé to edit an online paper. I loved this part of the book. His travels have about them a hint of Gulliver. Robinson is a big presence in the tiny capital, and is foreign, untouchable and gauche (before the Maldives, he’d been an IT correspondent, and arrived with a copy of Islam for Dummies). His paper is a ragtail outfit, distributed via a dodgy server (kept under someone’s bed in Singapore). But, despite a beguiling name — Minivan News — it’s soon exposing knavery, and many of its stories end up here.

Maldivians won’t thank Robinson for this portrait, and yet it’s horribly compelling. Apart from a few heroes (including Nasheed), his islanders are invariably ignorant, hot-headed and apt to riot. They regard the beach as their dump, and zealots have smashed most of the pre-Islamic art. But, says Robinson, for all their religiosity, many Maldivians are ‘rampantly promiscuous’ and other people’s spouses are often ‘fair game’. It all sounds like heaven for reporters, and Sodom for everyone else. But is this perception fair, or is Tom Chesshyre’s depiction more balanced in his thoughtful travelogue, Gatecrashing Paradise?

The tone in the second half of Robinson’s book is different, more detached and editorial. With 33 pages of footnotes (most directing us back to the Minivan archives), much of the detail is highly specialist — although there are some intriguing revelations. I particularly liked the one about the Taleban, who meet at the Paradise Island Resort.

Without doubt, however, there’s courage and defiance at the heart of this book. Dark forces are always present and, in February 2012, the news bulletins are suddenly interrupted and replaced with a screening of Beauty and the Beast. It’s the Gayooms again, seizing power. This time, they say, they’re here to ‘defend Islam’ and, before long, Mohamed Nasheed is back in jail. In the ensuing chaos, at least one journalist will pay with his life.

And what are the lessons for the rest of us in this ‘Maldivian Spring’? Easy, says Robinson; whatever happens in the Maldives happens elsewhere a few years later. Whether that’s true or not, this is a sad and salutary tale, boldly told.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £14.44, Tel: 08430 600033. John Gimlette’s Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka was published earlier this year. 

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  • Richard Baranov

    I have been aware of the mess in the Maldives for a couple of years at least. Because 2 or 3 years ago they went on the rampage and destroyed every Buddhist artefact from their past that they could get their grubby hands on. The systematic destruction of Buddhist culture throughout the East is something that is barely noticed in the West and, when it is, the Islamists are almost always depicted as victims. I would point toward the just struggle of the people of Burma which is often cited as “Muslim persecution” in almost total ignorance of what is going on. That the Muslims in Burma are invaders from formally Buddhist Bangladesh, the Burmese know their eventual fate simply by looking across the border. No one, in the West, talks about the truly appalling persecution of Buddhists in Bangladesh, rape, murder, constant attacks on temples and monks and no one talks about the fact that these people are fleeing persecution by Muslims and going to Burma too pursued by the Muslim Rohingya invaders. . There are constant attacks by Muslims everywhere in the East, Burma, Sri-Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. and it is getting worse.

    It is time that the West stop being so parochial, thinking that the problem with radical Muslims is a about: “They hate the West” and realized that this isn’t a war against the West by people who are masquerading as Muslims, it is thoroughly disingenuous and a monstrous lie. They are authentic Muslims and it is a war between Islam the rest of the world. Their is no way of getting around that apart from exercising the most disingenuous sophistry and pretending it true. It is high time that the West realized that what we are facing is the common enemy of humanity and what we should be doing is making common cause with the rest of the world to crush these evil people once and for all.

    • I agree. Who thinks of the Hindu genocide in Bangladesh in the early 1970s? 1.2 million estimated to be killed. There has been constant violent pressure by Muslims against non-Muslims for centuries. This is directed against non-Western countries. It is a part of life. These atrocities need to be publicised and never let out of public view.

      • Richard Baranov

        I have pointed out before that in invading India, it is calculated, that 100 million Buddhists and Hindus were murdered. Buddhism was the major religion of the sub-continent but it was utterly destroyed by Islam in its native home. It is pure fantasy to believe that Islam can be appeased, the East knows that from bitter experience and they know the perfidy of Islam. Witness Indonesia, it was wholly Buddhist and then the Muslim traders arrived. They asked politely for enough land for a mosque and were given it. Because in the words of the Buddha: “It is of benefit to support and be tolerant of other teachings for the welfare and peace of society and because, by doing so one benefits one’s own teaching as something praiseworthy in the eyes of others.” He was of course, thinking of the tolerance of the non-Abrahamic religions of India. However, when, in Indonesia, the Muslims had gained enough strength by politeness and praying on the host cultures friendliness they turned to conquest, murder, mayhem, and destruction and the classical culture of Indonesia, one of the most beautiful in the world, was destroyed.
        The West continues to keep its head in the sand with P.C. nonsense that is in the end going to destroy us. Muslims will convert but they are not just interested in conversion, subjugation will do and that is what they intend for us all, regardless of where we live in the world.

    • King Kibbutz

      It is the most baffling question of our time – probably of any time – as to why the leaders of the world remain even now, blind to the truth of what is happening. Or is it the case that they in fact do know and have bought into it?
      What else can explain the continued, even escalating rate of the colonisation in Europe and elsewhere? All is cloaked in a sense of fairness and egalitarianism and yet one only has to consult history to see where all of this is headed.
      It is deeply disturbing to any responsible person.

      • Richard Baranov

        I suspect it can be summed up in one observation. The present situation is of benefit to a ruling elite that are indifferent to the consequences of their decisions on the people at large because they are free to live in splendid isolation with little clue, existentially, of what their behaviour brings, their behaviour being motivated by greed, avarice. In fact, I suspect it is worse than that, they benefit like parasites killing the host body because it is the short term that counts, not the future. There are to be found amongst this class, an extraordinary proportion of psychopaths and sociopaths for whom callous disregard is a routine, hence my remark concerning parasites. They throw out their garbage ‘nothing to do with Islam’ etc. because they have huge vested interests in the Islamic world. They know very well they are talking rubbish but it keeps the Saudis etc. pacified and the money rolling in to the coffers. Witness our charming chancellor who is willing to sell the whole farm, as it were. Principles, decency, standing up for what is right. All of it has been thrown out of the window for profit and it matters not that England prostitute itself in the process.

        • King Kibbutz

          I fear you have it pretty much sussed.

      • Germainecousin

        Thank you. Your post succinctly puts into words how I feel. It it almost an Alice in Wonderland scenario, nothing sees to be as it. The startling, frightening obvious is all about and yet world leaders insist on stepping along the path to total destruction. It makes me feel completely and utterly powerless.

    • Dhimmitude Ishere

      A very succinct and comprehensive summary of the bloody history of Islam in its dealings with other religious groups over the centuries in the Indian sub-continent an throughout Southeast Asia.

      Without resorting to a conspiracy theory of some type, it is well nigh impossible to understand why the quisling political classes of the West refuse to learn from these lessons of history or indeed those nearer home in Euope and the Middle East from the Middle Ages onward.

      Islam is not simply incompatible with democracy but with any other religious, social, economic or political form of human organisation. Ask the Hindus, the Christians, the Buddhists, the Sikhs and those without affiliation.

      It does not believe in peaceful co-existence and what others see as compromise, it sees as weakness with any accommodation being seen simply as a new baseline from which to demand further concessions.

      Conversion, submission, death or exile have been the fate of millions before us and will inevitably be ours too with the fifth columns both of active jihadists and complacent sympathisers we have allowed to settle and fester like monstrous cancers within our countries.

      The sheer arrogance of our politicians in seemingly believing that they can achieve something that has never previously been achieved in human history would be pitiful if its consequences were not so serious for those they are supposedly elected to serve.

      My Thai born, ethnically Chinese wife asked me nearly 25 years ago why we were letting so many Muslims into the UK and (her words) letting them do what they want. She questioned our sanity in surprisingly powerful colloquial language and said it would all end in bloodshed.

      I laughed uncomfortably at her from what was then a nice liberal and politically correct standpoint. Am I still laughing at her now …?

      • Richard Baranov

        Su wat dee! You wife is right. The East has known for centuries what the West chooses to ignore. I get the same sort of reaction from the many Easterners I know when Islam comes up as a topic. They are quite puzzled by our folly. I suspect that it has something to do with the West never being conquered, for centuries, by an alien culture. The East has been conquered up, down, and around about and shafted quite thoroughly thank you and not only by Islam! The East, therefore has a rather more realistic assessment concerning the consequences of hostile cultures such as Islam that the West has no existential reality of experiencing, it is simply not part of our reality, it is, sort of an abstraction and now we react with something bordering on incomprehension and folly. I suspect there is more than a trace of hubris in there too.

    • Dhimmitude Ishere

      A very succinct and comprehensive summary of the bloody history of Islam in its dealings with other religious groups over the centuries in the Indian sub-continent and throughout Southeast Asia.

      Without resorting to a conspiracy theory of some type, it is well nigh impossible to understand why the quisling political classes of the West refuse to these lessons of history or indeed those nearer home in Euope and the Middle East from the Middle Ages onward.

      Islam is not simply incompatible with democracy but with any other religious, social, economic or political form of human organisation. Ask the Hindus, the Christians, the Buddhists, the Sikhs and those without affiliation.

      It does not believe in peaceful co-existence and what others see as compromise, it sees as weakness with any accommodation being seen simply as a new baseline from which to demand further concessions.

      Conversion, submission, death or exile have been the fate of millions before us and will inevitably be ours too with the fifth columns both of active jihadists and complacent sympathisers we have allowed to settle and fester like monstrous cancers within our countries.

      The sheer arrogance of our politicians in seemingly believing that they can achieve something that has never previously been achieved in human history would be pitiful if its consequences were not so serious for those they are supposedly elected to serve.

      My Thai born, ethnically Chinese wife asked me nearly 25 years ago why we were letting so many Muslims into the UK and (her words) letting them do what they want. She questioned our sanity in surprisingly powerful colloquial language and said it would all end in bloodshed.

      I laughed uncomfortably at her from what was then a nice liberal and politically correct standpoint. Am I still laughing at her now …?

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