The things we do

The things we do
March 15 08:02 2017

One of the most positive aspects of my Islamic upbringing in the Maldives was that I did not have to learn about the concept of Original Sin. From subsequent reading and exploring the fundamental parameters of the religion at more depth, I still continue to believe that evil and sin are portrayed as transient conditions in Islam. It is temporary and as such, it is more about what people do rather than what they are.

I hold to this view, despite a Western education focusing on History and English Literature. One cannot be a serious student of English Literature without giving a great deal of thought to the opposing forces of good and evil. Having grown up in a fairly moral household in the Maldives, and with a literature background, I am inclined to explore the nature of good and evil and how it is reflected in the things people do.

I believe evil is what people do with a total disregard for the less fortunate. It is the cult of personality, tyranny and the insatiable greed of the privileged. Experience and some knowledge of history have reinforced my thinking that this is behind much of human suffering. But this is nothing new to us in the Maldives. As Americans wake up to the horrors of their Orwellian state, we the Maldivians can claim that this is what we already know and have known for a lifetime.

Much of the recent history of the Maldives teaches us that governance is all about the survival of the fittest; the championing of the few in society who can prey guiltlessly on the weak and the rights of the powerful elite disinterested in what is good for others. It is my experience that the narcissistic one percent of our population has constantly manipulated politics and society for personal gain.  For us, the Maldivians, art imitates life; Animal Farm, one of Orwell’s two most well-known works depicting life in the Totalitarian state, is our daily experience and Napoleon, its well-known protagonist, is not simply a fictitious character.

Despite the satire produced by Donald Trump’s dysfunctional brain and constantly displayed on social media, the Orwellian state is not a joke. Evil breeds faster and with more energy than goodness. I also know that this is not simply a passing phase – here today gone tomorrow – because evil digs its claws in deep and often times it is impossible to revert to a state of comparative innocence.

If then, it is what people do that holds the key to evil; we should consider the Maldivian government’s plan to force-dump segments of the population onto new islands and call it development. The word ‘reservations’ comes to my mind as quickly as images from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It is not rocket science that such forced relocations invariably destroy the communal and societal structures which bind people together and allow them to function with their dignity and value systems intact.

Are our leaders just obtuse or do they simply not care? Or both perhaps? There is a litany of research that describes the ramifications of removing groups of people from their own land. Modern day examples are not hard to find. Statistic and ethnographies based on high-quality research show when previously held structures of power and ownership in a community are broken down at the whim of outside forces, lawlessness, violence, dependency on drugs, depression, and levels of poverty increase.

Ask the American Indians, the Maori of New Zealand or the indigenous people of Australia. Closer to home, ask the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, who were forcibly removed from their Indian Ocean islands. The impact of forced, mass migration is likely to create a similar breakdown of communities in the Maldives. The overwhelming irony of it all is that it is not the heavy hand of colonial powers that will enforce this on our people.

Despite my misgivings about such a plan of relocation, I must admit to be absolutely dumbfounded by the rest of their grand design. I don’t think even the much malignedTrump has managed to produce a plan as insidious as our own leaders seem to have. By this I refer to the idea of inviting the oil-rich, Saudis and possibly the Chinese into our atolls.

It is telling in itself that the regime’s latest reincarnation feels that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country worthy of emulating. The rulers of this country, propped up by oil money, have been described as ‘the worst of the worst’ in political and civil rights surveys. Capital punishment, human trafficking, slavery, suppression of women (half the population of the country), strict censoring of the press to destroy dissent are all the hallmarks of a nation that is struggling to transit into the modern world.   

I fear the noble king of this land and the rulers of the Maldives have somewhat similar ideas on development – it all starts and ends with the abuse of power for personal gain. For them, just as it is for Trump in America, development is about the greed of the greediest. It is about money and the freedom to treat people as commodities. The underlying mantra is government policy that would line their own pockets: call it Development, Islamic Fellowship or Maldivian Miracle.

Even with my strong addiction to words and images, I struggle to find a metaphor that will truly describe the moral offensiveness of such a plan. The only one I can come up with is the deliberate encouragement of one’s own children into prostitution. The invitation of a foreign country, or countries, to build a power base in Faafu atoll and the act of sacrificing one’s children to lives of degradation have much in common: it is about the violation of what is dearest and most inviolable in one’s care to achieve a selfishly personal dream of material gain.

The comparison is not as inappropriate as you might first think. The truth, as I see it, is that people’s connection to their own land and the sense of identity that goes with it, are as sacred to them as the sense of family and the moral codes that enhance and hold communities together. The last thing Maldivians need are foreign governments with their own agenda to take root on our shores. The intended transaction is all the more vile because the people involved – the government – are the very people who are positioned to protect the abuse of the citizens and their land just as the parents’ role is overwhelmingly to nurture and protect the children.

I am not pessimistic by nature, but I fear for the future of my homeland. Paradise is rarely regained in the political arena. The very nature of politics makes it so. Power is an aphrodisiac whose closest bedfellows are ambition and empire building. It does not look for limitation, but for proliferation. Its triffid-like tentacles travel fast and reach far and before we know it, there is a Holocaust or a Killing Field. When faced with the pace of naked ambition, we the liberal left are always going to be found napping.

For the leadership in a Totalitarian state, the pursuit of power becomes an end in itself, increasing the disregard, even hatred of ‘others’- those who do not belong to the inner circle. Their objective is to isolate and alienate the masses in order to break down the groups and the social frameworks that functions for all.

What better way of breaking down the structures that hold our nation together with a cohesive sense of good and bad than to dislocate the people, and relocate them on hugely crowded islands close to Malé? Without a shared sense of place, identity or history, the ensuing chaos and social breakdown will leave the oligarchic state free to pursue its greed, in this case, perhaps with the added bonus of having more islands to sell to foreign investors.

Of course, time changes everything. Even this cycle of conservative malevolence will eventually come to an end. Nothing lasts forever as my husband is inclined to proclaim by his sudden and dramatic renderings of Ozymandias by Percy Shelley. Actions of leaders such as ours are simply impermanent in the face of time and history. But these ravages of time are not enough to deal with the suffering of people here and now. One day the Palaces of the Arabian Nights in Faafu atoll may simply be “colossal Wrecks, boundless and bare” but in the dust that surrounds them will be the shattered lives and dreams of their victims.

We do have to find the courage to deal effectively with the here and now. It is the burden of responsibility for those of us, the large majority of the Maldivian population, who carry the ‘Moral Molecule’- nature’s gift of empathy and altruism – to oppose the realisation of this development plan. We do not have to simply watch our Orwellian states grow and prosper. In whatever way we can, we need to do more. We all need to stand up and fight for what we believe in.

Latheefa Ahmed Verall is an educator working in New Zealand. 

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