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A crisis of social cohesion

Controversy over an NGO report sheds light on deeper societal issues, writes Ibrahim Thayyib.



By Ibrahim Thayyib

The Maldivian Democracy Network report which is under public scrutiny for its contentious remarks about Islamic faith sheds light on deeper societal issues in the Maldives. The situation signifies the fast eroding social cohesion of the country, which is neck-deep in larger social and political issues that demands immediate action and solutions. Identity crises, inequality, and injustice, enabled by unholy political alliances and widespread corruption, are perhaps the greatest fault lines that Maldives faces. This has become a real source not only of conflict but also of violent extremism; evidenced by the confrontational behavior among ideological divides, the number of Maldivians joining violent extremist groups, and the murders that have taken place in the country.

The 2012 undemocratic power transfer should be a lesson never forgotten. The government’s failure, hitherto, to address the increasing fragmentation of society played a huge role in the power transfer. The narratives mobilized by the then opposition was largely built on the ‘national identity’ former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom so well ingrained in the Maldivian psyche – one-people one-language one-religion. Today’s context, if unaddressed strategically, is likely to result in an unimaginable fissure along the fault lines, political turmoil, and instability.

Despite the generally disseminated idea of a singular identity, Maldivians represent diversity which should be acknowledged, respected, and accepted as is. The identity of oneness should be rethought and reconstructed grounded in the ideals of humility, equality, and justice. The expectations for a better democracy and a stronger human rights regime following the change of government in 2018 is far from becoming a reality. In contrast, what can be seen is that the State is sympathetic towards populist narratives which inherently promotes injustice, inequality, and intolerance.

The fundamental concern, perhaps, is not the threats we are bound to face as a result of eroding social-cohesion. Rather it is the failure of the State to strategize and implement viable solutions to re-envision social-cohesion and build a resilient community. President Solih’s reaction to the current situation is that the government will investigate; also the same reaction from Maldives Police Service. The Speaker of the Parliament’s idea is that it is a religious matter and therefore the general public should refrain from discussing it.

If anything, these reactions ought to provide only a temporary band-aid solution to the problem. However, observing public sentiments even after State’s reaction, it is seen that the band-aid is failing to stick to the wound. The worry here, obviously, is the facade of peace that the State is targeting for. The substance of peace, however, lies in addressing the root causes. If the State is sincere about enhancing social-cohesion and building resilience, the priority should be to facilitate discussion and dialogue. Rather than letting social issues fester, the State should accept the issues and the nature or root causes of such issues.

Ibrahim Thayyib holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney, Australia. His research interests are in the areas of human rights, and religion.

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