The Maldives, 2012
A note: due to the paranoia and the real dangers occurring in one of the tiniest and most populated countries in the world I decided to avoid portraits and captions.
In the middle of the Indian Ocean lies a chain of 1,200 islands unanimously recognised as a tropical paradise: the Republic of Maldives. What tourists might not notice, while quickly transiting by seaplane to their luxury destination is that they are visiting the only country in the world that proudly declared itself 100% Muslim. The UN Human Rights Committee recently asked the government to review the 2008 Constitution, which states, “a non Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives”. Although it is not a fully Islamic state in which the base of government is Sharia law, religious rules have a strong influence on freedom and affect the lives of younger people.
The one-mile wide island of Malé counts 130,000 people, half of the inhabitants of the Maldives. Following the economic boom of the past 30 years and the related population growth numerous families moved in the overcrowded apartments of the capital for better opportunities and health care . While in other extremely religious countries, such as Iran or Saudi Arabia, the vastitude of the territory allows people pretending to carry out the law in their private homes; the population density of Malé doesn’t allow the same, as Aisha, a young student, puts it: “The island is so small that everybody knows you from when you were a kid and as soon as you do something bad they start talking and never stop”.
Young people find themselves in the middle of a cultural tug between modernity and religious tradition. The world’s different cultures entered in these previously isolated lands through the Web. Just when the youth thought they glimpsed an opening, fundamentalists started to raise their voice and all their dreams remained confined on the Web. Nobody would talk about their religious attitude openly – even with friends – instead they would do it on Facebook under fake identity.
Fear is justified. In 2010, when Mohamed Nazim declared at a public meeting not to be religious, the police saved him from the angry crowd. Three days later on state TV the man recanted and asked for forgiveness. A few months later teh body of Mohamed Didi, only 25, was found hanged in the control tower of the International Airport, his workplace, after letting other people know he was not religious. In 2011, a blogger, Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed survived stoning when he decided to celebrate something unknown in the Maldives: Human Rights Day.
What is allowed to millions tourists is forbidden for the Maldivian citizens. If the Maldives are on the Guinness Book of Record for the highest divorce rate of the world, in the same time pre-marital sex is commonly punished with public flogging. In September 2012 a 16 year old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes to be received when she reached the age of 18 as the result of sexual relations with an older man. The use of alcohol is severely punished while rock music, dancing and mixed gender gatherings are discouraged. Young Maldivians, when religious groups do not enrol them – often end up using drugs or becoming involved in criminal activities. According to the NGO Journey 7% of the people between 15 and 34 are addicted to heroine, cheaper and easier to find than alcohol. There 20-30 different gangs become to the young people an alternative family, offering them what is forbidden by religion. A gang chief, Jack, says: “When we fight is usually for drugs but a lot of money comes from politicians: to disturb, intimidate or even kill member of the opposition.” As firearms are forbidden in the Maldives every killing happen by blade.
If for religious fundamentalists drug and violence are related to an incomplete implementation of the Sharia law and to bad Islamic education, for others the solution is far more complex. According to the Maldivian Democracy Network, by using religion as a political tool, politicians play a large role in the turmoil affecting the younger generations.