Friday, February 15, 2008

Maldives takes Valentine's Day to heart

Unsigned love letters, flowers, tokens and trinkets of undying affection. This is not a page from a romantic novel, but how youngsters in the Islamic Republic of Maldives plan to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day celebrations and marketing gimmicks have, according to many, reached a new high this year, with everything from mobile phones ringtones, to mood candles chocolates, clothes, body scrubs, perfumes and lingerie being sold in the name of "love".
Mobile phone operator Wataniya is offering subscribers a choice to order and deliver fresh roses to their sweethearts by simply sending a text message to a three digit number. For 50 rufiyaas, customers also get a choice of selecting between a red, pink or yellow rose, Wataniya informed in text messages sent to hundreds of customers.
City hotels in the capital island of Male are offering quiet candlelight dinners, with soft music and flowers. In a country where alcoholic drinks are out of bounds to locals for religious reasons, few restaurants are offering non-alcoholic wine to diners.
"I plan to give my girl friend some flowers, and a soft toy," said office worker Amjad Aneese as he browsed through a clothing store trying to figure out if he should also buy a pair of denim's for his girl friend.
A cosmetics shop selling imported cr̬mes, lotions and body scrub, is selling a red rose with a surprise gift Рan itsy bitsy teeny weeny red thong. "We have sold about 50 roses," said the 19-year-old shop assistant Nafiu Hussain.
Five minutes from speedboat to any of the 90 odd upmarket resort islands, it's a different story.
South Asia's most exotic honeymoon destination has lured extravagant romantic overseas visitors looking for the ultimate Valentine's experience to fill up resort rooms where guests pay up to 14,000 dollars a night to sleep in wooden cabins built over turquoise blue waters.
This collection of over a thousand tropical islands is already a year-round haven for loved-up couples who want to immerse themselves in themselves.
"We are here to spend a week to do a bit of scuba diving and just relax," said American Micheal Peat as he waited with his partner to board a seaplane to a resort where prices start from 1,600 dollars onwards for a night on Valentines Day week.
While most are careful not to flash their Valentines Day intentions, the country's religious followers see the occasions as yet another attempt to pollute the Maldivian culture and value system with what they see as western influence.
"Its sort of un-Islamic," said flight steward Mohamed Ashraf reflecting some views of this Sunni Muslim nation of 369,000 people. "It only benefits card shops and eating places."
Other conservatives see a Christian twist to the annual love day.
"Valentine's Day is a Christian based festival in that sense Muslims who follow the religion strictly don't observe the day," said Mauroof Hussain, a member of the ultra-religious Aadalath Party.
But such opposition is sporadic and does not enjoy any mass support in this country that is trying to stamp out Islamic extremism from flourishing in the archipelago.
Even those who are not necessarily taken in by the Valentine's Day hype concede that an annual "love feast" can do little harm.
"I don't have a boyfriend this year, but the girls in my department have planned to wear red to work on Thursday. No harm in having a little fun," grins office worker Farah Ahmed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No red Roses for Saudi Sweethearts.

Saudi Arabia’s religious police have banned red roses ahead of Valentine’s Day. Forcing couples in the conservative Muslim nation to think of new ways to show their love.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and gift shop owners in the capital Riyadh to remove any items colored scarlet, which is widely seen as symbolizing love, newspapers said.

“They visited us last night,” the Saudi Gazette quoted an unidentified florist as saying.

It is not unusual for the Saudi Vice squad to clamp down ahead of Valentine’s Day, which it sees as encouraging relations between men and women outside of wedlock, the newspaper said.

Saudi Arabia imposes an austere form of Sunni Islam which prevents unrelated men and women from mixing, bans women from driving and demands women wear a headscarf and a cloak.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Islamic extremism in the Maldives: Is Gayoom the cause?

By Asif Fuard
As the Maldives sinks deeper into political turmoil with President Mamoon Abdul Gayoom and his political opponents engaged in a bitter clash over reforms, the country is also witnessing the emergence of Islamic extremism. The President, who many call a dictator, survived an assassination attempt recently. The attack came a few months after a bomb went off near a popular park and police battled extremists in an island. These events have prompted the government to take steps to combat the threat of Islamic extremism.
Members of a little known group have taken up arms to defend themselves and promote their version of Islam - Wahhabism -- in the archipelago. The Maldivians say the leaders of the group were educated in Pakistan and West Asian countries and their version of Islam conflicts with the version of Islam stipulated by Maldivian law, according to which preaching of different versions of Islam is a crime.
The Maldivian government has banned the veil as part of security measures to confront Islamic extremism
Reports say India's intelligence arm, Research Analysis Wing, has received information that Maldivian Islamic extremists are purchasing weapons from Indian criminal and terrorist groups while other reports indicate that they were also buying weapons from Indonesia and Pakistan.
These reports also say that Sri Lanka is being used as a transit point in the arms smuggling operation. It is against this backdrop, a few months ago, Sri Lanka and the Maldives signed a memorandum of understanding on intelligence sharing.
Opposition parties blame President Gayoom for the rise of extremism. Gayoom has been ruling this Indian Ocean archipelago for nearly three decades. Of late, he has come under severe criticism from within the country and abroad for the mounting corruption, human rights abuses and social ills such as the growing problem of youth addiction to narcotics amidst a high rate of unemployment.
The opposition's view is backed by research conducted by the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses focusing on the Maldives and Pakistan. The research shows that people resort to extremism when they are faced with a non-democratic political system.
On January 8, a boy scout foiled an assassination attempt on the President's life when he grabbed the assassin's knife, saving the executive from death. The assassin, 20-year-old Mohamed Murshid, unemployed and having no previous criminal record, attempted to attack the President when he visited, Hoarafushi in the north of the Maldives.
Earlier a homemade bomb exploded in the capital city of Male on September 29 last year in what was said to be the country's first act of terrorism after the failed attempt by a Sri Lankan mercenary group hired by wealthy Maldivian to overthrow the President in 1988.
Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed told a news conference that the perpetrators might have had extremist connections."Investigations into the September attack showed that there was fundamentalist thinking behind it," he said. In December, three men convicted of carrying out the September bombing were jailed for 15 years. Although the government may have been worried after reports linked some of the suspects to Kashmiri groups, they have since then taken measures to combat extremism in the island.
The government had taken steps to promote moderate thinking through education and banned the traditional Islamic veil in public places, offices, courts, and educational establishments, Minister Nasheed said. He said the government had also banned Muslim religious gatherings unless permission was obtained.
Foreign clerics too have been banned by the government, because it fears they can promote fundamentalism."We do not have madrassas or religious schools, like you see in Pakistan, from where militant thinking comes in," Minister Nasheed said. "In this country, fundamentalism is not spread through teachings."
"We do not have madrassas or religious schools, like you see in Pakistan, from where militant thinking comes in. In this country, fundamentalism is not spread through teachings." - Minister Nasheed
It is spread by a handful of clerics, according to analysts. The rise of extremism is a threat to the country's tourism industry, one of the pillars of the small island nation's economy. Gayoom has ruled the islands since Nov. 11, 1978, and in recent years has strongly defended the presidential form of government, as opposed to the parliamentary system, which is promoted by the main opposition, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
The founder for the MDP, Mohammed Latheef, told The Sunday Times the Egyptian-educated Gayoom is the father of the country's extremism as it was he who had brought the Wahhabi (Islam practised in Saudi Arabia) thinking into the country. "Soon after becoming President, he opened the first Islamic schools. Religious scholars from Egypt were brought to 'enlighten' the Maldivians during the month of Ramadan.
“ Some even shocked the moderate Muslim community by preaching men could beat their wives. School textbooks were revised to follow the dictator's version of Islam. Islam is used as a tool of governance in the Maldives and its people are tired of it," he said.
"There is no rule of law or checks and balances in the system of governance in the Maldives. The judiciary, the legislature and the security forces revolve around a single individual who runs the country. “In a state which has no governance one can expect such incidents taking place," he said.