By Daniel Bosley
As a foreign writer who’s been in the Maldives for a number of years, as well as a close friend of Yameen Rasheed, this week I have been asked a number of times to summarise the situation for international news outlets. To give a simple explanation of our friend’s murder. To place it in context for an audience who know only of the resorts and the reef.
I have been unable to.
The country is now facing a tsunami of change – mass migration, a young population in an even younger democracy, a revolution in traditional lifestyles, and a flood of corrupting money from the luxury tourism boom. That’s not a headline any editor will approve anytime soon.
These factors combined would sink most societies. Rapid development has eliminated the scourge of fever, much of the danger of travel, and has connected the country in a way it has never known. But it has also uprooted traditions, dispersed families, and left almost an entire generation of young people living in a country that bears little resemblance to that in which their parents grew up; without a clear identity or direction.
Faced with this vacuum of purpose and loss of coherent community, it’s inevitable that some sections of the society are drawn towards extremism; this is not a phenomenon unique to the Maldives. Political extremism, chemical extremism through drugs, and – obviously – religious extremism. Find a mask to hide your vulnerability and hold onto it with all your might, lest anyone try and expose your frailty.
Herded onto a concrete island in pursuit of this ‘ill-defined’ development, young men in Male’ are today being driven to extremism and murder by short-sighted patriarchs and selfish demagogues. They have become materiel in the cultural and political feuds of those in positions of authority; those who are failing to provide leadership, stability, or basic law and order during this unprecedented time of social upheaval.
In a nation previously famed for its aversion to violence, such acts threaten to shatter Maldivian society.
This is where our friend Yameen Rasheed comes in. A naturally intelligent, confident and yet humble individual, Yameen’s work reflected that of a man who needed no identity. He was Yameen Rasheed; that was more than enough. Headlines will try and pigeonhole him as a ‘blogger’, ‘secularist’, ‘activist’, but I see him simply as man who did not ascribe to, or understand, the need for rigid identities in order to play a role in his community. He certainly would not have described himself as any of these things, and would usually spend more time describing IT – his day job – than politics, religion, or anything people might expect of such a strong voice for open and free expression.
He was a destroyer of hypocrites and the egotist’s nemesis – as was his friend Ahmed Rilwan; always seeking to peek behind the masks which many of us never take off. In a society disoriented and struggling to find itself, this is a brave and dangerous thing to be.
For me, Yameen Rasheed embodied the true spirit of the Maldives. He was calm, softly spoken, disciplined, hard-working, pragmatic, considerate, never quick to anger, always ready to talk, and able to disarm any situation with a killer smile. Those who took him were deeply misguided, and require the strength of the community now more than ever.
This is not an article seeking to point fingers, nor to lay blame, but simply to pay tribute to a man who has had a deep impact upon the way I see the Maldives, and indeed the world, and who has undoubtedly increased my love for both.
When I read about the Maldives’ past, I read of timeless traditions, fathomless optimism and, above-all, resilient communities holding a nation together against the often corrosive forces of the outside world. But unless the country can reclaim its sense of community, what is left but 1,192 islands, 400,000 people and 1.2 million tourists drifting alone, lost in an ocean of entropy?
Beyond resorts islands, the fisheries industry or any other economic asset, the Maldives appears to me to be a place that cannot exist without community, its strongest resource. It is a place that cannot exist without men like Yameen Rasheed to make it strong.
Editor’s Note: Daniel Bosley is a British writer who has worked as a journalist in the Maldives since 2012 and written regularly for international publications including Reuters and the Economist.