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Banning scholarship in Maldives for 'peace and harmony'
by Michael O'Shea
2 July 2003



Iyye cover with photos of Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Mohamed Ameen


The banning of Mohamed Nasheed's Dhandikoshi is the latest example of President Gayyoom's ongoing censorship of scholarly writing within Maldives.

In many ways, the circumstances of this banning recall the events of 1997, when Abdul Hakeem's Iyye was confiscated within days of its release. Both Iyye and Dhandikoshi discussed in detail the twentieth century history of Male' with reference to earlier periods, and the rule of the country's first President Mohamed Ameen. Iyye included a lengthy section on President Ibrahim Nasir.

Along with the banning of these two significant books, the Maldive government has also refused to recognise the most important work on traditional Maldive culture ever to appear in English, Xavier Romero-Frias' The Maldive Islanders published in Spain in 1999.

For the last thirteen years, President Gayyoom and his National Security Service have used intimidation, imprisonment and torture to enforce suffocating controls, especially of the Dhivehi language media. Most of this repression has been conducted in secret, with official denials, but the banning six years ago of Iyye, (Yesterday), was an exception, and Male' newspapers from that time provide a rare insight into the regime's rationale for censorship.

On 6 September 1997, in a Miadhu newspaper article headlined 'Exercising Rights and Rightful Action: Speech versus Community', Easa Rasheed wrote:
'What is at issue is not whether the personalities in the book were great leaders, although no reading of history can deny the immense contribution they had made, but the right to offensive and malicious defamation of the dead.
It is not only the living relatives who have been offended but the whole community, because if people held in such high esteem are publicly attacked with malicious intent, it is the values of the society and their integrity that are being assaulted.

'Anyway, the important question is whether the dead can be protected against malicious defamation. Fortunately, Maldivian law makes no distinction between the living and the dead in the protection that it offers against libel. In view of this, the Government has taken a responsible approach in dealing with the publication. A few days after the book was issued, all copies were withdrawn from bookstores. However, a total ban was necessary because private circulation of the book is no less a slur on those victimised.

'Banning a book cannot be construed as an intrusion on the freedom of expression. It only means that the rightful thing has been done. Maldivians can be glad that community has been attended to, and put the issues in proper perspective. What has been affected is not freedom of expression, but freedom of hate speech.

'In a small society like the Maldives, such malicious attacks as found in the book can only undermine social harmony and stability that we cherish and need so much in order to sustain national development. Under anarchy and chaos, how much freedom of speech can there be?'

Rasheed says bluntly that Iyye 'is sleazy and cheap abuse masquerading as history, and hearsay as scholarship. The language is inflammatory rather than academic, and frequently emotive and subjective.' However, he only refers vaguely to the book itself. Rasheed quotes from Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says that a limitation of freedoms is required 'for meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and general welfare'. Rasheed quotes an unnamed former adviser to US President Jimmy Carter arguing against freedom of expression for 'hate speech' in the United States, and then cites two sentences from Voltaire – 'Give me liberty or give me death', and 'Our dominant passion must be for the public weal'.

When Rasheed refers to specific instances of the 'offensive and malicious defamation' suffered by 'the dead', he mentions the eighteenth century ruler Sultan Hassan Izzudheen (also known as Dhon Bandarain), Mohamed Ameen Didi the President of the First Republic in the early 1950s, and Abdul Majeed Didi, a Prime Minister and 'Sultan-elect' who died in 1952.

Rasheed describes Dhon Bandarain as 'a national hero, whose integrity has remained immaculate for centuries' and 'a saviour from foreign domination'. Iyye's 'attacks' on the three men are described as 'particularly malicious and defamatory so personal, and indeed, some so obscene that they make the book more a 'hate book' than the history book that it purports to be'.

Another anonymous English article about Iyye, ''Hate Book' on Heroes Banned', appeared the following day in the evening newspaper Haveeru. It claimed:
'continued public outcry about Iyye's contents has eventually prompted the Information Ministry to ban the publication...(because) the book contained slanderous material as well as false allegation and derogatory language defaming past national heroes.'

The article describes Easa Rasheed (the author of the Miadhu article) as a 'Western-educated academic' and repeats his view that the Iyye is a 'sleazy and cheap abuse masquerading as history, and hearsay as scholarship.'
Then an 'articulate Maldivian' says the historical figure Dhon Bandarain should not be criticised because 'Maldivians even celebrate the public holiday each year dedicated to the memory of the valiant service of Dhon Bandarain.'

Condemning Iyye's treatment of Mohamed Ameen, 'an elderly Maldivian' says that the achievements of Ameen after WW2 should be remembered and the publication is 'a hate book'.

'Emotions are running high in this small Indian Ocean archipelago,' the article continues, 'usually more interested in opening tourist resorts than looking for ghosts in their attics. Maldivians do not regard the banning of the book as clamping down on the freedom of speech.'

Next, 'a young history researcher' claims 'there can be no freedom without responsibility. The integrity of heroes of the stature of Dhon Bandarain cannot be questioned with anything but the best and responsible scholarship. Dead people have rights too. Our libel law makes no distinction between the living and the dead in the protection that it gives.'

Then it is the turn of 'advocates of women's rights' to describe Iyye's condemnation of Mohamed Ameen as 'baseless and uninformed' because the book describes the inclusion of women in the Parliament by Ameen as an un-Islamic action.

'Many are alarmed about the potential divisive impact of the book on the community,' the article warns, and 'a local writer' is quoted:
'although Maldives is an egalitarian society, Maldivians have not yet developed the cynicism and the contempt for ruling elites of the past or the present, or the uncertainty about moral values that is characteristic of societies going through a post-modern breakdown of values. It is therefore necessary for writers not to lose sight of the interests of the community and the ethical bearings of the society.'

The final paragraph claims 'Maldivians appear to be glad that the community interest has been upheld by the banning of Iyye.'


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