Love Palestine, hate racism

The Maldives is probably one of the most faithful supporters of Palestine, and our relationship with the people of Palestine goes beyond diplomacy. Maldivians see Palestinians as their ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’ and as long as I can remember there has always been a prayer for the people of Palestine included in our Friday sermons. We have vowed to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestine’ in its bid to gain full membership at the UN and it would not be an exaggeration to say that our loyalty to Palestine has become part of our national psyche. Similar to the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’, we seem to believe that there is a ‘special relationship’ between the Maldives and Palestine based on brotherhood, respect and just cause.

A good friend of mine, who is also a prominent Palestinian activist, was pleasantly surprised to hear about the love and prayers Maldivians have been sending to Palestinians for decades, all the way from our tiny islands. But little does she know how our relationship in support of Palestine plays a crucial role in Maldivian politics, or that in our land, the Arab-Israel conflict is used as a tool to rile up emotions by politicians and religious scholars. My worry is that little do we know that our love for Palestine is inadvertently crossing into racism at times.

More recently the term anti-Semitic (hatred of Jews) has been used in association with our country and I find this extremely shameful. This association is mainly due to the folly of our politicians and the actions of religious fundamentalists in the Maldives, in their drive to gain moral authority over each other. But the fact that our name is written in the same sentence as anti-Semitism today is a disgrace and begs the important question, are Maldivians really anti-Semitic? After much thinking, my answer to this question is no. There is recent evidence to counter my answer, but I believe Maldivians are essentially not anti-Semitic. Ignorant and misinformed some of us may be, but we are not as a nation anti-Semitic. When I say this I am not speaking on behalf of the minority of brainwashed religious mullahs in the Maldives, but on behalf of ordinary Maldivians. If I ask my mother what her views of Israel are, she would say that she dislikes Israel for the suffering of Palestinians. This answer stems from a longstanding loyalty to Palestinians and Muslims and not because of a deep-entrenched hatred of Jews.

Protesters make their way to the East side of Male', calling to deport Israeli volunteer eye doctors who had come to the Maldives. There were people wearing Tshirts with anti-zionist and anti-jewish messages. The protesters were demanding for the Israeli doctors to be deported. There is also a large section of the Maldives who believe that this was a political game played against the then President Mohamed Nasheed by the Islamists.  Clearly visible were signs of their frustration towards israel. Many of the leaders in this rally are widely believed to be involved in the February 2012 'coup'. Today, many of them holds Minister level portfolio's in Dr.Waheed's administration; A Stanford graduate, who is believed to have been supported by the United States and India during the contested transfer of power. Many Maldivians continue to question why United States of America and India was so hasty in accepting and supporting Dr.Waheed over the liberal populist President, Mohamed Nasheed. As usual, there was a separate section at the back for the women who participated in the gathering. Many people here in the Malidves conflate Zionism, Israel and Judaism. The crowed raise their hand in agreement. The rising of the index finger is becoming a signature amongst the Maldivian Islamists. Some of the protesters stand on the sea wall, a protected wall built around the island to thwart the rising sea level.
Photo essay: Munshid MohamedMaldives against Zionism rally, 2012

Dislike of Israel is not equal to anti-Semitism; people are allowed to scrutinize and dislike the state of Israel for the countless atrocities they have committed against the people of Palestine, and many western organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are critical of Israeli war crimes and discrimination against Palestinians. Since 2003 the UN has passed 232 resolutions with respect to Israel, of which a large majority are very critical of Israel. Their criticism is not considered anti-Semitic. Equally, our continuous support of the Palestinian cause should not be considered anti-Semitic.

Having said that, how do we explain the common use of language such as ‘yahoodhi kaleyge’ when we insult a person, or our tolerance of anti-Jewish slurs by our religious scholars? If the country is being perceived as anti-Semitic because of the actions and words of some Maldivians, it is important that we ask ourselves why this is the case. Has our support for Palestinians unfortunately laid the foundations for hatred towards Israelis and Jews? If Maldivians have any anti-Jewish tendencies, it is because our religious upbringing required us to look at Jews differently using religious justifications, and because our education system limits us to knowledge of Islamic and Maldivian history.  I am sure there are many Maldivians who to this day would not have heard of the Holocaust or the fact that not all Israelis are Jewish! I am tired of listening to rhetoric and sermons by political and religious morons who are incapable of understanding the difference between racism and diplomatic support for Palestine. We have tolerated the indoctrination of our children with subjective and wrongful interpretations of Islam by bigoted so-called religious scholars for too long!

After more than 50 years of conflict, today most people recognise that the state of Israel has a right to exist (even Yasser Arafat accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1988!) as much as Palestine. As a small nation state we need to remember that such conflicts are controlled by forces way beyond our influence and status, and the only thing we can do is support Palestine in spirit and by diplomatic means. But this support should not be on the basis of hating Jews. The Arab-Israeli conflict should not be a cause for us to degrade ourselves and be viewed as anti-Semitic. As importantly, it should not be cause for us to squabble mindlessly amongst ourselves over which party supports Palestine more!

Similar to Western countries that impose sanctions or halt all diplomatic ties where they find injustice and violence, many Muslim countries refuse to establish diplomatic ties with Israel because they find Israel ‘aggressive and oppressive’ in the Arab-Israel conflict. There are also some Muslim countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Egypt, Turkey and Jordan.  Historically the Maldives has chosen to reject diplomatic ties with Israel but it does not mean it has to be this way forever. We should be able to discuss this issue in the Parliament or any forum as responsible citizens without resorting to racism. Whatever our government chooses to do, it should represent the views of the people and it certainly should not be a cause for conflict amongst ourselves.

I am a firm supporter of Palestine’s right to self-determination and have actively joined pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the past, whilst some of the most wonderful people I have met abroad are Jewish. Having grown up in the Maldives, the experience of meeting people from various cultures, discussing this very conflict together with Palestinians and Jews and the exposure to a range of literature abroad have made me reassess my own preconceptions. I am sure the new generation of educated Maldivians have had similar experiences to my own and see the world through a different lens to the older generations. We should wholeheartedly support Palestine in every way, but we should do it the right way. If the chosen way of showing solidarity with Palestine is refusal to establish any diplomatic ties with Israel similar to the majority of Muslim countries, so be it. But neither religion nor a deep sense of loyalty to Palestine should be reason for us to preach and teach hatred towards any person of any faith, race and political affiliation. We are better than that.

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