Fighting Terror in Paradise.. Really?


Fighting with terrorists in paradise must be a complicated thing because as a general rule, terrorists and paradise shall not mix: terrorists are destined not for paradise but for hell.
Coming across a piece of bad journalism on these same lines, we felt the need to comment on the story as the essay tries to give the impression that our beautiful islands are in danger of being occupied by terrorists- which needless to say is solid fantasy.

First of all, the essay printed in the-diplomat.com doesn’t seem to have been prompted by any new development in the tourism sector in the Maldives or anywhere else in the country. The essay simply revises some old news from 2007 to match the words to the heading of the story. The heading of the story contains the desired wordings to attract the most amount of traffic from search engines which is the goal of all news outlets. But just coming out of the blue and saying Maldives is fighting terror in paradise for no other reason than making a sensational story, is the culminating point of bad journalism! Nobody can beat this!

However the circumstances of our time is such that fantasy and drama sells and truth can always take a backstage. :(

The wov moment


All industries and endeavours starts modestly, runs a gradually till it meets a defining moment in its history (the ‘wov’ moment) and from there on, the industry gets transformed. It’s like growing up after long and seemingly inexhaustibly years of youth. In a small and developing (really?) country like Maldives, its still possible to see these defining moments in history at various walks of life.

One example of such a defining moment in the modern history of Maldives is the dhoni album of Zero Degree. Prior to which almost all songs and music were copycats from India or elsewhere. The lyrics were mostly about love, nationalism and good values. Dhoni album was a big change from its contemporaries at the time. The music was original, the lyrics was about historically themed dhivehi country gnere or something similar. From that moment onward our little music industry just transformed. Its now like artisitic suicide to sing or even hum a hindhi tune or to put dhivehi lyrics to a hindhi song.

Another example of a defining moment can be the struggle for multi party democracy in the country. Although a lot has happened, and every party or politician will want to claim a share of the history, the fact is that a lot of people did a lot to dismantle the one party state we had and looking back over the years, its difficult to pin-point the the equivalent day in our politics when the Berlin Wall came down. It could have been the secret signing up of members to MDP, or it could have been the first date when Sandhaanu, Hukuru or even Sangu was printed. It could even have been the day when Dr. Hassan Saeed chanced upon the then constitution of Maldives and discovered  that multi-parties were actually allowed under the constitution. Whatever the occasion or the many occasions, Maldives was a very different country from what it was then and its unlikely that there will be any going back to the past.

The same has not yet happened to other more areas of the country which hopefully will not be the case for a long time. For example, our media although it has come a long way from singing praise of the dear leader all the time is still in the clutches of both sides of political process. The opposition is doing all it can to legitimize its hold on the media through the parliament and the ruling party is doing all it can to hold it in their camp. Media ideally shall be too powerful for parties and governments to meddle with, it shall also be independent, able to doom and condemn politician’s career  where it crosses lines with media. Control of the media shall not be vested in any political party and it shall be just and balanced and be useful to the people. Those who work in the media shall also receive more training and be able to question hard-talk like to people who claim to bring Utopia to the country.

The moon has not been visited by humans for a long time now since the early heyday of space explorations. They found out its a dusty inhospitable place so they stopped sending astronauts there. Nor has much happened in the tourism industry of Maldives  since the first batch of Italian tourists came back in the seventies looking for fun. Apart from a few international brand names setting up camp in a few resorts, nothing has happened. There is no minimum wage for the worker, there is complete opacity as to his or her benefits or job security in the job as was the case in the past. The only glimmer of hope for the worker which materialized in the form of a worker’s rights bill at the parliament was diluted so much to the whims and wishes of the resort owners in the Majlis that it would be better to draft the same thing anew (which the HR ministry seems to be doing).

The most pressing problem

For a successful tourism industry, a safe image of the destination is essential. The last thing a tourist will want to be worried about is the safety of their stay while on holiday. Towards this end, the key players involved have to keep their acts together. The owners, the workers as well as the government has to project this image of a clean, happy, inviting and ultimately safe destination for the guests to feel welcome at our resorts.

However recent developments in the country and the continuing attention seeking behaviour of top government officials seems to be doing more harm to our delicate tourism industry than any good. To name just one name, our ambassador at UK Dr. Farahnaz Faisal is reported to have been story-telling to prominent media outlets mostly about little known topics in the Maldives; female genital mutilation, religious extremism, supposed religious scholars exhorting folks to shun vaccination etc. To the average local Ahmed or Mohamed (the equivalent expression for average Joe..?) in Maldives, these are frankly NEWS to them. Its very unlikely the average Ahmed or Mohamed would have heard of these themes either in the media or through word of mouth. The reason is simple! These themes are very unfamiliar and hardly common practice in the country. There are no known scholars or mullahs (or whatever) who exhorted people to avoid vaccination in Maldives. Female Genital Mutilation which has been popularized and sensationalized by media is another red-herring which is totally out of place in Maldives. Most Maldivians would have heard about this practice in media as happening in some parts of Africa akin to killing albinos for supposedly traditional medicinal purposes. There are no known cases of female genital mutilation in the country and no known designs to introduce such practices to the country by any groups or ideology.

This is not to say Maldives is a trouble free country. No country is devoid of problems and problems like everything else has causes and remedies. The most popularized religious problem that happened recently in Maldives is the Himandhoo issue which was caused by the then government’s strong-man tactics rather than Al Gaidha setting up shop in the country. The issue was caused by the government sending military forces to close an unauthorized mosque constructed by the islanders for successive three years in the holy month of Ramazan. The issue could have been easily resolved had the government sent a team of religious men to talk to the people involved and engage them in dialogue. The islanders issue with the mosque was that the mosque was allegedly constructed on top of a cemetery which is forbidden in Islam. The government’s stand at the time was that the government’s position is immovable and has to be respected regardless of the circumstances.

Coming back to the issue and to set the record straight, the most prominent issue that’s currently facing Maldives has nothing to do with religious intolerance or female genital mutilation. The most pressing security problem facing the country is gang warfare and drug abuse which is sweeping through the country and is showing little sign of abating. However in the latest stats presentation offered by the security forces on the independence day, the percentage of ‘reported crime’ rate was said to have fallen 43% which is a definite improvement if all other factors were constant.

The most pressing economic problem is unemployment which to a large extent was an artificial situation created by an unimaginative education system. In a nutshell, a whole generation of youngsters grew up in conformity to 3 streams of subjects (Arts, Commerce and Science) and much too little in the way of vocational education. The non-too-distant ‘maha-singa’ (funny when names are invented) on educational policy was a good start on identifying these problems and the coming years will hopefully see changes to educational system where these issues could be addressed.

The most pressing health problem that is facing the country is lack of facilities and standards. The problem has already been a challenge with the geography of the country whereby small distant islands are further more isolated by lack of a reliable public transportation system. Seeing at a distance, the top positions of the health ministry and the members of lower the rank in the industry seems to be engaged in a proper warfare throughout the industry on a wide range of issues. The outcomes are mixed with more improvements in facilities and infrastructure promised in the near future (as is always the case).

The most pressing social problem that’s facing the country could be the lack of facilities for island communities to get together and do anything ‘social’ to while away the time and participate in social projects. Apart from the Eid festivals the average island’s social calendar is uneventful throughout the year and has been so for ages. With the anti-social behaviour and anti social elements on the increase, this maybe the opportune time to consider such an initiative.

There are indeed many more pressing problems facing the country in many walks of life, but from the perspective of tourism industry nothing can be more damaging than our own political elite spewing out unsubstantiated negative information on the country coveting media attention and personal publicity.

Post mortem of the wedding saga headline

vilureef map

Throughout this Vilu Reef wedding saga we have maintained that Minivan was excessive in its exposé’ of the situation for the sole purpose of gaining more publicity. Now that the story is taken up by all the world’s media, big and small, there is enough material out there to back our assertion. Although there is no love lost between Minivan News and us (the resortworkers) officially, we have strong reservations at the use of words in the news article which broke the story of this wedding to the world. Lets now analyse and compare the headings of the original Minivan News story and that of the same story taken up by The Independent.

The minivan headline reads: “Foreign couple mocked as “infidels” and “swine” throughout resort’s ‘wedding ceremony’

”. The words infidel and swine are particularly hurtful and are NOT even the actual meanings of the words as understood by Maldivians. Translating languages from one another is tricky because frequently there arises valid ground for serious disagreement because of the context of the item in translation. In the case of the word “infidel” the supposed dhivehi word was “kaafarun” which does not adequately fit in with what is understood to be infidel in English language. The work “kaafaru” in dhivehi has one general meaning which pertains to the belief of others apart from the belief of the inhabitants of the country. Another meaning of the same word is much more common place among the worker-classes. That second meaning is sexy or being sexy or pertaining to issues around the context. So if one is said to be a “kaafaru” it could mean like “your are sexy” or “you are horny” etc. Being sexy and horny are very different concepts in English but the differences are subtle in dhivehi language. The word infidel is frequently associated the religious concept when it comes to issues in the middle east and marital warfare in everyday English elsewhere. Where used in describing or associated with sanctified rituals like marriage the word is effective in getting attention, which we believe was the theory of using that word in the minivan headline.

Another word “balhu” translated as swine is also a little bit off the mark where dhivehi language is concerned. For example the word “Balhu” is used with various qualifiers such as “rath” (meaning red), “nagoo”( meaning tail?) are frequently used in Universal Resorts management as if they are management slang. Translating this word to swine is stretching the translation a little bit far.

However adamant we maintain that Minivan went excessive spicing up the story and the situation, we understand that the ultimate goal of every publication is to reach maximum audience. So we congratulate minivan on the veritable journalistic Coup_d’état that has tarnished the reputation of the country.

Now lets look at the headline of the same story at the independent.

“Paradise wedding that was lost in translation”

The Independent has omitted the words swine and infidel in the headline. They are more resourceful than Minivan and have editors and writers as well but they chose a less offensive headline to report the same story. Of course we are aware there are styles of writing and reporting and that being tabloid-like and wiki-like and forbes-like are all different ways to dispense with news. But considering the damage that’s already being caused to the country, we believe Minivan is highly irresponsible and have rightly shot our collective feet. To back our belief, we have even the likes of Sim of MATATO (not tomato!) who is no friend of resort workers by any stretch of imagination.

Our take on the bungled Vilu Reef wedding ceremony

The video that went viral in Utube of a Swiss couple who had their weddings renewed in the Vilu Reef resort, who got taunted insulted unwittingly at the ceremony as the ceremony was conducted in dhivehi (the local language), is generating quite big waves in otherwise a sleepy tourism industry in Maldives. The language used in the video is inexcusable is undeniable but there are more factors that needs to be explored. There indeed is more to the story than is acknowledged. Before we analysed the issue in detail, our heartfelt sincere apologies for wronged couple on behalf of all the workers of tourism industry. Our country also took hit on reputation by the foolish actions of a few fellow workers and we hope that this event will make everyone including the government work more to help the industry encounter the shortcomings and failings in the future. Resort workers are the most neglected bunch of workers in the country who are seldom cared, thanked or even entertained. In the vast majority of resort islands, the staff live below substandard pay, accommodation as well as food and other services. Resort workers are also human beings who have families and friends yet they sacrifice almost all their entire life on these tiny beautiful paradise islands which serves as their second home just as convicts who serve their time in isolation. Now lets analyse the story surrounding the incident.

1. The story first appeared in Minivan News from where its gone truly global now. The story is now taken up by http://www.vancouversun.com,Montreal Gazette,www.expatica.com,www.gulf-times.com etcHowever anyone who have really seen the article in Minivan News would agree that the article is excessive in its detail for a purpose. The article itself is a tiring long detailed tirade of ‘insults’ for the purpose of creating maximum shock value. Considering that the victim in this instance is not only the couple in the video (the whole country is also victim because this incident identifies with the country), the excessive details is just doing more harm to all the parties involved; the wedded couple, the country, the resort, the staff etc. The only party who benefits from this story is Minivan.

2.The story when it appears in global media got another twist and a make-over. Now it is about “Couple victim of hate video” -which is the headline at http://www.straitstimes.com. The said video was shot by a staff at the scene and was anything but. However when global media takes an issue every blemish is magnified multiple folds for a good reason. To reach maximum ratings and generate as much shock value. The amateur wedding video now termed a hate video interlaced with religious themes (which is useful vitriol) as if the video originated from Tora Bora. To make the matters worse some readers of Haveeru has indicated that they will put English subtitles to the video which will add insult to the injury.

3.Modern media is both a blessing and a curse. Media like everything else is controlled by people and people have different agendas. For some its a way of earning recognition and fame at the expense of others, be it against their own family or country. In the case of Minivan News, the paper had a non too a humble beginning, became at one point a full blown printed paper and then went into decline. Currently Minivan is said to be run at a desk inside the office of the president by people who are close to him. However the genie that just escaped from this journalistic bottle inside the President’s office is likely to give the president a few headaches for a few days possibly till the furore dies down.

4.The money argument which is also mentioned in the straitstimes article is a non-starter. The fact of the matter is that almost every service, in a typical resort has a price tag attached. However, events like weddings do not have standard procedures in most resorts, so staff do with improvisations that go along with the experience they get from events like these. A staff who worked in Vilu Reef as far back as 2003 confirmed that what he has seen in the video is no more sinister than what he has witnessed in the island when he worked there. The meaning is that the staff did not intend the slang and improper wording they used as an insult to the guest, but for them its a kind of joke. The difference this time is that the media caught them off-guard. Its a little bit like the philosophical question of weather the tree has fallen in the far off jungle if there was no body to witness it.

5.Knowing full well the implications of this journalistic Coup_d’état, we have tried to do damage limitation on Minivan News and will be doing in other sites as well. This is not about not-acknowledging a wrong to the Swiss couple in question or being insensitive to their unwitting ordeal, but this is about redressing the wrong and trying to help the workers and the industry. We urge all our readers and fellow workers to do the same and help encourage constructive dialogue. Feeling ashamed of being a resort worker or a Maldivian will hardly do the job.

Links:

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/World/Story/STIStory_596065.html

http://minivannews.com/society/resort-%E2%80%98wedding-ceremony%E2%80%99-in-dhivehi-degrades-tourist-couple-as-infidel-swine-mocks-islam-12671

http://www.haveeru.com.mv/?page=details&id=102622

http://www.montrealgazette.com/travel/story.html?id=3733527

No travel warning issued against the country yet.


This time its the opposition political parties who are trying to spread fear, capitalizing on the political climate of the country and trying to destabilize the economy. The government’s inability to market their reform agenda is being exploited by the power hungry opposition which is claiming amongst many other things, that there has been travel warnings issued against the country by Britain. Nothing can be further from truth. Here is the exact wording of the travel advice issued by British Foreign and commonwealth office:


“Following a period of political unrest within the Maldivian Parliament (Majlis), there have been a number of political protests and demonstrations in Malé, predominately outside Government buildings and political figures’ residences. Social unrest is possible and there is a risk demonstrations might become violent. You should exercise caution and avoid any large political gatherings.”

This is no travel warning, its common sense and it applies well to locals as well as to British nationals to avoid large gatherings.

The US State Department also keeps a list of countries where their citizens are warned not to go. The list is here: and its doesn’t mention Maldives anywhere.

Haiti 06/24/2010
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza 06/20/2010
Guinea 06/16/2010
Nepal 06/15/2010
Nigeria 06/15/2010
Afghanistan 05/25/2010
Burundi 05/19/2010
Cote d’Ivoire 05/12/2010
Niger 05/11/2010
Mexico 05/06/2010
Georgia 05/03/2010
Congo, Democratic Republic of the 04/21/2010
Philippines 04/02/2010
Algeria 04/02/2010
Lebanon 03/29/2010
Iran 03/23/2010
Kenya 03/16/2010
Colombia 03/05/2010
Eritrea 03/02/2010
Central African Republic 02/26/2010
Yemen 02/25/2010
Iraq 02/25/2010
Saudi Arabia 02/18/2010
Pakistan 01/07/2010
Sudan 12/31/2009
Somalia 12/31/2009
Mauritania 12/02/2009
Chad 11/23/2009
Mali 11/19/2009
Uzbekistan 06/16/2009

However the extensive use of media to propagate these sorts of lies and fear propaganda will ultimately have its effect and the authorities are well advised to finish off this issue with incarcerating the local mafia bosses on whose behalf the opposition politics is advocating. The naivety of the government in allowing these corrupt Mafiosos has had its effect and much blood was shed in this small city of Male’ just because they exploited the liberal policies of the government for their own advantage. The government’s hand is in fact bound by its own liberal polices and sweet talk of democracy and values but where there is a need to show force it shall be used. As for the incarcerated mafioso’s, its common knowledge in Maldives for over a decade that Yameen is the acknowledged boss of local Mafia in Maldives.

Gitmo resettlement will NOT damage Maldives’ reputation

Although Tomato ( sorry Matato) claims otherwise, there will be absolutely be NO damage to the reputation of Maldives by agreeing to resettle Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Here are the reasons.

  • Most resorts in Maldives are geared for high spenders rather than budget spenders who have their own businesses, professions and generally their heads with them. So they could not possibly be unaware of world politics or ramifications of it.
  • Guantanamo Bay is not a terrorist camp or a training ground for terrorists. Rather its a place that came to be associated with the wrongful policies of the last US president whose successor is making good on his election promises to close down the place to show the ethical and humane side of American values. World media knows this and any measure to close down the camp will be cheered in any part of the globe.
  • Our Obama (sorry, our president Mr. Anni) may not have always aligned his political steering to the correct compass direction but this time the president is correct. Absolutely correct to ZERO decimals without error. Assisting fellow human beings who happened to be caught in a global battle without an end in sight, is the responsibility of all respectable people of the world.
  • Its the opposition politics which is taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses to gather support for their parties which is creating all this fuss about the move to resettle the POWs which has no basis whatsoever. Our president Anni showed considerable courage (far more than is generally necessary) in cutting short the reporters who are questioning this move because the media can make or break a country. In this case, the opposition is using media to the hilt to discredit a rather commendable move by the president.
  • Maldives Association for Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) which is different from tomato (of course!) are not experts of world politics, terrorism, tourism or anything. These are just individuals (locals) who make a life selling package holidays to unwary tourists who might not have come across big names of world famous tour operators who operate in Maldives. Top brands in tour operations in the world knows the value of their statements to media so they generally refrain from commenting on issues without prior knowledge. Moreover these Tomatoes (sorry MATATOs) are the most worker unfriendly people who works in the tourism industry. Generally they make a living by their fancy websites (to unwary guests of course ) while we the workers resort workers tarry with the guests.
  • The Tomatos (sorry MATATO) said that certain countries issued travel warnings to Maldives citing “internal conflicts and linking terrorism to Maldives.” these are just claims which has absolutely no basis. Even the specific wording they used has nothing to link this to the recent decision by the government to resettle Guantanamo Bay prisoners. What it has if anything was the fact that the former government of Maumoon committed the big mistake of smearing the name of the country by claiming to the world media about the presence of terrorism and terrorist camps in the country. These were of course lies to win in the presidential election by playing the “fear” card which thankfully backfired.

Below is the link to country specific information about Maldives which is certainly not issuing cautions against visiting the country.
US Department of State

Here is the world alert page by State Department which also does not contain advice to boycott our country’s tourism.
Worldwide caution

Below is the link of MATATO board members
The couch potatoes.. sorry MATATO

Who are these clowns at MJA?

Hirigaa Ahmed Zahir with the president


MJA stands for Maldives Journalists Association which is run by a “Hirigaa Ahmed Zahir” a “journalist” in Haveeru. The Association is just an “association” and the number of real journalists associated to MJA according to them is 70. Quite a number in a paper-scarce country like ours.

Nevertheless MJA currently being in Sri Lanka briefing foreign diplomats and media on “the challenges facing the Maldives media” feels actually very un-journalistic. Not that our journalism is all smooth and calm but we are witnessing quite an improvement on media freedom compared to what was before. The problem with MJA seems to be that the association has aligned itself with the opposition and is failing to acknowledge this as politics. Politics and journalism are very different walks of life and its very unlikely that Sri Lankan media will be bought with anti-govt rhetoric of MJA or any other. Sri Lanka is the most advanced country in this south Asia region in terms of media and MJA will be making clowns of themselves by trying to tell how victimized they are to Sri Lankan Media. Sri Lanka is not exactly unaware of what this country went through in terms of media freedom or what was lacking of it.