“We Can’t Achieve Development by Going Backwards to the Stone Age or Being Ignorant”

As reported by the Maldivian newspaper Haveeru, “President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday called on citizens to reject religious extremism and continue to support the ‘traditional form’ of Islam that has been practiced in the Maldives for the past 800 years,” and in particular said,

Should we ban music? Should we mutilate girls’ genitals? Should we allow nine year-olds to be married? Should we forbid art and drawing? Should we be allowed to take concubines? Is this nation building? ….

This is an old country, people have lived here for thousands of years and we have practised Islam for more than 800 years. In 2011, we are faced with a question, how should we build our nation: what we will teach our children, how should we live our lives and what we will leave for future generations? …

Some people are saying that the government is going against religion because we won’t deviate from the traditional form of Islam ….

[I] asked you to come here in support of the middle, tolerant path. And I believe that most citizens want to continue our traditional form of Islam.

The AP reports that the President also said:

To build our economy we need foreign investments and we need to create an environment in which foreigners can invest ….

We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant.

But the president seemed to be speaking out against a fairly popular rival movement; also from the AP story:

Thousands in the Maldives protested Friday, calling on the government to halt what they called “anti-Islamic” activities, including a plan to allow direct flights to Israel….

The protesters want authorities to stop the sale of alcohol in the islands, shut down brothels operating in the guise of massage parlors and demolish monuments gifted by other countries marking a South Asian summit last month because they see them as idols….

Debates on religious issues have emerged since a group vandalized a monument gifted by Pakistan marking a South Asian summit last month with the image of Buddha. Buddhism was part of the present Islamic republic’s history.

And note that existing Maldivian law, while perhaps not as strongly Islamic as the protesters suggested, is still quite restrictive: “The Indian Ocean archipelago of 300,000 Muslims prohibits practicing any other faith.” “An angry protest last month followed a call by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for the Maldives to end the punishment by flogging of women who are found to have had sex outside marriage.” “One blogger who has called for religious tolerance has been detained for more than a week by authorities who accuse him of blasphemy and of promoting anti-Islamic concepts such as gay rights.” For an earlier Maldives story, see the post titled Maldives: “Islamic Foundation Calls for Death Sentence if Apostate Fails to Repent”. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.