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Dr. Prasantha Jayamanna appointed new SLPA chairman

Veteran entrepreneur Dr. Prasantha Jayamanna has been appointed as the new Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

The appointment was made by Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena, the lawmaker’s media secretary stated. Dr. Jayamanna has also served as the Vice-Chairman of SLPA.





Goodbye Neela

Visharada Neela Wickremasinghe’s  heavenly voice signals total decorated artistry passes away at the age of 71 after a week of assuming duties as the Consulate General Sri Lanka in Milan

by Sunil Thenabadu 

Visharada Neela Wickremasinghe’s voice  bears a signature Sri Lankan female voice, at the same time, possessing the attributes of a versatile South Asian singer, has been employed with facility in songs which music motifs were derived from diverse traits of music in equally diverse musical traditions. 

Throughout her trailblazing career, Neela preserves her signature Sri Lankan female voice, particularly when she sings songs with Western melodies. At such times, she is extraordinary in her ability not to be influenced by Western, Hindustani or folk music motifs.  she wanted to be faithful to the expectation of the song and to exploit to the peak the sentimental and emotive properties of the melody, thereby, generating zest and sound perceptions in the minds of listeners. Neela had sung duets with legendary WD Amaradeva, Dr Victor Ratnayake,Milton Mallawarachchi , Somathilaka Jayamaha,Kamal Addaraarachchi, Kapila Herath , Amal Perera etc.

The power on the part of a singer to create sound perceptions in the minds of listeners is a rare attribute which most singers lack although they have been trained in the North Indian classical music. She is at best, in adapting semitones in folk songs, thus, converting them into folk music with refined notes. 

 The unique tendency in her voice is amply manifested in her repertoire of songs regardless of their sources of music; Western, Hindustani classical music or traditional folk music. A significant feature of Neela’s career in the field of music is that she entered the field following her studies and training in North Indian classical music unlike most other singers had either studied North Indian classical music after the commencement of their careers or while in the field as singers. 

Neela’s commencement of her career as a singer can be traced back to the days when the SLBC’s Music Research Unit under C.de S Kulatilake who produced a series of programs on Sinhala folk music. Neela contributed immensely to the research programs on Sinhala folk music and programs such as ‘Meyasiya’. She rendered her voice to the song ‘Dethata Walalu’ , a song based on Sinhala folk music, was a juncture in her career. 

C. de S Kulathilake wrote the lyrics of the song and composed the music for it. In addition to becoming an instant hit, the song Dethata Walalu’ established Neela’s signature as a unequalled Sri Lankan female voice. 

Significantly, she has applied refined notes that she had mastered in North Indian classical music, for research on Sinhala folk music. One may argue whether it is possible to reproduce the original form of Sinhala folk songs in terms of refined notes of North Indian music. The original Sinhala folk music motifs are in the notes outside the traditional keyboard. 

Following the success of the folk song , Neela had the opportunity of rendering her voice to many songs and creations at the hands of different directors of music. Significantly, she applied her voice to the popular song’s structure without ever being influenced by folk motifs with which she commenced her career. 

The popular song’s structure is a marked deviation from folk music and is altogether on a diverse ground. Comparing the songs ‘Suusetabaranin Saraseela’, ‘Daskon Saki Sanda’ which she sang with W.D Ameradeva, ‘Parameedam puramu Api dedena’ are altogether contrasting songs. In ‘Parameedam Puramu Api Denna’, Neela aptly adapts her knowledge of North Indian classical music to suit the melody form. 

In this instance, she deviates from folk music initially trained under C. de S Kulatilake. When rendering her voice to songs such as Master Sir, for which Nimal Mendis composed music, Neela  deviates from all three music motifs; folk music, North Indian Classical music and popular song’s constitution. Neela retains her signature by being loyal to the expectation of the song. 

According to musicology, generating zest would lead to the generation of psycho acoustic consequence on the minds of the listener. For instance, popular songs may generate gusto but they may not create sound perceptions in mind. 

Neela’s songs have the properties of generating zests and also generating sound perceptions in the minds of the listeners. She achieves this by intrinsic properties of her gifted voice and her ability to apply her knowledge of music in the practical context. It is a truth that there are many singers who have studied North Indian classical music but fail to sing so as to generate sound perceptions in the minds of the listeners.

Voice depth and  voice colour vary from one singer to another. Although almost all singers may have individual voices and voice colour, there are only a few of them whose voice depthcum voice colours are exceptional in terms of musicology. Neela  has one such trained withher erudite voice with an incomparable voice colour. 

A distinguishing attribute of her voice colour is her ability to sing direct notes with some acquired from Sri Lankan traditional folk music. Though her voice bears a typical Sri Lankan female voice, it has been trained in the Hindustani classical music tradition and she is quite at home with Sri Lankan folk traditions, Hindustani and Western music traditions. 

The folk motifs in her voice are manifested in some songs such as ‘Suuseta Baranin Saraseela’. She bears the same tonality in songs such as ‘Master Sir’, ‘Apa Hamunovena Hemanthe’, ‘Viyo Gee Gayena hade’, though their melodies are based on Western music. Neela maintains her unique Sri Lankan female voice while sticking to their Western music melodies.

Although Neela’s voice colour may seem to be almost equal to that of Sujatha Attanayake for a fan, the two voices are distinctly different from oneanother. She possess the ability to apply North Indian Classical music techniques like Gamak, Than, Meend, and singing styles such as Khayal, Dhrupad, Tharana and Dhamar. One of the factors that Neela’s voice becomes unique is that she had sharpened her voice and implanted herself in the then Radio Ceylon by singing experimental songs under the guidance of ‘guru’ C. de S Kulatilake who experimented with Sri Lankan folk music and principally derived his music motifs from folk tradition of music. Songs such as ‘Dathata Walalu’ and ‘Badde Vatata’ were creations based on folk tradition of music. Neela’s voice was the most suited for songs based on folk music. 

In the song ‘Daskon Saki Sanda’,’Ikman Gamanin’, Neela’s voice evokes the legend behind the songs. Though she is well trained in Hindustani classical music and sang classical as well as semi classical songs, her stress seems to be on keeping the sweet tonality of her voice rather than the application of some of the techniques in singing. 

For instance, the tonality of her voice can be seen in some of the songs such as in the duet ‘Harimi Rajasapa’ which she sang with maestro Dr. W.D Ameradeva. In every melody, Neela endeavors to bring about a soothing effect by using her voice colour. This is the noteworthy feature in her singing. 

Neela’s muscular point is that she uses her flexibility of voice in measuring up the emotional and sentimental value of the melody. She uses her Sinhalese voice even in the upper ranges and maintains her voice colour in songs with Western music compositions.A prominent trait of her singing is ‘enunciation’ that is pronunciation of words in the lyrics. she derives emotive properties out of the words, which is a unique characteristic that is part and parcel of her musical personality. 

Neela’s qualitative type of her voice is inimitable in the sense that it has the outstanding properties of a trained Indian singer with a signature of a Sri Lankan female voice. This identity is apparent due to the commencement of her career was with folk music. 

Apart from her talents, one of the significant characteristics of her career is that she had not shirked her responsibilities as a teacher of music despite her position as a professional singer.She had been a music teacher for twenty three years, the music teacher at Visaka Vidyalaya for eight years before she concentrated on her signing. She had never exploited her position to neglect her official responsibilities and duties as a teacher of music. She had also not exploited or abused either her popularity or fame to enjoy undue privileges to neglect her duties and cover up them with political protection. 

Although it is not directly linked to her musical personality, it should be stated that Neela  revealed her physical disability as a victim of Poliomyelitis or Polio and appeared for an advertisements for the prevention of polio free of charge. 

Given the fact that she is a popular figure and a bold woman, it is, indeed, rare that such gestures of goodwill and a great sacrifice on her part. Neela is a fierce critic for injustices perpetrated by a section of practitioners in the field of music even at personal cost and expresses her persuasion without fear or favour. About a decade ago an article was published in a popular Sunday tabloid edition inserted by a popular vocalist that ‘ Master Sir does not belong to Neela”.The following week itself she had defended herself by replying to the article confirming she had also sung the song ‘Master Sir’ song in addition to Neviille Fernando for the film “Kalu Diya Dahara”.Her song had gone a bit unnoticed as it was at the  tail end of the film.

It is a well-known fact that those who are in the field of music or arts have media ‘gangs’ (Madhya Nade) either to prop up their images by even highly talented artistes  to cover up their inabilities. Neela in contrast  has never tried to get cover up via such shameful media gangs. It is because she does not have anyfrontage of any inability to cover up. 

She ,the singing “nightingale” had inherited her musical instincts from her parents.Neela had sung as a play back singer in more than seventy films,She was a super grade artiste at the SLBC for over forty five years as a light and classical music vocalist since her talent was identified in year 1955 in “Amateur Voice”.From her younger days there had been no life barring singing.She was initially adjudicated as the winner in a singing competition during a New Year festival season.Since then she had never looked back having won all singing competitions she took part in.While schooling at Piliyandala MMV competitors of other schools were awfully scared of Neela who as a solo singer was very hard to conquer.Neela had won the plum in an all island solo singing competition in classical music.In response to a newspaper advertisement she had become first among 555 contestants in a test held at the Sarasaviya studio,Kelaniya in year 1966.She was hailed as a “Vocal Actress” as she possessed a pleasing personality  with a charming smile on stage while performing.She has had several mentors including Premadasa Mudunkotuwa with who’s guidance she had passed the “Sangeeth Visharada” degree in year 1974.Even to date Neela always remember them with utmost gratitude.

Propaganda Against Sikhs

BJP has been desperately trying to create a bogey of Khalistan for the last one year, and by implication alienating the Sikh community. 

by Tanvir Ur Rehman

Sikhs face a harsh combination of political, religious, economic, and social persecution in India. Anti-Sikh sentiments and Hindu nationalism have been part of the landscape for decades, yet, as USCIRF recently observed, conditions have deteriorated in recent years. Sikhs, like other religious minorities in India, now “face challenges ranging from acts of violence or intimidation, to the loss of political power, increasing feelings of disenfranchisement, and limits on access to education, housing, and employment.”

Sikhs have history of purge/ subjugation in India & have never been trusted after 1984, when thousands of Sikhs were burnt to death, their properties were looted and their women had been raped by Hindus. 8 days long Operation Blue Star (OBS) still haunts Sikh community.

OBS was an official beginning of a systematic purge of the Sikhs community in India. Over 100,000 Sikhs (mostly youth) were killed in the next four years (till 1988) while over 25,000 victims were left crippled for the whole of their lives. Over 20,000 Sikh families migrated out of India (mostly in Canada, USA and UK) after this event as they felt India does not own them and they were alien in their land.

One of the most important events related to OBS is “Mutiny of 9th battalion of the Sikh Regiment” that started from Bihar and spread as far as Rajasthan and over 2600 Sikh soldiers were killed by Indian Police and Army; their bodies were not handed over to their relatives. Sikh Soldiers are under constant surveillance in the Indian Air Force, Army, and Indian Navy for years to come after this incident. Sikh community strongly believes that assassination of PM Indira Gandhi after OBS was planned to provide a justification to purge the Sikh community all over India.

In 2020, this persecution was most visible in the crackdown against Sikh farmers who protested the government’s policy of agricultural deregulation. State-sponsored media distorted economic & social struggle attached to the bills, labeling Sikh farmers “terrorists” and spreading false narratives about Sikhs in India and abroad. Winning over Farm laws has actually created unseen problems for Sikh community. Having failed to pacify farmers’ protests, despite use of excessive force, the BJP government was forced to repeal controversial farm laws. The repealing of laws seriously affected ‘invincibility’ of PM Modi thus increasing challenges for BJP.

BJP’s submission to farmers has not been liked by Sanghis. Therefore, they are using extra-constitutional means to cause sacrilege of their sacred religious places to hurt the sentiment of Sikhs. BJP considers Sikhs as main proponent of their failure, hence Sikhs are facing wrath of BJP which is likely to intensify until they are marginalized. Reputational hurt to PM Modi due to protracted farmers’ movement is non- digestible, hence Modi will take revenge using multi-pronged strategy to politically engineer elections, discredit Sikhs in information domain, use judicial lever for forging cases against prominent Sikhs and farmer’s movement leaders. On the pretext of Khalistan separatism, Modi is planning to use security forces to break the will of those having dissenting views with the center.

He is also mobilizing Godi Media for the political advantage of BJP. Concerted political efforts and a TV media campaign is launched to name, shame, blame and demonize the entire Sikh community, holding it responsible for allegedly targeting the PM. Neo-nationalist members/ supporters of BJP launched vicious no–holds–barred campaign labelling entire Sikh community as “Khalistani terrorists” and threatening a repeat of the 1984 riots. Not only veiled handles on Twitter have been used for posting hate messages against Sikh community, but even genuine Facebook and a few verified Twitter accounts were also actively participating.

The breach of PM’s security created an opportunity for BJP that could not be missed; a new political theme — Khalistani plot to target a strong PM — has been created for the upcoming elections. While knowing clear defeat in Punjab assembly polls, BJP has also requested the Election Commission to postpone the date of Punjab elections. BJP is trying to mess up the law and order situation in Punjab to delay state elections because political turmoil in Punjab will give BJP time to manipulate / forge alliances, thereby undermining farmers and Sikhs.

BJP’s highhandedness would not restrict to Punjab; it will target Sikh’s diaspora abroad. Modi is also trying to influence foreign governments against prominent NGOs working for the cause of Sikhs and minorities. Indian Intelligence agencies also desire to create fear in minds of Sikhs inland & abroad to suppress their voices on Human Rights & Khalistan issue. The Indian government is trying to create chaos in Punjab to marginalize Sikhs; creating space for their Hindutva policies. Sikh youth is of the view that the repealing of farm laws was an eyewash for electoral gains. Sikhs understand the intent of the Modi government and the Hindutva mindset.

BJP has been desperately trying to create a bogey of Khalistan for the last one year, and by implication alienating the Sikh community. BJP govt made an attempt to connect Sikh Community at large with security lapses of Modi in Punjab. Sikh community should remain vigilant to the evil designs of Modi and RSS as they are trying to build traps around them.

Myth of Dreaming Freedom through Cryptocurrency and NFT

In a world where digital control and manipulation have become a norm, many believe that cryptocurrency and Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, enable freedom. But this is not exactly true.

by Slavoj Zizek

The best indication of the changes affecting our financial system is the rise of two new interrelated phenomena: Cryptocurrency and NFTs. Both emerged from a libertarian idea to bypass state apparatuses and establish direct communication between concerned parties. 

However, in both cases, we see how the idea turned into its opposite, with bitcoin and NFTs now having their own 1% which dominate and manipulate the field. Here we should avoid both extremes: neither praising Bitcoin or NFT as offering us new freedom, nor dismissing them as the latest speculative capitalist madness.

In our usual experience of money, its payment value is guaranteed by some state authority, such as a central bank, and the state can also misuse its authority, by printing money and causing inflation, etc. 

The value of bitcoin, a digital currency or cryptocurrency, is not guaranteed by any public institution of authority. It is determined by what people are willing to pay for it right now. And they are ready to pay for it and accept it as money if they believe in it, if they trust it.

Here, in the domain of cold and ruthless financial speculation, confidence and trust enter the stage: bitcoin is like an ideological Causer that exists as a real force only if enough people believe in it – without individuals who believe in the Communist cause, for instance, there would’ve been no Communism.

There’s a similarity between this and how stocks are priced: if more people want to buy than sell, prices will likely go up, whereas when there are more sellers, the price usually falls. However, one difference is that – at least, in principle – the value of stocks is not purely self-referential, it refers to investments that are expected to generate profit from ‘real’ production. 

The maximum number of bitcoins that can be issued, or mined, is limited; cryptocurrency inventor Satoshi Nakamoto capped it at 21 million (about 19 million has already been mined). This makes Bitcoin similar to gold and other precious metals, but it has no intrinsic “real value.” 

How can this be? Bitcoins have to be registered in blockchains which are “essentially decentralized ledgers. They’re a ‘place’ to store information and, crucially, because they are decentralized, cannot be edited without the knowledge of other users on the blockchain. The idea is that blockchains are able to store records of information without the need for third parties (e.g., banks and financial institutions), so that the system is essentially self-sufficient and self-regulating. As a digital infrastructure, an added benefit is that huge legal fees added by third parties are avoided,” according to an article published by Aesthetics for Birds website. 

Here we stumble upon the tension that defines blockchains: precisely because there is no third party and the system is essentially self-sufficient and self-regulating, every registration/inscription of a new bitcoin involves a tremendous amount of work through which the new bitcoin will be brought to “the knowledge of other users on the blockchain.” Since there is no third party to which every bitcoin owner could refer, each new owner has to elaborate a complex texture of algorithms and codes which guarantee that the specific identity of the new bitcoin will be clearly perceived by all others without turning it into something that can be appropriated by others. 

Blockchain – as a non-alienated ‘Big Other' – needs a lot more work than inscription into an alienated third party, creating the new ‘proletarians’ of this new domain out of the bitcoin ‘miners’ who do this work. We move from old miners who do their difficult work deep beneath the earth as the genuine 19th-century kat’ exochen proletarians, to the bitcoin miners who toil to construct and secure the space for a bitcoin in the digital ‘Big Other.’ 

The paradox here is that they do not work to produce new use-values, but to create new space for exchange-value. To guarantee that bitcoins do not need a legal external authority and the accompanying legal fees, an effort is required which takes a lot of time and uses so much energy (electricity) that it is a heavy ecological burden.

The potentially progressive idea of Bitcoin as global, independent of particular state apparatuses, thus actualizes itself in a form which undermines its premises. This makes it similar to NFTs. 

NFT (non-fungible token) – proclaimed by Collins Dictionary its word of the year for 2021 – was also invented as a decentralized, anti-State, libertarian attempt to save the autonomy of artists from institutional clutches. The price we pay for this idea is that “the creation of an NFT is an attempt to create artificial scarcity where there is none. Anyone can create an NFT for a digital asset, even if there’s no actual asset behind it!”

The paradox of NFTs is that they introduce scarcity into a domain where items are accessible to everyone for free. For this reason, NFTs compel us to rethink the notion of property, of owning something in a digital space:

“Through subscription services, we have temporary access, but never own a thing. In some quite important sense we might ask, were we to own something, what would it be? An original master of a film or music? Perhaps. But in reality what we can say is ours is either the temporary access, or a download. The download is likely to be absolutely identical to every other download that exists. In other words, our owning it doesn’t preclude others from owning it. This is why even the thought of owning a piece of art online has a tinge of absurdity about it. If the song exists as a file, it can exist identically in an infinite number of digital spaces. But NFTs provide a kind of ‘solution’: artificial scarcity. They give us digital collectibles in a world where duplication has zero costs.” 

What is intriguing in NFTs is the idea of taking a digital asset that anyone can copy and claiming ownership of it. An NFT has almost no use-value (maybe it brings some social prestige to owners), and what sustains it is its potential future exchange-value. It is a copy with a price, an item of purely symbolic ownership that can bring profit.

The key Hegelian insight here – just as in the case of bitcoin – is that, although Bitcoin and NFT appear as an anomaly, as a pathological deviation of the ‘normal’ functioning of money and commodities, the two effectively actualize a potentiality that is already contained in the very notion of commodity and money.

Exemplary here is the figure of Peter Thiel, a German-American billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, who declared that “[Artificial Intelligence] is communist and crypto is libertarian.” Why? Because with AI, “you’re sort-of going to have the big eye of Sauron watching you at all times, in all places.”

“The main AI applications that people seem to talk about are using large data to sort-of monitor people, … where you can know enough about people that you know more about them than they know about themselves, and you can sort-of enable communism to work, maybe not so much as an economic theory, but at least as a political theory. So it is definitely a Leninist thing. And then, it is literally communist, because China loves AI…” Thiel said.

That sounds evident and convincing. However, as Thom Dunn duly noted:

“Thiel's big critique here does seem to be about the authoritarian use of data and surveillance. Which, okay, cool, I agree, that’s a valid concern. I don’t know what that has to do [with] a revolutionary vanguard party forming a transitional state in order to establish a classless and leaderless society, but, um, sure. China does technically call itself a government. So I think I get what he’s putting down here. But just so we’re clear: this is the guy who helped found Palantir. Like, the big data analytics company that literally [taught] ICE to organize its authoritarian tactics. Which is the same Peter Thiel who also founded the Anduril surveillance company, and used his billions to destroy a successful news organization for criticizing him. And he’s afraid of AI because of … communism?”

Impossible to miss the irony here: the libertarian anti-Leninist Thiel relies on the very ‘Leninist’ AI mechanisms he deplores. The same goes for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who (yet another irony) allegedly described himself as “Leninist”: 

“Bannon’s White House adventure was only one stage of a long journey – the migration of revolutionary-populist language, tactics, and strategies from the left to the right. Bannon has reportedly said: ‘I’m a Leninist. Lenin … wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,’” Thiel reminds us.

This same Bannon who’s rambling against big corporations that, together with apparatuses of state, control and exploit ordinary working Americans, had allegedly intended to use sophisticated AI during the 2016 election campaign. It was revealed that Cambridge Analytica (CA), a political consulting firm where Bannon was vice president between 2014 and 2016, had scraped masses of user data from Facebook to provide information on populations of interest to political campaigns around the world.

The company was shut down in 2018, after Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, blew the whistle on how CA had engaged in data-mining operations. Wylie, a gay Canadian vegan who, at 24, came up with an idea that led to the foundation of CA, which he described to The Guardian as “Bannon’s psychological warfare.” At a certain point, Wylie was genuinely freaked out: “It’s insane. The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.”

What makes this story so fascinating is that it combines elements which we usually perceive as opposites. The right-wingers say that addresses the concerns of ordinary white, hard-working, deeply religious people who stand for simple traditional values and abhor corrupted eccentrics like homosexuals and vegans, but also digital nerds–and then we learn that their “psychological warfare” is created by precisely such a nerd who stands for all they oppose. There is more than an anecdotal value in this: it clearly signals the vacuity of far-right populism, which has to rely on the latest technological advances to maintain its popular redneck appeal.

There is no contradiction between Thiel’s anti-Leninism and Bannon’s Leninism: if we understand under ‘Leninism’ the practice of total digital control over populations, they both practice it while maintaining a libertarian face. The difference resides only in the fact that, for Bannon, Leninism means destruction of the state and its apparatuses (without, of course, really intending it). 

To conclude, digital control and manipulation are not an anomaly, a deviation, of today’s libertarian project, they are its necessary framework, its formal condition of possibility. The system can afford the appearance of freedom only under the conditions of digital and other modes of control that regulate our freedom – for the system to function, we HAVE to remain formally free and perceive ourselves as free.

Zizek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London.

Islamist Threat in Maldives

A government-appointed commission investigating deaths and enforced disappearances failed to make significant progress in investigating violent attacks on activists and politicians, including journalist Ahmed Rilwan who disappeared in 2014, and blogger Yamin Rasheed who was killed in 2017. 

by Giriraj Bhattacharjee

On January 9, 2022, Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) launched a joint operation under the name ‘Gulhigen’ to ensure the safety of the public and the security and peace of Male’ City. The reason for the operation was rumored to be linked to terrorism, though no further details are available.

On January 7, 2022, in an operation MPS, arrested an individual, suspected to be linked to terrorism, in Vilimale under North Male Atoll.

In the meantime, for the fourth year in a row, Maldives did not record any terrorism-linked fatality in 2021. The last terrorism-linked fatality was reported on April 23, 2017, when a local affiliate of Al-Qaeda killed blogger Yameen Rasheed.  

However, a major Islamic State (IS) 'inspired'-terrorist attack took place on May 6, 2021, when former President and preset Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed was grievously injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast outside his home in the national capital, Male. Three of his bodyguards and two bystanders – a local and a British national – also received minor injuries in the explosion. On December 14, 2021, the Criminal Court sentenced one of the accused, Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, to 23 years, six months and nine days in jail for the assassination attempt on Nasheed.

The last recorded terrorist attack took place on April 15, 2020, when five speedboats, including a sea ambulance, a Police vessel, and the atoll council's speed boat, were damaged in an arson attack at Mahibadhoo Harbour on the Alifu Dhaalu Atoll. Two other speed boats and two dinghies were also affected by the fire. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of four terrorist attacks were reported in 2020

The last such terrorist attack which resulted in casualties was reported on September 29, 2007, when 12 foreign tourists, including eight Chinese, two Britishers, and two Japanese, were seriously injured in a bombing in Sultan Park, Male.

On May 15, 2021, moreover, one IS cell was neutralized when the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force, in a special operation, arrested seven men with suspected links to IS, from Addu City. No further details are available in this case.

According to the SATP database, Security Forces arrested 24 terrorism suspects in 2021, as against 19 in 2020, and three in 2019.

Further, relentless propaganda by IS’s monthly magazine Voice of Hind continued to instigate Maldivians against the State. An article published in the 22nd issue of the magazine released in November 2021 demonized the Maldivian Government's efforts to counter extremism, giving an account of a poor family whose daughter was forcibly detained as she was wearing a Niqab (veil worn by women to cover themselves)  and was not going to school. At the end, the author exhorts every capable Muslim to ‘sacrifice,’ so that their compatriots can live and earn happily. India’s anti-terrorism agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), also suspects ‘content creators’ from the Maldives of sending content for the Voice of Hind.

The threat perception in the Maldives is, consequently, high as a result of significant manifestations of radical extremism. To counter this threat, the Government adopted several measures in 2021, including:

December 15: President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the third amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act. Earlier, on November 29, the Majlis (Parliament) had passed the Bill. The amendment to the Act gives greater powers to police, who can now complete investigations in terrorism-related cases in 90 days, as against 45-days under the previous statute. Further, Police will now be able to detain persons suspected of terrorism-related offenses for 48-hours without a court order. Before this, persons suspected of terrorism-related offenses were only allowed to be detained without a court order for 24-hours.

December 7, 2021: President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih inaugurated the Joint Interagency Operations Center, a new center established to counter terrorist attacks.

November 28, 2021: President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the Fifth Amendment to the Penal Code related to hate crimes. The Hate Crime Bill was passed by Parliament at its 39th sitting on November 16, 2021. The Amendment Bill includes the addition of article 124, following article 123 to the Penal Code. The new article criminalizes portraying people as non-believers or as anti-Islamic based on views expressed on religious matters in which religious scholars have conflicts or opposing views. It also dissuades the labeling of a Muslim as anti-Islamic unless the person publicly proclaims himself to be a non-believer, comes out as a non-believer or deliberately commits an act of kufr.

Even though the Maldives is completely Muslim in its religious composition, the extremists often label their opponents as non-believers, leading to incidents of intimidation.

This was highlighted by Speaker Nasheed after the May 6 attack on his life. On July 17, 2021, Nasheed wrote an open letter and shared it on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. The letter reads, inter alia,

After the most recent assassination attempt in the Maldives, this time directed at me, the government duly recognized the root of the issue as the labeling of people by radical Islamists as un-Islamic, which then leads to death sentences in the form of a fatwa. The hot-headed Jihadi indoctrinated groups then execute the fatwa, as was the case with all the other extremism-motivated murders, including Dr. Afraasheem, Rilwan, and Yameen. As recent history clearly shows, people who are targeted by this labeling and the hate crimes that follow are politicians, journalists, and everyday people who exercise free speech.

Earlier, the UN Maldives Common Country Analysis 2020 too had observed,

While the government continues to express its commitment in building a culture of tolerance as a response to extreme ideologies, social media shows an increase in hate speech...

Indeed, Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services data for the year 2020 shows 38 reported cases related to extremist religious ideology. 188 such cases were reported between 2014 to 2019. The data for 2021 has not yet been released.

However, prosecution failures are endemic, as case after case collapses due to lack of acceptable evidence. Such failures are thought to further strengthen the resolve of terrorist and extremist formations, individuals, and their  supporters. Terrorism suspects later delegitimize state action as a kind of vendetta of a ‘secular' government against the 'faithful'. On September 16, 2021, the High Court ruled in favor of Mohamed Ameen, who is believed to be the leader of Maldivian faction of the Islamic State, dismissing the charges against him and ordered his release. He, however, remains behind bar, as he was re-arrested on October 11, after the Supreme Court overturned the High Court's September 16, 2021, ruling on October 3, 2021.

Through 2021, the government-appointed Commission on Disappearances and Deaths (DDCom) did not make any headways in two crucial cases: journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared in 2014, and the blogger Yamin Rasheed who was killed in 2017. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had announced in one of Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD)'s 'Rahvehi Fathis' campaign events (between February and April 2021) that a final report on the investigation on Rilwan would be made by the end of 2021. However, no updates are available. Significantly, the post of the President of DDCom was filled on February 3, 2021, when member Fareesha Abdulla was elevated as the commission’s President. The post had been vacant since December 8, 2019, when her predecessor Husnu Al Suood was appointed to the Supreme Court.

The 2022 report of Human Rights Watch under 'Lack of Accountability' further notes,

A government-appointed commission investigating deaths and enforced disappearances failed to make significant progress in investigating violent attacks on activists and politicians, including journalist Ahmed Rilwan who disappeared in 2014, and blogger Yamin Rasheed who was killed in 2017. The commission recommended that the police file charges against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb for interfering in the investigation and protecting alleged perpetrators. However, as of November, the police had not charged Adeeb. The authorities appeared to stall prosecutions in other cases investigated by the commission.

On September 1, 2019, DDCom revealed that, of the 27 cases being investigated, only four or five were 'currently pending'. No official update regarding the cases is available since then. To date, there have been no convictions in any one of the cases.

Unless investigative and intelligence agencies are strengthened, and the recommendations made by the parliamentary committee on National Security are implemented, it will remain impossible to effectively tackle extremist and terrorist threats in the island nation.

(The writer, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management) 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Anunfeigned servant of mankind

The liberal lion’s mighty roar might have fallen silent, but his dream shall never die. He belongs to each of us, and now he also belongs to the ages.

by Anwar A. Khan

There prodigious leaders who have been hailed from all over the world, of which some towering exemplaintroit Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, Prof Muzaffar Ahmed and Comrade Moni Singh… from Bangladesh, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan from Pakistan, Mohandas Gandhi from India, Baha’u’llah from Persia, Martin Luther King Jr. from America, the Dalai Lama from Tibet, Nelson Mandela from South Africa. But one of the humanity’s brightest lights went out on 20 January 1988 at the age of 98. He is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a blanked-out politician of perfect finesse of South East Asia.

Khan with Gandhi  

He was born on 6 February 1890. Being a secular Muslim, he did not believein religious cleavages. American president, Calvin Coolidge, once said, “A nation that forgets its heroes will itself soon be forgotten.” When we look back at our history, almost every country in the world has undergone some bod of extraneousmilitary control, colonisation, monumentalferocity and bloodbathmerelygrounded on regional, religious or spiritual, ethnic, or racial contravene. 

And while most of the leaders, who have led such warfare and occupations, have been tearing and despotic, there have also been a few, very few, leaders who have gone against the status quo, and only believed in and flackedpassive resistance. In the present times, when unwillingness to recognise and respect differences in opinions or beliefs and furiousness seek to arrogateinscrutableetyma in our bon ton, this King Khan's (Bacha Khan) didacticisms are to a greater extentgermane than ever.

The liberal lion’s mighty roar might have fallen silent, but his dream shall never die. He belongs to each of us, and now he also belongs to the ages. No words can ever do justice to this irrepressible, larger than life presence who was simply the best; the best non-violent politician; the best advocate you could ever hope for; and the best person to stand by your side in the toughest of times. He will also be remembered, by those who knew him, as an extremely warm and caring human being whose service was a brilliant reflection of his love and devotion to general people. 

We will always be grateful for the many gestures of kindness and generosity he extended to us during our glorious Liberation War in 1971, for the concern he showed for all of us, and for his devotion to all those in need whose lives were better because he stood up for them. From Kabul, at the age of 81, he strongly raised his voice almost every day against the devilish Pakistani regime and their brutal acts carried on us. We used to hear his statements condemning the unrighteous dissembles of President Yahya Khan Military Junta through Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Akashbani Radio and BBC news media. This very upright and elderly politician was deeply saddened to hear what magnitude of evil acts was going on in the soil of Bangladesh in 1971 using the name of our holy religion-Islam, by the diabolical Pakistani mass killers.

He was larger than life, and his passing has left an enormous hole in all peace-loving people’s hearts. He had offer comforting words, a hand on the shoulder, a listening ear. His loss is humanity’s loss, indeed. Pope Francis in one of his Christmas messages, mentioned three icons of peace and non-violence from the 20th century; Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (popularly known as Bacha Khan). He was a political and spiritual leader known for his nonviolent opposition, and a lifelong pacifist and devout Muslim. A close friend of Mohandas Gandhi, Bacha Khan was nicknamed the "Frontier Gandhi" in British India. Bacha Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar ("Servants of God") movement in 1929, whose success triggered a harsh crackdown by the British Empire against him and his supporters, and they suffered some of the most severe repression of the Indian independence movement.

Khan strongly opposed the All-India Muslim League's demand for the partition of India. When the Indian National Congress declared its acceptance of the partition plan without consulting the Khudai Khidmatgar leaders, he felt very sad. After partition, he pledged allegiance to Pakistan and demanded an autonomous "Pashtunistan" administrative unit within the country, but he was frequently arrested by the Pakistani government between 1948 and 1954. The Khudai Khidmatgar was founded on a belief in the power of Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha, a form of active non-violence as captured in an oath. He told its members: "I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.” 

Ghaffar Khan forged a close, spiritual, and uninhibited friendship with Gandhi, the pioneer of non-violent mass civil disobedience in India. The two had a deep admiration towards each other and worked together closely till 1947. But the Congress party refused last-ditch compromises to prevent the partition, like the Cabinet Mission plan and Gandhi's suggestion to offer the Prime Ministership to Jinnah. As a result, Ghaffar Khan and his followers felt a sense of betrayal by both Pakistan and India. Ghaffar Khan's last words to Gandhi and his erstwhile allies in the Congress party were: "You have thrown us to the wolves.”

He is credited with his tireless advocacy of peace in the region he belonged to. He held liberal views and championed for women’s rights which made him much popular among the masses. He was strongly against the partition of India and dreamed of creating a united, independent and secular India. 

His passion towards education, for both girls and boys, and the creation of schools in villages especially created quite a melee; his work was not seen as positive reinforcement but taken instead as ‘rebellion’ – an opposition. And, yet, despite being constantly persecuted, Bacha Khan incessantly defied their ill-intentions and retaliated with selfless devotion and preaching of nonviolence. Khan is his own unique person and should never have to be referred to or viewed in someone else’s shadow. Though he and Gandhi shared similar visions, they were undoubtedly two quite distinct individuals. 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan –or Badshah Khan or Bacha Khan, as he is lovingly known, he was a towering figure in Indian, and later Pakistani, history. He was punished by the British for demanding freedom from foreign rule. After independence, he was punished in the new state of Pakistan for questioning its elites and their policies. The Frontier Gandhi had embraced the philosophy of non-violence. It accused Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of disloyalty to Pakistan. It is a tragedy that this great freedom fighter spent more time in prison in the independent state of Pakistan than he had even under British rule. 

He said, “Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. And those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, those hearts are empty of love, those who do not know the meaning of brotherhood, those who harbour hatred and resentment in their hearts, they do not know the meaning of Religion.” He was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1967. He was also awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1987, making him the first non-Indian to receive this honour. We live in times fraught with intolerance and bigotry. The life and teachings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan seem more relevant than ever before. The Great Human of the World...We salute him. I take this opportunity to salute the memory of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers.

Bangladesh honoured Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan like humanist posthumously with friends-liberation-war-award for his contributions to the 1971 Liberation War. Once he said, “I hereby affirm, and publish for all the world to witness, my moral opposition to the use of violence to settle disputes. Consequently, I refuse to participate in, or cooperate with, any group, organization, or agency of government that would require me to engage in any act of violence against a fellow human being. Furthermore, I hereby pledge and affirm, from this day forward, to organize my life and livelihood in such a way as to promote peacemaking as a practical ideal.” Ghaffar Khan or "Bacha Khan" (meaning "King Khan" in Pashto) was one of the pillars of Indian resistance against the British, who continuously fought against injustice and worked for social uplift. 

In the present times, when intolerance and violence seek to take deep roots in our society and country, Khan’s teachings and life remain more relevant than ever before. He was a strong votary of the idea that change need not come from the barrel of the gun, it can start from within too. It is about time the world learns from the struggles of this great man. Abdul Ghaffar was the product of a particular society. If studied in this perspective, one can imagine that his mission was not easy, simple and indulgent, and that his achievements were much more significant than his contemporaries who had risen out of enlightened societies. 

Leaders normally stand out on the pedestal of their society. Those leaders are seldom born who raise their society from the ignominious depths of ignorance and obscurity to the heights of enlightenment and glory. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of the rare breeds of leaders. He blew new life in the dormant people heretofore groaning under the burden of the worst type of feudalism. It was his stamina, struggles, patience, devotion and determined tolerance in the face of suffering that lifted Pukhtuns from the lowest level of serfdom to the high status of nationhood. That was the reason that not only the British and later Pakistani rulers opposed him tooth and nail, but also the feudal lords and parasitic clergy. Therefore, his name will glitter eternally through the pages of the world history.

When upheavals bubbled in Bangladesh after the general elections of the-then Pakistan in 1970 because of mischievous and loathsome acts by Yahya Khan military junta, Bacha Khan offered his services for mediation. He was then in Kabul and proposed to the Pakistani regime that he would go back to Pakistan to lead a Jirga of a few elders from Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan to meet the Pakistan’s majority party leader, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and settle the contravention through negotiations, but there was no response from them. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party and Qayum Khan of the Muslim League, supported by some Army officers, were determined to grab power, although the majority had voted for the Awami Leauge of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib. Jamaat-e- Islami exploited the Urdu speaking community of Indian refugees and the Bangla-speaking Pakistanis formed al-Badr and al-Shams killing squads and carried out genocide murdering 3 million unarmed people, raping three hundred thousand of our sisters and mothers and displaced one million of our people. When all these strategies failed to cow down Mujib, Pakistan Army launched an operation in the-then East Pakistan. What then happened is an open secret.

Bacha Khan repeated his proposal that Pakistan should not use force there and try to settle the matter through negotiations. During discussion, Bacha Khan mentioned that there were some selfish people who did not like peace in the country. He used to say "The selfish has no sight!" It means that selfish people are driven so rashly by their selfish designs that they do not see the gloom and doom ahead. He had spent 30 years of his life in prison, and fought against oppression, intolerance and violence for more than 70 years.

Those leaders are seldom born who raise their society from the ignominious depths of ignorance and obscurity to the heights of enlightenment and glory. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of the rare breeds of leaders. Bacha Khan was too big a stalwart of peace, non-violence and freedom movements to remain obscure forever. Although he had never personally held the reins of power, but when he died on January 20, 1988 national flags in three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were brought to half-mast to mourn his death, their mutual differences notwithstanding. Heads of all the three countries were present at different stages of his funeral.

He was a man with no lust, no greed, no hatred, and no violence. His life was dedicated only for people’s welfare irrespective of religions. He is truly the Light Bearers of this planet. He kept glowing from his true being. It is awe-inspiring to hear of a human that is still not living the life that the creator gave to us all in these troubled times. He was taller than six feet, but his heart was larger than his height. He is a very inspired and loving human that resounds with my heart. His statements marked by firm determination or resolution condemning the brutal Pakistani forces and their local cohorts applied on our people; his deep love for the suffering people and to close off all atrocities to us in 1971 war in no time in Bangladesh which were relayed through Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Akashbani Radio, BBC radio, VOA... almost on daily basis, are still ringing into my ears.

-The End –

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs