Finding the Right Islam for the Maldives: Political Transformation and State-Responses to Growing Religious Dissent
Keywords:Transnationalism, political violence, Maldives, Contentious Politics, State Repression
At the first glance, the Maldives appear not to be prone to religious conflict. The archipelago state comprises a religiously and ethnically homogenous society, the different islands have been subject to shared Islamic rule for centuries and even constitutionally religious homogeneity is granted by making every citizen a Muslim and religious diversity prevented by limiting naturalisation to a specific Muslim group. Yet, today allegations of a threat to Islam play a major role in political mobilisation, the Maldives are faced with Islamist violence, and Maldivians have joined the Islamic State and al Qaeda in disproportionally high numbers. The paper seeks to find an answer to the question of how the repression of dissent under the Gayoom regime and the expansion and rise of violent Islamism relate in the Maldivian context. Next to the theoretical model, the paper will provide an introduction to the Maldivian political culture and the reasons for changes therein. It will shed light on the emergence of three major Islamic streams in the Maldivian society, which stood opposed to one another by the late 1990s and early 2000s, and show how Gayoom’s state repression of dissent initiated an escalation process and furthered Islamist violent politics. The paper will argue that while state repression of dissent played a significant role in the repertoire selection of Islamic non-state agents, the introduction of fundamentalist Islamic interpretations through migration, educational exchange programmes and transnational actors have laid the ground for violence in the Maldives.