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The Maldives: dream destination and hotbed of jihadists

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On July 26th, 1965, the Maldives formally gained independence from the United Kingdom. The chain of 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India, a sultanate since the 12th century, had been a British protectorate since 1887.

The country, basically unknown to travelers until the 1970s, has the reputation of being a tropical high-end paradise. Dream beaches with fine, golden sand, crystalline blue waters and astonishing coral reefs offer fantastic water sports opportunities. Although resorts cost up to 5,000 US dollars per night, it still received more than 1.5 million tourists in 2019.

Despite its fame, most Westerners don’t realize that it’s a Muslim nation where the death penalty was reintroduced after 60 years for children as young as seven, which could be executed when they reach legal age. Sharia law also got formalized for the first time in April 2014.

The Constitution recognizes freedom of opinion, but only if it isn’t exercised in a way contrary to Islam, so it’s forbidden to own a Bible. Many women are completely covered in black niqabs and only Muslims can be citizens. Islam is the main subject taught in schools.

The liquor permit for expats to buy alcohol for their own consumption was removed in 2010. In consequence, aside from the isolated resorts, alcohol can be purchased or consumed exclusively at the airport hotel near the capital Malé.

At the National Museum, opened in November 1952, Buddhist statues and almost all pre-Islamic artifacts, dating back to before the 12th century and made of sandstone, coral and limestone, were reduced to powder during an attack in February 2012. Only the older mosques, former temples, provide a touch of ancient Buddhism.

Besides that, although the government tried to deny it, this non-Arab country boasted the world’s highest number of foreign fighters per capita for the Islamic State in the Levant, around two hundred out of its roughly 400,000 citizens.

When the first two Maldivians, from one of the first foreign contingent to answer the Caliphate’s call, were killed in combat in Syria in 2014, President Abdulla Yameen turned down any responsibility, stating that “We always recommend our nationals to behave properly while abroad.”

Notwithstanding the flourishing tourist sector in the Maldives, most of the small population remains trapped in poverty. While the average salary is approximately 500 US dollars, monthly rent in Malé easily amounts to double of that amount. The richest 5% own 95% of the overall wealth.

Endemic corruption includes the police, which counts as just another of the approximately thirty gangs that control the capital, each of them with up to 500 mostly very young affiliates. A severe lack of trust in the state, unable and unwilling to crack down on widespread drug trafficking and consumption, nurtures the desire for radical change.

Poor families in need of financial help turn to religious institutions and mosques that are supported by much richer countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which are particularly willing to help those who want to study religious subjects, fostering radical ideas.

Therefore, those who want to experience heavenly holiday feelings might want to think twice before spending a lot of money at a destination that has long stopped even pretending to be anything but a remorselessly majoritarian, intolerant and inequitable society where locals face extreme severe punishment should they refuse to accept Islam as the only religion.

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