What really bugs me: Starvation

It maybe be less dramatic than war. It maybe scattered over several countries you've never heard of. It may not get much media coverage. It maybe a long term, amorphous, complicated problem. But what really gets to me and makes me depressed and literally tear up, everyday, is that about 25,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related issues, most of whom are children.

Imagine kids going for weeks without a decent meal, that they feel weak, confused and tired like you've never ever been, that they can't get proper sleep and hallucinate when awake, that they constantly feel cold and shaky, that their immune system is so shot that any minor disease or illness is a major threat, that their organs start to shutdown and bring about agony like you've never ever felt until they finally die. That's what starvation entails.

What do I think is the biggest injustice? That the world as a whole produces enough food that starvation should be history. But greed and lack of political will, among others, mean that starvation sustains and remains an ever present threat in many places across the Earth.

Where's the outrage?

Fucked up world we live in.

Help the hungry :(

There are over a billion people across the world that are in perpetual hunger, starving to death. Being hungry for these people is not the same as what we experience when we've missed a meal or two or had very little food. For these people, they are forced to bear with the hunger day in day out, without a clue to when they could have some food - ANY food. Their body burns through the fat reserves, if any, they might have till there is no more and fails to function: death. The World Food Programme estimates that 10 children die from starvation every minute. 1/6th of the world already live in constant hunger and that's something we the more fortunate should be sad about - really really sad about.

What is equally sad is that hunger exists not because there is not enough food in the world. Food production has outpaced the growth in population and there is a surplus of food across the world. While there are many reasons why there is hunger, the problem can largely be attributed to unequal distribution and poverty. Unequal distribution results from political and economic obstacles that control the flow of food from food producers to those in need. Poverty, especially extreme poverty, means that people who really need it cannot afford to buy food or grow food. Natural disasters, political instability and wars push the financially challenged to poverty and starvation. People are dying of hunger essentially because they are too poor to stay alive.

Maldives, where there is so little food production, where almost every single food item we consume is imported, is an especially fragile society. Were there to be a war (and not necessarily within the country) or any other event that breaks down the import mechanisms, we'd all join the billion starving just as Maldivians have in such past events.

Help put pressure on governments to end hunger. Donate towards feeding the starving. Do what you can to help end poverty. If you are looking to get inspired, read up on Norman Borlaug who is credited with saving a billion people from starvation thanks to the high-yield, disease resistant variety of wheat that he engineered.

Hope none of you has to ever face chronic hunger.

Back from pause

It's been quite a while since I last made a post here on my blog - more than a month to be more precise - but the lack of posts wasn't all due to forgetful negligence or busy schedules. Rather, it was mostly due to deliberate inaction while I contemplated some things regarding blogging.

Simply said, I came to the decision to halt blogging because I was quite intimidated by the effects that my blog was having on my personal life lately. Never had I thought, when I started blogging over two years ago, that the things I publish in the virtual world would lead to alarming consequences for myself in the real world.

One important such consequence is one that is (and should be) reasonably expected: exposure. This is especially relevant for bloggers like me who are upfront about who they are and choose not to hide behind pseudonyms and veils of secrecy. What I say on the blog then becomes directly attributable to me as a person and I am held accountable for what I say rather than all of it being chalked up to some anonymous pseudonym. Further, blog posts - explicitly or implicitly - reveal a lot more about the intellectual dispositions of the author including ideological stances and beliefs. It is important to note that these tend have direct detrimental effects on the blogger's individual privacy and anonymity. I find it startling when random people whom I've never met or heard of strike conversation with a seeming air of supposed familiarity with myself or when people talk of me with a sort of conviction that I'm this or that - all based on my blog posts. Exposure is good for aspiring politicians and performance artists neither of which I have the slightest inclination towards becoming. The balance between anonymity and exposure is a tricky one, especially for someone who wants to stay pretty much under the radar.

Another important consequence of blogging relates to the response it evokes in readers. Personal blogs like mine often contain the ideas, thoughts and ramblings of the author - all of which have the potential of being controversial and disagreeable to some. Sadly, this sometimes goes to the extent that some choose to take extreme offence and retaliate with the vilest of language and threats. The comment system on my blog has been very open and mostly goes unmoderated, yet I had to switch to active comment moderation in the latter part of last year due to growing use of vile language, mindless insults and threats to myself and family. While I appreciate all types of comments and welcome disagreement and discussion, I don't think death threats and chants wishing ill things to me are really warranted. Freedom of expression is a great thing but not all people seem to appreciate it with civility and restraint...

These aren't things that would normally bother me and it hadn't until I met a couple of eager fanatics whose unreserved and unashamed drive to show their disagreement through violence - something that I had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing in the months I was in Male' last year - gave me cause for serious concern. Anyway, I hope to resume blogging regularly again - in spite of the above mentioned consequences...

Economist: The new wars of religion

This is just a quick short blurb to share an interesting article at the Economist. Titled "The new wars of religion", I think the article maybe an interesting read to some of you especially given the recent religiously motivated bombing in the Maldives and the sudden bold and dramatic highlighting of religion in the Maldivian public life in the past few years. The article is part of a series of articles presented as a Special Report on Religion and Public Life which observes and comments on the events in various parts of the world with a focus of religion and politics. The rest of the special report does focus on several other important issues and angles and is well worth the read.

I am a worried spectator to the growing religious discord on my home soil and elsewhere because I tend to share Carl Sagan's concern that humans may, in their intense religious fervor, wipe out each other (or even the entire animal kingdom) due to mere differences of opinion on each others differing and unprovable claims regarding the supernatural. I think we humans have enough trouble as it is that we don't have to complicate matters further with self-righteous attitudes and treating the other as infidel scum (ripe for killing).

Have a read of the articles and feel free to share your thoughts here. :-)

Terrorism and tackling religious extremism

Lately, I stop myself from blogging most of the time and on the occasions that I do go onto publish something, I make sure it's something pretty mundane... mostly because expressing myself has come at a cost that I do not wish to bear for the moment. However, the recent terrorist bombing in the Maldives agitated me too much to keep my big mouth shut.

One of the most shocking things to me about the incident was that there seemed to be not much of public outrage or unrest following the explosion. Maybe it is because people have, for the most part, grown apathetic to what is going on in the country or perhaps people were expecting such an attack as if it was an already overdue eventuality. Whatever it is, we all seemed to be very interested in knowing exactly who perpetrated it. Most people, apart from Maumoon & Co ofcourse, were quick to point fingers at a particular group of people in the country – the religious extremists (or rather Islamic extremists to be more precise). It may not have been fair to single out any group of people at such an early stage but given how things have unfolded and the status of the police investigation (as of now) it seems almost certain that the confessed culprits that organised and executed this utterly unjustifiable attack did what they did based on their particular religious conviction.

However it is that you choose to classify these savages, be it “extremists”, “fundamentalists”, “jihadists”, “religious fanatics” or perhaps simply “deluded insane misfits”, it is important that we skip semantic disagreements and instead concentrate on the heart of the matter – WHY. A query into their exact motives gives an independent, unbiased and more complete description of who these people are and what sort of mentality and beliefs led to the atrocity they committed. I will refrain from engaging in speculation on what their motives are/were since the investigation is still ongoing and the police have not released any statement on the issue. However, I do wish to raise my concern over the growing religious extremism which seems to be a reality that many people refuse to accept (still).

An objective, independent observer would most certainly agree that there has been sudden and dramatic increase in the religiosity of the Maldivian people in the past 2-4 years. Maldivians have been Muslims for the past 1000+ years yet there probably never was a time, atleast in my living memory, where so many men wore snipped trousers and long beards and women wore black burka covering head-to-toe and withdrew from social life and work to a place in the home. It is essential that we honestly ask where this sudden religious “enlightenment” arrived from and why it is taking root and how it is spreading because it is along with this movement that extremist thought was imported and is being cultivated.

The religious (Islamic) enlightenment in the country certainly had/has a lot to do with the growing freedom with which preachers are able to spread their message. The political “changes” that started a few years ago certainly made all the difference in that restrictions on the freedom to publish were then relaxed, making it possible to break away from the Maumoon-only fatwas. The public was then suddenly bombarded with all sorts of material from all sorts of writers and groups – both from within and without. Now, there are books, booklets, flyers, speeches, Q&A sessions and all sorts of religiously themed events going on each day where religious “scholars” preach to their heart’s desire. The freedom and reach is increasing evermore as weekly’s, radio programming and TV slots dedicate more time and space for such material. What is alarming though, is that there is nothing to keep things in check.

Maldives is a 100% Islamic nation by (implicit) assertion in the constitution and the prevalent mode of thought makes it almost impossible to say something that can be even remotely perceived as anti-Islamic. There certainly was/is no room for criticizing a preacher’s message or engaging in intellectual debate on religion and related issues. Aniya was quickly shot down due to her now famous article in Minivan for allegedly offending and attacking Islam and its principles. The reaction to her article certainly set the ground for what writers and intellectuals who disagree with the “religiously enlightened” can expect – there was zero tolerance on anything that is remotely critical, there wasn’t room for scepticism. This important lack of freedom of expression is what I think seeded the roots of extremism.

The lack of freedom to criticise or voice scepticism on any matter within the grasp of religious preachers gave them a lot of room to spread their particular interpretations of the Quran, the Hadith and Islam itself. It is essential to note that ANY position on Islam (or most, if not all, other religions for that matter!) is all down to the particular interpretations a person chooses to adopt and the resultant ideologies that a person chooses to accept. To someone that has taken the leap of faith to adopt a particular interpretation as the ultimate truth, all other competing interpretations of “truth” are invalid and sinfully wrong. Extremists justify their position using the same material and with equally valid “arguments” as any other and only differ in that they are willing to engage in immoral, unjustifiable violations of human rights to enforce their beliefs. It is all too easy to move through different religious modes of thought without realizing where the buck stops – for blind faith is deemed a virtue. It is truly saddening and worrying when people, especially young adults barely in their twenties (such as the perpetrators of the Maldivian terrorist attack), gain such conviction that they are ready to harm and kill others in the name of their beliefs.

Religious extremism may now sadly have made its first bloody mark with the first ever terrorist attack on the Maldivian people and our guests. The Maldivian WWW sites run by extremists offer a peek into what maybe really going down in their clans and how far they are willing to take it. Witness some of the Maldivian calls for jihad at the videos at http://www.raajje.tv/kokko007 and writings at http://noorulislam.wordpress.com/. How long are we going to give a blind eye to this madness???

If we do seriously intend to tackle extremism (irrespective of whether it is religious or not), we need to immediately start engaging in free, open intellectual debate on all matters, improve education (especially science) and generally open the public’s eyes to the beliefs, ideas and lives of people elsewhere in the world and throughout history.

Update (08-Oct-2007): Seems Raajje.tv decided to kill the videos that I had linked above - the videos certainly aren't available no more. How or why they censored it is beyond me but I suspect the Maldivian government had some influence. Anyway, a friend found out that the same user kokko007 had uploaded the same videos to YouTube as well.

Maldives: Hell for expatriate workers?

I've watched for the past several years while the expatriate worker population in the Male' grew steadily as the "rich" Maldivians increasingly give up various jobs (going lazy?) and replaced it with imported labour from nearby countries. We have 100-US$-per-month foreign workers to dig up and pave roads, to clean up and maintain the sewerage system, to construct and maintain our buildings, to clean up the mess at home and office, to work as waiters and cooks at food outlets etc. The list goes on and it's not restricted to any particular sort of work or speciality. Heck, even the President's Office employs expats to clean up and water the plants that surround the building. No wonder we now have over 35,000 expatriate workers living amongst the 100,000 Maldivian heads in the 2 square kilometre island of Male'!

Sadly, the presence of such large numbers of expat works in our small communities has lead to a worrying situation on ground. One needs to look no further than the latest news headlines:
- Attacks against expatriates almost a daily occurrence
- Chained Bangladeshi man found inside Male house (see photo)
- Another shackled Bangladeshi expatriate found inside Male’ house
- Ten Maldivians arrested in Adhaaran resort after fight breaks out between locals, Bangladeshi man
- Bangladeshi murdered and mutilated 2 3
- Expatriate security guard in Villi-Male’ ATM booth attacked
- Teacher caught red-handed molesting 8-year-old
- Expatriate worker beat up after being suspected of raping island girl (in Dhivehi)

We (supposedly) once were a tolerant country, welcoming all sorts of people and treated them with due respect. But things have changed and for the worse. Notions of equality and humanity has been devalued to such an extent that xenophobia seems almost universal in the country and racism is building up like never before. As such, mistreatment of and disrespect for expats is a truth many are well aware of. People often treat the many unskilled/semi-skilled workers as "subhuman". I might be tempted to go as far as summarising the prevalent attitude as being a combination of viewing workers as non-tiring machines, incapable and devoid of emotion and feelings and their lives worth no more than a pet cat! They are given accommodation in tiny enclosures made of tin roofing and little ventilation with more workers packed into such places than sardines in a box. They are harassed on the streets and harassed at work. Too many a time do you see workers beg and cry themselves wet over salaries unpaid. Sometimes months would go by without the employer paying the workers their full wage (if at all!) - which the workers often send to their starving families back in their home country. Few regulations keep employers in check - facilitating them to overwork their employers through day and night and give little consideration to the health and safety of the employees. What more, when their "official" work ends, the workers are often made run personal errands and chores for their employer - they really are slaves to the whims and desires of their "master". I was shocked to find the word "owner" used in the popular local newspaper Haveeru, in reference to the employer of the recently murdered Bangladesh worker in Kulhudhuffushi! (Owner? Isn't that slave mentality??)

Such attitudes towards expat workers are often "justified" on the excuse that they come from societies that treat them even worse. They are deemed as too stupid and too gullible to understand the "modern life" Maldivians enjoy. This attitude is further strengthened thanks to miscommunication arising from expat workers not being able to speak neither Dhivehi nor English. But none, absolutely none, of these warrant sanctioning any of the ill-conditions and abuses expat workers are subjected to. I agree that expat workers do ill and do commit crimes. No one would or should deny that. But even that is not an excuse to not extend them some decency and treat them as humans with equal rights!?

Accomodation for expat workers made from tin roofing and about 5 feet high floors

Maldives says it's OK to rape 12 yr old girls post-puberty?!!

I skim through Maldivian news now and then and try sink in the madness going about these days but none, absolutely none, has left me as unsettled and enraged as the news regarding the recent ruling on the case of a 12 year old girl being sexually assaulted by a group of 4 axe-wielding men.

I just cannot imagine how a sane, responsible individual tasked with enforcing law, protecting the weak and upholding moral values in the capacity of a judge arrives at the conclusion: (that) a TWELVE YEAR OLD girl had CONSENSUAL sex with FOUR MEN who BROKE into her room by BREAKING a window with an AXE and proceeding to help themselves to the orifices on a helpless girl most probably scared shitless towards being deaf, mute and dumb and thus conclude that the men were INNOCENT of rape. What is perhaps even more frustrating is that the reasons cited for the ruling are pure nonsense that’d drive any rational, sensible person to the edges of sanity. One of the more disturbing reasons stated by the judge is that the girl had reached puberty - a statement that carries implicit consequences that she is to be considered adult and thus responsible for what happens. This argument, which supposedly is drawn from Islamic Sharia, declares a girl as adult when she reaches puberty irrespective of her age. The other reasons stated by the judge are no less fallacious – all of them more or less state that the girl did not object at any time during or after the event. Fortunately though, rape and abuse have been pretty well studied (elsewhere in the more educated, civilised world) and there are well documented typical reactions as shock, denial and shame that explain and may well be the real reason behind the girl’s actions.

What more, I found the english version of the (original) dhivehi news at Haveeru what seems to be an intentional deception in that it carefully avoided mentioning the details of the event - is this a purely a conspiracy conjecture or is this a just accusation? This is particularly worrying after all Haveeru claims honest reporting these days. The report at Minivan News fared better I guess...

Anyway, this ruling marks another sad day in our history... and life goes on.