An open letter to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih regarding the terror attack on Speaker of Parliament, Mohamed Nasheed

An open letter sent to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on 19 May by Latheefa Verrall, a Maldivian citizen who lives in New Zealand, regarding the terror attack that made an attempt on the life of the Speaker of Parliament, President Mohamed Nasheed on 6 May

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker of Parliament, Former President Mohamed Nasheed | Photo: Avas Online

19 May 2021

Your Excellency.

My name is Latheefa Verrall. I am a Maldivian citizen who lives in New Zealand. Although I have lived in New Zealand for over 50 years I have continued to maintain strong links to the Maldives and keep in close touch with my Maldivian family and friends. Part of this link consists of taking a keen interest in Maldivian politics and investing my time in publishing a book and many articles on various aspects of our society. Despite my fifty years of absence, I still love my country of origin. 

Because of the decision I made to be a positive part of both of the countries of my dual citizenship, I was overjoyed when you, a member of the Maldivian Democratic Party, became the president of the country on July 17, 2018. Before that, I have watched and commented on the governance of some of your predecessors and felt saddened by the lack of improvement in the plight of ordinary Maldivians, particularly the people living on islands other than Male’ and conversely, the increase inincidents of corruption and torture. The careless manner in which your immediate predecessor allowed simple, inexperienced Maldivian Muslims to travel to Syria and be brainwashed by ISIS, filled me with horror and immense sadness. 

Consequently, on the 17 of November 2018 I felt a sense of hope. A good man who would not cynically use religion for political ends, who would not be corrupted and use violence and torture to stay in power, had finally become the most powerfulperson in our country. I celebrated that; it was no mean achievement on your Your Excellency’s part.  I had great hopes that a systematic approach to discourage the fundamentalistswould save our country from the horrors of killings and violence in the distorted name of religion and, under an honest leader, the persistent and overwhelming burden of corruption would come to an end. Your name Solih, I felt, was particularly pertinent to the time and your supporters used it well in the months leading to the election. I felt the Maldives could do with a strong dose of virtue, righteousness and goodness that your name embodies.

However, things did not proceed as I had hoped.

I understand the difficulties of working in a Coalition government, the dangers involved in saving the country from the clutches of the fundamentalists and the frustrations of having to lead a cabinet where some had histories of massive corruption. These are not easy problems and I have learnt, read and experienced enough of the world to know that they are massive challenges by any standard. In many ways you inherited these problems. Your challenge was to find a way forward through this maze of difficult issues. 

Your Excellency, as you understand, life does not allow us to select the challenges that we have to face. Life forces us to respond to the challenges that appear before us. A leader’s reputation and character are judged, not by the easy policies heenacts, but by standing up to the challenges he did not want or expect. In short, being good, virtuous and righteous as a leader of a nation is not simply the absence of corruption and intention to harm. In the complex world we live in, it means a willingnessand an ability to actively work for forces of good, righteousness and virtue. This requires clear and well targeted action against the corruption that occurred during the previous government and a determined effort to save the country from the clutches of the Fundamentalists.

My concern is that the murders of Dr. Afrasheem Ali, YameenRasheed and Ahmed Rilwan have remained unresolved. The root causes of religious violence have not been addressed.Justice has not been done and the real perpetrators have remained unpunished. I do not, even for a moment, suspect that it is beyond the resources of the state to find those truly responsible; the will for action, however, had been absent. It is my contention that the Fundamentalists acted and continues to act with such impunity because of the inertia of the state. Good intentions are not enough; the rule of law can survive only if justice is done. Because of the state’s inaction and the lack of determination to enforce the rule of law, the terrorist attack on Mohamed Nasheed became inevitable.

I am not a politician, but as a parent and school teacher I comprehend that children learn the rules of good behaviour in part by having to accept the consequences of their bad behaviour. This is a universal truth which applies as much in the adult world as it does in the socialising of children. When peoplehave the right to act with impunity, without taking responsibility for their behaviour, they fail to honour the rights of others andwe all lose the tools that allow us to live within accepted social conventions. At an extreme level of this, they become a threat to the society we live in. If the state continues to ignore the terror, then the terrorists are continuously strengthened and empowered.

I am fearful that the sudden rush to find the perpetrators of the attack on Mohamed Nasheed will be superficial and stop before the real terrorists – those who planned and financed the attempted murder – are found and punished. I am fearful thateventually two or three ignorant men who have lost their way,will go to prison and the whole investigation will fall into that bottomless pit of unsolved murders, that in the minds of many Maldivians symbolise the state’s unforgivable indifference to the safety of its citizenry.

Your Excellency, the attempted murder of Mohamed Nasheed,whom you regard, at least publicly, as a good friend, gives you an opportunity. This is terror at a different level. If you find it in yourself the strength to follow this through without delay, it will give a much needed sign to the extremists that they cannot act with such impunity.  It may pave the way to solving the murders of Dr. Afrasheem, Yameen Rasheed and Ahmed Rilwan. It maystrengthen the democratic movement in the Maldives to which you say you are committed. Democracy is struggling in the Maldives under the heavy burden of rampant corruption and extreme violence. 

Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As a good man it is now your time to do something. I don’t doubt this will take personal bravery. People generally do not think of politicians as brave people. Bravery is not a characteristic that politicians therefore aspire to. How many billboards include the phrase, ‘Vote for me, I am brave!’? But brave is now what you must personify. Unless you have the personal bravery to stand up to extremists and terrorists, unless you have the personal bravery to track down the financiers and planners of Mohamed Nasheed’s  would be assassins, unless you have the personal bravery to put an end to corruption, then you will be personally responsible for ‘doing nothing’ and for allowing evil to triumph.

May Allah give you the strength to find the personal bravery needed to face the challenges and save the nation from its present precarious trajectory into a failed state.

Yours faithfully

Latheefa Verrall.