Maldives gripped in fear after blogger's gruesome slaying

I always get a phone call from my father reminding me of my curfew time. I am (almost) always home on time – he knows that. Yet, I get the call every night. I don’t mind the call – it’s reassuring. On the rare nights that he doesn’t call, I complain that he doesn’t too.

I have asked him a few times where he thinks I will go if he doesn’t remind me to come home by my curfew, and every time I ask this, the answer would be the same; “It’s not that I think you’d go somewhere crazy. I like to know you’ll be coming home safe before I go to bed.” What unmarried-daughter-in-her-mid-twenties-living-in-Male-City could argue with this rationale? It’s a legitimate thing for a parent to worry about.

However, since notorious blogger Yameen Rasheed’s inhumane and heart-wrenching murder, my parents have been extra cautious. Much to my dismay, my curfew has been moved up. I now have to text one of my parents before I start climbing up the stairs to our apartment and once I’ve reached home and locked the door behind me, I have to text my partner – who waits downstairs till he receives the OK to go. I wanted to make a big deal out of this and tell my parents that they are overreacting – but I had started doing the same thing to my partner. He has to text me to let me know he is home safe so I can sleep easy.

Fear is suddenly looming and its stench is quietly shrouding the air. Everyone is a little on-edge and extra cautious. While a great majority of the country is still in shock and disbelief of the atrocity that took place, an equal amount of people believe what happened to Yameen is justified, which in itself is alarming. In university, I learned that “terrorism” is the use of violence to incite fear, or intimidate the public, and I cannot think of a less scary, but more apt word to describe what is impending in the Maldives.

Parents of Yameen’s friends are now scared for their children’s lives.

“They were tailing him, how do I know that my child isn’t on their radar?”

“What if my child is on this list because he interacted with Yameen?”

These are things no parent should ever worry about. Moreover, having raised good children with functioning moral compasses (who were also friends with compassionate people like Yameen) is something any parent should be proud of. But instead, today, those parents are scared that their children might be too adamant in calling “justice for Yameen”. His friends cannot grieve the loss of their friend the way they want to because they are afraid they may say something that they shouldn’t out of anguish. And even more sadly, no parent should ever have to be worried about raising good children that call out against injustices.

Fear, which is supposed to be a lifesaving instinct, is now weighing us down – and this is exactly what the people behind these vicious attacks are counting on. It makes them relevant. It makes them more powerful. On the off chance that we become desensitised to fear and pass it off as acts of an unstable individual, these people are deliberately using tactics that would ingrain fear in our psyches. The more atrocious and conspicuous these acts are, the more impact it has, and less hopeful people become.

“They are more paranoid about knowing where I am – making sure we come home before it’s too late, and always being reachable,” a young, eager individual who is involved in the Maldivian civil society said when asked how her family has been coping since the tragic incident. “My dad said the other day that I have to be home if my phone is dead. But they are still very passionate about us fighting for what we believe in – but at the same time, they are more aware of the risks now. They have asked us to keep a low profile and not to be alone and out late.”

And it’s not just outspoken critics of societal issues who are disquieted. Male’ citizens, almost all of whom live in tall buildings with unavoidable little stairwells are a little hesitant before entering their own homes now. You know it’s mostly an irrational fear – 'I can’t be a target, I don’t say things on social media' – but then the slogan for Yameen’s friend and fellow humanist Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance echoes in your head: “today Rilwan was disappeared by force, who will be next”. Before Yameen’s brutal murder, I did not think much of this slogan, but then it has happened – Rilwan’s dear friend Yameen was the next victim. It could very well be me next.

“Yes mum, I am on my way home – No I’m not walking alone – Yes I’m having a dude friend drop me off on his motorbike – Oh my god, I’ll be there soon!” Since Yameen’s murder, I have heard this conversation more frequently than before.

For now, we comply. The pain of losing someone who was only an “@” away on social media – someone a lot of us knew, even thought we didn’t really know him – is still fresh and it hit too close to home for many of us. First it was the liberal MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012 who was an advocate of “moderation” that was brutally murdered, also in a stairwell. Then it was fellow journalist Rilwan who was disappeared by force in 2014, and to this day, we don’t have any closure because we still don’t know what really happened to him. And now, it’s Yameen. He worked at the Maldives Stock Exchange’s IT department and was in the process of developing an app to help thalassemic patients. He was just outspoken (albeit in a really hilarious way) and passionate about a better future for all of us. Yameen used satire to ease the disgruntlement many of us felt about the rampant corruption and the injustices that take place in our country. He wasn’t affiliated with a particular political party, nor was he a part of any political agendas. He was an ordinary Maldivian citizen, just like any of us.

I come home before my curfew because the thought of my parents joining Rilwan’s mother, or Yameen’s father in grieving the loss of their child is absolutely heart-breaking. Our hearts get heavy every time we see the parents of Rilwan and Yameen because that pain is unimaginable. Not knowing what happened to your child, or having to bury your child – that is something that no parent should ever go through and those images stick with us. It breaks our hearts, every time.

However all hope is not lost – studies show that humans are vastly resilient to terror tactics. We recover relatively quickly after the initial period of shock and grief. According to John Horgan, the author of “The Psychology of Terrorism”, the level of healing speeds up when we seek the support from the community and make meaningful connections with each other. “It is equally important for you to do the old cliché – to get back to work and make sure the trains run on time. To get back to normal right away.”

Even with the fear ingrained in our psyches for now, all of us and Yameen’s some 12,800 followers on Twitter – we must strive to bounce back up and be even more adamant in calling justice for our fallen comrade. Almost 1000 days on and we’re still demanding justice for Rilwan – and we must continue doing the same for Yameen. Because no one deserves to be silenced the way he was. We must continue to speak, and find humour in absurdities, just like Yameen did in trying times.