The myth of the unpatriotic youth

Our opinion writer reflects on the evolving view of patriotism; rejecting the more traditional 'nation over all else' interpretation and championing a philosophy anchored around our common humanity.

Instagram @refty

Instagram @refty

In the 1995 film ‘An American President’, fictional president Andrew Shepard, played by Michael Douglas, says of politics and elections;

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only; making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character…

Substitute Bob Rumson for any of your average Maldivian politician, or politician wannabe, and replace American values with the Maldivian equivalent and one is good to go.

Exceedingly every sphere of discussion in the Maldives, centred around patriotism and nationalism plays this generational game — there is always enough blame for the moral decay of “society” and how “youngsters” do not show pride in ‘gaum’ while ignoring the fact that those doing the complaining have been in charge of policy, and in positions of power, for longer than most of the young population of the Maldives have drawn breath.

The venerated, “retired” and itching to be relevant, older generation almost passionately revels in this decline of “neighbours lending and borrowing sugar from each other” and of “youngsters” maligning the nation by referring to her as ‘Mordiss’ or in other such derogatory terms while they were the ones in charge during this said decline. This version of the neighbourly and caring society comes from the generation that let xenophobia run rampant and allowed misogyny, along with the subjugation of and outright hatred towards women, to take root in the guise of piousness and belief.

Their view of patriotism, that of nation before all else, juxtaposed on current global realities, is tantamount to defending a foul and amoral relative. They speak of lack of empathy or kindness, or seeing the humanity in others. They speak about the rest of the nation being out of touch when in reality they are the ones refusing to see the new paradigm.

The pithy line about lending sugar to a neighbour in need does not even hold a candle to how the younger generation have utilised newfound platforms to crowdfund surgeries and locate lost possessions, and even loved ones, while also advancing other deeply relevant social causes.

With no sex education, and every youth going through puberty, what are the words they can use to define feelings and relationships when they are not taught, nor given any information on, anything that they are physically and emotionally going through? All done in the guise of raising a 'decent' population. Yet they are maligned for the bastardisation of language, prevalent most in describing their feelings and relationships, and for speaking about the natural evolution of their bodies and the significance of the choices that that entails.

The Maldivian youth recognise that they live in a state where the security forces have asymmetric power — where they are continuously harassed, even teargassed amidst peaceful protests, and where every “assessment” of these abuses of power are unfairly biased against them.

They see a nation where agents of the state aren’t so much as questioned by authorities, or punished when "University Lectureres" abuse their given platforms and advocate, and champion, uncivilised and inhumane acts under the guise of religion. 'Few' as they might be, it is the youth raising their voices against these so called leaders, as their spaces and bodies are legitimately encroached upon, that have sometimes led to change.

The youth are witness to the promises to deliver justice and it is their collective conscience, verbalised and immortalised with daily social media posts, that cries out against the lip service given to the cause of their friends, their heroes and their sisters, and brothers, in arms.

Our young people live in a world where their pleas for equality and equity are met with legislation to increase executive powers, without checks and balances, while making more allowances for the rich and powerful as the common citizen worries about paying rent, and paying taxes multiple times over, with no hope for leniency. 

They witness the reality of a society where women are continuously objectified and men, and the law, do nothing — where harassment is a casually accepted culture and women nationwide, especially in the streets of the sophisticated and elite capital, increasingly dread walking the streets alone. And while the state swears protection and respect, instances of harassment within state institutions, of the highest order such as those at Ministerial positions in the President's Office and Cabinet positions at the Ministry of Tourism, are often quietly set aside.

The executive, with its rank and file saturated by the older and “experienced”  cadre, have no patience for minimum wage or other worker rights, pushing to draw the civil service out of the safety of their homes even before the pandemic is under control — while armed with ample practical evidence that ‘working from home’ is a distinct and viable possibility for the present and the foreseeable future.

Patriotism for the younger generation is more Donald Glover than Donald Trump —   it is more aspirational than putting 'gaum' before all else. For them calling out the gaum for inhuman acts, such as seen in the cases of the global Black Lives Matter protests and #MeToo movement, is part of patriotism.

Dissecting the fallacies of 'personalities' and institutions in Twitter threads does not make our youth any less patriotic than politicians on talk shows who remain mum as the sovereignty of their nation is put into question. 

For them the main issue when it comes to China and India is not the debt traps and the 'power' plays that governments and people see coming a billion miles away, but rather how those governments are treating their minorities and their marginalised — and using their influence on our state to muzzle criticisms of governments, institutions and other powerful 'friends' in reporting and on social media.

Them questioning the asymmetrical application of justice and the law — why an attack on the Speaker brought on calls for practical steps to avoid similar  future instances when the families of Afrasheem, Rilwan, Yameen and countless others did not merit similar consideration — comes from a place of aspiration; of wanting their nation to do better, and more, for the common citizen than the privileged ruling class.

When defining patriotism one has to think of it as a living, breathing, and evolving organism. It has, within these past two years alone, outpaced in leaps and bounds the notions of the elitist protectors of the 'national fabric'. The definition has changed for the better and found guardians better suited for the age. Guardians who are doing a far better, more aspirational job, of attempting to usher in a brighter, more enlightened and equitable, future for us all. The pretenders to the throne of protecting the nation’s sovereignty, and her good name, should abdicate their thrones and make way for genuine voices that matter — voices free of the dark agenda of gaining power and influence but with a passion for tangible, positive and equitable, change.

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