Dreaming of Paradise

Visiting the Maldives


Even so, ‘paradise’ has many meanings. It’s the obvious, a place of beauty, a state of bliss, a delight in the truest sense of the word. It’s also a concept predicated on point of view and on access. Some of us love tropical islands and some of us love driving a Saab 900 into the Arctic Circle and some of us, for whatever reason, imagine it as a metaphysical space, a lost place, a heaven, the promise of a life after this one. It’s even, according to certain readings, a half-way house, a resting place, where the souls of the saved await the final reckoning, the resurrection of the one; as in the bible or the Matrix, take your pick. Any which way, the very notion presupposes it’s opposite: a not paradise. The Republic of the Maldives, it pains me to say, is no exception.

To begin with the apocalyptic, the Maldives are an environmental disaster in waiting. The lowest and flattest country in the world, it’s vulnerability to rising sea levels means, worst case scenario, nearly 80% of it’ll be under water by 2021. Intermittent plans for a mass exodus of some 400,000 people spread over 1000 kilometres have been in the pipeline for some time, with the government sounding out India, Sri Lanka and even Australia for possible parcels of land. Source of over two millennia of tradition, home to near on half a million people, the Maldives is set to disappear in 2085. It’s an unimaginable catastrophe. It’s Genesis come true, only in the case of the Maldivians, there’s no coming back. The Ark’s a one way trip into the unknown.

Less seriously, but only in the sense that it’s not so unbelievably final, the Maldives’s much lauded sustainable tourism model, together with the increased democratisation of its political structures, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, everything it’s cracked up to be. While it’s first democratically elected president languishes in prison, his tenure cut short by an opposition dominated by the old guard, the tourist dollar is something of a mixed blessing. The old-new regime’s Quality Tourism Strategy, designed to protect both the environment and the country’s overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim culture, plays largely into the hands of an elite triumvirate, a select group of Maldivian entrepreneurs, long term government incumbents and foreign investors. Decades worth of very serious money has been made at the expense of a population denied fair investment opportunity in their country’s most significant industry. True paradise does not generally blip wildly and for long periods on Amnesty International’s radar.

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