Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy (J.J. Robinson)

Before I read The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy, I did not know much about these islands other than that they were in the middle of the Indian Ocean and were in the tropics.  J.J. Robinson's 300-page book on The Maldives' odd politics and history was well-researched and based on Robinson's first-hand experiences on the island as the editor of a newspaper.  It provides a story of paranoia, despotism that was shrouded in attempts of democracy, and politics that would make our own current affairs blush in embarrassment.

The book spends much of its time in the years the author worked on the island, talking about its experiments in democracy, the battle between establishment politics and democratic forces that rankled the prior power players, and the battle over the role of Islam in the nation's affairs.  Historical context is provided to shape how the Maldives became a hodgepodge of an archipelago - "inhabited" islands where local customs and faith dominated and "uninhabited" islands where resorts and a cultural diaspora of tourists roam - all the while showing the struggle between tradition and democratic progress while the author traversed the nation's many islands.

The author does a very solid job weaving between politics, custom, and tradition.  He speaks explicitly from a Western point of view, having lived in the U.S., England, and his native Australia, and talks about the challenges of adapting to a uniquely different country whose tropical paradise covered for a nation whose politics were anything but paradise.  It's a well-written, at times humorous, read into a nation few know much about.