I watched a documentary over the weekend that is more timely now than ever.
"The Island President," which opened in U.S. theaters last year (and was shown on PBS early this year), focuses on the then-president of the island nation Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.
A major portion of the film concentrates on Nasheed's valiant campaign to let the world know of the urgency of global warming -- a life-or-death issue for his country. Nasheed repeatedly points out that his nation will by swallowed by the Indian Ocean in the not-too-distant future unless the world acts now.
The movie centers around Nasheed's visit to Copenhagen to make his voice heard at the global climate talks in 2009. He is frustrated by the intransigence of China and the United States, but is consoled by the fact he is making his country's presence felt. (In a rousing sequence, Bill McKibben welcomes Nasheed to speak before a roomful of activists.).
Recent events have proven how much Nasheed was on the mark. Typhoon Haiyan -- and the destruction it has wrought on the Philippines -- demonstrated the devastation global warming is causing. It made the current summit on climate change all the more urgent and poignant.
"Calling the climate crisis 'madness,' the Philippines representative vowed to fast for the duration of the talks" in Warsaw, the New York Times reported on Saturday. "Malia Talakai, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States [of which Maldives is a member], a group that includes her tiny South Pacific homeland, Nauru, said that without urgent action to stem rising sea levels, 'some of our members won't be around.'"
"The Island President" has a broader focus than just climate change. The other issue that makes the documentary timely is democracy -- particularly democracy in the Muslim world. Maldives, a Muslim country, was suffering under a longstanding dictatorship until a peaceful movement ensured that the country's dictator abdicated after losing the nation's first free and fair elections in 2008.
Nasheed "earned a place in the history books as the person who brought an end to the thirty-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom -- Asia's longest-serving leader," BBC reported then. "To his supporters, Mr. Nasheed is a latter-day Nelson Mandela, overcoming the hardships of prison to secure an inspirational election win against the odds."
Nasheed was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who suffered tremendous personal hardship to introduce democracy in his country. He was tortured and placed in solitary confinement for eighteen months in 1989-90. But by November 2008, he was being sworn in president.
A portion of "The Island President" deals with Nasheed's remarkable ascension to the presidency.
Politics in the Maldives has not adhered to a fairy tale script, however, and Nasheed was booted out early last year in a putsch by segments of the security forces allied with ex-dictator Gayoom. The pretext was Nasheed's firing of a judge aligned with the old regime.
After a year of uncertainty, elections were held in stages over the last few months. The brother of ex-dictator Gayoom, Abdulla Yameen, emerged the dubious victor the past weekend in a process marked by voter purges and judicial interference.
"The victory marked the end of a drawn-out and bitter contest which was delayed twice after Mr. Nasheed won the first round in September but failed to secure the 50 percent required for outright victory," reports the London-based Telegraph. "His victory was overturned by the Supreme Court following allegations of irregularities in voter registration."
Nasheed's party members understandably now fear the worst, including mass arrests of the party's leaders. Oddly, the United States and India have both welcomed the final result, lending legitimacy to an extremely suspect electoral exercise.
But Nasheed is far from done, since he has the support of almost half the population, and at forty-six, has decades of political life ahead of him. To learn more about him and his activism, do take a look at "The Island President," an informative documentary on a personality we all need to know more about.
Watch the trailer: