Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making Sense of Bahrain

A direct copy and paste, SUHAIL ALGOSAIBI writes below about trying to make sense of all the hate and the madness in Bahrain following the crisis which took place in March

"I recently had dinner with a CNN crew, who had just finished interviewing me and a few others about the so-called “Arab Spring”, and the role social media played in it.

They had been to Tunisia and Egypt before coming to Bahrain, and they told me how different Bahrain was from those two countries. They seemed genuinely confused. I think this was the first conflict they covered where there was no obvious victim and no obvious villain. They asked me lots and lots of questions during the dinner, and I tried to answer as best I could – and as fairly as I could.

Since that dinner I’ve been reflecting more on the recent crisis. And was trying to make sense of some of the events, and more importantly, I was trying to understand all this hate that I keep seeing online. Some of which was aggressively directed at me – from both sides!

The Dictionary Definition of Polarisation
I think Bahrain’s indomitable Foreign Minister, Sh. Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, described it best when he said people are polarised. Here’s the dictionary definition of “Polarise” from my Mac: “[verb] divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs.” I like the “two sharply contrasting” bit. Basically, it’s “either you’re with me, or against me.” There can be no in between. If you’re not fully on my side I will hate you, slander you and personally attack you. And if you’re with me, I’ll love you, support you and protect you.

Rather sad, don’t you think?

Honestly, this is not the Bahrain I know and grew up in. Though I don’t condone the polarisation and extremism, I try very hard to understand where it’s coming from. I try not to judge and not to force my opinions on others.

Anyway, today’s post is about trying to understand and explain some of this polarisation and hate that we see today. And as I’ve said many times before, I don’t claim to fully know all the facts, nor to understand this crisis 100% (frankly I don’t think anyone does).

Where The Protestors’ Frustration/Anger/Hate is Coming From
There is a not insignificant Shia section of society that – rightly or wrongly – feel marginalised in our society. They feel victimised, and have been feeling like this for a long time – for generations.

They feel that they are not given their full rights as Bahraini citizens. Not only that, but they feel they are being intentionally marginalised. Also, they feel discriminated against and disrespected by the Interior Ministry. They feel their human rights are not met, and they also feel like the government is trying to dilute their numbers through the “sunnification” of the population, by giving Sunni Arabs and Asians Bahraini citizenship.

It is my belief that for a small portion of this section of society, this perception has morphed into loathing and blind rage (possibly caused/encouraged/fuelled/endorsed by outside interference). The object of this blind rage was the government and the ruling family, who they perceive as being responsible for the supposed mess they are in.

And for these people, the end justified the means. And the means included exaggerating, lying, fabricating, attacking, and doing whatever else helped their cause, and the rest of the population be damned! They wanted nothing but the total removal of the current regime, and some even wanted nothing but a Royal blood bath. But it is my contention that not all protestors wanted this, and that not all protestors were rioters. But admittedly, the lines were vague. Who can untangle that web?

The hate of the extremists spilled over into hating all those who supported the government, and did not see things from their perspective. When the recent crackdown started, they felt even more victimised and saw it as the government’s excuse to commit further alleged crimes against them. Which of course lead to more hate, and more polarisation. They just could not comprehend how someone could not see things from their perspective.

Where the pro-government Frustration/Anger/Hate Is Coming From
I think the views of most Sunnis (wallahu A’lam) can be summarised as follows; they also had some frustrations with the government, but they don’t believe in getting it through protests and blatant disrespect for the law. I think most believed that a person’s rights should be sought through the current system, and not by replacing it completely. (Arguably though, they are not suffering as much as the people in the other camp).

When they look at their Shia brethren, they see that members of their society are among the wealthiest in the country, and that they have reached the highest echelons in the government and the private sector. They wonder why they feel victimised. They also wonder why (supposedly) so many poor Shia men marry several wives and have lots of children, and then complain about their lot in life. Many Sunnis are bewildered by what they perceive as the Shia “Culture of Victimhood”.

Many Sunnis were afraid for their safety during the protests. They seethed while they saw the rioters running amuck. They hated their king and the ruling family being openly insulted like this. They could not understand the perceived duality of the protesters (peaceful yet violent).

The extreme Sunnis hated the protestors and their leaders. And that hate spilled over into hating virtually all Shias. And the fact that the Opposition leaders did not condemn the violent acts, nor try to rein them in, only made matters worse.

They perceived them as ungrateful, disloyal, Iran-loving traitors, who should be punished severely. And they hated everyone who even showed a tiny shred of support or sympathy for them. They genuinely could not understand how anyone could not see things from their perspective.

They hated the perceived arrogance of the opposition leaders, and they couldn’t wait for revenge.

And boy did they get it!

Welcome to The Mother Of All Crackdowns
You know the story, the government lost patience with the protestors/rioters. When they realised that this was more than just a peaceful request for reform, and saw Iran’s fingerprints all over the movement, they cracked down with all their might. Everyone and anyone who showed support for the protestors was a suspect. And the spate of arrests started.

Now the extreme Sunnis rejoiced. It was party time! “Take that you evil traitors!” was the theme. And that! And that! …

The conflict became personal with the rioters on one side, and security forces and the army on the other. While the protesters brazenly defied law and order, attacked people, fabricated attacks against themselves at the same time acted like victims, the government forces seethed (Remember that several of the opposition leaders have received multiple Royal pardons in the past). The protestors won the first round, but the second was won by the government forces, by knock out! Some reportedly enjoyed releasing their frustrations at road check points.

Meanwhile, the moderates cried.

Their voices were mostly unheard, and they had hoped that this could be resolved peacefully. They kept waiting for wise men to prevail. And they still wait.

Some Personal Reflections…
The other day an anti-government acquaintance told me how he was mistreated by the security personnel at a checkpoint. He said “where did all this hate and rudeness come from?” I resisted the temptation of reminding him of the “down with Al-Khalifa” placards at the Pearl roundabout, and the loathing that came from the rioters. Loathing begets loathing. It should never have, but the conflict became personal. Very personal.

My point is that crack downs by definition are brutal. Who’s ever heard of a gentle crack down? When national security is threatened, security forces are not too concerned with constitutional rights. Especially with rioters who were this cunning.

Let me give you an example. A Bahraini friend told me this story many years ago. He was walking down a street in Paris, when suddenly a police van stopped next to him. Several policemen grabbed him violently, and threw him into the van. As I recall, he was beaten and taken to the police station. Poor man was totally confused and wondering what was going on. Later he learnt that a “Moroccan looking” man was suspected of planting a bomb in a Metro Station on the street he was walking along.

Many hours later the police realised they had the wrong man, and let him go. Without a even a hint of an apology! I don’t relay this story to justify anyone’s behaviour, but I do want to point out that when national security is threatened, security forces see red. There are more examples of this in the West, most notably in the US after 9/11, where stories of constitutional/human rights abuses are plentiful.

Do Shias Have More Loyalty To Iran Than to Bahrain?
No, absolutely not! There are a few things I want to say about this. First, if you had asked me at the start of this crisis whether I thought Iran was involved I would have laughed. Today I am convinced that Iran is involved. But I’d be lying if I said I know exactly how. The prevalent theory is that Iran had some sort of long-term sinister plot in Bahrain, which they tried to bring forward when the protests happened. Also, it is said that some of the opposition leaders have very close ties to Iran and/or Hezbollah. I don’t usually believe in conspiracies, but as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I do think Iran is involved.

Having said that however, I think the vast majority of protestors did not know of the Iran involvement. And I think that few of them actually felt more loyal to Iran than to Bahrain.

As for the general Shia population, I know they have no loyalty or affinity to Iran. Besides, why would a multi-generational Arab feel any loyalty to a country who’s language he doesn’t even speak? I think it’s cruel to paint all our Shia brethren with the same, broad brush.

Why I Refuse to Hate
Look, like many others during this crisis I got angry. I was angry at the rioters for making me feel unsafe, and making me worry about my family. I was angry that my business got affected and that I make heavy losses since the crisis began. I can go on an on.

But I refuse to hate.

What’s the point? It’s in the past now, the government won and the rioters were exposed. Will me hating really add value? Let the extremists and haters hate, I will have none of it. I’d rather work on rebuilding our country.

So What’s All This Talk of Forgiveness?
I think my last couple of blog posts confused some people. So maybe some clarification is in order. Personally, not only do I not hate the protesters/rioters, I choose to forgive them.

But as I explained in my last blog post, forgiveness does not mean I condone the actions of the rioters that broke the law. Nor does it mean that they should not receive their just punishment – quite the contrary, I think they should. Justice should prevail, and the law should be applied to everyone who broke it during the crisis.

Forgiveness is about making peace within yourself, and not letting the actions of others affect you and the way you think and behave. I’d rather focus on the future, not the past.

And I humbly ask you to do the same."

Will adding more hate really help matters? What kind of country do you want our children to live in? I keep hearing from both sides how “we will never forget…”, you don’t have to forget, but you can choose to forgive and let go. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It means moving on.

1 comment:

Brady said...

Very interesting