03 February 2007

Burn the country and get it over with

"Police in Bahrain have released three activists whose detention sparked violent protests. Hassan Mushaima'a, leader of Haq Movement; Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, head of the Centre for Human Rights; and Shaker AbdulHussein were arrested Friday.

The interior ministry issued a statement saying the three activists would be charged with "promoting change to the political system through illegitimate means, inciting hatred of the political system, agitation and harming the public interest". During commemoration of Ashura, Al-Khawaja made a speech that criticised the government and Haq ran a street kiosk with a display on victims of unrest in the mid-1990s. "

Excuse me?

I think we may have lost it. Haqq, whether we like it or not, has always expressed the same views they're expressing now. It's not like they took us by surprise! So why would the government arrest them NOW? Is it trying to provoke people? Also, I have no idea how the Ministry of Interior can come out with this insane list of crimes:

1. Promoting change to the political system through illegal means
Seriously? what are the illegal means they used. Oh yes, they spoke..

2. Inciting hatred of the political system
"Inciting?" Dude! with the current policies and practice these days, people may not needs anymore incitement, I'm sorry. Besides, why are we so insecure about three people expressing disagreement?

3. Al-Khawaja made a speech that criticized the government
I can't find a word in English, but "wallah fesheela." You are actually able to face the world and say you arrested someone for criticizing the government?

4. Haq ran a street kiosk that displayed pictures of victim's of government torture in the 90's
OK, you didn't deny that you tortured, but your feelings are hurt when people display pictures of tortured victims.

The three men were released today, but I think the damage is done. The shred of hope and trust left has been damaged, and it will take a lot of government fixing and cleaning up to undo this damage. The government clearly demonstrated that its rhetoric about "freedom, respect for all, and tolerance of peaceful dissent" is a complete sham. I don't condone violence, but it seems someone is clearly pushing for further clashes. This is the second arrest made in one week for the crime of, literally, "speaking."

It is bad enough that open street clashes took place, maybe for the first time since appointing the new Interior Minister. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used against civilian demonstrators. There were a few people actually injured on those demonstrations. I can see this going downhill.

I hate conspiracy theories, but this past week has been truly insane that I can't help it. I think there could be three possible explanations, and they're all bad:

A. Certain elements in the political system are threatened by Wefaq's participation in parliament and are therefore trying to push for a confrontation that will be used as an excuse to suspend the constitution again.

B. Certain elements in the political system are looking at Iraq and seeing that the situation there is creating strong fears of a Shi'ite threat, which will lead Arab and western governments to shy away from supporting the opposition (mainly Shi'a), and therefore it's the government's golden chance to crush the opposition and suspend the constitution.

C. The extremist faction in the political system is overtaking the more moderate faction and is actually becoming powerful enough to gradually re-institute the government's pre-political reform policies.

It could be all of the above or none, but the fact is: we have regressed, and the future doesn't look promising. Plus it turned violent. It may only take one person to die, even by mistake, in one of those demonstrations to send the country back to the mass violence of the 90s. Worst of all, there are people on both sides, government and opposition, that are extreme enough to actually want this to happen.

May God save us from ourselves.


Tito84 said...

I support you with every word you have said and you are totally correct about every word you typed up there.

And Al-Bandar predicted in his report that arresting activists would probably start in February 2007 and this is happening right now!

If you could excuse me, I might refer to some of your words in my blog and give you and your blog the credit for it. Is that ok?

LuLu said...

Thanks tito84. I actually hope against hope that we are wrong, and that the country isn't really taking the fast lane to doom! but I really CAN see Bandar's prediction at work.

& of course you can use any portion you'd like of this post.

Ahmed said...

Hi Lulu,

I know I can be a pain in the backside, but going back on to the comment you made on freedom of speech:

'Look I understand why some will feel that the royal family hates them and historically oppressed them. There are also people on the other side who believe the Shia hate them and are waiting for the chance to take over them. But the fact is, we need to move forward past our historical issues. We have no choice and we need to find a way to talk and reach some sort of compromise. Vilifying and de-humanizing one faction or the other will not serve the purpose of a democratic, stable Bahrain.'

I feel that this somewhat contradicts all the points that you have made in this entry, i'm not sure if you would agree with me? How can we forget what happened in the past and just move on when things like this happen? Dont forget that many individuals and families have suffered at the hands of these people. Would you ever want to forgive or even speak to someone that has hurt a member of your family? Speaking for myself, if anyone was to harm someone in my family, I would literally want to kill them, I would hate them and detest even looking at them!

The country is at breaking point. I cannot even suggest a solution that would solve any of these problems. The level of corruption is beyond belief and beyond repair, unless people are denaturalized (if thats even a word), citizens are given their right of freedom of speech and expression, a legitimate constitution and parliament is formed (like that of the 70's), stopping the reclamation of land, giving people adequate housing facilities, providing state benefits to those poor people who are unemployed.....is there any point of me carrying on? I think the list goes on, but u get the jist of what I am saying!

Gardens of Sand said...

The question is how can we live peaceably among each other? Can we rise above our differences (they’re not even that big!)? I think the key is not to forget the past, but to make peace with it. Acknowledge that people, families and sometimes a whole sect have been wronged. But let it not be the only thing that defines it. We need to get over our victim mentality.

We should recognize who exactly is to blame for the mess we are in. How much of a part did we contribute to this mess? And who really is behind it? I think you will find that the 'enemy' is not this faction or that, nor even are they the illegally naturalized citizens. The 'enemy' is a group whose members cross the ethnicity and faction lines but are united in their goal. So if the 'enemy' transcends this sectarianism we find ourselves in, can't we?

الإمبراطور سنبس said...

Shame on the goverment !!

LuLu said...

Ahmed you're not a pain at all; this discussion is very interesting and enlightening for me too! I'll have to thank Garden of Sands and I definitely agree with the comment that we need to find some way to achieve a combination of justice and reconciliation that is independent of sect.

I never meant to suggest that criminals should be forgiven. But I believe the confrontation should not be Shia-Sunni or Shia-Royal family. Gardens put it best: our conflict runs across those lines. When we speak of injustice, we need to look at those responsible for it, as individuals or institutions in charge, rather than branding in bulk just because we were used to it historically.

I'm reading a book these days called "Between Vengence and Forgiveness" by Martha Minow. The book discusses controversies related to achieving national reconciliation after conflict and mass violence. In a sense, there is no right answer. Even in the most extreme circumstances, nations need to find a balance between meeting a certain postion's needs for justice and the need of a whole society to reconcile.

On this, I'll take your point that victims need closure, and closure can only occurs after an admission that a wrong occurred. In the most extreme circumstance (e.g. Genocide in Rwanda and de-capitating half of the population in Sierra Lione), nations have found different ways to establish a process whereby both sides reach an agreement of whom should justice pursue and at what point it is enough to forgive. It's really tough. It's also really sad that a good chance for national reconciliation occurred in 2002 and was just lost because we just tried to "forget" and "pardon" in wholesale-- 5 years later we're realizing that life doesn't work like that.

LuLu said...

Sunbus, I'd also say shame on Mohammed Khaled, Al-Saidi, and Busandal for acting as the government's cheerleaders (as usual)

Ahmed said...

i dont see the problem as being Shia-Sunni at all, we have never had this kind of problem in the past, and we have lived side by side for many years...its politics...you have Sunnis that oppose the government as well as shia (eg Ali Rabia)...to the government, its not only shia who are a threat, its anyone who goes against them....just like saddam in iraq, he never only killed shia, he killed many sunnis and kurds who went against him....

isagreatphilosopher said...

I cannot really say anything original on this matter. It is pretty messed up no doubt. Change, or "reconciliation", of this scale cannot occur overnight. Germans till today carry a feeling of guilt from the holocaust, the French struggled with overcoming the shame of surrendering to the Nazis and the Vichy regime for decades.
I, on the other hand, am seeking employment in a land far away.

LuLu said...

I think Germany's discourse since WWII is really interesting.. I just finished reading this so I thought I'd share:

Esra'a said...

While I agree that the government can be downright cruel and unjust at times, please don't always assume that they're "overreacting." Look at how these people always react to similar incidents. I swear, living under a democracy at this point would just give us all the right to kill each other. We don't know what to do with freedom because we have yet to prove that we can use it responsibly and productively.

These people run around burning trash cans in the middle of the road and then call themselves "activists."

Sorry, I call them bored morons.

There are other productive and more meaningful ways for us to make a powerful statement against the government's actions, and burning trash cans isn't one of them.

I disagree with the demonstrations. I disagree with the governmment's actions that triggered these demonstrations, and most importantly I disagree with anyone who thinks that we can handle and actually function under a true democracy. Because believe it or not, as pretty as democracy sounds, we (as in, the majority of our nation) are simply not educated enough in order to take good advantage of any rights and freedoms that we will have.

We don't even know how to admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our own actions. You still get the "Zionists did it!" mentality in our daily newspapers. That's just as threatening as our government's actions are.

It will take decades for us to change. And we will never change UNLESS we target the educational and media institutions. THOSE things can change our political system. Not violent protests!

LuLu said...

Esraa I disagree with you on a number of fundamental levels:

First, before we talk about democracy, we need to define what we're talking about, since the term encompasses many different concepts. If you mean full electoral western-style democracy, then I would agree that this model may not suitable for our society in general.

However, if you are speaking of democracy as popular participation in the decision-making, accountability of officials to a popularly-elected parliament, and freedoms of speech/ conscience, then I find it extremely problematic that you claim we are not "ready." Historically, we see that democratization is not an outcome, it's a process. It is a long, learning process. The decision to democratize was never made based on "readiness," but rather on "need." Without accountability and without allowing the freedom to disagree and criticize, governments are reduced to corrupt oppressive abusive systems, not unlike what we had in the 80s and 90s (maybe you are too young to remember). You also have to keep in mind that people evolve and mature as the political process of democratization progresses. It took Europe many decades until the people settled into the new democratic systems. But without allowing for practice, people can never be ready.

On another front, the violent protests were result of giving too much freedoms. In fact, they were an intense reaction to LACK of freedoms. Those young men felt marginalized and ignored by the government, and felt that after 5 years of government rhetoric and promises since 2002, their voice was still not heard. It was only the last straw that leaders were arrested (also a clear violation of freedom of speech). I don't condone their action, but it is understandable as a last resort in the face of government's complete ignorance of legitimate demands.

Also, I have to admit that I see a hint of elitism in your comment. Saying those people are bored ignores the fundamental fact that those people are poor and unemployed. You and I get bored because we live in comfort. For an unemployed Bahraini who finds himself reduced to a BD150-wage workers then looks around too see a corruption-ridden system naturalizing foreigners and giving them houses and BDF jobs, anger and desparation will drive his actions,not "boredom".

Esra'a said...

"I don't condone their action, but it is understandable as a last resort in the face of government's complete ignorance of legitimate demands."

Demonstrations being a last resort, okay. Yes, understandable. Violent ones? No thanks. They offer nothing but more trouble and noise. There is nothing productive about a violent reaction to the government, and it certainly shouldn't be dismissed or justified as a last resort. It was a childish reaction regardless of the cause.

"The decision to democratize was never made based on "readiness," but rather on "need.""

Well, I mean, look at our nation. We are not going to receive things the right way, when people get offended, it shouldn't be surprising that many will resort to violence, and for the most part, they have. I see no proof so far that we can handle such great responsibility.

Bahrain is diverse. Intellectually and otherwise. If someone constructively criticizes someone in a newspaper, even if they maintain respect, I really think many of us are simply not prepared to react the way people react in average democratic societies for the mere reason that we are not used to it. We have never been taught to deal with such things, we have relied on protests, and violent ones at that, to give the message for us.

Yes we need democracy, every country does, but it isn't born overnight and if it was then it certainly won't be received the right way by the masses. Not even I would know what to do with the freedoms and responsibilities that they would place before me. Would you?

"Also, I have to admit that I see a hint of elitism in your comment. Saying those people are bored ignores the fundamental fact that those people are poor and unemployed."

And that should justify their reactions? No. It explains them. It doesn't justify it. I completely understand the need for protests, I support the causes 100% and I think it is really outrageous that there are Bahraini families living in vilages like Karrana trying to survive under BD60 per month. Now if these protests were about that, I would understand, and it might even drive the government to do something about this.

But this involved activism. And when it involves activism, I really think someone should make it clear that a violent reaction will only anger the government further. It will scare them, and when they're scared, I really think they will make life a tad bit more difficult for us. Just look at the way Mahmood's Den is being treated. Libel, blockage, etc. Scaring them shouldn't be the answer here, it obviously is not working, and if we tried this in the past and it didn't work we have no reason to believe that it will work now.

Of course some of them feel passionately about this, and thus I am not claiming that all of them are bored. I am saying, very simply, that they are the exact reason why we are not ready. For democracy, the kind you defined, to really function, we need to make sure that the vast majority is educated and equipped in order to handle criticisms the right way. Our focus should NOT be to directly attack the government which many are doing. Let's educate the public, and then collectively, the next generation will have the knowledge required to fight this the right way and achieve what we have been trying to achieve for at least a decade now. If we leave people out of the chart, and just apply democracy for the educated ones, well that leaves a hell of a lot of people out.

I say if we had complete democracy at this point in time, without even thinking about educational and media institutions, we will for sure enter a civil war. It happened to Iraq, and I believe our people would receive it the same way. People aren't going to magically accept and respect these freedoms. It's too naive to assume that the majority will take good advantage of these rights.

I mean, I hope I am wrong. But from what I have seen so far, I just can't see us function. You say they're poor and unemployed - well there goes your answer. Democracy without sufficient education does not function. Surely it's not easy, as many human rights documentaries have shown many Bahraini kids are forced to leave school in order to make money to help their families keep rice and some bread on their tables. But we aren't targeting the right institutions here, at all.

LuLu said...

Esraa I see what you're saying about the importance of education.. I think that's probably the main contention here. You assert that democracy has to wait until people are educated and I simply claim that education in that sense can only come through democratic practices. I think I'm being repetitive but really people don't learn democracy until they practice it.. of course in the short term it will lead to conflicts, but in the long run the culture will get accustomed to it. I'd also question the practicality of the "education before democracy" model. An authoritative government will never allow it. By contrast, an authoritative government will try to close all possible venues that may elicit independent thinking, for fear that it will turn against it.

But most importantly, I'm still not clear what you mean by democracy. You bring up the case of Iraq which is not really a case of democratization but merely of elections. Democracy does not equal simply elections, in my view. I would also like to know what would be the "gradual" process of democratization you propose. I mean, if there are things we are ready for and things we are not, then what are they? I know I ask a lot of questions, but I find it uncomfortable to debate concepts that are not defined or specified.. the argument this way will just hang in the air depending on each person's interpretation..

Esra'a said...

By definition there is no country in this world that is truly democratic in every direction and in all seasons. Even places like Denmark, Germany, and the U.S have censorship due to blasphemy, hate speech, anti-racism laws, and when involved in war (U.S's invasion of Iraq) they go out of their way to make sure that the public stays ignorant about America's grave errors through media limitations, contracts, embedded journalism, and banning for the sake of "national security."

Democracy should mean that you give the power to the people, not only through a free electoral system but through making them responsible enough to play a huge role in the decision making process. But many people have conflicting opinions, and what do these officials usually do? They hit each other, yell hateful remarks against each other, resort to violence.

It will happen to us too if we were all suddenly given the freedom to play a major role in the political system. There will be riots almost non-stop if we were given that amount of power, we're not responsible enough to handle it at this point. We need to start by democratizing other institutions before jumping on the government's throats. We start very slowly with education, work our way up to the media (because people will be educated enough to use the media the right way) and after that, change will almost be inevitable. THEN, when changes doesn't happen, we have the power to revolt whether the government likes it or not, and we do it through extensive knowledge. Not burning trash cans.

I think we are ready for certain democratic values, and only a few of those. Free speech is most certainly one of them. But even that should have its limits. We should always be able criticize and question the government, its officials, and especially our religion. But what the limit should be on is hate speech and incitement. So while our constitution claims to recognize our rights, they have put the limits on something that takes these rights away.

But even then, we take baby steps towards that. Like blogging, we immediately launched a campaign when Mahmood's Den was blocked because he was the living example of practiced free speech in the country, and with that gone, it was threatening to anyone who admired and was inspired by his courage and values. We focused on international coverage, and soon, the country will recognize its own fault. It was a collective effort, everyone was responsible, and respectful. No one insulted or threatened the government officials with anything, and I think that played a big role in the decision making process. I think not going outside immediately was the right thing to do because we went through a list of options before resorting to violent protests. Do you know what I mean? Education should teach us how to react in similar manners and make people ready to hear things they don't necessarily agree with. Through much practice. Like, 12 years of school should be spent doing mostly that. Critical thinking, and then reacting maturely and productively. It's too naive to assume that everyone will be like that, human nature makes a lot of things impossible, but I think the majority should be well off if that's where we start.

I did not use Iraq as an example of democracy in the Middle East, the only example of managed democracy in the region is Israel. I said that they, at some point, were overwhelemed with the amount of freedom they had that the majority did not know how to use them, and that left an open door for civil war and hatred within the nation.

They went from total censorship, to almost no censorship at all. And I say, instead of going from censorship to 0 censorship too, we can test this in school before applying it to all aspects of society. If people are educated - they will use the media the right way, and I think we will have the knowledge and power to force media laws to change and open up. If media and educational institutions changed, the government might see no big threat from its own people (overthrowment, etc) and might finally recognize these rights.

I'm not saying it will work 100%, I'm saying it's certainly better than what we've been doing for the past decade. If we target the political institutions and it's not working, let's just target other institutions instead of watching history repeat itself.

Not sure if I answered all of your questions, but this is just further clarifications of my previous post.

LuLu said...

Thanks Esraa that was a good clarification. The reason I wanted to clarify what we were talking about is the context in which a lot of your opinions can be read. We have to remember that gradual democratization, even if it was a valid approach and backed with decent arguments, has the unfortunate "bad reputation" as the government's excuse for taking away many basic freedoms in the past decades since 1973 here. In fact, most of the pro-gov. writers used the claim that "we are not ready" as a silencing tool. I understand now that this was not your idea of it, but just the sound of it echos very negative past experiences in this country.
I still may not agree with all your points, and I certainly have the main contention of how and who can determine whether the population is ready and what it is ready for-- but I definitely appreciate your views and look forward to further discussions!

Esra'a said...

Oh no that was not my approach at all! Hell I'm sick to death with the government and I would like nothing more than to change it, I hate the way activists and even bloggers are being harassed merely for expressing their opinions. My argument is let's be discreet instead, you know? I mean, the in-your-face approach isn't working and is in fact very risky, so let's all sneak up on them through the back door and surprise them with the overwhelming will of the majority to get our basic rights of freedom, free speech included.

I know it sounds silly, but it's not impossible. Other countries had NGOs working towards education, and as a result led revolutions which resulted in a free press. Ukraine is a good example of this with their Orange Revolution of 2004. It was indeed a very smart way to demand the rights which were impossible not to recognize at this point.

Education > Youth empowerment > Awareness of rights > Collectively target the politicians > Revolution > Free Press


Political activism > occasional protests > arrested and thrown in jail.

The first one, while not a solution, is a great option. The second one is an option we tried and are not succeeding with.

We're a small nation, we're capable of doing such thing, but only with time and effort.

Thanks again for the discussion and I hope we have more soon,