National Pride

24 Jun, '07

Over the last few years, an allegation has been thrown at all and sundry questioning their loyalty and patriotism to their country, Bahrain. Some sections of society have been singled out, even, to levy that allegation onto that they – the accused – had to prove time and again their love and undying devotion. But all of that – as far as I am concerned – doesn’t really mean anything. Loyalty does not happen by chance. It is not a serendipitous concept, it is something that must be nurtured in all of us to arrive at the shores of patriotism. It is, then, a process where your pride in your country is inculcated within your being by concrete actions by the main actors in society: rulers, government and citizens; the respect for human life and their dignity, the prevalence of security, the equal opportunities and representation, the non-discrimination, the freedom to express oneself and the freedoms of assembly.

Patriotism is the ultimate feeling that pushes a person – voluntarily – to stand in the line of fire in selfless defence of ones country.

How is that arrived at though? It sounds like a very romantic and surreal concept. The stuff of novels. But people actually do stand in the path of danger to protect ones country willingly and without the least bit of hesitation. It is like a deep religious zeal. That, I do think, is not arrived at lightly. It is the result of a lifetime of experiences, a lifetime of the feeling of belonging, a lifetime of being embraced by ones country, a lifetime of being proud of ones national symbols and identity.

It is all of those that make one really be a patriot.

What destroys that patriotism; however, is very little. The witnessing of the wanton destruction of a national symbol with the realisation that no one really cares is one factor which can greatly contribute to the dissolution of that noble state.

This is what is happening to our beloved Tree of Life, one of the oldest trees in the world, is not shown the respect it deserves, nor the protection it needs to survive and continue to be the national symbol for our descendants.

I thought I would pay it a visit this afternoon to greet it and I was fully prepared to jostle with a crowd of fellow Bahrainis who are concerned about its welfare, taking into consideration the recent news of arson perpetrated against it. But that was not to be. When I finally arrived at the tree, what I did find is a group of people zooming in and out and about the tree with abandon, with nary a single thought to the sanctity of the place. I was angry and sad to see such a place being actively desecrated.

I approached a person and asked him what was going on and who those people on the quad- and dirt-bikes were, he calmly told me that he owns them all and he brings them in to rent them to people to enjoy. This person had parked his trailer beneath the outstretched gnarled branches of one of the oldest symbols of Bahrain, with two more vehicles parked even closer to its trunk. Those people who were “having fun” in the area – I discovered – were American servicemen and women resident in Bahrain.

I approached them and asked: Do you know that you are parked under the Tree of Life?

This is the Tree of Life? We had no idea!”

“So how do you feel about the active destruction of what we regard as a national monument? How would you feel if I rode a quad-bike all around the Jefferson Memorial, or the Statue of Liberty?”

The answer was “well, the Bahrainians brought us here! We had no idea. Do you want us to stop?”

“Yes, I most definitely do. You are defiling OUR national symbol and would like you to stop, please. Go elsewhere and have your fun on those quad-bikes.”

They did look a bit sheepish, but fun was to be had and riding the quad-bikes around one of the oldest trees in the world, eroding what is left of the hill it resided on for some four hundred years was a none-issue and they paid for the privilege – to a Bahrainian – to do so. So off they continued, having their fun.

I would have thought that where they came from would have fortified them in the respect of national treasures; at least that was what I believed according to Hollywood, how I am mistaken. There was no cultural sensitively displayed. And again, I don’t fully blame them. The person who invited them to that location is a Bahraini who was completely nonchalant about the whole situation, posing for his picture to be taken without the slightest hesitation. Adel was making his money, national treasures be damned as long as his gets enlarged.

We need to do something to save this tree. Left alone in an uncaring society and environment it will not last for much longer. And when it is gone, the last vestiges of an already tattered sense of pride and patriotism will undoubtedly dissipate too.


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Comments (39)

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  1. Dibujante says:

    it sux man … this place must get more attention .. and get orginised.. i was there last week .. there was so many Asian ppl hanging flowers and pouring rosewater on it …things weren’t like this couple of years ago .. they should also build a small hut close by as an information centre for the tree and the desert.. a small gift shop and parking .. and the only way to get to the tree should be done by horses and/or camels.. too many ideas but who to talk to!! …

  2. Munther says:

    Wow.. I am speechless ! What is he thinking off ? And looking at the graffiti just sent a sharp stabbing feeling into my heart ! What ever happened to the project of having the area improved and all those promises of making the whole area a national park ? Things need to be done fast ! And that f-ing moron should know better !

  3. M says:

    How very, very sad that the condition of the tree should come to this. I would have hoped once the US servicemen were advised where they were that they would have shown more respect not only for customs but for the tree itself and left. I hope the powers that be that read Mahmood’s blog put out the word to personnel so this is not repeated.

    Is the tree on public or private land, and who is responsible for it? You would hope that the government would step up to the plate and maintain the area for the “public good”. In the big scheme of things, it would seem it would be worth the cost to protect the tree so the symbolism it stands for will continue to endure for generations. Thank you, Mahmood, for continuing to focus on the plight of the tree.

  4. The Traveler says:

    National Campaign..

    Mahmud I first saw ur website and it took me the picture of the Tree (it was the only pic besides u)up in the logo

    U know what I think that patriotism should be grown in every body in Bahrain..

    The campaign for “LA SUNI LA SHIEE ONLY BAHRAINI” should continue to the tree.. I kept the tree on the computer background..

    Bye for now

  5. anon says:

    according to what i heard about the tree of life, it is mostly used as a place for people to get drunk or use drugs without being caught…. such a shame since i used to visit it and truly think of it as a natural wonder of the world…

  6. Ammar says:

    Hey, when the actual government of a country does little to preserve this or other national monuments, and focuses on newly constructed symbols such as the bahrain financial harbour or the BIC to represent bahrain internationally, you can pretty much wave byebye to most if not all of our history. Its obvious that the direction of Bahrain is not in preserving its history and its natural surroundings, but rather in creating a concrete jungle filled with modern sign of a mini-metropolis. Gone are the days of the island of a million palm trees… Gone are the days of Ain Athari, gone are the days of the beautiful nature that was Bahrain…

  7. Bernie says:

    Mahmood, I read your blog every day and agree most wholeheartedly with your sentiments on almost everything.
    Many of the items I am not qualified to comment on because I have never been to Bahrain and understand very little of the subtler issues of Bahraini politics other that those I read but on this I can comment.

    There seems to be a tide of ignorance, rudeness, stupidity and just general loutish behaviour sweeping the world at the moment and this is but one example.
    This tide knows no borders and is definitely on the increase and I would love to have a solution ready but sadly I see no instant remedies for this kind of behaviour.

  8. Ehsan says:

    Last time I saw the tree it was surrounded by bottles of beer. The time before that it was surrounded by used needles (This was many years ago)

    I think that’s when they got a guard there, but then removed him in favor of CID patrols to actually catch the druggies instead of scaring them away.

    Since this falls under the jurisdiction of the Southern Governorate, perhaps someone could bring those photos to the attention of sheikh Abdullah?

  9. Yvonne Dettwyler says:

    lo Bernie

    your second paragraph spot on. Mahmoud’s beautifully written angry outburst at his co-Bahreini (I avoid the word patriot) clever Alec and his eager “tourists” suckers. Respect gone everywhere replaced by naked greed. Everybody eager to make Forbe’s richest list. Respect for nature, respect for learning, respect for family, neghbours etc. gone out the window. Destroy whatever can be destroyed, it’s fun.

    Ever noticed, people nowadays speak of soandso family : Oh, they truly are fine people. You know they are VERY rich….. the new mwerits.

    Down town Cairo, once the jewel city of the Middle East, lined both sides of the streets with beautiful trees spending shade, a lovely breeze for Cairenes. Three years after the country ❓ “enjoyed” socialism, the capitalistic trees uprooted. 2o years later, new trees were planted which didn’t like socialism and died.

    Once beautiful Zamalek full of trees. Most now gone replaced by the most hidious cement buildings. Meadi, villas torn down and replaced by high rises. Greenery, what greenery? THIS generates money! the answer.

    Then Mahmoud with his wonderful Friday greenery videos of his gorgious garden, flowers, bushes, birds, frogs. I watch with joy in my old heart and Mahmoud’s respect for nature.

    Can’t you create evening courses for Bahreini’s, kindling a sense of pride in them for their country’s natural gifts, nurturing respecting it? Trees, forests gone, Bahreinis and the rest of the world gone. Difficult in Egypt with 8o million people, 6o illiterate.
    Education the key to everything throughout the Islamic world.

  10. Green Bahraini says:

    Years ago no one knew where The Tree of Life was and most Bahrainis had not been out there, but after the Gulf War road signs appeared giving direction to the tree. On our last visit (winter 2006) grown men were climbing the top branches and the tree was carved up by people who cared less about taking care of an old tree.
    I wonder how long The Tree of Life will last?

  11. Ibn says:

    Gosh that sucks Mahmood!

    The worst was seeing all the graffiti there… ugh! I dont like graffity on any tree in general…

    Solution wise, just who owns this piece of property, or is it public property that anyone can come on in to?

    If the government has custody over it then maybe it can be petitioned to make it a “protected historical area” or something to that effect… but if its private land its trickier… is it private land? …

    Either way this blows. Hard. 🙁

    -Ibn

  12. milter says:

    It hurts to see that old tree treated with such disrespect.

    The first time I went to see it was in 1980. I had been warned to bring plenty of water because in those days there was no guarantee of being rescued in that area if your car broke down. Very few had any reason to go there at all and the condition of the roads was a clear testimony to that.

    The water came in handy as my Celica got stuck in the sand a few hundred meters from the tree. It took me a couple of hours to find some pieces of plywood to put under the wheels for a better grip and during my walk I met a guy who was out hunting for dhab.

    How he had managed to catch the one he showed me is still a mystery to me. I have tried to hide near some of their burrows several times to get a photograph but never succeeded.

    I went to The Tree of Life a few other times since that and, to be honest, I’m not quite sure why. After all, it’s just an old, big tree in the middle of the desert.

    But, maybe that exactly is the attraction. Just to relax under its branches and let your mind wander, to sit there and try to imagine where it gets its water from in such a harsh environment. And who has been sitting there in the same spot during the last four hundred years with exactly the same thoughts?

  13. Jen says:

    Mahmood, in Washington,D.C. monuments are protected with their own police unit and barricades around them. Will your government perhaps put some guards by this historical, beautiful Tree Of Life? It needs to be preserved for years to come. I am saddened by the destruction.

    Jen

  14. Long-term expat says:

    Can I just check something? This wasn’t the first time you have been to the Tree of Life, was it? Because if it was, you are a hypocrite. If you have not got a clue, then don’t speak. If, on the other hand, you have been a frequent visitor, then you will know that the tree has been vandalised over a long period of time. You will know that the majority of the names carved on the tree are at least Muslim or Arabic, rather than American or expat. You will have volunteered to join in the cleaning sessions, such as those undertaken by the Japanese School or (gasp) the US Navy. I have never seen you – but, hey, maybe you are in the first rather than the second category. Maybe you’d rather bitch and whine rather than do. Maybe you are more like our members of parliament than you would like to admit. Who knows?

  15. M says:

    The other thing that is so striking, besides the ugly graffiti, is the difference in the tree from the recent pictures and the tree in Mahmood’s header. It would appear that most of the growth on the lower branches doesn’t exist anymore which is not a good sign. Any tree experts out there?

  16. mahmood says:

    Long term expat, whoever pressed your button today must have really pushed hard. Regardless, what has your particular outburst got to do with a demand to protect our natural heritage. In fact, what has that got to do with me or anyone else EVER visiting the tree? Or is the concept of the requirement of good folk to protect heritage and nature sites too much for you to fathom?

    I think our harsh sun was probably far too much for you as it must have fried your brain and manners.

  17. Barry says:

    I think that to help save the tree of life a sturdy fence really should be constructed around it. Not chain link but a heavy wrought iron fence sort of like the one intended to keep outsiders from that school you posted. It won’t keep out the most determined fence climbers, but it would deter people in their offroad vehicles (I HATE those things, people used to ruin the dune habitat here with them until they were outlawed on most public beaches). Driving a vehicle or even a lot of people walking over the root area of a tree is enough to compact the soil and kill the roots.

    Another idea is to collect seeds from the tree and grow them into seedlings, and disseminate the seedlings to the schools in Bahrain as a toekn of that tree. They could also be planted in gardens. Cuttings could also be taken which would then be exact clones of the tree. I’ve noticed that people tend to appreciate plants more if they have a bit of that plant they can grow. It’s a lot like the “Moon tree” seedlings that went into space 40 or so years ago (the city of Monterey near here has one growing in a public garden).

    There’s a tree in Santa Barbara (a 3 hour drive south of me)which is a massive Morton Bay Fig that was planted in the 1800’s and is almost as underappreciated, but there are signs telling people not to walk all over its big surface roots:

    http://www.andysnow.com/newvirtualtour/images/sbfigtree.JPG

  18. Barry says:

    M:

    It’s hard to tell. It could simply be natural branch death, which I have seen on trees few people touch afterall, it is growing in open desert and sand being blown low under the tree could easily strip the branches of new growth to the point they die). Acacias also tend to get a lot of small twig death. I’ve seen it on older trees (there’s one in town here that is about half dead, but that’s a rather short lived species from Australia).

    Like I said in my reply, I really think the tree of life should have its seeds propagated (it should have seeds since I haven’t heard of Acacias having male and female flowers on separate plants). That tree is very old and Acacias (i’m pretty sure that’s what it is, Prosopis (mesquite) looks similar but is an American Genus from what I understand) tend not to be too long lived. Besides it would help preseve a bit of that tree for future generations (because who knows how many more idiots the tree will take before it declines?)

  19. Yvonne Dettwyler says:

    l6 long term expat

    Kind advice before as Mahmoud says your brain gets cooked by the Bahreini sun,

    do check out

    CHIEF SAETTLE

    and read the “SAVAGE’S” advice when the US Government wanted to buy Indian land from him.

    Have you any idea how long Bahrein belongs to world history, 5ooo years. A ittle longer than other people new on the world’s history page.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bahrain

  20. M says:

    “A ittle longer than other people new on the world’s history page.” 😯

    That must be what my mother meant when she said she wasn’t born yesterday! 🙄

    Barry,

    Thanks for the info. I agree with you that it’s hard to tell if it’s anything at all or a natural progression or the effects of abuse on the tree. In any case, the seeds are a terrific idea, because the tree is one tough old bird that deserves to be saved one way or the other.

  21. F says:

    Tree of Life – one of the best places that
    Bahrain has. The tree certainly needs to be
    protected and people educated on how to look
    after a country’s treasure.

    I, along with many people, would be really upset should the title change to this: ‘The Dead Tree – that was once the Tree of Life’.

  22. Yvonne Dettwyler says:

    Mahmoud Granny had the grand new Empire in mind, not you Mum. hahaha

  23. EJ says:

    سيد محمود

    I apologize for the behavior of my fellow Am-cits in ignoring your plea to treat the site with more respect. Having visited the tree last summer, I was a bit astonished that it was not better protected by, at least, a ‘park ranger’ or interpretive docent that would ensure that people wouldn’t break bottles and throw trash (of which there was an abundance) around the tree.

    I would agree with some commenters and your own observations of the incident you report that it is often the citizens of Bahrain themselves that set an example of indifference about this unique tree, and other historical treasures which bless the country; however, that does not excuse guests from being on their own best behavior when visiting or temporarily living in Bahrain.

    No matter where, تستقبح النفوس الكريمة الظلم

    You were right to call them on it, and they should have stopped riding around the tree. There’s other desert areas to ride around.

  24. EJ says:

    Argh – I hate it when the web page won’t display arabic script properly. I hope you can view it properly. Apologies.

  25. Ash says:

    Don’t you have any crusties in Bahrain who can be persuaded to set up camp around the tree until the government take steps to protect it?

    More seriously, I strongly suggest that you go to the media with this story. If you can persuade a sympathetic journalist to take up the story you could achieve two things: 1) educate the Bahraini public about this important part of their heritage; 2) embarass you government into getting off its butt and doing something to protect the tree.

  26. Ingrid says:

    That’s terrible!! In the early nineties when I visited Bahrain for a welcome respite from KSA, my friends and I drove all over trying to find that very same tree! (hey, the guys drove and no directions were asked although in some areas we probably would have had a communication problem anyway..) That is one awesome tree, how sad that there is no sense of appreciation of nature, history (after all, some of those awesome trees have been around for so long, you can only wonder what they’ve witnessed) and the strenght of a natural wonder to survive for this long..
    I have not read all the comments, but I think a grassroots undertaking might be the only thing that can save that tree from further desacration..
    thanks for posting on this.. I always wondered if it was just a rumour or that we were hopelessly lost trying to find it..
    Ingrid

  27. sleepyinsaudi says:

    I first visited the tree in 1999. It was beautiful. We took our eldest daughter out there to take pictures the following year right after Eid, and it was horrible. We couldn’t even get out of the car because of the massive swarms of flies! It was sooo gross. Garbage and rotting food was covering the ground for acres around the tree. I thought I was looking at the aftermath of Woodstock, except all of the hippies were gone 🙁 I havn’t been back since.

    I hope this gets the governments attention. I agree it should be protected as a national park, with camel and horse rides,a gifts booth, Oh, and mabe they should add some trash bins? 😉

  28. Proud Bahraini says:

    Mahmood

    Are you blaming the poor man who makes a living by renting out his quads and dirt bikes in the desert because as you say ‘he was eroding the soil of the hill’ isn’t it his land and he has the right to walk it?

    And plus as he is taking people to the site he is actually educating people (foreigners) about the value of the tree of life.

    You seem to forget that since he is there with some Bahrainis who would dare harming our national symbol, because of that i believe that him and his friend are in some what way protecting the tree.

    You can’t just come up once and base all this on that single one time. If you want to make a proper case, you should be up at the tree every single day that they are there for atleast a week if not a month.

    Me, Myself, I am Bahraini but i didn’t know much about the tree before then i decided to go quadding one day with my friends and rented quads with these men. Now every single thing i know about the tree of life came from these Bahraini men.

    Not only are they educating people about the tree but if you look on the government side of all this, he is also bring tourist. He is not only educating everyone that goes there but is doing it in a fun way so people would like to come back to Bahrain and tell all their friends and family about it when they go back to their home country.

    I really hope you see that what these people are doing isn’t as bad as you say because in the end of the day you don’t even know properly yourself everything that they do since you made this blog from just a one time visit.

    Best regards.

    P.S. just in case you didn’t realise a porsche is a little bit heavier than a quad. 😉

  29. mahmood says:

    I’m in a generous mood.

    I’ve just arrived in what looks like a nice country so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt;

    You’re a 5-star moron.

    And you shall henceforth be named…. The Proud Moron.

    And you can’t even blame Amal for this!

  30. Quadder says:

    Well said Proud Bahraini. Cant answer him Mahmood? Here are some further points:
    Quadders do not rent quads to stay in one place, they may be rented from the immediate area around the tree but once rented they go, that’s what quads are for. They do park their cars round the tree, but so do tourists. If you look at the photo of the trailer, isn’t that your car Mahmood, parked in the background very close to the tree, a lot heavier than a quad, would that not play its part in eroding the hill?
    Do you know where Hummers are tested in Bahrain? take a guess. Again, much heavier than a quad.
    According to the American visitors on the photos, your questions did not go quite the way you said, they didn’t want to speak to you and just told you to deal with someone else.
    I know Adel well and know that he doesnt go to the tree very often now. He spends most of his quadding time with other quadders on the empty land by Al Jazir beach. When he is by the tree, no damage can be done, people tend not to vandalise when there are other people around. He knows a lot about the tree, you could learn a lot from him. Do you remember an old man from years ago that used to sit under the tree every day. Adel spent a lot of his childhood sitting under the tree with the old man listening to his stories in the years before the old man died. The old man claimed that the tree was planted by his Bedouin family generations before and had lots of stories, but I don’t think you are actually very interested or you would have found out more about the current situation and not based your opinion on one single visit. Quadders do no more damage than anyone else who goes out there.
    The quadders are willing to support anything that will help preserve the tree.
    What are you willing to do?

  31. arabian princess says:

    Mahmood

    I can understand your concern, but at the end of the day the tree of life has been through many days of harsh weather, vandalism etc, over many many years and it is still standing. If you preserved the tree and had fences around it so no one could get close it would not make a difference to the tree itself. If the tree is still there now – after all the vandalism you mean to tell me that it will deteriorate because a few quads are driving around the base of it. Please take a closer look at what happens around and beneath this tree and then make your comments as to my understanding a lot worse happens which I have witnessed myself than driving quads around it.

    You stated in your post that Adel posed for the picture without the slightest hesitation, but was Adel aware of your future plans to post this degrading his activities???? And as stated by quadder, it seems that his knowledge of the tree is slightly more than your own.

    I agree with the majority of your posts and statements you make but sorry I think you made a mistake on this one.

    Peace out.
    😉

  32. BikeMaster says:

    Tree of Life is the “Tree of Life” and if National Pride within the community was important it would of been preserved a long time ago.

    It is standing in the middle of the desert and if Allah has it that it is still standing then Allah will make sure that it stands no matter what happens there.

    Let the quadders QUAD and let the hummers HUM, if its not meant to drop then it will not.

  33. Proud Bahraini says:

    I respect you as and older brother and i think you have mistaken there but anyway you enjoy Amman and by the way Proud moron sounds good at least i’m just a moron 😆 nothing more and nothing less.

    i felt guilty when i said it was just a tree, but thanks to those boys they made me realise how beautiful it was..

    I think you just wanna blame someone for what to the tree but i guess you couldn’t blame Amal for this one she wasn’t there.

    wish you all the best in Jordan

  34. mahmood says:

    It is standing in the middle of the desert and if Allah has it that it is still standing then Allah will make sure that it stands no matter what happens there.

    That’s the same logic I faced about 3 hours ago in Amman airport: a guy was buying a carton of cigarettes and asked the cashier if there was any place to smoke in the vicinity, the cashier told him of course, light up right here!

    I was surprised.

    I turned and told the guy who was about to light up that if the cigarette stays unlit in his mouth, he might actually live longer, that’s when all three of them turned against me and told me that “life is in the hands of Allah” so it doesn’t matter if they smoked or not, fate is paramount!

    I told the morons (yes, I am glad to report that they have them there, their chief works as a cashier in Queen Alia’s International Airport’s Duty Free at the cigarette and alcohol section) that “Allah also doesn’t help people who do not help themselves.”

    I paid for what I bought and walked off, and could then clearly hear their grumbling and that I was an unbeliever “ya shaikh”.

    I guess it’s the same situation here too, unfortunately.

  35. Aliandra says:

    They put fences around Stonehenge to protect the site. Maybe the same could be done for the tree. It will deter the casual vandals at least.

  36. mahmood says:

    Absolutely Aiandra.

    There are two mega developments in the vicinity (Areen and Durrat Al-Bahrain) who both could pitch in and manage the site – even commercially – as long as the tree is protected.

    What do people need to appreciate a tree anyway? Just looking at it should be enough, we don’t really need to climb it, etch our names on its ancient trunk and branches or vandalise it in any way to appreciate it. Just sit, look, contemplate and feel how insignificant human beings are when compared to such a wonder and hopefully come out with appreciation of the environment and the bigger picture that we need to protect it for our future generations too.

    So I’m all for a fence, or at least a “no-go” zone, around the knoll of the tree.

  37. Iain Mac says:

    The desecration of this tree is nothing new. On my first visit to it in the mid 70’s as a kid it had a lot of litter scattered around it and by the time we left in the mid 90’s it wasn’t much better despite a number of Litter picking splurges. However, judging by the photos here it is now on an altogether different plane. Considering it is the only part of Bahrain that I have ever heard being mentioned in a film – Steve Martin in LA story – I would have thought the government would have done something!

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