Kneejerk Reactions

14 Apr, '08

Divine intervention couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time for the government to start to re-impose another heinous State Security Law, the very one which Bahrain suffered from for 30 years and was the main cause of the dissolution of the 1973 parliament and suspending parliamentary life in this country until it was rescinded by his majesty king Hamad on him assuming the throne.

Now, with the killing of a policeman in mysterious and unsubstantiated circumstances – as some observers maintain – the government has latched on to this particular incident, painful as it is, to start the process of imposing a clampdown not unlike that of the State Security Law:

Tough new policing measures were urged by Cabinet yesterday following the killing of an officer in Karzakan. These include [1] banning Molotov cocktails, [2] closely monitoring sectarian websites, and drawing up a [3] police masterplan to combat violence. Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa has been instructed to draw up a plan aimed at further empowering Public Security forces. Chaired by Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Cabinet reiterated its full trust in the forces to assume responsibilities, stressing the need to further enhance levels of readiness.

The Cabinet was also updated on the Karzakan crime and the efforts to track down suspects.

The [4] Information Ministry was also instructed to monitor websites inciting hatred and instigating sectarianism in an attempt to drive a wedge in the community and sap national unity. Legal measures will be taken against websites found flouting rules and regulations.

The Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry has also been instructed to [5] ensure mosques are not instrumental in promoting sectarianism or fuelling hatred.

The Government also called on the legislative authority to quickly approve the [6] law incriminating possession or use of Molotov cocktails.

It also condemned the killing of 24-year old policeman Majid Asghar Ali Kareem Baksh, extending sincere condolences to his grieving family.

A Godsend? To authoritarian governments, possibly. Here we have full measures that on the face of it would ensure stability and restore harmony, but I cannot help but shudder to think of the restrictions of personal freedoms and those of expression they affirm. It is as if sectarian thought and action could be curtailed by the use of such draconian measures. What they do – those draconian measures, that is – is further entrench sectarian hatred, chase those who promote that hatred underground and penalise those who are brave enough to stand behind their convictions by voicing their opinions.

This is not the way to manage this situation, with all due and proper respect.

Tribalism and sectarianism are two facets which are deep within the fabric of our society, especially over the last few decades. They have come completely to the fore by the use of religiosity to control the minds of naive novices even at state-run universities as is evident by the various publications, audio and video media being continuously and plainly distributed in that august edifice of education; while tribalism – an even more dangerous foe – is being lauded and propagated by events like beduin poetry recitals and romantic flood-lit dances extolling the virtues of war.

What is needed are concerted efforts to recognise what ails this country. An honest appraisal of our deficiencies and put in place actions – not just studies – that will resolve these problems by effecting cultural change to the community.

Through my work on the Just Bahraini campaign, I have raised these points with several people; young and old, businessmen and women, high government officials to normal people in the street to university professors. Almost without exception, the response was a clear recognition of tribalism and sectarianism suffered by the community, some bring in what they feel are solid examples of this discrimination while others, a few, mind you, excuse such behaviour as a natural human trait. To those, who condone and even encourage tribalism and sectarianism as a “natural and intrinsic way of our life”, I have no time, nor do I spend much time trying to change the way that they have been brought up. The exercise is futile.

To me, as I do in sales, I don’t waste time on those who say “yes”, they’ve already been sold. Nor do I waste time on those who steadfastly say “no” as the effort is too great and the end-result is probably not worth pursuing. I do; however, spend the majority of my time on those who say “maybe” as those are the people who might actively receive new information and have the capacity – hopefully – to evaluate situations and have a good chance of changing their points of view and by doing so become better human beings.

How do you think people can change the very culture they have been raised in to be a better one? To be more tolerant of others and their views and to accept that others can and do have differing, sometimes contentious opinions?

Put in laws which criminalise discrimination by all means, we won’t be the first country to adopt such measures, in fact, I think the United Nations already has codes which condemn discrimination in all its forms as do many countries around the world. Bahrain has signed Human Rights codes which already criminalise such discrimination, alas, it has not rewritten its local laws which directly contradict the international conventions. It is this that we should encourage the government and parliament to immediately do. I think that with the application of these anti-discrimination laws and measures, culture will start to change. Yes it might take a couple of generations or more, but a start must be made. We cannot continue to live in this divisive atmosphere.

But action and engagement are probably much more important. If the government is serious about achieving social harmony, it is well within its power to start the process by example. It won’t do so; however, by continuing to restrict the honour of serving in the armed forces and police to members of a certain sect or even worst, to non-Bahrainis. Nor will it lead by example by entrenching sectarian thinking by allowing whole ministries and state institutions to be saturated by members of certain sects, nor, for that matter, will it be the example to be emulated if even the ministerial positions are given on sectarian basis rather than one of capability and applicability to the job being offered.

Engagement also means transparency and welcoming criticism. Where is this transparency in dealing with the Bandargate situation? Could the government’s position be classified by anything but opaque? So far we have seen the apparent government’s machinations even within the parliament – the chamber in which the protection of democracy and democratic institutions should be protected – to restrict any action which might be taken in this situation’s reparation. Let me not mention the judicial case which necessitated the complete gag imposed on the press in discussing this rather important situation which – ironically – could easily be used as a rallying point of complete cultural and societal change to the better.

I have hope, of course. But I must confess that my optimism is waning when I see articles as those quoted above. Rather than opening up and recognising a problem, what we continuously find instead are paroxysms of denial and rules by violent reaction, rather than by common sense.

So prepare yourselves, my friends, for living under a new State Security Law. Watch your step because the Ministry of Interior might have unlimited powers in looking through keyholes at what you might do. The Ministry of Information will further restrict the Internet and the press while the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is going to dictate how you practice your religion.

The end result is Big Brother all over again. Or in our case, the 1990s to be exact.

Welcome to the New New State Security Law. One in which I can’t think that anyone in their right mind is going to regard Bahrain as Business Friendly.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Abu Arron says:

    I fully expected this reaction. The killing of a policeman (anyone) is a henious crime and the authorities must do whatever is necessary to eradicate the mindset that equates violence with reform.

    However, I do understand your concerns that any new powers may be abused and cause more conflict than harmony. Hold on, that doesn’t make sense. Without addressing, and resolving, the cause of the problem, any new steps could be equated to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.

    I sincerely hope that authorities do not confuse civilised reform discussions with hot-head rallies.

  2. mahmood says:

    The demonstrations of the application of laws in this country; however mild they are supposed to be, are open to abuse. Even those which have been promulgated and then frozen administratively have been used by the judicial apparatus in their entirety without recourse to the basic premise or spirit of their promulgation.

    The Press & Publications Law number 47 of 2002 is a clear case in point.

    Now they are telling us that they will “strengthen” the “special” police forces, impose restrictions on websites because of a personal interpretation of their content and throw the book at their known (not anonymous) webmasters as well as restrict religious freedoms administratively and we’re supposed to be happy about it!

    I wonder if parliament will have the gumption to throw all of the proposed draconian laws out together with the budgets required to fund the other parts contained in the report.

  3. Capt. Arab says:

    I lived in North London (Tottenham) during the mid 80’s, during that time the Broadwater Farm riots errupted on a housing estate where a Police office lost his life (killed). For some reason the Karzakan incident has many resemblences..
    For starters every black person became a suspect, and was interrogated, some were abused physically and others were repremanded during the course of the incident as their alibi’s were weak, inconsistent, etc.. The moral here is that it took a good 15 years for relations to return to normal between the Police and the Broadwater Farm Estate (considering the UK is a civilized country with the upmost respect for human rights). The initial suspect who spent a good 15 years behind bars was innocent and eventually released, but had to remain in jail as he had committed a crime whilst behind bars. The true killers are still unknown…
    How far away are we from that scenario??? The only difference is that we have too many hands involved, and the complexity is worse due to sectarian, tribalism, and other factors which are a source of income for a few incompetent souls. Stay safe, stay at home…. Many seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  4. Abu Arron says:

    Slight correction Capt. Winston was not proved innocent, the prosecution case was not strong enough to warrant the original guilty verdict. Hence the successful appeal. Probably best not comment on my feelings on the matter.

    However, your point re trust and relations is extremely valid. As soon as innocent persons get hauled in, the relationship with the security forces can only head in one direction. This will be very sad for the community and (intertwined) stability of Bahrain.

  5. Yousif says:

    Mahmood, I’m afraid that I do not believe that the government is sincere in its efforts to spread social harmony. A large section of the population has come to take this as a reality, with no prospect of change in the near future. Thus, all of your arguments and propositions remain as noble rhetoric. Change is urgently required, but it is only achievable by those with the power to do so. Under our current system of governance it is only the King, the Prime Minister, the Crown Prince and the majority in Parliament who have such authority. Nothing will change until they realize that the status quo is not for the country’s interest as a whole, assuming of course that that is their first priority.

  6. mahmood says:

    How very tragic Yousif. Very very tragic should your vision comes to pass.

    I would prefer to be a bit more optimistic and hope that those in power realise that the world is moving ahead and that this – the Muddle East – is the last place in the world in which we find absolute royalty. Even Nepal got rid of them. So it is much more beneficial to their existence if they would acquiesce to their population’s request in sharing power and be responsible of the positions they find themeselves in.

    Otherwise, apocalypse might well be the effect of your pessimism and they, more than anyone else, will sorely lose.

  7. Mike says:

    Banning molotov cocktails? What’s next, banning the murdering of policemen?

  8. Yousif says:

    Mahmood, I prefer to call it realism rather than pessimism. Thats not the point, and I fully agree with you on the effects if my “pessimism” turns out to be a reality with no forseeable change. As the population, all we can do is put pressure, through peaceful means and dialogue of course, and continue with projects like “just bahraini” to unite us.

    I have no doubt that we will survive such events as a nation, but total harmony will need a lot of time or a real catalyst for those with power to realise the need for true reconciliation and change.

  9. Nawaf says:

    I agree with Yousif. Change must be brought upon by a united front (all religions, sects, political and social societies, and members of the civil society) through dialogue and peaceful pressure and protest. It is our responsiblity as concerned citizens to utilize our positions as bloggers, professors, students, businessmen to creatively and effectively spread the word and hopefully wait for a chain reaction.

    On a positive note, due to successful public pressure, the Kuwaiti government just announced its withdrawel of a controversial law on public gatherings. Bahrain, by the way, has a somewhat similar law on public gatherings.
    Just a note, sectarianism was not part of our society a few decades back. Inter-sect marriages were very common until very recently and even back in the 80’s families from different sects lived in harmony in the same neighborhoods with no problems whatsoever. Just read the B….gate report and you’ll find out how this sick sectarianism came to be.

  10. Kiwi Nomad says:

    Mahmood, I’m afraid that I do not believe that the government is sincere in its efforts to spread social harmony.

    Yousif, I think this is a little more complex. Who is the Government you refer to? The EBD led by the Crown Prince, or the opposition, the Prime Minister and his cabinet? Whilst certain members of the Leadership, such as the King and Crown Prince, are probably sincere in efforts to spread social harmony, I would suggest either, a) they don’t know what to do to achieve this, or b) they do know how to achieve this and it is proving to be a slow process, not helped by other so-called “Leaders” who are subverting their efforts and are determined to stand “tough” against any opposition to their “power”. Which of course is just exacerbating the situation… what is required is dialogue.
    Mahmood has already articulated a number of things that can be done to resolve the problems in Bahraini society which I wholeheartedly support, but I think there are some fundamental points which need to be reiterated.
    The Bahrainis who are rioting are doing it because they feel disenfranchised… they feel they have little economic or political power. I see sectarianism and tribalism more as symptoms of this powerlessness rather than being the cause. Those that feel powerless think that the only way they can get the country’s leaders to listen and pay attention to their grievances is by taking to the streets. Like little children throwing tantrums to get attention, youths and the not so young feel it is appropriate to throw tantrums to get attention, a) because they haven’t learnt any better, and b) there are lots of examples around the world where it seems to work, or if you don’t get what you want then at least your getting international media attention to your plight.
    In simplistic terms what should responsible parents do to counter childhood tantrums? Listen to their children and their grievances whether they are perceived or real, tell them that they care about their concerns, distract them from their anger and instruct them in how to deal with their anger, and how to better achieve their goals…
    Applying this simplistic model, instead of ratcheting up the threat of more “public security”, ideally Bahrain’s leaders would be setting up a mechanism to listen to their constituents and engage with them in dialogue, trying to understand their grievances, even if they can’t be solved immediately. If I were a one of those feeling disenfranchised by the Leaders of the country, then wouldn’t it make me feel better if I thought that they cared?

  11. Nawaf says:

    Kimi Nomad: “Whilst certain members of the Leadership, such as the King and Crown Prince, are probably sincere in efforts to spread social harmony”

    Who do you think reinstated Sh. Ahmed Attiyatallah in the cabinet even after the b__ scandal? Kimi, it is even more complex than you think.

  12. ammaro says:

    its retaliation to retaliation to retaliation. when is anyone ever going to look deeper into the causes of these problems, rather than just fighting back?

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