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Is the #DurazSiege at an end?

Is the #DurazSiege at an end?

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I woke up with a start two or three times last night and couldn’t figure out why….

Then it dawned on me.

The quiet.

No police helicopters buzzing overhead at low altitude.

In the vicinity of Duraz, we see and hear helicopters flying at relatively low altitude day and night. Every single day since the Duraz Siege started almost a year ago exactly. Last night, I think, was the first time in a year that we didn’t see or hear a helicopter overhead. Their noise, after a while, is maddening.

The #DurazSiege is more than “inconvenient” checkpoints. The state of mind it creates and the terror it permeates through the community it is imposed upon will take a very long time to heal.

Is it over then? I’m not sure.

People were not harassed yesterday and cars were left to pass without drivers being stopped to show their IDs at checkpoints, but police presence at all the traditional locations is still very much apparent. I know that what is happening inside the village is much worse than simple checkpoints. My thoughts and feelings continues to be with them.

One day, there will be forgiveness and we will move on. Hopefully. Though we should never forget the terror that such inhuman measures create.

This could all have been resolved with dialogue. And the results of that dialogue would have been much more palatable to all, and much longer lasting and provide for more stability than any imposed police or military measures.

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Shaikh Isa Qasim Sentenced. Now what?

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After more than a year or toing and froing, Shaikh Isa Qasim, Hussain Alqassab and Mirza Aldurazi get a suspended sentence of one year in jail, three years probation, the appropriation of over BD 3 million collected as “khums” – a religious tax of 20% of surplus profits given by followers of the Shia tradition in alms to be distributed to the poor via vouched for clerics – and the appropriation also of two properties registered to Shaikha Isa Qasim. He was also stripped of his nationality last year and since then, the government has imposed a lockdown on the town of Duraz which houses over 20,000 inhabitants.

Regardless of whether the sentence is fair, will that mean that Shias can actually practice their beliefs unmolested? Who will they trust with that religious duty of paying alms? Will the Duraz Siege now be lifted? What change will we see?

The other question I must ask: why was Shaikh Isa Qasim holding three million dinars in an account? With the dilapidated state of most villages, with the absence of employment of his followers, with the meagre higher education opportunities available to them, why was that amount not spent wisely and continuously to help people, or at least invested in property or other instruments to ensure its longevity and availability for those in need?

What will happen to the appropriated funds and properties now? Will the government judiciously use those funds in a manner they were designed for or will they be simply appropriated into the treasury never to be seen by needy people again?

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No Tolerance for Free Press or Thought

No Tolerance for Free Press or Thought

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Bahrain is not unique in it’s depressed ranking on the just released RSF Press Freedom Index. Many have suffered greatly depressed rankings due to opportunistic and knee-jerk reaction to malleable definitions of terrorism, readily penalising the press, photojournalists, bloggers and anyone with a dissenting voice.

This year, Middle Eastern countries have further moved down the index and now occupy the bottom of the rankings. This is no surprise, as barely a day goes by without someone somewhere is imprisoned for exercising their freedom of speech. This cause is of course contested locally due to laws which engender and entrench criminality of free speech; hence, those incarcerated are classified as common criminals, rather than prisoners of conscience. The knock-on effects of this repression are manifested in the glaringly slow economies, rising poverty, disenfranchisement of the population, death of the middle class, flight of capital, absence of foreign direct investment all leading to further civil strife in all of these countries.

Optimistically, there is literally no where for these countries to go but up. They can’t possibly fall even further. And what it would take for them to climb the index and allow their citizens to finally live with dignity requires hard work and sacrifices still.

I’m optimistic that political leaderships in the Middle East would now be compelled to act positively. If for nothing else but to improve the economy. The time to start is of course so far gone in history, but starting even now is better than doing nothing at all. Because in 50 years time, the whole Middle East will be destitute and over 500 million people will be seeking refuge in the West and other more verdant countries than the deserts they will want to leave behind.

Here the full RSF Press Freedom Index of 2017.

Here’s a short snapshot of Bahrain’s path so far:

2002: 67
2003: 117
2004: 143
2005: 123
2006: 111
2007: 118
2008: 96
2009: 119
2010: 144
2011/12: 173
2013: 165
2014: 163
2015: 164
2016: 162
2017: 164

The scale is out of 180 countries ranked.

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DurazSiege True Stories: Day 301

DurazSiege True Stories: Day 301

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I was barred from walking through the checkpoint at Oxygen Gym to my house which is just 300 meters away last night due to the ongoing #DurazSiege.

The policeman insisted that it is closed for all traffic, including pedestrians, and I have to go to the main checkpoint at the entrance of Avenue 36. That is a roundabout walk of about 3km to gain entrance to the besieged area.

Where is the sanity in this?

Explaining to him that I have been walking through this very checkpoint every single day for 301 days without a problem was to no avail. He finally relented and let me through with a stern warning not to try to walk through this point again!

Welcome to my – and those of some 20,000 other souls’ – life.

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False starts are common. Is this another one?

False starts are common. Is this another one?

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Something’s up.

I – like the majority of Bahrainis – have become pessimistic and always looking for hidden meanings.

This latest feeling descended on me when I heard that a staunch loyalist MP invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad Alhussein to come to Bahrain to personally investigate the situation here and thus be assured that everything is good and that reports of repression are exaggerated.

This was swiftly followed up by the speaker of the house of representatives to affirm the invitation.

I can’t help but think that this is not real.

If they open themselves up for even cursory examination by international bodies, a hell of a lot of skeletons will come out of closets that will forever change this country from the core. This would be a good thing of course.

We as a country are facing a lot of challenges none of which will be resolved without real political will and recognising our deficiencies and doing something concrete to address them. And sycophants and their ways will simply not do.

Is this the reconciliation and rapprochement that we all have been dreaming of for the last few years?

I truly hope so.

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Gratitudes and the Duraz Siege

Gratitudes and the Duraz Siege

Every day, I endeavor to be grateful for at least five things.  I write them down as early as I can every morning to remind me to stay humble and be thankful for what I have. This practice has allowed me to stay positive in the face of difficulties and reminded me to see things in context and put them into perspective. Today is my 105th day of doing this, thanks to the Facebook Group 90 Days of Gratitude.

Today, I choose to reflect on our village Duraz’s siege from my own perspective. We are having to suffer long queues of cars to report to a police checkpoint – one of only two for a village and an area that hosts over 20,000 residents – to get home. Every other entrance into the village has been closed off by police. And I mean this literally. The ancient village of Duraz has many routes in and out of it, as you might imagine for a very old habitat, but every single one of them has been closed and is being guarded by police. The word inconvenience doesn’t even start to describe what residents are going through. Every day. At least twice a day. For the last two and a half months.

The situation as I personally see it is better described as collective punishment. This of course has to stop. It is the decent thing to do.

Backgrounder:

Picture courtesy of Alwasat newspaper. Checkpoint at Duraz entrance on the Budaiya highway
Picture courtesy of Alwasat newspaper. Checkpoint at the Budaiya highway entrance to Duraz.

On 20 June, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior revoked the nationality of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia community, rendering him stateless. In response, hundreds of demonstrators began a peaceful sit-in around Sheikh Qassim’s home in the village of Duraz, where he also preaches. Since then, the authorities have subjected Duraz to an unprecedented lockdown, in what is a form of collective punishment against the entire village. The government’s action violates the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and movement for all the residents of Duraz and their families.

Duraz is located in the north west of the main island. To its west is Budaiya and to its east is Barbar. Its south side faces onto the major Budaiya Highway, and on the other side are the villages of Bani Jamra and Saar. Duraz has an estimated population of 20-30,000 people.

…more at ECDHR

Here are my gratitudes of this morning, for the 105th day.

I am grateful for:

  1. The internet for keeping me entertained, inspired and informed for the calculated delays at the Duraz checkpoint to get home. Twice a day at least. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  2. The inconsiderate dimwits who choose to ignore the patience of everyone at the Duraz checkpoint. Although they are many, my trust in humanity, patience and respect of others is strengthened by noting that those patiently queueing are considerably more than the inconsiderate unmannered uncultured dimwits. I’m reminded of this at least twice a day. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  3. For my fervent belief that security measures are never a final solution, but a tool wisely used to get opposing sides to the dialogue and peace table. Sieges are so 12th century not the 21st. I’m reminded of this at least twice a day. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  4. The comfort that my car provides. Makes waiting to go through the checkpoint at Duraz actually a tolerable experience. Other than my and thousands of others daily loss of at least two hours having to tolerate this siege every day. At least twice a day. For the last two and half months.
  5. The realization that dialogue, compromise and outcomes that respect international human rights codes are the intelligent solutions going forward. The Duraz siege manifests the failure of the realization of these certain facts. Every day. All day. For the last 2,025 days.

Regardless of the reason why the government has imposed this siege, this is collective punishment for a population through no fault of its own.

160829: Thank you Alwasat Newspaper for featuring this post.

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How to deal with hate

How to deal with hate

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Here’s a small example of how two brave women took it upon themselves to do the right thing and stood up to a hateful Islamophobe. They give us a clear and good example of how to deal with hate:

Both the racist and the young woman were customers at this ice-cream parlour. But the women chose to return the man’s money and throw him out of their shop. “If you can’t be nice, we don’t want you here.”

What they have done was simple and powerful and the right thing that any self respecting human should do.

Just like these two ladies, Muslims should do their part too. They should shut down sectarian and hate mongering imams, or at the very least just get up and walk out of sermons where hate- and sectarian-speeches are spouted. From my observations, this seldom happens. I don’t have the answer as to why people choose to continue to sit while hate is being lobbed at them from an imam who is clearly not up to the responsibility he has been entrusted with.

We should have the courage to do the right thing. It’s the decent thing to do.

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The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

Here’s a riddle: if you heard the following, which country of region or the world would immediately jump up at you?

A female artist and activist serving a 12-year prison sentence is facing additional charges, including “indecent conduct,” after shaking her male lawyer’s hand.

South America?
China?
Belarus?
Georgia?
USA?

No. I bet the region that popped up in your mind was the Middle East. As to the specific country, it most probably was either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Okay, I’ll throw in Afghanistan in there too.

Atena Farghadani

The correct answer, of course in this case, is Iran.

Why is this region so afflicted with this disease of needing to control everyone and mould them into unthinking and unfeeling automatons beyond their own officially sanctified propriety? Aren’t the perpetually descending freedom indices enough to jolt the region’s officials to a state of utter alarm coupled with a clear realisation that the people of this region have had enough Big Brotherly oversight and repression and they’re rebelling against the chains? Don’t they realise that peoples’ aspirations have now changed beyond their recognition and broke out of their moulds? That what people now want is the plentiful bounty of choice that is available to their fellow human beings elsewhere? And that the continued application of unfair and unjust laws that curtail personal freedoms will achieve nothing but an all out ugly rebellion that might well lead to civil wars?

The Middle East is by almost any reckoning the world’s worst region for freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom lobby, puts war-torn Syria 177th out of 180 countries on its latest annual ranking, in 2014. Iran is 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, Saudi Arabia 164th. The highest any of the region’s countries make it is 91st, with Kuwait, which has a democracy of sorts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, as of 2012, 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries criminalise blasphemy and 12 of 20 make apostasy—leaving Islam—an offence. [Unholy Silence – The Economist]

Almost every country in the Middle East imprisons political activists, artists, journalists, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who dares to oppose official views or simply criticises any official body using draconian and malleable laws that will ensure their silencing and also make them examples to deter others from treading their paths.

The ludicrous story of the Iranian artist Atena Farghadani embodies all that ails this region of the world. She expressed her opinion of the political situation in her country by drawing Iranian parliamentarians as animals. That opinion got her more than twelve years behind bars in the country’s top security prison. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they slapped an additional prison sentence for public indecency and they both can receive over 70 lashes for their courtesy on top of the prison sentence.

“The laws on the books in Iran are a kind of arsenal or tool kit always available for use by the authorities in their efforts to suppress any form of expression they don’t approve of,” Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post.

How are these laws allowed to be legislated in the first place? How can parliamentarians continue to have any respect for themselves after allowing such legislation to pass? Don’t their conscience and honour question their actions or lack thereof?

Of course, the practical effects of this suppression are manifold; chief amongst them is the killing of innovation and creativity. People cannot be creative and innovative if they’re continuously looking over their shoulders and censoring themselves. This creates such a corrosive and unproductive environment which enforces subservience to foreign products, workforce and talent. This situation will ultimately unbalance the very foundations of a sustainable society and put whole countries at the mercy of the external powers they are beholden to. The local disenfranchised population will of course lose hope, lose their kinship with their own country of birth and might well stand on the sidelines while its resources continue to be plundered because they would be unsure whether they are empowered to act to protect the resources. Under these conditions, there is no doubt that governments will ultimately lose the support of their own people and chaos will ensue.

The great Mark Twain once said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”.  Judging by the acceleration in arbitrary arrests, the fashioning of even more opaque laws whose sole purpose is for their use against any form of opposition or dissent, the further choking of freedoms of expression and penalising almost any form of criticism, that governmental support across the Middle East is declining to a level that open rebellion – small as it may currently be – is begining to be witnessed on a daily basis.

There is a way out of this, of course. Paradoxically, Bahrain once provided the guiding light for how things can be reversed and corrected. Just look at what its RSF Press Freedom Index was in 2002 and compare it to every year since. What did Bahrain do in 2001 that warranted that huge increase in its press freedom ranking and all other freedom of expression indices?

Here’s a brief, courtesy of 2002 report from Freedom House:

Bahrain’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6, and its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, because of political reforms that set the stage for the establishment of an elected legislature, abolished emergency laws and courts, released political prisoners and allowed exiles to return, granted nationality to bidoon (stateless peoples), and improved political debate and freedom of association.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa ended almost a decade of civil unrest in February 2001, when he presented Bahrainis with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a new national charter. The charter, which calls for the establishment of a partially elected legislature, an independent judiciary, political rights for women, equality for all citizens, and a body to investigate public complaints, addresses the key grievances of Shiite-led opposition groups. Ninety percent of Bahrainis turned out to vote in the referendum, and 98 percent of them approved the new charter.

Although the 2002 Freedom House index for Bahrain rates it as “Not Free”, it does recognise that some solid steps have taken place that warranted that upward change in ranking. In fact, the effect of those changes were clearly seen from 2003 – 2009 when the country’s status changed to “Partly Free”, which is a big achievement.

From a practical level, I remember the heady days of 2001 when people stood up straighter, looked each other in the eye, had fruitful debates without resorting to hushed tones and continuously looking over their shoulders and political lectures and workshops were aplenty. We actually started to understand what “debate” actually was rather than resort to the usual accusations of treason, or lobbying choice epithets at people we disagree with. The whole country was abuzz and business was booming. Everyone had an air of accomplishment and a sense of worth and pride.

That feeling is a universal requirement for a healthy and effective Middle East. Unfortunately it has disappeared, or at least, it got lost in the interim. For our own survival and our much needed growth as effective nations, we need to get that sense of self-worth back.

How the people of this region might go about this will not be easy. The road will require sacrifices to re-establish trust between all parties. Shared goals need to be set that have national interest fully in sight and which transcend personal aggrandisement and selfish benefit. I personally believe that this can and must be achieved. I can’t give up on more than 400 million people and neither can the world for that matter.

We all individually have a part to play, no matter how small, to achieve that much required correction to rejoin a world, without terrorism, wars or strife. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to try.

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Pop Quiz: How Sectarian are You?

Pop Quiz: How Sectarian are You?

How sectarian are you, is a question that I’ve often thought of and produced a few traits that might indicate the level of sectarianism in a person. A recent article by Ghanim Alnajjar in Alwasat newspaper; however, has written a good comprehensive list which could be used to judge the level of a person’s sectarianism much better than my attempts.

Here’s my translation. Feel free to take the test and indicate your score in the comments. Object of the quiz? Recognise what you need to work on to become less sectarian:

How to measure sectarianism

by Ghanim Alnajjar – Alwasat Newspaper – 4 September 2015

The following questions equally apply for the discovery of racialism, tribalism and factionalism too.

  1. popquizWould you agree to marry your daughter, or a close relation, to a member of the opposite sect?
  2. Do you have any friends from the other sect?
  3. Do you visit with people from the other sect?
  4. In your conversations with people from your own sect, do you accept the denigration or swearing at those from the other sect or do you object to that behaviour?
  5. Do you regard members of the other sect true compatriots in your country, or do you regard them as heathens that you put up with while searching for the earliest opportunity to get rid of them?
  6. Do you support the hard-line sectarian arguments against the other sect?
  7. Do you condemn acts of violence against members of the other sect?
  8. Do you sympathise with the victims of the other sect when exposed to violence or murder, torture or suffering or even discrimination?
  9. In the event of an armed conflict between sects and nations, do you support the party that represents your sect regardless of the facts?
  10. Do you believe that what’s happening to your sect is the result of a major conspiracy orchestrated by the other sect?

If all your answers where all against the values of coexistence and the acceptance of the others, then you’re a full-fat sectarian, and a prime terrorist in the making and you need to go first to a psychiatric clinic to seek a cure before we find you in pieces here there after you had blown yourself up and murdered innocent people.

However, if you’re not, then you should seek to advance co-existence in your surroundings and balanced thoughts in order to convince others to be less sectarian and more welcoming. This will secure your country from the strife and destruction in which no one will be saved. There’s no strength except through Allah.

Thank you Mr Ghanim Alnajjar’s for this comprehensive and thought provoking list.

Hand on heart, my score is 100%. What’s yours?

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The Death of Arab Consciousness 

The Death of Arab Consciousness 

So much unnecessary loss of life. At the root of it, one group believes they and only they are right. The others are worthless creatures who should be exterminated. Those people, who I believe fueled war and strife in Syria and elsewhese will not be moved by the horrible images and their conscience one single iota, that is, if their conscience existed in the first place.

In fact, they’ll find a way to justify the exodus, the strife, the desperation, the deaths and not only distance themselves from their inhuman pursuits in their own war mongering, but will celebrate peoples’ desperation and use that to prove – through their own thwarted logic – that they and only they are the chosen ones.

Have we heard one peep from them demanding that the Syrian and Yemeni refugees find temporary shelter in their countries? No. None. The overriding thought in their minds for that eventuality if it ever comes, and I believe that will be highly unlikely, is probably to find a way to filter those whom they will “allow” to enter their hallowed lands and receive their largesse based on purely on confessional beliefs. Humanity and morals be damned.

europeans-helping-refugees
Austrians coming out in droves, unbidden, to help arriving Syrian refugees

On the other hand, we see Europeans coming out unbidden in their droves to help the refugees whom they share no culture, language or religion with. The refugees being human beings is enough for those Europeans to extend any help they can afford, even if it’s simply a kind word or gesture.

Is it any wonder that even in their desperation, the refugees choose European destinations than any country in the Gulf?

Shame on us. This is official the death of our consciousness as a race, culture and people.

And here’s the picture to prove it.

This is the total sum of our efforts for humanity.

This is what we have become.

REFILE - CORRECTING BYLINEATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURYA young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, lies on the shore in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, September 2, 2015. At least 11 migrants believed to be Syrians drowned as two boats sank after leaving southwest Turkey for the Greek island of Kos, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported on Wednesday. It said a boat carrying 16 Syrian migrants had sunk after leaving the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, and seven people had died. Four people were rescued and the coastguard was continuing its search for five people still missing. Separately, a boat carrying six Syrians sank after leaving Akyarlar on the same route. Three children and one woman drowned and two people survived after reaching the shore in life jackets. REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHAATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY. TEMPLATE OUT
A young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, lies on the shore in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, September 2, 2015. At least 11 migrants believed to be Syrians drowned as two boats sank after leaving southwest Turkey for the Greek island of Kos, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported on Wednesday. It said a boat carrying 16 Syrian migrants had sunk after leaving the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, and seven people had died. Four people were rescued and the coastguard was continuing its search for five people still missing. Separately, a boat carrying six Syrians sank after leaving Akyarlar on the same route. Three children and one woman drowned and two people survived after reaching the shore in life jackets. 

May you rest in peace, Aylan Kurdi.

Your death won’t be avenged.

Our conscience, morals and humanity as Arabs have died much before your pure soul briefly existed on this earth.

May you find peace my son.

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