Tag Archives kneejerk reactions

Collective punishments

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There are a few things that suggest that our society is in a desperate state. The indicators are probably best exemplified by the exclusionary standards our parliamentarians and their electorate take. Both are quick to condemn whole peoples, nations and even civilizations due to isolated incidents without taking one second to reflect on our own shortcomings and our non-exclusive ownership of basic human values.

Some might attribute this collective psyche as a result of the insular lifestyle attributed to island communities, but the irony is that people of these islands until very recently were an awful lot more tolerant and receptive to other cultures than its current breed is.

What happened? Why is it that the more open to the world they get the more insecure they become? What could explain this other than in terms of a severe inferiority complex?

If you talk to Bahrainis fortunate enough to have lived in the 70s and before, they will categorically tell you that they have never experienced anything like this, they will confirm that they didn’t give their neighbour’s race or religion much importance. They will further tell you that they habitually interacted with each other in various ways; they visited, conducted business and even fought the British occupation together by forming and maintaining a cohesive multi-cultural front that crossed confessional divides. The common denominator was their Bahraininess which surpassed every other consideration. They celebrated their differences, rather than diligently work at finding the chinks to exploit in each others’ armor.

The stark contrast between that era and now could not be more evident. What we now have is an acutely insular society with impenetrable walls propped up by suspicion and hatred of the other. This “us and them” atmosphere is condoned by the government – regardless of how many denials we hear from their higher echelons – evidenced by the selective employment policies, the conditional awards of constitutionally guaranteed citizen benefits and the disparity in economic circumstance.

It has unfortunately become our way of life. So much is this in evidence, it is no wonder to witness the parliamentarians’ reactions; whether it be the condoning of the use of chemical weapons against their own society simply because in the current state of affairs demonstrations are mounted by the opposing sect, or their continued theft of their electorate’s personal freedoms or even their demand to expel and ban whole countries’ nationals due to the isolated incidences of the few.

We are all shocked and saddened by the unfortunate and violent recent demise of Mr. Dossary, as we are of Mr. Abbas Alshakhoori and the others who have fallen victims of unusual circumstances, but those incidents, painful as they are, hardly illicit the demand for the application of the collective punishment demanded by a major political society. Identify and punish the criminals by all means and make examples of them by fairly and fully applying the law, but those incidents should never be allowed to colour our psyche to the extent that we allow our own elected representatives to exercise their myopic beliefs without even a smidgeon of objection. And it is even worse when the government itself acts in such an unwarranted and unstudied kneejerk reaction as to impose such a ban on its own recognizance without any regard for its international obligations or even basic diplomacy.

Let us remind them that their role is to ameliorate differences and protect the national unity, and not diligently and wantonly work at exacerbating them. The demand to expel and ban Bangladeshis because of the unfortunate result of a single person’s moment of anger is tantamount to our agreement to the entrenchment and even encoding xenophobia as our main Bahraini trait.


Kneejerk Reactions

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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.