A few thoughts on how to prioritise human death coverage


Following the spate of bomb attacks in Beirut, Baghdad, Sinai, and Paris, a number of concerns have been raised. Understandably, many people have accused politicians, global publics, and the media for focusing on the Paris Attacks  and failing to direct as much, or the same quality of attention, to what has happened elsewhere. It is impossible to doubt the truth in this, especially given that landmarks around the world, including the Cathedral here in Durham, have been lit up with the French flag. In one piece for Al Jazeera, Habib Battah writes how such sympathy for France underscores “the double standard that lurks beneath the myth of global compassion for victims of such attacks”. – the problem with this piece is that it assumes that global compassion is a myth, when many  people you speak to, if they know about other attacks, are equally compassionate (well, certainly the people I have spoken to).

It is pretty facile to equate the news culture, institutional culture, foreign policy, words of politicians, or how people light up buildings, with how a ‘global public’ empathise about incidents that they may, due to the aforementioned factors, not even be aware of. It also does not adequately reflect important issues about news bias, and also negates the idea that all news organizations are inherently biased, either nationally, linguistically, or culturally. It also does not reflect how connected people feel emotionally to certain people or proximities, and how this impacts their expressions of grief, or why this is the case. Today in the New Statesman, it is argued that audiences must take some of the blame. Does that point to general audience Europhilia? For example, the recent outcry seems to have been framed around  an Anglo – French versus Arab bias. Most of the commentary is criticism directed by Arabs about the relative attention placed upon Paris as opposed to the Arab countries effected recently by bombings. I have, for example, seen posters saying ‘Beirut’ and ‘Paris’, but  not Baghdad,  Sinai? I have also seen profile pictures with images of the French, Lebanese, Syrian, Russian and Iraqi flag.

In some instances, individual nationalism under the guise of cultural nationalism has been the driver of this indignation.  This piece, for example, is called ‘From Beirut, This is Paris: In a World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives’. It does not mention the bombs in Iraq that happened at a similar time? However, this does not mean that the author lacks compassion for people in Iraq or Syria. In Egypt, they projected the flags of Lebanon, Russia and France onto the pyramids.  What does this say of their priorities? Why was there no equivalent comparable global outpouring of grief for the Russians, they are white after all, and more of them died than in France? Is Russia considered the global south? Is it because its role in the anti-jihadi coalition is somewhat contested? Or is it simply because those writing it are reflecting their own cultural bias in the form or Arabness, prompted by an Orientalist news-gathering agenda spurned by the unjust global scrutiny of Muslims.

Less complaints have been issued from the peripheries of Arab or Europe. In Sudan, 15 migrants were shot and killed at the Egyptian border yesterday.  On Friday 13th, 22 people were killed in a village in the Central African Republic. 21 were killed in a landslide in China yesterday. Also, is the criticism of bias only applicable when similar events are undertaken in close proximity by similar agencies? Are these valid events for the comparative criticism? Embedded within this are issues of not just who are considered more worthy victims, but national, regional and ethical hierarchies that go beyond a simple global south and north divide.


What are the solutions?

Beneath all this, there should be an inherent assumption that all human lives are equal. A perfectly good one, and a suitable foundation for determining a way forward. Yet how do we do this? Do we limit coverage of every significant event to a limit amount of hours/articles per day? If so, how do you determine what is significant, over a certain amount of deaths, say 50+? Or do we  create a hierarchy in which the significance of an incident is calculated not only by the number of people killed, but also the divergence of ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, and religions presented? How about we measure news time and content by attributing an equal value to every human life, and thus each human life lost would occupy a certain amount of coverage? If so, then incidents of colossal magnitude, such as genocide, deaths due to global warming, or malarial deaths, would occupy the headlines for decades. Is this a bad thing, or is important to be reminded? How would you determine this algorithm that orders such stories, and when do you determine when a death should slip into oblivion?  How do you categorise death in more nebulous categories?  Should a news site be created to aggregate the number of deaths throughout the past 50 or so years and update them in real-time according to the rough manner in which it was caused? What about other, non-human death issues, such as the impact on species due to climate change? Should we be so human centric, or should the purpose of this endeavor be to create empathy to all living things?

Of course the challenges are voluminous, but if the issue is the value of human life, and people attribute this recognition of this value to the attention in the news, then news coverage and newsworthiness needs to be reconsidered, at least for global news channels, which have more of a responsibility in this regard. Regardless, people’s empathy for those who died in France should not be seen through a nationalist prism,  because let’s face it, the victims were of multiple nationalities and ethnicities. Also, those people who died in France are no less worthy of grief, nor should their worth be determined by how the world chooses to mourn after they are dead, and not in a position to control it. Of course there are innumerable complexities, but as Jamiles Lartey says, we on the left should ‘not minimize 1 tragedy to raise the profile of another, or participate in this kind of attention hijacking’.

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Video Shows Police Tear Gassing Children Playing Football in #Bahrain

On the afternoon of 19th September, in the #Bahrain village of Malkiya, a video emerged appearing to show security forces firing onto a football pitch full of children. These children were reportedly from the Malkiya Club. Details are scarce atm, but the video can be seen below.

Photos emerged too of the incident.

[The caption reads: No escape for the children playing football, who were gassed by the regime’s mercenaries]

For those unfamiliar with #Bahrain, this apparent unprovoked attack is nothing new, and the country’s security forces have often acted in a vindictive fashion to those communities (like Malkiya) with a perceived heavy opposition presence.

It is possible that the security forces were punishing those youth of the ‘Battalion’ of the Martyr Abdulredha Buhmaid, who marched yesterday through the village with a sign saying ‘We are with the resistance’. The Battalion is named after Abdulredha Bumhad, who was dead by regime security forces on February 18th 2011. Buhmaid was from Malkiya.

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Trolls Attempt to Hijack #BahrainUprising Twitter Event


An example of me being trolled, albeit in an aesthetically pleasing way.

It’s been a year of many firsts for me, yet the familiarity of what happened today reminded me that some rarely change. In a Twitter Event organized by Zed Books on Bahrain, Trolls, many of whom are familiar to the vetern Bahrain  observer attempted to inundate the hashtag by providing evidence to defame the entire Bahrain opposition are violent, religious and radical. For example, see the image below [graphic]

This tactic of propaganda and disinformation has been prevalent since 2011. As we describe in Bahrain’s Uprising,

A number of studies noted unusual patterns of tweeting prior to bouts of government repression. One group of bloggers noted that a ‘large group of organized troll accounts were created by the government. They then flooded twitter with a disinformation campaign. Once violence broke out the Troll Army vanished’. While there is no evidence that the above is the regime, or companies operating on the regime’s behalf, it is certainly an unusual pattern of tweeting. A report by Freedom House adds, ‘hundreds of accounts suddenly emerged to collectively harass and intimidate online activists, commentators, and journalists who voiced support for protests and human rights’.

The accounts that engage in this are almost always anonymous, with the exception of gloriahere, who briefly hosted a rather disturbing (read creepy) show on Bahrain. Their activity on the #BahrainUprising hashtag began, hardly by coincidence, an hour or two before the Event was about to start. Prior to that, the only real activity on that hashtag had been from early 2014.

Also present was the anti-opposition @LexBirch, who won the most distinguished expat award in Bahrain in 2012 (awared by the government controlled Information Affairs Authority). Despite being anonymous, the account appeared to be rewarded for Tweeting against the opposition.

Yet Bahrain trolls are so notorious, they have been singalled out by internationalist columnists and journalists. In particular, one Bahraini Twitter troll (7areghum) was said by an independent panel of legal experts to have broken international law for putting people’s lives in danger . They have issued death threats, threats of rape, and engaged in rampant homophobia. Perhaps more amusingly, they have attempted to defame activists (or bemuse them) with cariactures…See below!


I have a donut turban.


I don’t even play the cymbals.


Check out the book collection…


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New Book on #Bahrain

Fan Art

Fan Art

Hi all. Apologies for the absence. Just been finishing editing a new book with Ala’a Shehabi on Bahrain. It comes out this September! The book is published by Zed Books, and will be availble in paperback, hardback, and ebook format. It’s available on Amazon UK and Amazon US, and other booksellers. In the US, it’s distributed by University of Chicago Press.

It features contributions by myself Abdulhadi Khalaf, Amal Khalaf, Ala’a Shehabi, John  Horne, Zoe Holman,  Luke Bhatia, Ali Al-Jallawi (translated by Ayesha Saldanha) and Ibrahim Sharif. Here’s the blurb.

Amid the extensive coverage of the Arab uprisings, the Gulf state of Bahrain has been almost forgotten. Fusing historical and contemporary analysis, Bahrain’s Uprising seeks to fill this gap, examining the ongoing protests and state repression that continues today.Drawing on powerful testimonies, interviews and conversations from those involved, this broad collection of writings by scholars and activists, provides a rarely heard voice of the lived experience of Bahrainis, describing the way in which a sophisticated society defined by a historical struggle, continues to hamper the efforts of the ruling elite to rebrand itself as a liberal monarchy

It feels great to have contributed with so many people on a topic that is so dear to my heart. Thank you everyone who has been reading my blog, tweets, or articles. Hopefully, you will enjoy the book.


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Secrecy, yellow uniforms, and the patronizing FCO

To quote from Bahrain Watch’s own page.

On Tuesday 10th March 2015, the Information Rights Tribunal in London is considering whether to order the Foreign Office to reveal secret communications between Foreign Office officials which are nearly 40 years old. In June 2013, Marc Jones, a Durham university PhD student and member of the NGO, Bahrain Watch made a Freedom of Information Request to the FCO asking for a secret file entitled “Bahrain: Internal Political situation 1977”. The FCO refused to disclose the full file arguing to reveal the information would damage international relations. He complained to the Information Commissioner who rejected his complaint on the basis that prejudice would be caused to the UK’s relations with Bahrain if it was made public. See the outline of the case here.

A Positive Verdict: We were not optimistic of a win. In fact, we were alerted to the fact that Tribunals often side with the government. However, when the verdict came, the judge said that it would be reserved for a later date. Essentially, this meant that they could not reach a decision on the day. For us, this was good, and highlighted that the FCO’s case was not watertight, and that the information they were hiding may actually be in the public interest to know. In other words, the information is not trivial.

A Peculiar Trial. The Trial did not begin as anticipated. Although we were expecting to give evidence first, the FCO were quite insistent that Edward Oakden, a senior diplomat and witness, should go first. This was because he had appointments in the evening. Naturally, I had cancelled my appointments because we were told the court case would last all day – a sensible and not unreasonable course of action. Oakden’s evidence was brief, and mostly consisted him of evading questions by saying ‘I shall refer to that in the secret portion of the trial’. (I should perhaps add that the FCO and the judges had a private session in which the redacted contents could be revealed – of course neither we nor the public were entitled to attend). After the secret session the FCO and their barrister were quite clear on one thing, that whatever was in the document would not address my general and specific concerns about British complicity in Human Rights abuses in Bahrain, nor would it shed light on Henderson’s actions in Kenya’. However, they also stressed that release of the information would DEFINITELY damage the relationship between Britain and Bahrain.


When our turn to give evidence came,  we focused essentially on why the information would not be revelatory. I.e. we already know so much of the egregious acts committed by the British and the Al Khalifa that new information would not be significantly new. We were careful to stress that the current Prime Minister and King were implicated in illegal activities during 1977, including the deporting of Shia to Iran. So as Rodney Trotter once said, you’d “have to get done for chicken molesting to bring a slur on this family’s name”.   We also emphasised that complicity was a broad term, and could include a wide variety of things (The FCO did not really specify in what manner they meant it). We also highlighted that the FCO’s argument about the piece not containing information about British complicity did not speak of Al Khalifa or security forces’ role in HR abuses. Either way, given the continuous human rights abuses in Bahrain, and the fact 17 British officers were in the Bahrain police at the time, and that both the intelligence and general divisions of policing were led by British men, we argued that any information about the state of the security forces was in the public interest as it is was almost always the security services engaged in human rights abuses. 

Their barrister’s cross-examination of our evidence seemed somewhat lackluster. It centered on a number of superficial arguments. The most salient one seemed to be saying that I was in no position to comment on how a revelation would harm relations between Bahrain and Britain as I was not, nor ever had been, a diplomat. I did, of course, remind them that I had spent a good part of the past few years studying diplomatic cables. Our legal team also stressed that the threshold for information that counts as warranting a diplomatic response is so low that it made the process somewhat unfair. For example, if releasing the information forced the British to explain to the Bahrainis why they had done this – this counts as a diplomatic response. Importantly, the FCO admitted that disclosing the information would not harm the new base deal. Whatever happened, the FCO’s caginess simply has increased anticipation about what the withheld information could contain.

What could the information be?

Well, despite their barrister’s protestations that I was simply guessing the contents of the cable, I reminded him that at least it was an educated guess. I also reminded him that when they were refusing to give us any inkling of what the documents contained, which they ought to have done. However, I think the biggest clue as to what the information might be was alluded to by one of the judges. I was asked when the following paragraph, was released to the public:

Selman bin Hamad has all the worst qualities of the Al Khalifa family. He is totally uneducated, vain, lazy, and inclined to oppress and tyrannize over anyone who is powerless to resist. Selman is absolutely unfit to succeed is father as ruler.

The comment, which was made in 1923 by a British official, was probably released because Selman bin Hamad is dead. But why would the judge be so concerned about when it was released, especially after she had seen the censored document in the private hearing? The most logical explanation is that contains information that was probably critical of a member of the Ruling Family who is still alive. This theory is confirmed by the bits of information which you can actually read from the heavily redacted document. In particular the following:

What surprised me in our conversation was the gloomy view he took of the ability of the Al Khalifa to survive. [Redacted]. They were moving into lucrative areas of business and squeezing out established merchants.

If this is the case, then surely the FCO could have said that the redacted information contains information critical of certain individuals? However, they did not reveal a thing. Instead, their barrister asked me whether the information would be in the public interest if it, for example, it was about the police having ‘yellow uniforms’. Obviously this is absurd, as they would not be fighting so hard to keep it secret if it was about yellow uniforms…


A final note…

If there’s ever a misnomer, it’s the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ . I say so because if you want to get anything, potentially of value to the public, it’s going to cost you – both in terms of money and time. What happened on Tuesday was the culmination of months of work, and considerable legal cost. This bureaucratic control  is essentially a process of attrition, a series of obstacles designed to discourage people from breaching the government’s asymmetry of information. Indeed, the FCO have denied at least two thirds of the information requests I have sent them the earliest being from 1956 (a year when British troops were used to help put down a populist uprising in Bahrain). For those who want more information on the case, you can read my witness statement > 819867 Witness statement of Appellant & exhibit sheet 28 11 14 (4). Oakden’s heavily redacted statement can be read here> 885992 01 Response of FCO 13 02 15 (pages 1.48 to 1.51)_ 05 Witness statement of Edward Oakden (unsigned undated) 13 02 15 (page… . To see the heavily redacted version of the contested document, go here >


Independent article on the case

Article in Bahrain Al Youm [Arabic]

Short interview [Arabic]

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Why I stopped believing in God and Religion

Love is Stronger than Hate

Love is Stronger than Hate

Over the past few years, countless people, both friends and trolls alike, have asked me about my religious views. The accusations that I am a shill on the payroll of the Iranian government have made some believe I desire a Shia Islamic theocratic state in Bahrain. Yet what with Charlie Hebdo and the Islamic State being such an important part of the past year, I can’t help but talk about my own religious beliefs, or lack thereof. This is a work in progress, but I wanted to get my ideas out there, and have people share their own. 



I was brought up Christian, Church of England I think. I say ‘I think’ because frankly, I have no idea. I went to Sunday School briefly, and my mum would read the bible to us and ensure we said our prayers before we went to bed. As with most things of this kind, I did not enjoy them (I quit the Cubs after about three weeks, and never made it to the Boy Scouts). Sure I believed it all for a while, even to the point of OCD, where I’d say short prayers in my head asking for forgiveness every time I did something wrong – like swore, or had raunchy thoughts. I guess God seemed so badass and the idea of hell was so scary that I did not take my chances. I even remember wondering how people could not believe in a God. After all, the universe must have come from something. Of course it did not take long to realise, ala Bertrand Russell, that that argument is problematic; by asking that question, I was also asking – how can God come from nothing? I realised I was using the law of the conservation of energy to justify a metaphysical being, and using it badly.

Nonetheless, I was not particularly superstitious. I was actually  the annoying person who told others that the idea of Santa Claus was ludicrous. How could one guy visit all the world’s children in one night, and know if they’d been naughty or nice? (nowadays of course, Mr. Claus would probably fall under suspicion in operation Yewtree, but that’s beside the point…) Like many people I simultaneously harboured rational and irrational beliefs, yet the religious upbringing was not a myth knowingly concocted by my mum, it was something even she believed! But God did not come up too much in day-to-day conversation. If it did, then my memory is poor. However, one chat remains in my head. When I was about 11, a friend told me that he stopped believing in God when he prayed for his favourite football team to win and they lost. I simply said, ‘what about all the other people who prayed for the other team to win’?

At the age of 12, during my own ‘enlightenment’, or periods of critical reflection, I realized it was the principle of fairness that undid my idea of God. I am not sure where this principle came from, but my reasoning was fairly simple. According to the bible, the earth was only about 4,000 years old, yet I knew from biology that creatures had been around for billions of years, and humans hundreds of thousands. I also believed that humans had evolved, as did most of my cohort, religious or not. I then began to wonder whether humans, who had existed before the existence of Abrahamic Gods, went to heaven or hell. I mean, if they didn’t know about God from the prophets, it was surely not their fault, so it would be unfair for them to go to hell? If they did go to hell because of their ‘ignorance’, then surely that’s not fair! Similarly, if they went to heaven because of their ‘ignorance’, then knowledge of God is surely just a burden. Ignorance was bliss, as they say!

Discarding God

With this newfound revelation, I more or less decided religion was hokum. Yet due to my upbringing, I always found it hard to say I was an an atheist. I guess I had that ‘residual fear’ of damnation. It was silly of course, but fear is a powerful thing. Harbouring my cynicism, I still found religion interesting. Often I explored it indirectly through relationships. I dated a Baha’i girl for a while. When we first met I thought she said ‘I’m bi’, which I thought remarkably forward. Joking aside, I loved the Baha’i community. They  were kind, welcoming, and tolerant. However, I found out like most Abrahamic religions there were undercurrents of misogyny and homophobia, so I discarded it (admittedly, this was more in doctrine than the hearts of my friends). Yet I still have fond memories of that time. I was never compelled to believe, or encouraged to convert, and people did not throw it in my face. Indeed, most of our socialising was done through food. Maybe someone told God that the way to an agnostic’s heart was through his stomach?

I have also dated Muslim women. On one occasion, a father said ‘I don’t care who you marry, as long as he’s not Shi’a’. Another girl to whom I had become very close and who told me she loved me said that we could not marry as I was not a muslim, and I refused to convert. To me, conversion just meant succumbing to intolerance and bigotry. After all I did not expect her to convert, so why should I? And also, I objected to the argument that religion derived from the father; it was generally acceptable for muslim men to marry non-muslim women, and not the other way around. Again, I thought this a patriarchal anachronism. For me, converting, even in name, was to appease a judgemental family by succumbing to their perception of religious or communal superiority. I would certainly ignore my own parents advice if they did not want me to marry someone on account of their religion, race, or skin colour. I understood the pressure, but for me, principle transcended love.


On top of these experiences I have read a lot of religious texts. I personally find most a collection of relatively incoherent parables, stories, and fables. The Old Testament in particular is full of the most virulent and cruel passages, as is the bible in general. As for role models, Abraham’s conspiracy with God to murder his son Isaac did not endear me to religion.To me, God can only be defined by the interpretation of the holy texts in which he exists. Therefore, if most old testament books are to be believed, God is a bizarre paradox. Simultaneously merciful and ruthless, kind and cruel, just and unjust, open-minded and petty. In short, God seemed like a bit of a dick. Indeed, if there was a greater testament that such a god was man-made, it is surely these contradictions. God was man-made, a human construct.

For me, attempting to derive peace and serenity from these contradictions evoked the most crippling cognitive dissonance. I am not saying there is no good to be found in it. Far from it. Just a lot of bad too. Same is true of the Koran, which, to me, seems like it is plagiarized from the old and new testament. It condones slavery, places women beneath men, and advocate grisly punishments. Coupled with the hadiths (depending which you see as valid), scholars can justify all manner of things. Muhammad too, also struck me as a bit of a bad egg. How a prophet set an example by marrying a six year old, killing people, and conveniently having revelations when it suited me just seem like a total confidence trick. Some say not to take it out of context, and that it was an ‘improvement’ at the time (though try telling that to the  ‘pagans’ and Jews in Arabia), but if that’s the case, then why is it still relevant now? Also, any ‘good’ is also being taken out of context. Yet picking and choosing from religions is bizarre, especially in the case of the Koran, which is seen as the literal word of God.

Indeed, people seem to distill what they want from religion, whether it be calls for a peaceful existence or a violent campaign against an ‘other’. For this reason, religion cannot = peace. Peace is a convergence of every human endeavour throughout history that advocates peaceful and communal living. To say Islam, Judaism, or Christianity is peace, is to give in them undue credit. Peace = peace, and that’s it. Without a central authority or arbiter of religion, then who is able to define who is a true christian for example? Is it the pope? Does he only speak for Catholics. He is infallible after all…As for Muslims, who is the authority? Is it Al Azhar in Cairo, is it Fadlallah in Lebanon, or the Indonesian Ulema Council for example? If this is not the case then surely defining faith becomes about consensus among Muslims as a whole? Yet how do you gauge this? If belief becomes a democracy, and the tenets of religion as a ‘truth’ are undermined by the fact it is simply a book of advice that’s meaning derives only in its interpretation. If it is about truth, then defining who is a Muslim should be left to God, and not the vote. ‘ In this respect, if those who committed the acts in Paris define themselves as Muslims, who are we to say that they are not?

I realise I am focusing on Abrahamic religions, but that is just because of my own upbringing and current events. I posed on Twitter the question,  ‘I take issue with all religions in the Abrahamic tradition – Does that make me an Abrahamophobe?I do not reserve any special dislike for any Abrhamic religion, although I am against ambiguity. And to me, Abrahamic religions leave so much scope for interpretation, that they can justify almost everything, from wondrous good, to complete evil. Personally, I believe social justice is unambiguous. Where is the ambiguity in equality? Where are the clerics or vicars attempting to rationalise a verse about allowing slavery, or dashing babies against rocks? They do not exist. I also dismiss cultural relativism, as it can justify all manner of what I perceive to be evil. Of course, I do acknowledge that my beliefs are constructed. I mean, we are all just animals, but that does not mean I do not believe in a value system. That value system is fundamentally about social justice; about equality, fairness, compassion, and empathy. It is constructed of course, but I like to believe it does not discriminate. Maybe some of my values derive from religious teachings, but not just one, and there is no exclusivity there.

‘Each to their own’

To those who say ‘each to their own’. There is much merit in this, yet one’s ‘own’ is already problematic as it emphasizes exclusivity of communities, and separation. It is also a complete aphorism, as our belief systems, especially religious, are constructed from birth. People are often, as I was, indoctrinated with religious beliefs. To actually realize this ‘each to their own mentality’, people should practice it, and explore WHY this saying is relevant. For example – if I was to apply that mantra to bringing up my offspring, I would have to justify; ‘we say each to their own because their are multiple religions in the world, and no one of them can be said to be better than another because that would lead to friction, and maybe violence, and violence is bad’. At least then we can assume that people who say ‘each to their own’ believe violence is bad. For damn sure many prophets did not believe ‘each to their own’, as they are, by definition, prophets who ‘propheteer’ from proselyting.

Thus saying ‘each to their own’ is an implicit assumption that religions are not universal, but that many people accept the sanctity of peace. For me, to criticise religion or a belief system is incumbent on all humans. If we did not, we would simply believe everything we are told, and the only way that such indoctrination is acceptable is if it conforms to generally acceptable means of socialisation in the immediate cultural context. Raising someone with beliefs that encourage hatred or violence towards a certain group will lead to strife, unless everyone in that community is of that disposition. This issue becomes more acute in multicultural societies, where people of different beliefs, genders, or sexualities, rub up against one another. But the world is a multicultural place, by definition, and the identities of states and their esoteric laws cannot hide that.

Some might criticise my values as ‘Westernised’. To me, this is an ad hominem attack based on assumptions derived from post colonial arguments. It also attempts to undermine arguments by dismissing them based on assumptions that such principles of egality and humanity are confined to a singular region, and thus inherently prejudiced. Many people across the globe have such ideas, and to say they are simple ‘Western’ is to dismiss the fact that such ideas are universal, and have been evidenced in Buddhism, Janism, and many other belief systems.

Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

As for my thoughts on Charlie Hebdo. I am, of course, appalled, by the act itself and the consequences. Richard Seymour yesterday said in the Jacobin that we must fear an Islamophobic backlash as a result of the Charlie Hebdo killing. He is right of course, as most attacks of this nature result in a backlash. There are already reports of grenades being thrown into a mosque in Paris, an abhorrent act that I hope the authorities are quick to condemn. However, my issue is the term Islamophobia itself. It should not be used as a term to undermine valid criticism of a religion. All ideologies should be exposed to criticism, whether Marxist, socialist, capitalism, christian, Muslim etc. A hate crime is a hate crime, and of course there will be those who use what happened as an opportunity to attack those who they perceive to be Muslim, but they should not be confused with those who choose to criticise Islam, the prophet, or its tenets. However, while the gunmen definitely do not represent all Muslims, it does not make them less Muslim. But criticism can be a release. Read ‘Why I am not a Christian’, for example, or ‘Why I am not a Muslim’ by Ibn Warraq. I also think humour is a valid form of criticism, whether directed at a prophet or not.

Ultimately, I have utmost respect all those saying ‘Je suis Charlie’. It represents not bowing to intimidation, and I think politicians and public figures alike should stand by and defend satire, even though much of it is directed at them. Sure, humour can make us feel uncomfortable, but sometimes that is good. It prompts soul searching and exposes truths. As far as I am concerned, religious figures, from Ron L. Hubbard, to Abraham, are fair game for criticism, parody, and satire. To single out one for special treatment, is to exhibit religious discrimination. To not criticize them, is to give them special sanctity deserved by no ideology.

*An addendum for my Bahrain readers

So where does this leave me with regards to Islam and democracy in Bahrain, particularly within the opposition. I think it is understandable for people to be cautious of Al Wifaq – a mostly Shia political society who defer to religious teachings and clerics for much of their ‘policy’. You cannot simply dismiss the fact that most of their gatherings are segregated, or that Isa Qassim has a special influence in Al Wifaq.  For this reason, many people believe that a real democracy in Bahrain would result in the domination of one political party – an assured victory for one group (at least in the near future). For those who don’t believe in an Al Wifaq Shia conspiracy, then it is more valid to believe that the quest for democracy for them is also the quest of an assured parliamentary victory for a single, religiously exclusive, society. Unfortunately then, opposition supporters are often seen as de facto Al Wifaq supporters, whether they want to or not.

Of course, as I have said before, I do have sympathy with Al Wifaq and Bahrain’s Shia. That cannot change. They have been discriminated against, and the rise of a Shi’a political party reflects centuries of government persecution, as well as gerrymandering. The presence of a Shia political society is very much the result of government maneuvering and repression, a manifestation of group solidarity in the face of gross oppression. Yet frankly, if Bahrain is to move forward, Al Wifaq need to give all Bahrainis more reason to believe that democracy will not be the swan song of Bahrain’s plurality. Indeed, many believe they should dissolve if their democratic demands are met. I think this would be an act of good faith in any transitional government. Such moves would also help undermine the government’s divide and rule tactics, by removing the presence of Al Wifaq’s alleged ulterior motive.

Anyway, as I have said, religion is not universal. It is also dynamic, as evidenced by sectarianism, schism, multiple religions, and personal interpretation. Why should one religion be over represented in one country? I mean I have no voting rights in Bahrain, but I am of the opinion that even a constitution, like Bahrain’s current one, should not have its roots in religion, Islam or otherwise. Bahrain, like the world, is full of people of all different religions, and if people look to the past, they should see religions change and evolve. To tie one’s constitution to one religion is short sighted, arrogant, and a little absurd. Of course I know I am being idealistic, but there is nothing wrong with that.  It is, after all, the 21st century, why not acknowledge that their are thousands of religions. If you believe that, why not just allow people to worship as they please, and derive constitution from a secular template that allows people to practice their own religion. If this were to happen, I imagine Bahrain would be at the vanguard of democratic and humanitarian change, rather than trailing behind.


Filed under Bahrain, CharlieHebdo

The Al Khalifa Plunder Continues


Today the Financial Times ran a (paywall) front page story on how the King of Bahrain has amassed a lucrative investment portfolio through a company called Premier. The FT found ‘that subsidiaries of Premier Group have shares in projects that have an investment value of at least $22bn at home and an extensive luxury property portfolio in Britain’. While I doubt anyone is surprised at this barefaced profiteering, the sheers numbers are staggering. What is more, this revelations marks the inevitable shift of the Al Khalifa family as a kleptocratic regime who made much of their wealth to from oil rents, to a cartel that are now diversifying into property development. Much of this ability derives from the Ruling Family’s tendency to view Bahrain and its resources as loot to be plundered, as opposed to a society that contains people with ideas, aspirations, and dreams.

As the FT reports, ‘the king issued a law [in 2002] giving himself the sole authority to grant state land rights. In several cases, he used that power to transfer plots to companies linked to Premier Group, according to land deeds seen by the FT’. While many Bahrainis are irked by land reclamation, which they see as the ‘expropriation of public assets’ by a Ruling cartel, the phenomenon is not new. Even in the 1920s, when the British attempted to temper Al Khalifa excesses, the issue of land was a controversial one. Prior to regulating land ownership, one British official writes. (part 2)

A great deal of the land held by the Al Khalifa family and well-to-do Sunnis has undoubtedly been filched (stolen) from the original Bahraini holders. It will not be possible however to rectify the oppression of years, and I would suggest that when a landowner can furnish proof of a definite period, say ten years, his right to the land should be considered valid.

And so it was the the Al Khalifa came to ‘own’ much of a land that they had previously stolen from an indigenous population. This theft has now been formalised and institutionalised in the law of 2002, with King Hamad the main beneficiary of what the British once described as ‘filching’. As a British passport holder, I cannot help but feel shame that our government can continue to support such a kleptocracy. The recent announcement of a $15 million dollar permanent British base in Bahrain is simply the latest insult to a population that have struggled for decades against a voracious and insular tribal government focused on their own enrichment. And if this all was not enough, read about how the Al Khalifas also took a quarter of Bahrain’s GDP between 1925 and 1970 – the sense of injustice is staggering.


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