Cunning Linguists: The MOI’s Rhetorical Trickery

Readers of the Ministry of the Interior’s press releases have come to expect a certain detached nonchalance. What they lack in compassion they certainly make up for in vindictive zeal. Indeed, their press releases are much more sophisticated than some of the Google translated dross that emanates from the Bahrain News Agency, as anyone who remembers the phrase ‘hostile megaphones’ will know. (If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘hostile megaphones’. It’s a BNA exclusive…) Today’s MOI press release was no exception, and as usual, they reported the death of 16 – year- old Hussain al Jaziri with their customary dispassionate flair.

deathhussain

Having seen dozens of similar MOI statements over the years, it is interesting to note the rhetorical devices in their statements and/or tweets. Indeed, they have a specific formula in which they do a number of the following things:

1) Vilify the victims or the people the victim was associated with. I.e. Say they were engaged in nefarious activities or doing something illegal/using weapons

2) Denounce any responsibility by indicating that the police acted in self defence

3) Use  phrases that imply lack of agency when it comes to killing. I.e. instead of saying the victim was killed, say he died. Similarly, suggest disconnect between incident and death of victim

4) Legitimize police response by mentioning how they adhered to protocol or were doing their duty

Take a look at this excerpt from today’s MOI statement concerning the death of Hussain Al Jaziri. I have included numbers used above to mark the rhetorical devices used by the MOI in their attempts to abrogate their responsibility

The most violent (1) group amassed at around 8am in the village of Daih where 300 rioters assembled to attack police (1) deployed in the area, with rocks, steel rods and Molotov cocktails (1). Warning shots (4) were fired but failed to disperse the advancing crowd which continued their attack (1). Officers discharged birdshot to defend themselves (2) and at least one rioter was injured (3) in the process. A short time later, a young man was pronounced dead at (3) Salmaniya Medical Complex.

In a similar incident in October 2012, when the police shot and killed 16-year-old Hossam al-Haddad, the MOI issued the following statement (forgive my hasty translation – original is here)

The director general of the Muharraq Police dept said that a police patrol was carrying out its duty securing (4) a crowded Al Khalifa Avenue in the middle of Muharraq, when it was subjected to a terrorist attack (1) carried out by a large number of fire bombs (molotovs) (1). This was at 9.30 pm yesterday. The attack endangered the lives of the patrol, civilians, residents and those present, which led to the injury of the patrol, fear among citizens/residents, panic, and damage to public and private property (2). The police dealt with matters in accordance with established legal procedures (4) appropriate to such cases and defended both themselves and citizens (2 and 4). This resulted in the injury (3) of one of the persons taking part in this terrorist activity (1), who was immediately taken to hospital where he died.

To confirm, this was both a terrorist act and attempted murder (1 and 2), intended to take the lives of those policemen on patrol whilst also subjecting citizens and residents to danger.
Director general says he had informed the public prosecution of the incident.

Tragically, a policeman was also killed today (February 14th 2013). Interestingly, however, it illustrates just how the MOI choose to frame the deaths of what it has, in the past, called ‘duty martrs’. The statement about the death of policeman Mohammad Asif reads as follows:

Police Officer Dies In Unprovoked Attack

The Chief of Public Security Major-General Tariq Hassan Al Hassan announced the death of policeman Mohammed Asif on Thursday at 10:50 PM.  The Chief said that Mohammed Asif was targeted by rioters in Sehla who shot a projectile that fatally injured him (1). He died on his way to hospital. The Chief stated that while Asif and several other policemen were securing roads and maintaining order in Sehla, a group of rioters attacked them with Molotov cocktails, projectiles, steel rods and stones (1). The Chief said that after Asif was injured, an investigation was immediately launched to find and arrest those responsible.  Once arrested they will be referred to the Public Prosecutor.

Contrary to the report about the death of Hussain Al Jaziri, which implied his guilt , and stated that he was participating in the day’s most violent protest (the fact the protest was termed ‘the most’ violent also indicates that police were under the most duress at this time- further legitimizing their harsh response),  the report about Mohammad Asif claims that the attack was unprovoked. So whereas protesters killed by the police are inevitably done in the name of ‘self-defence’, police killed at the hands of protesters are done so without provocation. It also states that an investigation was launched to find those who were ‘responsible’. When protesters die at the hands of the police an investigation is sometimes launched, though it rarely mentions that the purpose is to find out who is ‘responsible’. Presumably it is the protesters themselves who are responsible for their own deaths. Afterall, they are taking part in rioting right?

While it unsurprising that the MOI use these rhetorical devices to demonise protesters and absolve themselves of responsibility, it is disturbing that such statements will probably be the basis of the police’s defense argument should they actually end up in court*. This is especially disturbing when the media are prevented from baring witness to such incidents. Indeed, journalist Mazen Mahdi and a number of other reporters were arrested and detained today for covering protests (though they weren’t given an actual reason for their arrest). By removing witnesses from the scenes of such incidents the MOI are able to exploit an information vacuum, one in which their testimony will lack credible contradiction. This is especially true in a court run by a non independent judiciary dominated by members of the Ruling Family, who also run the Ministry of the Interior.

In addition to using rhetoric that demonizes protesters, the MOI often use the term ‘to become a martyr’ when referring to police casualties  They do not do this with civilians, which suggests they are attempting to appropriate the category of ‘legitimate victim’. By doing this they are also suggesting that civilian victims of police violence are not worthy of the term martyr, for the term implies that the person in question was not about to commit a sin. The lionisation of the police who die on duty, and the subsequent vilification of civilians who die at the hands of the police indicate an innate assumption that police action, no matter how despicable, is justified. This is mirrored by the fact that only four policemen  have been sentenced for killing civilians since 2011, and that was for manslaughter. Such an approach to policing tends to ‘de-emphasize the role of officers as providers of service to citizens and communities and instead treats them as surrogate soldiers following the orders from superiors.’ (Juska and Woolfson, 2012).

Furthermore, the increased militancy of many youth coupled with the militarization of policing in Bahrain is simply going to compound antagonism between citizen and state. Failure of the state’s institutions to carry out justice against police and officials will simply means that alternative avenues will be sought to achieve justice. Indeed, vigilantiism is a product of perceived righteousness in carrying out justice, and youths throwing Molotov cocktails will only ever feel more justified in their actions should the state continue to deny them the opportunity to see justice done in the courts. A just state will work to isolate those using more radical methods by demonstrating that civil society, and not the street, is the place to solve one’s grievances.

* Note too how such rhetoric finds its way into the BICI report and BICI follow up reports.

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