If Sarah bin Ashoor’s NYT op-ed had been one of my students’ essays, this is how I would have graded it…

Having recently finished marking about 80 essays on various aspects of Middle Eastern history written by my first year undergraduate students, I thought it only fair to subject Sarah bin Ashoor’s recent op-ed in the New York Times to the same scrutiny. For those of you who have not read it, Sarah’s op-ed toed the Bahrain’s government line heavily. It blames the opposition and Iran for Bahrain’s woes, and depicts the autocratic government as a victim of its own benevolence. It was also rather anti-Shia, and its author, Sarah bin Ashoor,  claims to belong to the “Gulf Affairs Forum” (which is proving to be as elusive as WMD). As a result, it picked up a lot of criticism, prompting various people to doubt the integrity of the piece (and indeed of the New  York Times editorial desk). Here is an example of said criticsm:

Anyway, for a more thorough lambasting of bin Ashoor’s piece, read Dylan Byer’s and Justin Gengler’s posts. Incidentally, I asked Sarah bin Ashoor for more details on the “Gulf Affairs Forum”, but she has not responded to me. However, given Bahrain’s record for getting PR companies to place op-eds in reputable news outlets, it would not surprise me if someone’s palms have been greased. In addition, @thekarami directed me to this piece highlighting the problems at the New York Times editorial desk. It places the blame at the feet of Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor at the New York Times. (Incidentally, I asked Andrew Rosenthal for an explanation but he too has not responded. Maybe I am too lowly for the Rosenthals and bin Ashoors of the world).

Anyway, without much further ado, here is how Sarah bin Ashoor would have fared if she was one of my students.


For more information on Sarah bin Ashoor’s previous performances, here are the links to some video interviews with Channel Four and the BBC. Thanks @SE25a for these.


8 thoughts on “If Sarah bin Ashoor’s NYT op-ed had been one of my students’ essays, this is how I would have graded it…

  1. Unfortunately I can’t open the document with your marking of this op-ed article. I would be very interested to read it though.

    Best regards,


  2. Marc Owen Jones, you evidently have not done your research. Sarah bin Ashour is Shia. Your suggestion that her piece “shows a marked disdain for the Shia sect” is simply your opinion. Can you support that with evidence or do you just have a feeling that is the case? I would expect better argumentation from a person pursuing a career in academia.

    It is clear she has her own biases, as we all do, and may be generous to, the Bahrain government. It reads as though she considers the Al Khalifa preferable to and has disdain for the sectarian opposition — which it is her right to have and neither yours nor mine to reproach her for. If you have qualms with her argument then you should make a convincing counter-argument, rather than make ad hominem attacks that are completely beside the point.

    Your passive-aggressive question, “Is this really a thing?” reminds me of the pettiness of grad school and petty grad students while an undergraduate. How about your due diligence as a research and considering that it may exist in real life yet not have a website. That is up to you to inquire about in a way that is not disrespectful. As in, “Could you please provide information on the Gulf Affairs Forum? I have not found any info online via Google search.”

    In the first paragraph she cites an Islamist organization that Abdulhadi Al Khawaja was a founding member of and went into exile as an advocate for. The same Islamist organization had sought to overthrow the Al Khalifa and install a system of rule by jurisprudent, or wilayat al-faqih, imposing an Iraqi Shia cleric then in exile in Iran as the Supreme Leader of Bahrain. Once exiled members of the group returned they founded another Shia political movement, which has no female members as MPs and does not approve of women voting. If either of us were Bahraini or a woman – let alone a Bahraini, Shia, and woman like Bin Ashour – who had a liberal tendency and opposes Shia theocracy a la Khomeini, we would understandably have a problem with that.

    The same Al Khawaja emerged in the early 90s as a democracy and human rights activist. I support democracy and human rights so that is admirable, but it is impossible to reconcile democracy and human rights with the political religious innovation of Ali Khomeini, of wilayat al-faqih, that we see in Iran since the 79 revolution. The onus is on Al Khawaja and his daughters to account for this. We may be satisfied with their response, but they can’t just dismiss or disregard it as a product of a perverse public relations campaign.

    You and I do not have to like Bin Ashour or the government – which she is obviously more sympathetic to than the opposition parties – but we have to reckon with the substance of her claims, if we are going to take the time to publicly opine or draft evaluations.

  3. Marc Owen Jones has ignored Sarah’s message and instead focused on the sender in trying to belittle her character. I wonder on what basis you gave yourself the right to appraise her piece and/or performance. This is very childish and irrational act coming from a person claims to belong to the academia. Marc piece is atypical “publish or perish” practice.

  4. Yeah her article may have problems (particularly in the implication that there has been a smooth government led reform process since the 70s) it is still more accurate than the average opposition pieces that try to gloss over the above mentioned terror links of these so called “human rights activists”.

    This includes the above-mentioned Alkhawaja (Nabeel Rajab’s mentor) and your colleague in the so-called independent Bahrain Watch, Alaa Al Shehabi whose dad is a long time, and quite public, advocate of the Iranian regime (and Hezbollah) and may actually be funded by them (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/files-link-activist-to-iran-regime-6437913.html) and whose organisation, the Bahrain Freedom Movement is known as the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement in Arabic (see http://www.eui.eu/RSCAS/WP-Texts/06_27.pdf ).

    At least her article deflates this myth that is being created by you and your colleagues that Iran has nothing to do with what’s happening in Bahrain, when the empirical evidence, which you tend to ignore, says it is very much involved and has been for decades.

      1. I don’t know if you are really this naive or deliberately misrepresenting things. Are you not aware that the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was founded by the same guy who was in a member of an Iranian funded Islamist militant organisation which was actually based in Iran? Are you unaware that they actually attempted a coup and tried to install a cleric as head of state?

        Is that too long ago for you? Then how about this little incident which was even confirmed by the US Embassy


        Or how about : http://www.alalam.ir/news/1563034

        Of course you know that Iran considers Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi to be part of it, right?

        Do you not know these things?

  5. Moderation, huh? I will be very impressed if my comment passes the moderation stage, Marc. And I do mean that very sincerely.

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