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.
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.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a clone. For the second time, Bahrain’s exemplary contribution to global journalism, ‘the Gulf Daily News’, has published a letter allegedly written by someone called Marc Owen Jones. While there are undoubtedly other Marc Owen Joneses out there, the chances of there being one who has the same background as me are very small. The first letter, pictured below, describes my not-so-alter ego as a ‘former longer-term resident of Bahrain who retains strong links with the kingdom’. He also ‘now lives in Britain’.
While the deliberately vague autobiographical details match my own, Marc Owen Jones II has the opposite political opinions to me. This piece lauds the king, makes generalisations about the opposition, demonises Al Wefaq, drools over the BICI, vilifies protesters, exaggerates reforms, and uses vomit-inducing phrases like ‘so-called protesters’. Although it is somewhat pathetic that someone should resort to using my name to mislead the predominantly expat readers of the GDN, I was relieved to find out that fake me won the ‘Star Letter’ award. Unfortunately, however, I won’t be able to claim the 25 dinars’ worth of Yateem Centre vouchers. If so, I could have bought a lifetime supply of trousers – with change to spare.
Initially I thought the above stunt was a one-off wind up, though today another letter appeared in the GDN, also under my name. This one is even more hilarious, complete with bizarre references to DeLoreans, Back to the Future and Dr. Who. Despite these overbearing attempts to appear endearing and authentic, the whole thing stinks of someone pretending to be a middle-aged Englishman, ( or Welshman for that matter). Some people have suggested his misuse of the subjunctive mood (stand instead of stands in the last paragraph) is indicative (pun intended?- ((lame grammar)) joke) of the writer’s poor grasp of English. It has also been suggested that the phrase ‘how sad to see’ is a construction more similar to التعجب used in Arabic. i.e. How wonderful is this article. ما أجمل هذا الكذب! . The author also uses the peculiar and rather obsolete word ‘RATCHETING’. I can safely say that I have never used this word in writing at any point in my life. Such odd words are a common feature of the GDN though, take a look at this letter for example, which uses the word CARBUNCLE. A personal favourite though is this letter, which is entitled CODSWALLOP!. Finally, to confirm my suspicion that most GDN letter writers think they are still living in Colonial India, how about ‘Jolly Spiffing’?
I doubt the author is British. He/she is more likely to be South Asian or Arab. I am, however, pretty sure that the author is not called Marc Owen Jones. Even the name Marc Owen Jones seems somewhat mundane alongside today’s other letter contributors, which include C. Dickens and Miss Moneypenny…
Anyhow, I think there are three possibilities that may have motivated this ‘hoax’.
1) Someone is just trying to wind me up
2) It is written by GDN staff out of revenge for my frequent trolling of the paper (In all fairness, this whole stunt proves that the GDN is pretty terrible).
3) Given that it smacks of propaganda, it is written by the GDN/PR company/random punter because they think my blog or tweets are read by expats, and the author(s) is(are) worried that expats might view my opinion as a credible source of information/opinion. If this is the case, then whoever is responsible for writing it is trying to use my name to fool expats into thinking that I unequivocally support the government.
Either way, this whole incidence illustrates how much of a joke the GDN is. They have already been sent a complaint about the first incident, though they seem unfazed. Let’s see if Marc Owen Jones II perseveres.
Lethal Shrouds, Weaponised Loudspeakers, and Freedom of Expression Events. These are just some of things you ought to be concerned about over the coming weeks. That’s right, the Bahrain government’s propaganda machine has kicked into overdrive, and it is now making even the most banal household objects seem like a potential Weapon of Mass Destruction. I don’t mean to trivialize matters, but after watching the weekly security report issued by the Bahrain News Agency (BNA), I am entitled to be a little sarcastic. For those who haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Read on for highlights.
Firstly, the report begins with this introduction,
‘The security report brings you a summary of what happened during the week from rioting, vandalism and law-breaking which SOME still call it a peaceful protest. And through this week’s report once again we will show you by footage what has been labelled as peaceful as an act of terrorism, so let’s start this week’s report’.
So the BNA propaganda term are still keen to conflate any act of deviance as somehow an act of deceit, perpetrated by people who claim it is peaceful. In short, they wish to blur the lines between those who actually DO believe in peaceful protest, with those who use violence or other methods. In other words, anyone who wants political change, regardless of the methods they espouse, is a security threat. Figure 1 illustrates the general trend of government propaganda (I know it’s another flowchart – I couldn’t help myself).
The report goes onto to say how security forces foiled an attempt at vandalism after seizing a crate of molotov cocktails secreted in a bush in Karranah. Fortunately, as with the rest of the report, a cameraman was on hand to film the heroic security forces at work.
2 minutes into the video, the presenter states that ‘ Police seized from a deserted house materials used for committing acts of vandalism, including molotov cocktails, empty bottles, fire extinguishers, shrouds, candles and loudspeakers’. I don’t know about you, but I have long been waiting for the government to criminalize the use of shrouds, candles and loudspeakers. It can’t have been an easy decision. The following meme has been generated to illustrate the deliberations faced by the MOI officers who seized these potentially lethal, ‘dual-use’ goods.
The highlight of the report is undoubtedly at 2.11, where the video shows a desk covered in weapon-making tools such as tape, wires, shrouds etc. But what’s that positioned strategically on the corner of the desk? Wait, it’s 1000 Iranian rials! See Figure 2.
In case it was not obvious, the presence of this Iranian currency fits in nicely with the regime’s discourse on political unrest in Bahrain. That is to say, unrest in Bahrain is formented by Iranian and/or Hezbollah agents who get training abroad. Remember when Qatari authorities arrested four Bahraini men who were carrying, maps, dollars, and significant amounts of Iranian Toman! Never underestimate the significance of strategically placed Toman!
Let’s also not forget that the security report did not include any information about injuries suffered by civilians as a result of police violence.
Freedom of Expression Events
King Jong Il may be dead, but his legacy lives on. Indeed, Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior have sought to highlight the country’s committment to freedom of expression by studying appropriate places in which political groups can erm, ‘ freely’ express themselves. The MOI even have a name for this, it’s called ‘responsible freedom‘. This study has been done in order to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the interests of the public. Of course the real reason this is being done is to further regulate protest, and make it as safe and as non-threatening to the regime as possible. Another aspect of this ‘ responsible freedom’ is that no protest sites will be allowed in the capital. That means that civil disobedience is officially banned in Manama. In summary, you will be allowed to protest, so long as you do it in specific places, at specific times, and in a specific manner. Freedom of expression must never threaten the incumbent order, because that wouldn’t be ‘responsible freedom’ now would it. Rumours of an Expression of Religious Tolerance Event are also being circulated. Shia not invited.
Police to be given superpowers
On a slightly different note, but one that still involves how the state wish to discourage genuine protest – harsher sentences are to be imposed on those who attack the police. The GDN reports
Tough new laws were approved yesterday to protect Bahrain’s policemen – including life sentences…From now on anyone who assaults a member of Public Security, BDF, the National Guard or the National Security Body, will be jailed//The penalty will also be imprisonment for a period of no less than seven years if the assault results in permanent and unintentional disability, no less than 10 years if the assault deliberately causes permanent disability and life imprisonment if the assault leads to death..
While these new laws essentially raise the cost of engaging in protest, they also mask the fact that other laws are being drafted that may give the police more license to act with impunity. On May16th I blogged about how those who committed manslaughter ‘ in the line of duty’ would faced relaxed sentencing. Read the blog here
Propaganda and Police
So as we can see, the police are portrayed as a positive force, protecting everyone’s interest by foiling terrorists and disrupting nefarious foreign plots. The new laws designed to protect them coupled with the new protest legislation signal a further deepening of ‘ legal’ forms of control. In addition to brute force, these ‘legal’ mechanisms simply form another layer of control, ones that aim to entrench authoritarianism by providing a veneer of lawful legitimacy.
Eminem once posed the question ‘Guess who’s back?’. The answer was of course, the Real Slim Shady. While it has so far been impossible to determine whether Liliane Khalil was slim or not, she was certainly shady. That’s assuming that she was actually a she. Anyway, it appears that Liliane Khalil is back on Twitter and Linkedin, this time under the guise of @HabibaDalal and Gisele Nasr.
For those who need a recap, Liliane Khalil was exposed last year for being a hoax journalist. She used Twitter, blogs and social media to spread pro-regime propaganda messages, apparently on behalf of Task Consultancy, a Bahrain based company who received government funds to do PR work on their behalf . Task Consultancy have denied these allegations, claiming that they never tendered for any PR, despite the fact that the award appears on the government’s website.
Some of Liliane’s notable claims included interviewing King Hamad, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Dr. al-Baradei and Natan Sharansky. She also claimed to have written several articles for Reuters. When challenged about these things in a phone interview, she either made up elaborate stories, said the interviewees didn’t turn up, or claimed she was drunk. Despite being invited to appear on both Al-Jazeera and France24 she never went ahead with it.
Liliane also operated accounts under other names, such as Gisele Cohen, Victoria Nasr, and Susan Hadad (to name but a mere few). These other accounts, which go back 2 years, don’t solely focus on spreading anti-Iranian propaganda. They are all linked, yet some seem to focus on marketing specific products. Gisele Cohen appears to be in the medical business.
With regards to the ‘new’ accounts Habiba Dalal and Gisele Nasr, the trend seems to remain the same. The Gisele Nasr Linkedin account is a name based on two of Liliane’s previous personas (Victoria Nasr and Gisele Cohen). Despite the name and a new photo, the account appears to be the same as its ‘Gisele Cohen’ predecessor. The email address is the same, as are the educational qualifications. Apart from this new profile ‘makeover’, there doesn’t seem to be too much account activity on the Linkedin side of things. Oddly enough though, the profile picture looks a bit like an older, less photoshopped version of Lia Boustany – Liliane Khalil’s fake sister.
The Habiba Dalal account links to Liliane Khalil’s account on Topsy (or here). Her first tweet was in October 2011, and after changing her bio a few times, it appears she has settled on the following:
I am a journalist following the Iran threat, the Arab Spring and US foreign policy in the Middle East. | New York
As with Liliane Khalil, she tweets and retweets a lot of articles regarding the rising Iranian threat. A number of her tweets concern Bahrain, including high praise for Rob Sobhani’s Huffington Post piece ‘Iran’s Target: Bahrain’. She also retweeted something from another stock-photo-using, suspicious account called @Chelseadraws. This tweet concerned the links between Hezbollah and al-Wefaq, a connection many al-Watan reading hardliners continue to hammer home.
For a new account that adds no value to any discussion, Habiba Dalal’s has a surprising number of followers. About 1,128. Whether these were bought or remain from Liliane’s old account is hard to determine, though in terms of ‘following’, some of the usual suspects are there, including the anonymous author and former undercover CIA-Revolutionary Guard double agent Reza Kahlili. Indeed, Liliane Khalil’s expose on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ links with Iran was posted on Reza Kahlili’s website. Incidentally, the article is still there despite the fact Liliane Khalil has zero credibility.
Habiba/Liliane is also followed by Reem Zain and Evie Varthi. Evie Varthi wrote for BahranViews, a pro-regime blog that is believed to be run by the aforementioned, alleged former employer of Liliane, Task Consultancy. Reem Zain is the managing director of Task Consultancy, and was Liliane’s publicist in the days following her expose.
Liliane’s determination to keep tweeting about Iran is impressive. However, there are a large number of anonymous account such as hers, each tweeting vitriol against Iran, al-wefaq and hezbollah. While there are real people who genuinely believe in these links, it’s hard to believe that many of these accounts are not just sock puppets set up by PR companies to distort the online public sphere with propaganda. In an investigation published by the Independent, London based PR firm BGR Gabara claimed they had planned to orchestrate an “online social media campaign” by Kazakh children to protest against the fact Sting cancelled his gig there. Interestingly, the Independent reported that BGR Gabara also work for the Bahrain government. That’s another one to add to the growing list of PR companies employed by the country. You’d think all that PR money could be better spent.
While these fake accounts are arguably crude and ineffectual, it is hard to determine their true extent. Many people even question the authenticity of the likes of Reza Kahlili. It’s easy to see why, since he does not ever reveal his true identity. In TV appearances he wears a handkerchief and uses a voice decoder. Establishing someone’s credibility is difficult when you cannot verify their identity, yet establishing someone’s credibility becomes crucial when they make such dramatic claims. I personally learned after the Liliane Khalil expose that it was important to put a name to the story. Obviously I’m not doing what Reza Kahlili does, and trying to claim that Iran has thousands of suitcase nukes, but the principle is still the same. With regards to this anonymity, one of Habiba Dalal’s previous bios reads
I am a journalist following [r]evolutions in societies, governments + citizen journalism. Working anonymously due to the nature of my job.
Well, Habiba Dalal is no longer anonymous, because she’s Liliane Khalil, and Liliane Khalil wasn’t even real. Wait, I guess that makes her anonymous?
I have no love for the Iranian regime, yet I have even less love for companies or institutions manipulating people’s beliefs by distorting the information available in the public sphere. This proliferation of propaganda, in its myriad of forms, attempts to subvert rational debate by appealing to a person’s visceral fears. Subtler accounts might attempt to influence the public sphere by imbuing it with information that may seem credible, but is ultimately a plant (black propaganda). Other potentially concerning aspects of these fake accounts are evident when they are used to attempt to influence political society. For example, a twitition (twitter petition) that went round last year claimed to be a proposal listing the demands of Bahrain’s Youth for the upcoming National Dialogue. Over a thousand people signed it, though who knows what number of them were anonymous sock accounts. The following day the National Unity Gathering ( Bahrain’s new pro-gov leaning political party) used the petition as a basis for determining what youth wanted. I believe this could be termed as a #civilsocietyfail . An absurdly dystopian/1984 type analysis would suggest that such practices might become common in the future. Just imagine if Twitter’s new censorship policy led to a crackdown on all legitimate tweeps, resulting in regime-paid companies dominating cyberspace with newspeak, propaganda, and complete bollocks. Haha, now it’s my turn to be sensationalist!
Moving swiftly on…
Paradoxically, these fake accounts undermine the rhetoric of legitimate loyalists in the online world, as the prevalence of dubious accounts leads people to associate regime supporters with paid PR. It’s hardly surprising though considering the Bahrain government’s unquenchable thirst for Public Relations . Even at this very moment I am being accosted by someone who is almost certainly a black propaganda sock account. A very very unsubtle one at that…
Of course Mohammed Abdul Nabi is not alone. There are plenty of other suspicious and/or anonymous accounts. I’m sure many people would enjoy seeing who is behind @SallyfromSaar , @gloriahere , @ChelseaDraws etc. However, until that glorious day comes, let’s just content ourselves by observing their unscrupulous and incestuous meta-orgie of mutual congratulation and retweeting.
Further Liliane Khalil reading