This was my application essay for the Honors Program at Linfield College, written in March 1996. The prompt was: Examine your recent life and write about a time in which you made a significant change in your opinion, attitude or behavior. I was accepted into the program and attended the college for a year before transferring to U of M. Apparently, I had some strong political opinions at 18! It’s interesting to be reminded of what was happening in Bahrain in 1996 as a background to what’s happening there now. The current uprisings are not new. They are just new in the western media.
“All that remains of seven precious lives…” was the bold title inside the front page of last Friday’s edition of the Gulf Daily News. Beneath this heading were five disturbingly graphic photographs of the victims of the restaurant arson attack. The short commentary accompanying the pictures seemed to be an appeal to the public’s emotions rather than the straightforward factual information that is required of any newspaper. The obvious intent was to increase the anger and hatred for the readers toward the terrorists. That was exactly my emotional response; I became more angry with the government.
Four years ago when I moved to Bahrain, I had the pleasure of sharing breakfast with the Emir outside his beach house. He was a friendly man, who lived in a palace less extravagant than many wealthy Bahrainis. This meeting gave me an ititial good impression of the local government. When I began school, I realized that I was in the company of royal family members and other important Bahrainis, who were supportive of the government. Because these were the only Bahrainis with whom I ever came into contact, I assumed the majority of the local population was satisfied with the way the Emir, the Premier, and the Crown Prince were running the country. In fact, it bothered me the way the United States kept pushing the idea of democracy. In the U.S. democracy means high crime rates and low moral values. How would this system of government benefit a monarchy that upholds the family and boasts virtually non-existent crime?
Because of the apparent peace on the island, it came as quite a surprise to the expatriates, and probably some wealthy locals, that a group of lower-class Bahrainis were angry enough at the government to throw stones at policemen and burn tires and gas cylinders in their villages. The reaction of most expatriates was anger at these rioters for disturbing our peaceful existence within their country.
The initial reason for the uprisings was unhappiness with unemployment. Many young Bahraini men are unemployed because the government has given the jobs to foreigners, who have a stronger work ethic than local labor. The problem did not stay at this level, however. It grew to include the majority of the poor Shi’ite Muslim community, who form a different religious group from the ruling family, who are Sunni. At the start of the riots, I was informed that about 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ite while the Sunni minority are the ones in control. For years these ruling Sunni have oppressed their Shi’ite neighbors for fear that they would come to power. Despite this eye-opening piece of information, I still condemned the actions of the villagers.
Around May, the nightly gas cylinder explosions and tire burning ceased. It was not until troubles started up again a few months ago that my views on the whole situation changed.
I was raised to believe, as most of us were, that the ones who go against the law are the “bad guys”. Therefore, when a photograph of a fire-gutted car would be published on the front page of the GDN, it was the Shi’ite villagers who were the “bad guys”. What the newspaper failed to show were the pictures of the other “bad guys”, the men in uniform who drove through villages every night destroying families and lives by arresting every man on the street then taking them to unknown destinations where torture awaited them.
It is understandable, then, why the dissidents made the move from their previous futile acts of violence to planting bombs in restaurants, hotels, and even an ATM of a bank. It was reported that the ATM bomb exploded in the hands of the saboteur, which killed him and injured two counterparts. The man who was killed was lucky; he managed to avoid a life filled with government-induced torture.
While there have been several attacks lately, none have been as devastating as the recent restaurant firebombing. The way in which this attack was performed – ski masks, blocking exits – was uncharacteristic of the tactics normally used. That, along with a personal conversation with a Shi’ite man who disclaimed Shi’ite involvement, plus the newspaper report that the masked men were caught only two days after the incident, have led many to believe that it was actually a stunt pulled by the government. In this way the government can justify the unjust actions that have been taken against their opposition.
Although I do not support the idea of arson or planting bombs, I am more sympathetic with the dissidents than with the government. I understand their anger at being discriminated against and oppressed by their own people. There are less violent ways of expressing this dissatisfaction, but the government does not seem to respond positively to peaceful protest. While riots should be dealt with in a forceful manner, it should not exceed that to forms of brutality. The government is making the mistake of ignoring the needs of its won people, yet the leaders are too stubborn and arrogant to admit that they are even partially at fault. In this self-denial and poor handling of the situation, the government is causing its own demise.