by Catherine Shakdam (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 8, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1437)
The Bahraini regime continues to brutalize the people. One person, Shaykh Issa Qassem symbolizes their struggle against tyranny and oppression.
If the world still stands divided over Bahrain in a tug of war between two narratives —that of a tyrannical monarchical regime, and an oppressed people — it is really the fate of one man that encapsulates it all. Held to ransom by Manama’s vengeful regime, Shaykh Issa Qassim, one of Bahrain’s most prominent religious scholars, continues to face al-Khalifa’s wrath for he dared to speak for the resistance on behalf of his long suppressed people.
It is not just oppression Bahrain is battling against, but silence. Silence over the murder of its sons and daughters, silence over the innocent thrown in jail, silence over the oppression of an entire people for the manner of their prayer that still upsets the Wahhabis’ self-righteous bigotry.
Today Bahrain is an occupied land, ruled over not by the Khalifa family but the Bani Saud monarchy. From the moment Saudi mercenaries atop tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled into the tiny island kingdom, Bahrain has been under occupation. Since then, its fight has echoed that of Yemen: the rejection by a people to foreign diktat.
In an exclusive interview with the Bahrain Mirror, Bahraini activist Jaafar al-Hisabi said, “What is happening in Bahrain regarding grievances is similar to what is happening in Yemen, although both nations are only demanding their freedom, dignity, and legitimate rights that are present in all countries across the globe.”
Bahrain is not in the throes of popular unrest. Rather, it is in the throes of a battle for political self-determination, freedom, and justice — beyond that the people of Bahrain are fighting for the right to their religious identity long denied them by the minority ruling family.
Against the wishes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrainis seeks not to impose any particular religious model; Bahrainis want to return to pluralism, and celebrate diversity as their national identity. Beyond the call for regime change, lies the pain of an enslaved, violated people.
Bahrainis have pushed back against the Khalifa monarchy for they were left with no other choice. What are a people to do when all has been taken away from them, when all of what they are and what they stand for has been mocked, and criminalized? What are such people to do indeed?
The Bahrainis did what they had to: resisted and stood tall. They had to fight, and spoke the truth. There are lessons to be learned from Bahrain’s revolution that the world has yet to acknowledge. Rather than resort to violence and cause social chaos, or bear arms, the people of Bahrain offered a better way through peaceful resistance.
Where the sounds of bullets and bombs might have forced the world to witness the Bahrainis’ anger, it is through dialogue and rallies that the people have sought change. Still, their demands for reforms and equality before the rule of law have been met with immense barbarity.
One account of torture rings most disturbing. In May 2015, Rayhana al-Mosawi, a young political activist opened up to the Bahrain Mirror on the grave human rights abuses she was subjected to while in police custody. “I cannot but start with the most difficult experience, which you all know, yet no one can take in. It wasn’t one time, I was stripped naked twice in one day. Yes twice. It happened at the West Riffa Police Station, where I was subjected to the worst degrading, inhumane, immoral, and unreligious treatment. I heard curses and swear words, mocking my religion and sect, which I had never imagined hearing in my entire life.”
Such injustices of course have seldom appeared on the pages of the corporate media since they betray the Western powers’ interests and speak of the coldness and infamy of the Western political agenda. Worse still, lies were forged against the uprising so that the powers that be could criminalise a people’s right to resist injustice — the very right people claim for themselves worldwide. Interestingly, such rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the UN Charter that are invoked when these serve Western interests. If not, other people’s rights are simply ignored.
While Bahrain still remains a majority Shi‘i country — despite the many great efforts exerted by al-Khalifa — Bahrainis are determined to wipe out Saudi Arabia’s sectarian legacy, and affirm instead a new era of tolerance and social justice. Those are the very ideals Shaykh Issa Qassim has campaigned for, called for, promoted and spoken of throughout his life.
A noble son of Bahrain, Shaykh Issa Qassim was instrumental in the redaction of Bahrain’s constitution, a symbol of national cohesion, the carrier of a legitimacy that resides beyond the political. Today, the Shaykh is threatened with expulsion from Bahrain. The forefather of modern day Bahrain was stripped earlier this year (June 20, 2016) of his nationality, so that al-Khalifa could better justify his ouster.
“Revoking citizenship of Ayatullah Shaykh Issa Qassim by the Bahraini government is a fully inhumane move,” Amir Abdollahian, Iranian Parliament’s Director General for International Affairs said last August. But al-Khalifa has come to a red line in the person of Shaykh Qassim. Loved by millions, across faiths and political persuasions, Bahrainis have warned they would not tolerate their national hero, the very man who has come to embody Bahrain’s national identity and spirit, to be dragged in the mud by tyrants.
Since June protesters have held a sit-in in front of the Shaykh’s residence, both in protection and in solidarity. Such defiance has however been met with utmost violence and spite. The authorities have since June launched a massive campaign of summons and arrests over participation in the Diraz sit-in — Shaykh Qassim’s place of residence.
The Bahrain Commission for Human Rights (BCHR) has documented summons for 73 persons, 44 of whom are Shi‘i scholars and religious singers. The majority were kept in detention overnight before being presented to the public prosecution. Moreover, the public prosecution has remanded at least 23 of them to 15 days’ detention over charges of participating in illegal assembly. Among them are well-known religious scholars and activists. This is believed to be a form of intimidation to prevent people from exercising their right to free assembly. Several of them reported being asked to sign a pledge not to participate in the sit-in. The complete number of those summoned and detained is believed to be much higher.
Since the beginning of August, the public prosecution has published seven public statements regarding the number of individuals summoned and interrogated over “illegal gatherings” in Diraz. On August 4, the public prosecutor stated that it has referred eight cases to the courts on charges of “unlawful gathering, instigating hatred of the regime, and unlicensed rallying.” Of that not a word has leaked into mainstream media!