Special meeting of Friends of Bahrain’s People
11th March, 2014
On 14th March 2011 Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain to crush the popular revolution demanding transformation to democracy. It was dreadful to see armoured trucks full of Saudi soldiers chanting anti-democracy slogans.The military invasion was immediately followed by the notorious attack on the Pearl Roundabout where the youth had positioned themselves for the previous month. Several people were killed and hundreds injured in the assault.
This was followed by the systematic destructions of mosques, the arrest of medical teams, teachers, athletes, both men and women. The message was clear: No democratic change would be allowed in Bahrain. Three years later, the mission of those troops has become a curse to those who had sent them. Instead of ending Bahrain’s Revolution, Saudi Arabia has become the cradle of political strife by its own peole.
Chairman -Dr Saeed Shehabi, UK Representative, Bahrain Freedom Movement: This is a time for contemplation. A time for contemplating the future of freedom in the Middle East. Freedom, dignity, democracy are all terms that are of significance in a region that has been looking for them for the past 50 years. The region was about to achieve some of those qualities of life but unfortunately the forces of the counter revolution have been unable to keep quiet and they have been oppressing people to ensure that none of those values are implemented.
Today the Middle East is still searching for its soul to see where it is going, how the people are going to live in the 21st century and to put behind the decades and years of darkness, dictatorship and tyranny. After a glimmer of hope three years ago today we are not much nearer towards what we have been struggling to achieve. Our people have been oppressed in most of the Arab countries and I believe that the seeds of counter revolution were planted by the Saudis in Bahrain when they moved with their forces into the country on March 14th, 2011.
Unfortunately there was a lack of awareness among the people of the revolution, among the leadership. How can you accept a country going into another country, crossing the border, occupying land with their armed vehicles and their tanks and you are keeping quiet about it. Why do you keep quiet about the infringement of the sovereignty of a country at a time when the people were looking to free themselves from the chains of decades of tyranny and dictatorship. How can the Middle East remain being ruled by those ancient, antique, antiquated governments?
I was hoping that our friends in Egypt, Tunisia and also in Yemen and other places would speak out against this incursion. If the Arab revolution stood up against that single incident I am sure that the tide of history could have turned a little bit differently. The Saudis would not have been emboldened in their steps. That is why they went to Egypt last year and they supported the military. Regardless of whether the Brotherhood were good or bad if there is a military coup that is the end of the peoples right, the peoples vote. Today we are commemorating that day when the Saudi armed vehicles and tanks rolled over in the early hours of that faithful day going and crushing the people’s revolution and also supporting the regime in crushing the people who were encamped in the Pearl Roundabout. Before that it was a moment of hope and a few hours later it was a moment of despair a time to reflect on what was going on in the minds and hearts of the Arab revolutionaries.
Today I can still talk with a degree of dignity and pride that the revolution in Bahrain is the only revolution that has remained. It is still there. Day in day out the people are going out on the streets. Hundreds, thousands of people are in jail. About 3,5000 have been put behind bars in a very tiny country but still people are there. You can see them in the towns, cities and villages going and demonstrating every day without a stop.
The counter revolution has not succeeded in Bahrain and I believe it is the only peaceful, democratic, self defendant revolution. It will continue. Whether that will affect the course of history in the region, whether those forces which are countering the revolution will be defeated remains to be seen. I think they will. But whether it will happen now or later or how long it will take I don’t know. But I know for sure that people of Bahrain are battle hardened and they are there and they will remain. Their morale is so high and they cannot be defeated easily.
There are many things we can discuss. Our friends in Geneva have been campaigning for the rights of their people over the past few days and they are getting the sympathy of the world. Of course that sympathy is not yet translated into action but eventually the hope is that the dynamics of the region will turn into a power for change. When we see the three countries Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE severing their relations with Qatar or withdrawing their ambassadors from a fourth country this means that the GCC which is the baby of Saudi Arabia is disintegrating from within. How long will it survive? It looks to me that it is near the end of its life.
When the time for the 25th GCC summit comes next December in Doha I don’t believe the tyrants of the Gulf will have a good time because I don’t believe they will be able to recongregate and take again more decisions against the people.
Tonight we want to celebrate, to commemorate to glorify the souls of the martyrs to stand up in support and appreciation of those who stood bare footed and bare chested to counter the invading forces in Bahrain and there are many images of that. We have many good friends in the West. I don’t think the Western people are bad. Most of them are good. A few of them are bad but those people are everywhere. There are people with good hearts, there are people with good values, there are people who are against war, against dictatorship, against arms sales and some of them are here with us tonight. They came to support the people’s revolution, the people’s struggle to achieve justice. I believe we are so lucky to have such friends. They are the friends of truth and humanity. I am so proud to have them with us tonight. We have Sarah Waldron, an activist with Committee Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and I remember her when her during the Stop the Shipment Campaign outside the Korean embassy six months ago. I am sure John Rees was also there outside the Excel Exhibition Centre at the time of the arms fair. These are the sort of people who deserve to be respected. We also have Robert Papini, who is working for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and there is plenty of room to co-operate and work together there. They are going to have a conference in Birmingham in August and I hope people can attend although it is the summer weekend. We have our old friend who has always been standing with us the Rev Frank Gelli. Today I read a piece about Saudi Arabia by Frank so there is no shortage of ideas from the Rev. Now we have a short video – -an interview with Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
Interviewer: In the light of the human rights violations in Bahrain why is Britain not scaling down trading relations with the Persian Gulf dictatorship?
Andrew Smith: I think that is a fairly good question. I think the answer is because there is an undeniable hypocrisy in foreign policy. We talk tough on human rights but we are prepared to sell large amounts of weapons to all sorts of oppressive governments. What is happening with Bahrain is just one very good example of that. Rather than scaling things down we have been celebrating British week in Bahrain. We have sent them Prince Andrew and a big, gigantic London bus and all sorts of novelty circus items.
Interviewer: Why would the Duke of York go there?
Andrew Smith: He is going there, Rolls Royce is going there and there is quite a lot of business being done and possibly quite a lot of money changing hands. We will be looking for sales of our typhoon programme. Sales have fallen through in the UAE and some other countries. So we are going to be looking for a buyer. We are desperately trying to get business from some of the most brutal dictators that you can find.
Interviewer: Can you give us an idea of the scale of the atrocities going on in Bahrain? It is very difficult to get reporters there.
Andrew Smith: It is very difficult to get accurate reporting – you are right. We know that since the Arab spring there have been thousands of pounds worth of military exports to Bahrain. We are helping the government to suppress the population. What we are calling for is for Britain to support democratic reform in the country. We are calling on Britain to denounce the repression and not side with the oppressor. We know it is very hard to get accurate reports about what is happening on the ground. But the government is still bringing in large amounts of tear gas which is being shipped in in canisters from South Korea. They are trying to bring in more weapons and up the stakes with regard to what is going on there. The reconciliation negotiations have fallen through in the last couple of weeks. We know that the opposition started boycotting them since early September because they were clearly a sham and now the government has cancelled them altogether.
Interviewer: The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is on the record as saying that the dictator of Bahrain is a force of good, promoting reform and reconciliation. He is doing valuable work and the UK is right to support him in those efforts.
Andrew Smith: Presumably that was before the reconciliation talks fell apart. The fact that they fell apart shows how little commitment there was to them in the first place. I think that the leaders of Bahrain are good for us from a business perspective but I think human rights has to be central to our policy rather than just sales for arms companies.
Interviewer: David Cameroon was very vocal of his support of the so-called Arab spring. Do you think that he actually thinks as do members of the Royal Family like the Duke of York that if you sell weapons to Arab dictators you can actually exert leverage on human rights issues?
Andrew Smith: This has always been the argument and I think it is a fallacy. I think that when you are selling weapons you are giving leverage to the buyer. Our policy has been very short sighted and guided by the wrong ethics. An example of this is Libya. In 2004 Libya got taken off the black list by the UN and everyone swarmed in trying to sell them all sorts of things. Britain swooped in and we were very central in selling them all sorts of weapons and they used them to put down protesters. In 2012 we listed Libya as a target market again. This is only a very short time after all the disruption that was caused with the suppression of the protests.
Interviewer: What weapons are we selling the Bahraini dictatorship to exert leverage on human rights as it were?
Andrew Smith: They have sold machine guns and a large number of pistols and provided military training as well. We have also been selling a lot of parts which can be used in sniper rifles and all sorts of weapons.
Interviewer: Do you think it is a case of the British government supporting the Bahraini dictators and frankly they don’t support the pro democracy supporters so what is wrong with selling them riot control gear and weapons?
Andrew Smith: I think they are making a very political calculation but it appears to be guided by the wrong question. We are not asking what is best for the people of Bahrain. We are asking what is best for the leadership of Bahrain and what is best for the arms companies rather than what is best for the people who are trying to bring about democracy.
Interviewer: Maybe the parliamentarians on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee believe we should be supporting Saudi Arabia and they do not see it as a bad thing to sell weapons to Bahrain.
Andrew Smith: This is a consistent problem because in 2010 the FCO listed 26 countries about which they have major concerns about human rights. In that year alone they sold weapons to 16 of them. It has always been a central part of our trading policy to deal with some really bad governments.
Sarah Waldron, activist with Committee Against Arms Trade (CAAT): In the CAAT we research the UK’s role in the global arms trade and we take action to counter it. The Saudi intervention in Bahrain is something that we are deeply ashamed of. I am ashamed that the equipment for this intervention in the picture here behind you was supplied by the UK. The invasion was carried out by Saudi Arabian forces but the UK has just been complicit every step of the way. The vehicles at the top of this picture here were sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK weapons manufacturer BA systems. The Saudi Arabian national guard ordered 261 of them and we supplied them in 2008. They were made here in Newcastle by BA systems Land systems division. We have been training Saudi Arabia’s National Guard since 1964 which is a long and shameful record. All the BA systems sales to Saudi Arabia could not happen without the support of the UK government. They are supported every step of the way by the people who unfortunately represent me.
When these vehicles entered Bahrain the UK continued to supply parts for them even in 2011, three months after they had gone into Bahrain when they were still present and active there the UK government was approving exports of parts to maintain those vehicles.
I am really ashamed that the UK did not speak out about the intervention. It was silent and with its silence it supported it. It had plenty of opportunity to speak out. We discovered that William Hague and the foreign office were told the intervention was going to take place. The Saudi Foreign Minister spoke to him and told him and the Saudi embassy also told Britain’s representatives in Saudi Arabia that this was going to happen.
They did not speak out. They support democracy and humans right elsewhere but in this case they were silent. The UK also seems to have accepted unquestioningly Saudi Arabia’s assurances that its forces were just there to protect infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. Even if that is the case that those Saudi troops were only guarding infrastructure it no excuse at all for
supporting their involvement. They were and still are there in support of a government that was and still is carrying out violent repression against its own citizens. And the UK knew that that as happening. Even if those troops in Saudi Arabia were not directly carrying out the repression themselves they were guarding infrastructure and freeing up the Bahraini troops in order to carry on the repression that they were responsible for. So those excuses don’t wash and we get these excuses time and time again and they really disgust me.
During the crackdown in Pearl Square the UK recognized that there was violent repression. It admitted that it had supplied those carrying out the repression with weapons. It admitted it supplied the weapons that were being used to carry out that repression. But we were told it was okay as there was no evidence that the particular weapons the UK had supplied were actually being used to carry out the repression. That is a significant difference. They are also saying that those vehicles were okay because they were not being used for repression.
This is how the UK is continuing to supply practical means and support and legitimacy. My colleague was mentioning that a few weeks ago the UK sent a high-powered delegation, including Prince Andrew to Bahrain to try and sell more weapons. It is trying to do the same in Saudi Arabia. Just ten days ago Prince Charles was out there joining the Saudi royals in a ceremonial sword dance. He was there to help finalise a deal again for BA systems to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia.
So we have been campaigning saying this is not okay. The UK is definitely wrong to be arming Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in advance of the uprisings. It is definitely wrong to keep doing so and by doing so it has blood on its hands. I am really ashamed, and everyone that works for us is really ashamed by what is being done by our government on our behalf. So I think we are just here to say that this is not being done in our name and we are really inspired by the peaceful resistance of the democracy movement in Bahrain and will do what we can to expose our governments complicity in their repression and challenge it.
I really hope that right now we may have some activists at work. There is another security fair that our government is holding in Farnborough today that is called security and policing. It normally Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to attend so we assume they are there. It has also invited BA systems to exhibit and surveillance companies such as GAMA international. Their software has been found in Bahrain being used against activists. We have some activists at the business dinner disrupting it and saying it is not okay and we will continue to do what we can to support you.
Saeed Shehabi: Thank you very much Sarah for these kind words and reassuring the public that those whose have a conscience and humanity in their souls cannot keep quiet when they see repression and oppression is being committed. Sarah referred to the fact that the British government was aware that the invasion was going to take place according to some documents that have been released to them. The FCO has been reluctant to release all the documents showing the discussion that has taken place in those fateful days before the invasion between the Saudi officials and the UK officials in Manama or in Riyadh. Another act will come that will force the government to release those documents because it is necessary to know how much complicit those governments are in the occupation that is taking place in Bahrain today. I think you have a short video.
RT Video: Shia villages in Bahrain’s capital have been left shrouded in tear gas as fierce clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators take place. The protest moving is marking three years of its uprising against the ruling Sunni monarchy which has been met with a relentless crackdown and thousands of arrests.
Reporter: It is three years since the Arab spring gripped the Gulf state of Bahrain, Violence still shakes the streets of its capital Manama as protesters against the Sunni-led government fire Molotov cocktails the police respond with tear gas and flash bang grenades.
Asma Darwish: The thing is that the government is using excessive violence. Many people are being tortured. There are house raids in Sitra. It is an island in Bahrain. You can hear helicopters, armed vehicles shooting at people and throwing tear gas here and there making people suffer even those who are not even protesting in the streets.
Reporter: At least 89 have reportedly been killed in the Shia opposition’s striving for reforms. Hundreds if not thousands have been injured. Some have lost limbs and eyesight. Protests have been held on an almost daily basis and I witnessed some of those. I went to Bahrain a little more than a year ago with different government officials who told me that despite seeing the protesters as radicals and hardliners they were still looking for some sort of compromise. But the most sensational statement came from the country’s information minister Saida Raja: “The Bahraini opposition is a main ally of the US. The terrorist network
are members of the opposition and have close ties with foreign embassies in Bahrain. We have documents proving this. I talked to the Americans and asked them to speak to their friends in the opposition. You understand that Bahrain cannot be ruled by negative sectarian apartheid.
Bahrain’s opposition say the allegations are laughable. If that was true why are there no actions from the Western states. The US navy fifth fleet stationed in Bahrain and Washington’s close ties with Saudi Arabia may be among the reasons. On the second anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising thousands are protesting peacefully in the streets. This time it is already a lot noisier with the opposition planning a three-day long protest and the authorities beefing up security. Last month Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman called for negotiations to end the violence. But with two failed attempts already and the royal family refusing to budge on protesters demands hardly anyone in this Gulf state can see a break through soon.
Saeed Shehabi: I now invite John Rees a campaigner against the war. He doesn’t like wars. There is a war in Bahrain or a semi war. There are forces in Bahrain. The words of John Rees with resonate with John Rees that we are all against outside interventions by countries into the affairs of others.
John Rees, journalist and activist within the Stop-the-War coalition: Thank you for the invitation and my greetings in solidarity from the Stop the War Coalition. It is said in politics that it is important to have the right enemies. I think the Bahraini revolution has the right enemies. It has a very dictatorial, authoritarian and tyrannical domestic government against it. It has the enemy of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council which is the organizing center of counter revolution not just in Bahrain but throughout the Middle East and it has the enemy of the UK, the USA and the Western powers who connived and armed the counter revolution in Bahrain. That is a powerful set of enemies but they are the right enemies for a revolution to have.
There are some examples in the rest of the Middle East regarding what happens if you do not have the right enemies. The Bahraini revolution continues. It continues uncompromised. It continues without corruption, without political deviation from its goals and that cannot be said three years on for all the revolutions in the Middle East. It can be said of the Bahraini revolution. It could be said that the Bahraini revolution is the conscience of Arab revolutions. It has not compromised and it has not failed to resist its enemies. In a lot of places they have and they chose something that is worse than defeat in a revolution.
The thing that is worse than defeat is to compromise a revolution. You can recover from a defeat. You can resist defeat, you can rebuild a revolution from defeat but you cannot rescue a revolution from corruption. And that is the outstanding thing that the Bahraini revolution now provides for all revolutions and for all those struggling to recover revolutions in the entirety of the Middle East. It is an extremely important act of solidarity for anyone who wants to see the success of those revolutions that we stand in solidarity with those continuing to fight in Bahrain and those who are being tortured and killed for fighting back.
You can see the ideological importance of the Bahraini revolution in other fields as well. I am a supporter of national self determination. I am a supporter of the right of nations to self determination. So I cannot support the armed intervention of any state in the affairs of another. But anybody who is passingly familiar with events in Bahrain cannot help either be sickened or bemused when they see Hilary Clinton lecturing Vladimir Putin on the necessity of not invading another country, of not compromising another country’s national integrity.
Yet the United States are serial offenders of other people’s national integrity. They are serial invaders and they are serial occupiers and support regimes like Saudi Arabia in its invasion and occupation of Bahrain. And that is why the Bahraini revolution and its continued resistance is important not just for Bahrainis but for everybody who wants to resist the imperial powers in their interventions in the Middle East.
I think it is significant that at the same time that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were intervening in Bahrain they were also assisting the NATO intervention in Libya and that was turning point in the organization of the counter revolution against the Arab revolutions. So the significance of Bahrain as a turning point, the significance of its continued resistance not simply in the Middle East should not be understated.
I know that the British government arms the Bahraini regime and the Saudi regime to the teeth. It seems to me that Bahrain is a country which has one to many royal families and it seems to me to be adding insult in injury to send them ours as well. Quite what the Bahrainis have done to deserve the attentions of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew escapes me when they suffer so grievously from their own royal family.
We from 300 years ago did away with our own royal family. I recommend it to anybody who is suffering from that kind of tyranny. It was the first modern revolution in this country. It is still worth recalling what happened in this country.
So for all those reasons I am happy to be here and happy to express solidarity with those still struggling and fighting in Bahrain. I think that the revolution can be defeated and it can be driven underground but it can’t be eradicated completely. The experience of that kind of struggle of that kind of resistance will be reborn, will find a way back into the mainstream of political history of those countries.
My congratulations to you for organizing the meeting, my solidarity, we will offer all practical help wherever we can and always our support.
Saeed Shehabi: Thank you John for those kind words again and it shows how the people who have experience in combating injustice will always speak from deep in their hearts because what they are saying is a reflection of their inner goodness, their innate goodness. This is what makes me happy to listen to people like John and Sarah and other speakers who are going to join us now.
Our friend Robert Papini is working for religious freedom and this is one of the crisis we have in Bahrain. Religious freedoms do not exist. There have been a lot of reports. There was the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva on discrimination on a religious basis and lack of freedom of worship. There is a lot of this going on in Bahrain and I am sure when he talks to us it will resonate in our minds and in our hearts. I am sure that your work for religious tolerance will find echoes in the minds and hearts of the colleagues here.
Robert Papini, Administrator at International Association for Religious Freedom: Thank you very much. Thank you for the invitation. It is really an honour to be here. I am feeling a little out of my depth both because our organisation has a name that is a lot grander than its current state of preparedness for the nature of the struggles we face. Also because I am merely an administrator. I do not have any kind of training in politics, understanding of geo politics more broadly. I spend most of my time doing administrative tasks.
So I am going to confine my remarks to the little that comes through to me in terms of our work with probably the most useful attribute that we have in the International Association for Religious Freedom. We are an old inter-faith organisation – about 100 years old. Arguably the freedom of faith as we currently have it in Article 18 of the UN charter came about due to our formative influence. The thinkers of our foundation period. There is a lot of inter-faith work going on now with many organisations well funded and media savy which we cannot claim. But we were there in the beginning and arguably Article 18 is part of our legacy. [Article 18 of the UDHR is the right to the freedom of belief closely tied to Article 19 the freedom of expression]
That is our special competence. Our special attribute, tool or weapon is the UN status that we enjoy and that is the general consultative status with Ecosag which is a very coveted status that very few NGOs. They get special consultative status. There are many hundreds applying for it at the moment. It does not have the same means that we do. In fact the other night I discovered that the Al Khoei Foundation is one of only four Muslim organisations in the UN that has this status. There are probably many others which deserve it more than we do. But we do have a representative in Geneva and we do make interventions.
I want to speak about that because more than expressing solidarity tonight which I think is important. Although I do not speak on behalf of our governing board I am sure they would join me in expressing every shade of solidarity and sympathy with your struggle.
It may be useful to know what the limits of the work that can be done at the UN are. We come to solidarity with Bahrain through accession of a new member group. We are a collection of member groups – the Bahrain Inter-faith Centre who have a religious freedom unit which is trying to instrumentalise the concept of religious freedom in pursing the wider liberation.
Yesterday a side event to the Human Rights Council’s 21st session took place where this mew member group put forward submissions, written and oral to the HRC to the effect that sectarianism is one of the big problems in Bahrain.
This is getting in deep waters which I am not equipped to talk about myself. What I want to share with you is that there was someone from the Shia faith presenting orally whose statement I was asked by our main representative in Geneva to edit to remove possibly offensive or immoderate expressions that might upset both the state that she was speaking about and the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom who is one of the special instruments of the UNHRC.
She had been asking simply that the Special Rapporteur’s office take cognisance of the fact that 700 Shia Muslims have been killed in 2013 in Pakistan. This was a matter of record through the media and very often verified by her organisation but not acceptable by the office of the special rapporteur. It is UN policy that they will not accept media reports as evidence. She was protesting about this.
We need to change the way that the special procedures at the UN work. This is something that our friends in this and many other struggles Lord Avebury was probably saying yesterday at the House of Lords. He is calling for the reform of how the UN addresses these very parlous situation such as the one in Bahrain.
There are country visits by the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom. He accepts evidence when he visits a country where there is a particular problem. Evidence is accepted from NGOs but only if names and addresses are attached to those who provide the evidence. This clearly in states where there is repressions and surveillance and basically a police state exists it is signing a death warrant in many cases.
So there are problems with placing faith in a lot of forums of the UN. And a lot of energy goes into them. People spend a long time preparing, including ourselves. I have had to edit a lot of these written statements myself and cross all the ‘t’s’ and dot all the ‘i’s’ and it vanished into the ether. There is never any feedback.
The NGO’s don’t get respect for the work which is done on the ground and it is often difficult and dangerous work in the countries in question. So I want to say from my experience from what I have seen at a great distance is that we as NGOs need to put more energy into an initiative to get the reform in the United Nations in order that these instruments work efficiently and to purpose because at the moment they do not. They are hobbled by all manner of realpolitik and a genuflecting to states. Primacy seems to be given to the sensitivity of states and the feelings of states when you have slaughter going on of the citizens where evidence is clearly everywhere. The distrust of the media by the UN is extraordinary. We know how hard many journalists work and the risks that they take.
So that is what I am bringing to this meeting and I hope it is in some way useful to you. We would like to work with people involved in the Bahrain struggle. We think it is an extraordinary point in the bigger picture. The United Nations could be made to work for this and other struggles. So let us try this. Let us get together in some kind of front and get these reforms and take the next step beyond that.
We have a quadrennial congress coming up at the end of August where the subject is the use of new media in these kinds of situations – the challenges that they face in promoting religious freedom and other human rights struggles. So we would welcome anyone who has special knowledge and experience in these situations to come forward and make a presentation.
Saeed Shehabi: Thank you very much Robert. I think these mechanisms of the United Nations were written and proposed by the states themselves. I do not believe that these mechanisms are sufficient to alleviate the sufferings of the people. Unfortunately in Geneva you go and spend money and time and you get some people listening to you but the main session is dominated by states – by the foreign ministers, delegations and if you are lucky you may get an NGO giving you a few minutes of their time to give an intervention. From our experience over the past 25 years the work of human rights organisations in Geneva is very slow. Human rights is an enticing word but how effective is it in removing the obstacles and the suffering of the people still remains to be seen. But the religious arena is very important and we stand by you.
CNN Video: Demolishing Shia mosques in Bahrain.
If a picture is worth a thousand words what would this one say. Resilience? Opposition activists say the government is razing Shia mosques and shrines as a way to crush them. They have documented the destruction of at least 30 Shia sites in the past two months using satellite images. They also shoot videos secretly hiding from the security forces. Different Shia mosques, same picture. The security forces surround a building than a bulldozer moves in. Worshippers returned later to salvage anything they can. Troops dismantled this mosques. Some are lifted away. Others are torched. Burned Qurans lie in the rubbles. Human rights activists say worshippers have been attacked with tear gas. CNN is unable to verify the authenticity of these videos but Amnesty International says Bahrain’s opposition faces a relentless and violent crackdown. The kindgom’s Shia majority has played a big part in the opposition to the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty which is Sunni.
Nabeel Rajab: Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: I call it cultural genocide. It is very dangerous.
The government says it is not targeting religious buildings and is only removing make-shift constructions built illegally. The Foreign Minister denied any mosques have been demolished. International organisations like Human Rights Watch have also accused the Bahraini authorities of shooting unarmed protesters, torturing political prisoners, harassing doctors and patients. The space for dialogue in Bahrain is shrinking.
Saeed Shehabi: Our final speaker for tonight and we will not keep you long, is none other than our old friend Rev Frank Gelli who has always stood by our cause and always says kind words and whose work in the field of faith and inter-faith has inspired us all to be steadfast and to be aware of what needs to be done in an environment that is becoming hostile to tolerance, dialogue and debate. The rants that we receive from Frank Gelli every week inspire us.
Rev Frank Gelli: Rant is a jocular word. I will start with a quotation from scripture. “In the beginning was the word from the gospel of Saint John. It is not far from kitab, the uncreated word of God in Quran in Islam. I want to bring this down to earth and that word means we must talk, we must speak out. We never cease talking about Bahrain. We must keep the cause in Bahrain in the public mind, in the media mind.
I used to be a journalist in a previous incarnation and I have been made especially aware of the importance of the media, the importance of the word, the importance of talking in connection with the Ukraine. We have witnessed techniques of communication and also manipulation whereby what looked like spontaneous demonstrations were actually carefully arranged and organised by a particular group.
The cause of Bahrain is clear. It is justice towards injustice. It is the majority of the people in Bahrain who are actually rising up against a dictator and a tyrant. We had Tariq Ramadan an eminent Muslim intellectual here recently who made it quite clear that despite what people like Sheikh Qaradawi said this is not a sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni. This is battle between the oppressed and the oppressor. It is not a sectarian affair.
We also watched a few minutes ago the military formation in Bahrain. There was talk about the connection of the people who rise up with a foreign embassy. What a cheek. The Saudis have sent an army to Bahrain to occupy. What kind or regime is Saudi Arabia? It is in cahoots with the Whabis who are intolerant and stir up hate and violence towards fellow Muslims, towards, Sufis, Shias and Yeidis – even against fellow Sunnis. They conducted a campaign of religious vandalism and destroyed sites sacred to Islam in connection with the Prophet’s family.
Last night Jeremy Paxman interviewed a former wife of King Abdullah and she said that her daughters are kept under house arrest. Women are not even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. What kind of an regime is this that sends and army to occupy Bahrain, to oppress a little nation which is not threatening anyone.
So we must keep the cause of Bahrain in the public eye. We must not stop agitating and demonstrating using twitter, face book whatever. We must not stop doing that. I began by saying in the beginning was the word. I want to end with a quotation from a great German poet Goethe who said the beginning was the deed, the action. Word and action must go together – not just talk but agitate and demonstrate on behalf of the people of Bahrain and in sha Allah victory will be ours.
Discussion and questions
Saeed Shehabi: I wanted to ask the reverend about this religious intolerance. How destructive it is in societies. And why are some people so intolerant of others?
Frank Gelli: It is a matter of ideology. We see how it works out in Syria where these Whabis and Selafis are even cutting down trees.
Comment: Unless the Wahabis change their curriculum and close those schools of hatred within Saudi Arabia it is very difficult to change.
Question: A question for Mr Papini – you explained the work of the NGOs in the struggle in the United Nations system. We are in the struggle it could take years and it could just go on and on without ending. As far as we know what is happening in Bahrain is horrible. It is not like someone just gets abused and slapped. We are losing lives : approximately one person a week since the revolution started. We are approaching the 200 mark. In view of the difficulties of the mechanisms of the United Nations what should Bahrain do. This will one day definitely turn to violence between both. It is happening in Syria. It started softly and now everyone is getting involved and losing lives. What if Bahrain turns like Syria and what actions can be taken to prevent this.
Robert Papini: I am very glad I bought the conclusions and the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur. I printed this out thinking I would quote it during the talk but I did not for brevity’s sake. It is a very interesting read as an example of basically the toothlessness of the United Nations in the face of the current state of affairs in the Middle.
The latest 2014 report of an Austrian professor who is the special rapporteur on religious freedom – he is a volunteer, he has a tiny staff. I don’t think he even gets reasonable travel expenses. When he does country visits our experience has been that they shifted his schedule so often that it was difficult for a lot of NGOs to meet with him. That is what happened when he was in India. He just did not hear a lot of what he should of. I am sure he recognizes the limitations of his mandate. In this report he is turning to a psychological analysis of intolerance. He mentions the Rabat Plan of Action. Overall there is a sense that they are severely curtailed by circumstances. There are forces working at the level of religion that are not really susceptible to the UN process. We are talking about two strains of faith here represented by two great powers in the Middle East dividing the region. When you think about Article 18 and the whole UN charter this was designed by idealists centered around Eleanor Roosevelt at the end of the war when the West was still in hegemony.
We are living in such radically different times. I think Article 18 and religious freedom are the least susceptible of all human rights to these kinds of interventions that the special procedures profess to make.
Frank Gelli: In connection with the Whabis I have just read a book by Professor Madawi Rashid a Saudi who was here once she is a Professor in Kings College. She makes reference to the Wahbis are austere. They are not austere because they enjoy amassing wealth. This goes back to Mohammed Ibn Wahab the founder of the sect looting, sacking and carrying away wealth.
Saeed Shehabi: I think we better close now. It is 8pm. The only thing that remains is for me to thank you for coming and joining us and expressing your support. That really brings as joy and encourages us to continue the struggle.