Shia lives still matter, even in 2021: Note to Bahrain
WASHINGTON: Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, journalists, and some members of Congress, the persecution of Shia Muslims in Bahrain continues apace. Only the nature of the persecution has changed. At first, regular individuals were targeted for their beliefs. Now the Bahraini government consistently targets leaders and educators who possess a better understanding of Shia rights. Clearly, these leaders could transmit that understanding to others. But Bahrain still seems unable to understand that even in 2021, Shia lives still matter.
Why Shia lives still matter
One example involved the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender. Another involved Sheikh Ali Salman, a religious figure carrying a message of nonviolence and coexistence. Both have dedicated their lives to promote freedom. And both continue to educate the public about what can be done to prevent violence toward their community.
The goal is no longer just to petition the Bahraini government for equality, freedom, or recognition of religious minorities. It is also to assert the character of Bahrain as an independent state, independent in particular of Saudi Arabia, which embodies discrimination policies and inhumane treatment of its people.
The many flaws in the Bahraini political system need to be fixed to establish a foundation for change and improvement in citizens’ lives. Mediators and conflict resolution experts have tried to help. But the government does not recognize that in order to resolve the conflict, the emphasis must be on shared interests, not on relative position. Peace-building endeavors must deal with threats to the security, education, equality, dignity, and economic improvement of Bahrain, all national vulnerabilities in the ongoing conflict.
Personal and structural violence threaten the Bahraini national identity.
Structural violence fosters and supports an unjust hierarchy that discriminates on the basis of faith and fosters dependency on government and social agencies. Inequality has led to the resignation of many members of parliament. Clearly, their efforts were undermined by discrimination against their ideology.
Inequality made personal violence inevitable in Bahrain. Educators, scholars, and activists aren’t just being ignored for upper-level jobs and in decision-making; their citizenship is being revoked. They are being targeted for physical and mental harm.
For years, an educated, diverse populace for years managed to live peacefully together in Bahrain. Among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Bahrain maintained and continues to maintain one of the area’s most educated, creative workforces. Its Shia population has been an important part of this success. For that reason, the current targeting of the educated elite will only damage the nation’s prosperity.
Bahrain signed onto the United Nations human rights standards and the GCC declaration of human rights. But the government continues to disregard both. Consequently, this shows that the government has no real commitment to solving the conflict. Rather, the actions of the government may further inflame it.
Bahraini grievances cannot be answered with violence.
No matter how many people are arrested, tortured, and killed in Bahrain, the road to regaining their identity and dignity cannot include the use of violence.
But failure to resolve the issue now puts a greater burden on future generations. Even today, they struggle to follow their parents’ footsteps in building a better, more prosperous Bahrain.
So direct violence must end now. The government must restore revoked citizenships and release political prisoners. Bahrainis must work together to build trust between the government and its citizens. And those citizens must have a say in making the laws. Bahrain must allow more participation of majority Shia in the parliament and give them a voice to address the issues that need to be improved in the country.
The conflict in Bahrain has no one-sided solution; government and citizens, Shia and Sunni all have responsibilities. Bahrain must rid its political system and society of hierarchy and discrimination. Third parties must be kept out so that the people of Bahrain can together draft a plan to build a better and brighter future for their youth. And in that brighter future, Shia lives, like all other lives, will matter.
About the author:
Mustafa Akhwand is the founder of the minority rights organization Shia Rights Watch. His peace advocacy efforts span from West to East as he facilitates non-violence on the ground in war-ridden nations such as Iraq. He founded the Shia Rights Watch, which focuses on the humanitarian rights of Shia Muslims.
Mustafa Hold BCS (Bachelor of Computer Science) and BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) and MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University focusing on Dynamic of Violence. Mustafa has also led facilitation, mediation, and peace-building programs in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
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