Unusual Insights Into The Bahrain Crisis, and More Thoughts on Reconciliation

A couple of days ago I was sitting in a room with a small group of peers, going through an unusual leadership workshop.  The workshop focused mainly on doing soul searching within, and focusing on values.

The facilitator was an American leadership expert who has various degrees in psychology.  She explained some of the psychological processes human beings go through in times of crisis, and what’s fascinating about that is that it felt like she was describing EXACTLY what happened in Bahrain!

I want to share some of these insights with you, here goes:

The Human Brain:

The human brain consists of three main parts, the cerebral cortex, the reptilian (basic) brain, and the limbic part.  The cerebral cortex is the “rational” brain.  And what can happen when we are very stressed or very afraid, the cerebral cortex shuts down and we function on a much more basic level, with the reptilian brain.  Here we don’t act rationally and focus more on survival, and will do and say things to protect ourselves.  Hmm, sound familiar?  Seems to me that a lot of us in Bahrain are at this level.

The Escalation Process:

It is as follows:
Irritation –> Frustration –> Resentment –> Anger –> Rage
The escalation process must be stopped at resentment, before things get worse.  At this stage the resentment must have an object (could be a person, a group, a race, a sect or even a nation).  It’s at the resentment stage that people “build armies”  and begin to feel justified in their anger.  Again, this is so familiar.  Ask yourself, when it comes to the Bahrain crisis, who do you resent?


Our 3 Basic Needs:

According to our psychologist expert, human beings have three basic needs, which are the need to be:
1) Valued.
2) Loved.
3) Accepted.

As I understood it, these needs can exist on a personal, family, school, neighbourhood and societal level.  And it’s when these three needs are not met that problems arise, and the opposite emotions occur.  They are shame, fear, anger and hurt.

False Pride vs. Authentic Pride:
False pride is when you are proud of being part of something because you think it’s better than something else.  Authentic pride is when you’re proud of belonging to something for it’s own sake – without thinking it’s better than something else.


The Five Levels of Genocide:

1) Avoidance.
2) Verbal abuse.
3) Discrimination.
4) Violence.
5) Murder/genocide.

The facilitator shared a very interesting opinion.  She said that as human beings we cannot kill another human being.  What we do first is we “dehumanise” the other first, which makes it so much easier to hate and kill the other side.

I’ve seen many documentaries which show how the Nazis dehumanised jews.  They created many propaganda cartoons in which jews appear as rats or similar creatures.  They did this again during the invasion of Russia, where they again dehumanised the Slav race and depicted them as sub-human.  This made the mass killings of Jews and other “inferior” races so much more palatable to the German soldiers.

Our facilitator informed us that in Rwanda, the Hutu called the Tutsi “cockroaches,” which again made it so easy for them to kill, because they did not see them as human.  Sound familiar?

Today I saw a very disturbing profile of a guy on Twitter.  It said “the Hindus are men that worship cows, and the Shia are cows that worship men.”  This racist comment most likely comes from a person whose brain lost the ability to function rationally, is missing some deep needs and is at the Discrimination Level.  And there are many like him here in Bahrain and in the rest of the GCC.

Of course there are others on the other side who dehumanise Sunnis and royalists – someone called me an “Al-Khalifa dog” after the AJ Stream interview – and have degrading things to say about naturalised Bahrainis and foreigners.


Reconciliation is The Only Solution:

I know I know there is so much pain and anger, and yes serious violations occurred.  But we cannot continue like this.  Bahrain’s reputation internationally has been shred to bits, and our economy is going down the toilet – fast.

The protestors might not have been able to topple the regime, but they are certainly succeeding in crippling the economy.  Ask any business person and they will tell you how bad business is – it’s really bad.

So the social, economic and political climate is bad and we’re all suffering, I think it’s time to reconcile.  And we need to do so asap!


What Reconciliation Is And What It Is Not:

Let me share some Twitter messages I got a few days ago when I Tweeted about reconciliation:

Of course these are valid points.  So I think it’s worth pointing out that reconciliation is not about kissing and making up, and forgetting about the past as if it didn’t happen.  Reconciliation needs to be a detailed, facilitated process which allows for anger to be released, emotions to be expressed and grieving, and then healing to take place.

It needs to take as long as it needs to take.

Further, reconciliation needs to happen on two levels.  First, on a political level, and second on a societal level. The first is between the government, the opposition and the people of Bahrain.    There needs to be serious reconciliation there.  And if it does not happen, the crisis will never end, and more attempted revolutions will take place, every 5 to 10 years.

The societal reconciliation needs to happen between the people of Bahrain in general, and Sunnis and Shias specifically.  We have to create programmes and projects that bring people together.  The government, and more importantly we as a society, have to make sure that there are no more radicals in this country who compare people of a noble sect to animals.

Of course, one assumes that this will take place in addition to deep-rooted reforms that will address some of the shortcomings of our current system.


What I’m Doing About It:

Lest you think I’m preaching but not practicing, here’s what I’m doing to try to bring the people of Bahrain together:
– Reading books and educating myself about Shiasm.  I heard so much BS about the other sect that I decided to find out the truth for myself.
– Promoting moderation as much as possible, and I’ve recently invited other moderate writers to contribute to my blog.
– Making sure the message of how bad things are economically is reaching the government.  I stressed this to HRH the Crown Prince in one of my visits to his majlis.
– Having conversations with the “other side” and making sure I do more listening than talking.


A TV Quote:

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but a couple of months ago the series “Game of Thrones” was released (based on the best selling books).  In one of the episodes, Eddard Stark (the main character) says to someone angrily “you expect me to make peace with my enemies??”  The other guy replies calmly and says “Who else should you make peace with, your friends?”

I’ve been criticised more than once, saying how can I ask for reconciliation when I took sides.  Yes I took sides, but I’m willing to listen and make peace with the other side…

I hope you are too.

10 Responses to Unusual Insights Into The Bahrain Crisis, and More Thoughts on Reconciliation

  1. Sunni against sectarianism 12 October 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Dear Suhail,

    nice article overall but as you pointed out, you’re call for social reconciliation needs to be coupled with political reconciliation:

    you can be a monarchist yet i don’t understand why you can’t put pressure on the royal family to establish a democratically elected government that represents the will of each citizen equally?

    you’re not the first monarchy in the world to go through this transition so just save yourselves the pain of years of turmoil and have a unified front with the “other” to bring that change now.


  2. Nasreen 12 October 2011 at 4:31 am #


    This is one of the better types of analysis I have seen on the Bahrain crisis and I’m glad to see you putting it out there. Reconciliation and healing in anything – domestic, societal, political – requires self awareness and, as you say, an authentic process.

    May I suggest that as part of the reconciliation process, we stop overly referring to “the other side.” It is useful as a tool to gain perspective and understanding, but ultimately we are all in this together.

  3. H 12 October 2011 at 7:52 am #

    I agree with Nasreen that this is one of the better analyses I’ve seen. Yeah, reconciliation needs to happen but can it in the current circumstances when the hardliners are making the running on both sides?

    At the moment there is no centre ground around which people can come together. The shooting of the protesters at Pearl Roundabout in March has polarised politics to such an extent that the hardliners on each side are setting the tone of politics.

    In their own terms, the government hardliners won a huge victory in March but at the cost of dividing society and handing over the political narrative to the opposition. In the end this is playing into the hands of the hardliners on the opposition side, who are playing a long game here. Back in March they escalated the protests by taking over the highway, marching to Riffa and prompting the sectarian fighting at UoB. They did so because they didn’t want talks between the CP and Al-Wefaq to succeed, because in the long run the believe that polarisation and ethnic emnity will serve their purposes far better. The hardliners in government with Saudi prompting walked into this trap.

    Perhaps the only way Bahrain is going to move forward is when each side – pro-government and opposition – addresses the issue of the hardliners on their owns side. Only then will the political space be open for reconciliation and the country to work out a peaceful future.

  4. Anjum 12 October 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Suhail, it’s good that you are reading more history..may I recommend you also read more on Bahrain’s history by Abdulrahman Albaker, 1956


    you will find it valuable in your quest for national reconciliation 🙂

  5. Anjum 12 October 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    would love to know your thoughts after reading it and how you see Bahrain going forward given its historical challenges

  6. Fiona O'Shaughnessey 13 October 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I think you left out one very important step in the process to reconciliation. Accountability. The Bahraini government needs to be held accountable for the crimes against humanity they have and are committing against your fellow citizens. Treatment and harsh sentences of political prisoners, unfair detainment of medical staff, forcing students to sign pledges,etc. Only after these issues are addressed and resolved can there be reconciliation. Many blessings for the difficult journey ahead

  7. Mariam 14 October 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Thank you Suhail. Good analysis. Can you post the facilitator name. I’m interested to take a course with her.
    This is a long process , But I trust that all Bahrainies will work hard to heal these wounds. They were tough times, but we the silent majority, learned our lesson. It is time to reconciliate but with our own conditions and not to be dominated by one group who was arrogant enough not to admit that there are other Bahrainies and other communities who love peaceful Bahrain and trust the Bahraini King.
    For Fiona : I think you are not from Bahrain. Your argument is out of context.

  8. Raed 15 October 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Dear Suhail,

    Very good summary of what took place. Im so intersted to see this initiative reach the bigger crowd. Lets all hope that its a step forward towards peace and prosperity for our beloved Bahrain.

  9. Ahmed 16 October 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Good article Suhail. I also agree with Fiona (and I am from Bahrain and it seems perfectly in context)that accountability is important, because reconciliation requires trust and transparency to have any chance of succeeding. I’m hoping that the BICI report can still deliver the basis for this.


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