One Man’s Freedom Fighter is Another Man’s Terrorist




This is my first (proper) blog post in several months. Since the creation of the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse (BFRCD), I’ve been in a state of overwhelm. The Foundation has taken up so much of my time – time that would have gone into blogging and other social media activities. Add to that the busyness from my other responsibilities, including our grand plans to franchise the DreamBody Centre in 2013. So, for those who’ve been missing my blog posts, my apologies, please remember it’s never from a lack of caring.


So where are we today in Bahrain? Well, on the surface it seems nothing much has changed. In fact, one could argue things are worse. A couple of more young men are dead from the protestors side, and a policeman is dead from the government’s side.

Some consider the youth on the streets brave freedom fighters, while others consider them thugs and terrorists. Which perspective is correct? Well both are… or neither are. One thing I know for sure, there are no absolutes in the Bahrain crisis. Yet very few will acknowledge that there is more than one narrative to the crisis.

You are either loyal or a traitor.

You are either someone who believes in freedom or you believe in voluntary slavery.

You believe either in democracy or in dictatorship.

You believe that there is either a huge sectarian crisis in Bahrain, or that Bahrain is normal and there is no social crisis at all, just a political one.

And on and on… there are no in-betweens in Bahrain. And if you are in the middle, you get attacked by both sides.

Let me illustrate with an example. A few weeks ago an anti-gov friend messaged me suggesting I attend the funeral of the late Ali Hussain Nema (GRHS), a young man who – depending on who you want to believe – was either killed in cold blood, or in self-defence by the police. The sms exchange went something like this:

My friend: “Hi Bu Laith, do you want to go with me to pay respects to the family of the martyr Ali Hussain Nema?”

I replied a couple of hours later:

Me: “I’ve thought about it my friend, and I think it’s better if I don’t go, as I fear my attendance will be politicised. I try to balance between both sides, and if I appear to be leaning too much towards one, I’ll lose the other. Thanks any way.”

Him: “What are the two sides??”

Me: “The government and the opposition, or the “pro” and “anti” camps.”

Him: “You have the incorrect notion my friend. It seems you don’t want to understand how the game is played.” [If I had a dinar for every such condescending remark I get I’d be very very rich, and probably retired in Fiji or some such wonderful place]

Me: trying to contain my annoyment: “I have the incorrect notion – in your opinion. I respect your opinion, and I hope you respect mine too.”

Him: “Don’t get me wrong Bu Laith, I respect everyone’s opinion. It’s just that I think that there is no such thing as government or opposition.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate. I replied:

“No worries my friend, as the NLP trainers say ‘perception is reality.’ If some people see such a thing as government and opposition, then that is their reality and there is no point in trying to convince them otherwise.”

After this sms exchange I thought about it some more, and I considered going if I could get someone from the ruling family to come with me . I asked a friend but he could not make it, and in the end I decided not to go.

It would be difficult to attend a funeral without appearing to be on someone’s side. I want to make sure the BFRCD, which I am the face of, remains as neutral as possible. People have tried to pull as to either side, and wanted us to make condemnations of either protests or alleged police brutality, but I’ve refused. We have a no judgement policy, and want to reach out to as many people as possible, especially to the disenfranchised youth. We can’t do that if we have a condemning tone.

Meanwhile the crisis continues

The people of Bahrain are divided as ever. As someone who speaks to people on both sides of the divide on a regular basis, I think the biggest problem we have is the lack of acknowledgement of the other side’s perspective. If we each tried to take a step towards the other side, we’d all be better off.
This is something my fellow BFRCD board members and I have been working on for the last few months. We’ve been trying to bring people together to just talk, and more importantly, listen.

I can’t claim that we are going to solve Bahrain’s problems, but we are making small and modest progress. We know that there are no shortcuts, and that our success will take time. Of course, at the end of the day we desperately need a political resolution, which is beyond the BFRCD’s mandate.

Though the situations are not 100% alike, we are where Northern Ireland was in 1968, just before the “troubles” began, which led to the deaths of 3,000 plus people in three decades. It behooves us to learn lessons, and learn them quickly.

We now have youth that are being raised on hate of the other side (be it a sect, a family, an ideology), and if they have children which will be raised with the same mind set, we’ll have a crisis that will make the crisis of 2011/2012 look like child’s play. We need to act now.

Allow me to end this blog post with some suggestions, which can help in a small way, to lessen the severity of the crisis:

– Do less talking and more listening. The greatest leaders are those who are good listeners.

– No matter how passionate you are, don’t attack public figures. If you’re pro-gov, resist the temptation to attack the leadership of the opposition. You may not like them, but remember that many of your fellow Bahraini’s hold them in highest regard. Same thing goes for the other side, don’t attacked the leaders of the ruling family, no matter what you feel, as many of your fellow Bahrainis take offence to that attack. Basically, discuss issues, not people.

– Finally, work on improving yourself. Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want a tolerant society, be the first to be tolerant of other views. If you want a democracy, be democratic (and respectful) when it comes to other’s views. If you want peace, make peace with yourself, and be peaceful towards others. Change really does come from within.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and talk soon.

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