In Bahrain, Shia lives matter

A strong and independent Bahrain needs Sunni and Shia to work together and a government that serves and respects the rights of its citizens—all of them.


Muharram_procession, Manama, Bahrain, Feb 2005
Muharram_procession, Manama, Bahrain, Feb 2005

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2016 — 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 there is systematic targeting of leaders and educators who have a better understanding of their rights and could transmit that understanding to others.

One example is the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender, and Sheikh Ali Salman, a religious figure with a message of nonviolence and coexistence. Both have dedicated their lives to promote freedom and 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, as 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.

Bahrain is home to an educated, diverse populace that for years managed to live peacefully together. Among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Bahrain has maintained one of the most educated, creative work forces. It’s Shia population has been an important part of this success. The current targeting of the educated elite will only damage the nation’s prosperity.Bahrain’s disregard for United Nations human rights standards and the GCC declaration of human rights, which Bahrain has signed, shows that the government is not committed to solving the conflict and is even trying to inflame it.

Bahraini grievances cannot be answered with violence. No matter how many people are arrested, tortured and killed, the road to regaining their identity and dignity cannot include the use of violence. But failure to resolve the issue now will put a greater burden on future generations, who will struggle to follow their parents’ footsteps in building a better, more prosperous Bahrain.

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, who 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 citizen, 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.

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