Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Defense of Omar Shihabi

In response to my post on Omar Shihabi yesterday, a friend of his (who does not wish to be identified) sent me this:  "1- It should be pointed out to readers that (at considerable personal cost and after much deliberation) accepted to work on the report; for which he and his colleagues did produce a detailed and honest timeline of events. I for one am thankful that intelligent and committed individuals such as Omar ended up gathering information about the events which occurred during Bahrain's uprising, the Saudi backed crackdown and horrific repression in the time that followed - instead of individuals such as Faisal Fulad, who have made a career out of creating a front of human rights work in place of the very real work that Omar and some of his colleagues carried out. 

2- You accuse Omar of making the conflict in Bahrain a sectarian dispute, saying that he advocates a resolution that, 'people need to hug and kiss and let bygone be bygone'. In fact, the article rightly labels the sectarian lens through which Bahrain is often unfairly viewed as you see in the lines, "the simplistic dichotomy of an eternal struggle between a Shia opposition that constitutes the majority of the population and a ruling Sunni minority – a cliche frequently presented in western media." 

An increase in state-agitated and mobilised sectarianism is a fact within Bahraini society today - and to recognise this is simply not the same as reframing the conflict between people and rulers as a conflict between one sect pitted against the other. 

Also, saying, as Omar's article does, that - "Bahrainis who currently have little say in their destiny, from all segments of society, need to somehow reach out to each other on a basis of reconciliation, justice and self-determination." is simply not the same as saying kiss hug and make up. If anything, it's a call for a regrouping of people on a national basis, against the rising of a sectarian divide - for a link up to the other Arab revolutions, as we see in the lines; 
"Their first call for outside support should be to the popular movements now springing up across the Gulf Co-operation Council states and the wider Arab world, as they represent the best chance for genuine deep change."

The report is definitely flawed and lacking in many ways, which have been rightly outlined on your site. I don't know if your readers have mentioned that it, typical of the UN, offers recommendations which involve even more committee, investigations and reports. It's a definite get-out-of-jail card for the unholy trinity ruling the roost here, exonerating them and giving them a chance to re-represent themselves as if they would right the disgusting violations and repression of the last 8 months - rather than being the ones responsible for them. This is why the government and their Western allies who are eager to go back to business-as-usual with Bahrain bothered with the whole affair of allowing a real investigation. 

To say, as Omar's article does, that the report does not entail a solution to the political crisis in Bahrain is not to say that the report has no value as a document in itself. As an activist I appreciate that the information it has recorded could (wildly hopefully) be useful in bridging the ever deeper entrenched sectarian positions of people among Bahraini society - by getting those who do not consider themselves of the opposition to recognise the horrific repression which is the modus operandi of the government here. Today a well-respected Sunni imam has said that he plans to speak in his khutbas about the report's findings. This is something tiny but it is significant, because without giving into the sectarian bullshit labels carried by media and supporters of the regime, on the ground the movement has been slipping into sectarian cracks. If it is going to gain a groundswell as it did before the crackdown and effective dismantling of national impetus, more people are going to have to be drawn in again. 

It goes without saying that the report is not a subsitute for a revolution and for political change. But that doesn't mean that it has no value whatsoever, nor that the individuals who worked on it or attended its release are no longer worthy of regard, and deserving of a public lampooning. Ya3ni I would hope that there is room in the ranks for disagreeing on practical matters without questioning a comrade's principles or position. 

I really hope you run this response, and accept my sincere regards inspite of my complete disagreement with your opinion on this matter."