Monday, August 22, 2011

Bahrain's Sectarian Divide

Bahrain today is witnessing a spark of a sectarian conflict of a larger scale than anticipated.  What was thought to be a random act of vandalism has been reciprocated and tensions are mounting in fear of a full blown civil war.
Our opposition is known for the destructive effect they have on property so it is not very strange to see their graffiti on the walls of houses and buildings. However, it was a shock for all of us to see that they have such little respect for mosques when the residents of roundabout 19 in Hamad Town woke up to this:

"Down with Hamad" written on the steps of a Sunni Mosque
"Down with Hamad" written on the door of the same mosque

And as we went on and on condemning, denouncing and judging these activities, we woke up the next day to this:
"response to the attack on roundabout 19" writen on a Shi'a mosque
"Down with Khamena'i, Down with Isa Qassim" written on the fence of the same mosque

The fact that such incident occurred in Bahrain was shocking enough but its enormity is magnified by two phenomena: 1) that people decided to take matters into their own hands and have completely lost faith in the authorities; 2) that we have entered a phase of in-kind retaliation.
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and he who has begun is to blame" is a Quranic excerpt and a religious edict that has been the subject of utmost attention throughout this conflict when people demanded that the full extent of Shari'a law be observed when dealing with "traitors to the country". And when the death penalty was delayed and prisoners released and policemen detained people have lost faith in the justice system and as a result decided to take matters into their own hands...
Many of us are now fearful of a deeper sectarian rift that could tear this tiny island apart. While it was alleged that the second incident was conducted by a member of the same mosque the fact still remains that there are forces trying to create a conflict that may draw us towards civil war.
One can only pray now that this will be the extent of it... Just an isolated incident never to repeat itself...
When I wrote that last sentence it was still august 20th.
On august 21st, a Shi'a religious procession was due to take place (as usual). It starts from Matam Karimi and passes through Muharraq Souq which is known to be a busy place all year round and more so now since Eid is just around the corner. The Sunni street would not accept for that procession to take place for several reasons the most prominent of which is the fear of it turning into a political rally and causing further clashes with the police.
So they gathered at the Souq initially intending to ensure that the procession does not go off its authorized course but later on when a few individuals started shouting political chants and afterwards a few women exchanged "unpleasantries" with some of the male bystanders, the whole scene became tense and turned into a display of muscle.
Twitter was bustling with pride for the Sunni heroes who have gone to defend Muharraq from turning into a scene of a political rally and from the other side denouncing the effort of the Sunni population in denying the Shi'as from performing their religious rituals. It was a scene that many of us had been trying to avoid ever since Feb14 as sectarian tensions kept mounting.
To me, many forces are to blame for the incident of August 21st; on the one hand, the Sunni population had had to endure silencing their mosques for years while Shi'a rituals have been allowed to chant using loud speakers with no restrictions. There was a video circulating showing a group of people in one of the processions chanting about "driving the riot police mad" and "down Hamad" which is exactly why there was this need to defend their turf.
Please click here to view the video that does not has enraged many many Bahrainis and caused a general fear of what might happen during the coming rituals and processions.
On the other hand, many Sunnis have become vocal about their hatred towards Shi'as and are publicly disrespecting the whole sect. A lot of derogatory words have been thrown around, many that I have never heard of before...
It is a sad scene to witness for someone like me who has lived through Bahrain's best times and now has to live through its worst. We have never been so divided. I didn’t know the difference between Sunna and Shi’a until I went into college and even then it really didn’t matter. I fear for a deeper sectarian division that mirrors Iraq’s and Lebanon’s and many other countries torn by racial and religious conflicts. If only we could learn from other people’s pasts and break away from what seems to be an inevitable trend. But for that to happen there is a dire need for moderate leadership among the ranks; this sensible voice that tells us that what we're doing is foolish and detrimental and guide us towards rebuilding and cleansing instead of destroying and desecrating.

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