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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

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What does it mean to be Bahraini?

Friday, May 28, 2004
A few weeks ago, while introducing me to the Bahraini blogosphere, Mahmood wrote:
Although with a blog name like that, and with a mastery of writing Arabic in English with the custom use of numbers (which I still cannot fathom) to me this person is most definitely Bahraini, might not carry the passport, but certainly carries the spirit!
First of all, let me make it clear that even though I occasionally use numbers to transliterate Arabic words in an attempt to make myself look cool, I don't want to give anyone the impression that I might be fluent in Arabic. I know enough Arabic to be able to watch al-Jazeera and sing along with 3mro Diab, but I still have a hard time giving my order for bread in Arabic to my local khabbaz.

Anyways, with all the talk about illegal naturalizations and immigration and stuff these days, I thought I would discuss what it means to be Bahraini for me, as an expatriate "Asian" on the island. As I mentioned in my introduction a few weeks back, I have lived my whole life in Bahrain, save the years that I spent in the US getting my higher education. My father came to this island about 35 years ago with an opportunity to leave his home and enjoy the relatively higher salaries afforded to workers in Bahrain. Back then, I am told, there was still a large requirement for cheap, foreign labour to contribute to the local economy. My father soon afterwards got married to my mother (who was not Bahraini either) and brought her to this island also. I was born in Bahrain a few years later.

Since then I've known Bahrain as my only home. Bahrain is the centre of all of my best memories. When I go abroad and people ask me where I'm from, I'll tell them that I'm from Bahrain, but I hold the passport of another country. But there certainly must be a difference between myself, and all of the other "real" Bahrainis out there. Well, yes. Every summer my parents dragged me back to the "motherland", which I hated in my youth compared with Bahrain. Such a relief it was at the end of the summer to be able to come back to a place where we could leave our doors unlocked at night, where asking for strangers for help was normal, where even hitch-hiking was not out of the ordinary. Other things which make us expats different from the real Bahrainis is that I didn't attend a school that indoctrinated me with Bahraini or Arab values. We were never taught any Arabic, or Arabic history, except for the occasional Orientalist teacher who felt the need educate as about the primitive local culture. I also did not live with many Bahraini neighbours. As is the case with most expats here, I spent most of my life living in apartments or residential compounds populated by other foreigners.

Yet despite my separation from real Bahraini life, there was still something I loved about the island. It is the relaxed and easy-going way of life, the tiny close community. Ask anyone that spent any part of their childhood in Bahrain and they will all reminisce their days here with a particular melancholy.

As I grew older, my love for the island grew to more than just the relatively comfortable lifestyle, and I gained a particular interest, respect and love for Bahrain's people and culture. The problem I faced was that far too often I was made to feel that Bahrainis still viewed me as an outsider. As though I did not deserve the respect that a real Bahraini might be worthy because of my brown skin colour. Far too many times have I been called a hindi as an insult.

So, what does it mean for me to be Bahraini. Well, I don't really believe in the concept of nationalism, or the blind love for a piece of land demarcated discretely by a line. I have an association of culture with my "motherland" also, but I would never wear its flag. So it's not really the Bahraini passport that I'm after. Yes, it would be nice to have a piece of paper which would allow me to enter the country without being asked "what do you want here?" However, that's not of real significance. I'd like to be recognized as a valuable part of the Bahraini social fabric. I'd like to be treated with respect. After all, along with enjoying Bahrain's benefits, we expats have contributed alot to this country. Most of the roads and building on the island have been built by "Asians" toiling in the sun, working for ridiculous wages, in shameful living conditions.

Despite my trust in Bahrain's people, it's hard to not be somewhat wary going out and about when EVERYDAY there is a report in the newspaper of an "Asian" getting mugged and beaten up by a "gang of Bahraini youths" somewhere. Why is it that EVERYDAY we read about an Indonesian or Sri Lankan maid who runs away from work because she gets abused by her "owners", but is herself treated as a criminal for running away. I agree, that the people committing these crimes are in no way representative of Bahrainis as a whole, and that Asians are targetted because they are the easiest targets. But what disturbs me is that no one else seems to care about it when incidents like these take place everyday. The event gets lip service in the newspaper the next day, but its not often that one hears of justice being done afterwards (I know of far too many cases personally). Maybe it's asking for too much but I wish someone from the Bahraini communities would recognize that this crime and violence against Asians is getting out of hand or for one of the Bahraini MPs to stand up demand some basic human rights for foreign labourers,.. but you never hear anything of the sort. All of the political societies are too concerned with getting rid of us so that they can get jobs for "real" Bahrainis.

My point is that we are all humans. We need to start caring about everyone's problems. We live here together, and for many of us we've lived together for a very long time. If it's possible, I would like to live here and contribute towards the prosperity of this island's people for the rest of my life. But in order for me to do this I need for other Bahrainis recognize and encourage me along the way rather than hinder the process.
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4 Responses to 'What does it mean to be Bahraini?'

Anonymous Anonymous says:

Dont you meet the requirements of citizenship which says that a non-arabs need to be in Bahrain for 25 years??

Please do not think that being against extrajudicial naturalization means that we don't want foreigners and their invaluable contribution. Being so passionate and committed to Bahrain is an honour for us, and we are indebted to your family.

But you must also feel it is unfair, that your family has been there for decades yet they have no citizenship rights and will be considered 'foreigners' and discriminated under the law, yet there are these mercenaries who have been there for a year or two with a full citizenship package. This is injustice. This is problem.


Blogger global soul says:

Excellent post. I am really sorry for any bad experiences you have faced in Bahrain. I feel ashamed that many Bahrainis have a very racist attitude towards Asians. As insurgent have mentioned, it’s the unfair and systematic naturalization of undeserving members that infuriates most Bahrainis; families like yours deserve all the respect and gratitude for their valuable contributions to our country. One of the first posts in my blog was about identity. Holding the passport of one country but having lived your entire life in Bahrain, you might relate to some points I mentioned and to the book I discuss in this post: http://bahrein.blogspot.com/2004/05/in-name-of-identity.html

All the best,
global soul    

Blogger Chanad says:

Insurgent, I totally understand why anyone would be against the political naturalization which has been taking place here. I am against it as much as you are, so I obviously don't hold anyone against it for thinking that way.

And my issue is not about passports either. Yes, I am eligible for a passport, so I will probably apply for one soon, but that is not the real problem. Because even if I get a Bahraini passport, I will still be treated the way I am treated now. I can't go around everywhere wearing my passport around my neck showing them that I am a Bahraini citizen. Even if do, many people will even think I am one of those who have been illegally naturalized. A passport is just a piece of paper, and regardless of whether I own one, I will still be treated like an outsider by many people.

What I'm trying to say is that Bahrainis have to begin to recognize other "Asians" here as being a valued section of the Bahraini social fabric. Instead of viewing us as inferior beings, treat us with the respect that you treat others of your kind. And if a Bahraini commits an injustice against a foreigner then be willing to speak out against it, rather than letting it go because it is just another "hindi". If this is done, I'm sure that there will be many more expats who will love this country in the way that I do.

Unfortunately, the kind of disrespect we get treated with happens for too often for us to ignore. Here is something from today's letter's to the editor in the GDN which is just one more in a long list of incidents. The writer says: The boys uttered "Hindi" followed by a string of vehement gutturals. Then they escaped. Once outside the shop they banged and kicked the glass panes as hard as they could - they were too small to do any damage from outside. I understand that these are just kids that do this, but when will someone speak out against it?

Anyways, thanks for your comments and support.    

Blogger Mahmood Al-Yousif says:
5/28/2004 08:09:00 pm

The Gulf Arabs in general are quite prejudicial people. I suspect that this is one effect of the sudden oil wealth. I can't point a finger here myself and say thay, because I am ashamed to admit that I have done that at one time or another. Now I start to think before I mouth off, and hope that I treat my Indian employees with the respect they deserve.

You can't use any racial slurs in Europe or North America because there are quite severe laws against that. If someone reports you for a racial comment, slur or action, you will not only be fined, but thrown in jail for your troubles.

We need that in Bahrain and the Arab world too. Sadly, the parliament "discussed" this issue and within 90 seconds vetoed it. The bill was set to penalise any government employee practicing racial segregation or giving a job based on racial lines and I somehow don't think they had Indians or Asians when they drafted that bill, but just shia/sunni. But in essence it would have worked and extended to encompass racial practices of any kind. Sadly, the parliament thought that there is no need for such legislation. They moved on discussing beards and veils for 90 minutes and approved THAT bill. Thankfully the government has the option to ratify or reject it as it was a voluntary rather than a mandatory bill.

Personally. I apologise for having been racist.


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