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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Doing something about Iraq

Saturday, July 31, 2004

So Bahrain, along with other Arab/Muslim countries, is mulling over the possiblity of sending troops to Iraq. For the sake of the Iraqis, I hope that they do finally decide to get involved.

I was, and still am, very opposed to the US invasion in Iraq. It was a war that did not need to happen and could have been avoided. However, I squarely place the blame for the eventual war upon the Arab and Muslim world, both the leaders and general public. It was due to our inaction with regards to Saddam Hussein that this situation arose.

Let me try and explain. Early last year, when the US began hinting towards the possibility of an invasion, the whole of the Muslim world was immediately up in arms. All of the Muslim leaders began issuing condemnations and disapprovals of any type of military action in Iraq. The Muslim public took to the streets in the thousands to protest against the war and burn effigies of GWB. The Press throughout the Muslim world published daily columns condemning the war. Everyone was so worried about their Arab or Muslim "brothers" in Iraq who would suffer in the event of a war. It seemed as though we cared deeply about the plight of our Iraqi brethren.

But let us put our minds back a few more a years. The year was 1991. The US had just completed its liberation of Kuwait from Saddam. Even if there were any Muslims were unaware of it before, by this time I imagine that everyone knew full well the nature of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist regime in Iraq. We were all aware of the fact that Saddam had gassed Kurds in Halabja a few years before. We were all aware that he had brutally put down an uprising by the Shia's in the south. We had all heard stories of his Fedayeen militia that killed live wolves with their bare hands (and had seen the video). We knew of his deranged sons Uday and Qusay, and what they would do to Iraqi football players who did not perform up to standard. We remember reading in the news that Saddam had forgiven his two son-in-laws who had defected to Jordan during the Gulf War of '91, and asked them to return to Baghdad -- when they returned, Saddam had them both shot. We had all heard about the hundreds upon hundreds of Iraqi men who "disappeared" during Saddam's rule. We had all heard about his infamous torture chambers which were used on "our Iraqi brothers". And he invaded a neighbouring country, for God's sake!

By 1991 it was obvious to us all that our beloved "Muslim brothers" in Iraq were suffering greatly at the hands of Saddam. Yet in the twelve years between the second and third Gulf Wars what did the Muslim world do to help to their dear Iraqi brothers get rid of Saddam? Did our leaders issue vocal condemnations of Saddam and demand reforms? Did we take to the streets and protest against the atrocities being committed against the Iraqi people? Did we burn effigies of Saddam? Did our Press publish any columns explaining the need for us to deal with Saddam and the way he has been oppressing our Muslim brothers in Iraq?

We had twelve years to somehow help the cause of the Iraqis we now seem to care so deeply about, but we did nothing. We neither did anything to help them, nor did we say anything to suggest that we want to help them. We were all quite comfortable as we were. Especially Iraq's neighbours in the Gulf. We were too consumed with other things to care about the suffering of Iraqi civilians. But the moment the US started suggesting an invasion we all suddenly began giving a shit about what happens to Iraqis. Where have these people been for the past twelve years?!

Why did we not deal with Saddam ourselves in those twelve years? If we really cared we could have sent delegations of Muslim leaders to speak with him and tell him to change. If he still didn't change (which is probable) we could have provided financial, logistic and political support to the Iraqi opposition movements that wanted to overthrow Saddam. And if this was not feasible we could have at least urged the United Nations to do something. If worst came to worst, maybe even send in an Arab/Muslim-led multinational coalition of troops, with a UN mandate of course, to liberate our Iraqi brothers from Saddam. Even if these ideas were not feasible, or not desirable, we should at least have been discussing amongst ourselves what could be done,... but back then we Muslims didn't care.

Back to today. The US has invaded Iraq (pretty much single-handedly) and finally rid Iraq of Saddam. Sovereignty has (nominally) been handed over to an Iraqi government, but the country still faces a major security crisis. As many analysts have said before, the US military knows how to invade a country, but is not too good at securing it. It is not familiar enough with Iraqi, Arab and Muslim history and culture to be able to understand how to properly interpret the actions of the Iraqis, or how the Iraqis will interpret the actions of the US military. Neither does it have the previous experience of pacifying a hostile local population, that many of the former European colonial powers have.

Arabs and Muslims who claim to care about the plight of Iraqis must now ask themselves "what should we do to help our brothers now?" Right now the most obvious issue to deal with is whether we should send troops to Iraq. We can decide against sending troops so that we don't give the US invasion any implied legitimacy, while the Iraqis suffer. Or, we can forget our pride and send troops to help make Iraq a safer place for civilians. I choose the latter. For twelve years we have been sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. It is now time we do something to support the dire situation of Iraqis. Being more familiar with the culture than most US troops, I imagine that Muslim/Arab will be welcomed by Iraqi civilians (except the terrorist kind, of course). Muslim countries may even have some leverage to set some conditions since the US is really looking for support. The Muslim countries sending troops could demand that they be privy to all of the military information, and that they have some form of influence over the decision-making of the reconstruction effort.

It is now irrelevant whether you supported the US invasion or not. The reality is that it happened, and is in the past. We must figure out what we can do now to help Iraqis if we really care about them. If you are suspicious of the US motives or ability in Iraq, then this is the time get involved and make sure we have a say in what happens there. Picking our noses doing nothing will only ensure that the US military will continue to do things their own way. It's already thirteen years late, but we still can, and must, help.

On to the semis!

Friday, July 30, 2004

Bahrain beat Uzbekistan 3-4 on penalties to make it through to the semifinals of the Asian Cup! Once again they made a comeback from a goal down. Let's hope that this run of good form and good luck continues in the next match against either Japan or Jordan.

Get the rest of the match details here.

Relocating "the help"

Not all of the Asian migrant workers in Bahrain are behaving liking angels, so it has been suggested that we ship them away out of sight of the Bahraini communities. Why do these people think that every problem can be solved through collective punishment and segregation? First it was gender segregation, and now it is racial segregation. What I wouldn't mind is if they rounded up all of the people who have abused and mistreated migrant workers (1, 2, 3, 4) and relocate them far away from everyone else, in their own little commune. I wonder, what could we name the place?... "Prison"?

A call has gone out to move large numbers of expatriates out of Manama, following clashes between Bahrainis and Asians living in the capital. It was suggested to Crown Prince and BDF Commander-in-Chief Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during a meeting with the Housing and Urban Development Committee, which he chairs.

The idea has been championed by Manama Municipal Council chairman Murtadha Bader, who wants to see expatriate workers relocated to other parts of the country. He says Bahrainis now account for just 20 per cent of residents in Manama. If the current trend continues, Bahrainis are expected to account for just 11pc of the Manama population within 10 years, according to Mr Bader.

This has resulted in confrontations between Asians and Bahrainis, who have complained that vice dens and alcohol bootleggers are turning their neighbourhoods into crime havens. Mr Bader says there have been at least two clashes between Bahraini and Asian residents in the past few months. (Continued)

GDN editor Les Horton has responded to this plan well in his daily column. (This is the second time in only a week that I am supporting what Mr Horton has to say!). He rightly explains that the plan is to ship all of the Asians out of the sight of locals, but keep them just close enough to come in and do the dirty work everyday. A couple excerpts from the column:

Their targets (for now, at least) are mainly the poorer Asians, many of whom live crammed together into squalid, derelict buildings, because that is all they can afford. These are the people who build Bahrain's roads, then sweep them clean. They are the labourers who build our office blocks and villas, they are tailors, carpenters, mechanics, drivers and the shopkeepers who keep those cold stores open all night.


So the plan appears to be to ship all the Asian bachelors into camps away from the Bahraini communities, whom they would still be expected to serve.

But I have another suggestion. If these poor Asian workers are such a blight on the community, then send them all home. Put Bahrainis behind the counters at those 24-hour cold stores for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week - for BD40 to BD60 a month. Put Bahrainis on the building sites or send them out repairing and sweeping the roads. Close those 24-hour clinics staffed at night by Indian or Filipina staff, or get Bahrainis to take their place - at similar wages. Shut the Manama suq, since it relies so heavily on Asians to man its shops and stalls - or tell Bahrainis to step in to keep it open. Let's close all those fast-food joints, shawarma stalls and restaurants, staffed by so many Asians because Bahrainis don't want the jobs.

Do we need all those Pakistani goldsmiths on whose backs the jewellery trade survives, or those Asian cleaners who mop the floors of our offices and malls ? Bahrain obviously does, which is why they are here in the first place and why they deserve some respect from those who rely on them.

More fun with globalization

And more fun with globalization. An example of religious and commercial institutions competing for public space. From the photo, the golden arches of McD's are doing a better job of attracting people than the arches of the mosque entrance.

And another one:

(Yes, the "DQ" there stands for Dairy Queen).

These images make it easy to understand why in Bahrain one can also come across "2Pac" and "Allah" spray painted next to each other on the wall.

Azad, Sajjad: Rest in peace

More (1, 2, 3) innocent civilians executed by Muslim militants. Hideous.

As tragic as this is, my hope is that Muslims will finally realize that the criminals committing these acts are not doing it to protect the sanctity of all Muslims. They only care about people that fall under their own particular version Islam. Prior to this event I'm sure there were many Kashmiris who sympathized with the desires of these militants (if not the means). For many Kashmiris themselves have been oppressed by both India and Pakistan. But the killing of these two innocent Kashmiris has left no ambiguity as to the nature of these terrorists. They care about no one but themselves. I hope that this will finally put an end to the unspoken sympathies that many Pakistanis and Muslims hold towards the "resistance" in Iraq.

Playing chess with Death

Wednesday, July 28, 2004
This is my hand. I can move it, feel the blood pulsing through it. The sun is still high in the sky and I, Antonius Block, am playing chess with Death.

I watched Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal again for the umpteenth time last night, and I continue to be amazed by it. Bergman truly is the genius that he is made out to be. Every tiny detail of his films, and especially this one, seems to be calculated. It is amazing how he is able to evoke the powerful emotions that he does, and delve in to the depths of philosophy through film. And his scripts really are poetry.

It's not that he's conveying some new information to us. Rather, he is able to resonate latent ideas within us with such power. He doesn't give us any new experiences, but rather points to past experiences of our own and makes us think about them in a new light. Well, I guess that's what all great artists do. They point at ideas that we are already familiar with, so that observer exclaims in agreement: "Yes, exactly!". And if you don't have within you that repertoire of past experiences to be resonated then it won't generate that excitement. Hmmm.

KNIGHT: Call it whatever you like. Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?

[DEATH doesn't answer.]

KNIGHT: How can we have faith in those who believe when we can't have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren't able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing?

[The KNIGHT stops and waits for a reply, but no one speaks or answers him. There is complete silence.]

KNIGHT: Why can't I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can't shake off? Do you hear me?

DEATH: Yes, I hear you.

KNIGHT: I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand towards me, reveal Himself and speak to me.

DEATH: But He remains silent.

KNIGHT: I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there.

DEATH: Perhaps no one is there.

KNIGHT: Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness.

DEATH: Most people never reflect about either death or the futility of life.

KNIGHT: But one day they will have to stand at that last moment of life and look towards the darkness.

DEATH: When that day comes ...

KNIGHT: In our fear, we make an image, and that image we call God.

I've always thought that the above dialogue very closely resembles the verses of an Urdu qawwali often sung by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan called "Tum ek gorakh dhanda ho" ("You are a puzzle"). Sorry, I can't recall the name of the poet who originally wrote it. The only difference is that whereas in the above dialogue the Knight seems to be in dire frustration over the Divine and Eternity, in this qawwali, the poet contrastingly celebrates and revels in the confusion that is God. Here is a short excerpt from the poem (from here,... sorry this English translation is not very good):

I couldn’t find you anywhere
But the spectacle is that You are there
If there is none but you
Then I cannot understand why you veil Yourself
You are manifest in the houses of worship
Your light is resplendent in these places
He who is lost in your love is rewarded
You can not be found either in a temple or the Ka’bah
But you can be found in a broken heart
Sometimes you are hidden as non-existence
But somewhere you appear as existence
If you are Not then why deny?
For the negation itself confirms your existence
The one I call my Existence, who is that if not you?
If you didn’t come in to my thoughts
Then how did I ever learn that you are God?
You are a Puzzle

Maid abuse update

Continuing my coverage of maid abuse in Bahrain is an update on the tragic case of the Filipina that I quoted from the GDN in News item 2 of yesterday's post. From today's GDN:

A Filipina who fell four floors from a Manama building was trying to escape from a manpower agency's offices. Eight other maids were found huddled in the same office, sources revealed yesterday.

Rosila Trajia, 45, made a makeshift rope out of her own clothes to lower herself from the fourth-floor window of the Sami Manpower Agency, near the Concord International Hotel. But it came apart under her weight and she fell to the ground, where passers-by found her lying badly injured at around 12.15am on Monday. Sources said that she had tied her suitcase to the end of the makeshift rope and lowered it out of the window. She then climbed out of a sliding window and was trying to climb down when she fell. The other end of the makeshift rope was found tied to a table leg, said sources.

When police arrived at the single bedroom flat, they found eight Indonesian housemaids in the kitchen. "Some were sleeping, while some were sitting on the floor in the small kitchen," said the sources.

Ms Trajia suffered head and other injuries and was yesterday still on a ventilator in Salmaniya Medical Complex, where she was said to be stable after emergency surgery. Officials at the manpower agency were unavailable for comment yesterday. Sources said the maids were in transit, en route to employers. It is understood the agency is housed in what was designed as a one-bedroom flat. Police are reportedly investigating the incident. A report in yesterday's GDN that Ms Trajia fell from the Concord Hotel was incorrect.

It is absolutely disgraceful that, what I assume is, a legally registered "manpower agency" would lock up nine women in a one bedroom flat. It is disgraceful for anyone to do this, legally registered or not.

On a brighter not however, it is a relief to see that the authorities are taking steps to curb these hideous practices. Also from today's GDN:

Bahrain is stepping up a campaign to combat human trafficking. A special watchdog committee has been set up to study violence and other abuse against housemaids. Another has been formed to speed up the creation of a safe house for abused expatriate workers. Another panel has been set up to spread awareness of human trafficking and the need to combat it. A fourth committee has been set up to examine speeding up judicial procedures involving expatriates.

They were created at a meeting of a committee on combating human trafficking, which comprises representatives from the Cabinet, the Capital Governorate and the Foreign, Justice, Interior, Information and Labour and Social Affairs Ministries.

Although I am unconvinced right now that setting up these committees will do much to reduce the abuse of migrant workers, it is a step in the right direction. It is therefore important that we encourage moves such as this one, and this one, in the hope that it will add momentum to the movement for labour reforms in the future.

More on maid abuse

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Unfortunately, the issue of maid abuse will be a recurring theme on my blog. Maids in Bahrain seem to get the worst of it since they are not protected by the same labour laws as all the other migrant workers. For some reason Bahraini law regards maids as sub-human, and not worthy of the same rights as others. Here are three recent news items from the papers.

News item 1:

A Bahraini has reportedly spent his third night in police custody after being accused of raping his housemaid.The man, thought to be in his late 20s, was held again last night after appearing before prosecutors yesterday.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Bangladeshi woman was sent for medical tests and is due to report to the prosecution today. She claims she was raped by her sponsor, who works as a security guard, over a week ago at his Isa Town home. The sponsor's brother-in-law reported the matter to the police, who arrested the man on Saturday.

It is understood the accused's wife has now moved out of the marital home and is now staying with her family. The alleged rape is said to have taken place less than a month after the woman first arrived in the country.

Chan'ad's note: The person who allegedly raped the maid was a security guard. I feel safe.

News item 2:

A Filipina was critically ill with multiple injuries last night, after falling from the fourth floor of a building in Manama. Police are investigating how 45-year-old Rosila Trajia fell from the Concord International Hotel. Sources said it was thought she may be a housemaid.

She was found on the ground at 12.15am yesterday by passers-by, who called an ambulance. Ms Trajia was taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex with head and other injuries and was last night said to be on a ventilator to help her breathe, following emergency surgery.

No further details were available.

And finally, news item 3:

An Indonesian housemaid was arrested from the home of a Bahraini family after she refused to work. The reason for her refusal was not known.

Chan'ad's note: The GDN does not know the reason for the maid's refusal to work, so let me take a few guesses: She was raped? She was beaten? She was not allowed to leave the house? She was not fed properly? But the most outrageous part of the story is that she was arrested for not working!


Speaking about the unspeakable: Update

Monday, July 26, 2004

It's not often that you will find me agreeing with GDN editor Les Horton, but I very much support what he has written in his column this morning. As I hoped it would do in my post last night, the Press is making sure that the news ban by the Public Prosecutor is not accepted so easily. Also, take note that the Press was told not to report about the case, nor the imposition of the ban itself. These types of suspicious moves just beg for conspiracy theories. Here is the column:

Bahrain's media should not be reporting any arrests or pending trials in a manner which may prejudice the outcome of any prosecution.

But that does not in my view justify the Public Prosecutor's arbitrary ban on reporting by the local media of stories relating to the re-arrest of six Bahrainis suspecting of plotting terrorist activities.

If there has been any prejudicial reporting in this case then the tone was set by the detail given in the initial statement on the re-arrests, released by the Interior Ministry.

I would hope to see Bahrain's braver media proprietors challenging the Public Prosecutor's edict in court, for I believe that he is wrong, if not legally then at least in principle.

For justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done and the only way to ensure that is through open reporting in the media.

That reporting should be, as it is in other countries, within strict legal rules governing the manner in which arrests, remands, initial court proceedings and finally a full trial may be covered.

Such is the case in my own country and should the media there break those rules, the penalties can be very serious indeed.

But in such circumstances, the media in Britain is answerable to the courts, where contemptuous or prejudicial reporting must be proven before any penalty may be imposed.

I am disturbed by the Public Prosecutor's remarks published yesterday that he is under no obligation to give reasons to the judiciary for his order banning all reporting of the case.

He says himself that the Constitution guarantees freedom of the Press, publication and circulation, other than in cases where investigations being conducted by the judiciary or Public Prosecutor could be adversely affected.

So surely by definition, any restriction should only cover any reporting which can clearly be shown to be prejudicial - not the blanket ban we have seen in this case.

Surely any ruling that certain reporting may be prejudicial, either to the defence or the prosecution, should be made by an impartial court, not by an authority as directly involved as the prosecuting agency.

Central to all this is the public right to know and if the Constitution recognises that, then surely any restriction of that right must be clearly and publicly justified.

The Public Prosecutor's ban was relayed to the Press by the Information Ministry, with a covering letter stating that the order was not to be published.

So not only was the media banned from reporting on the case, it was initially told not to report the imposition of that ban.

Now how does that fit in with the era of free Press?

Speaking about the unspeakable

Finally, the Public Prosecutor has spoken about the news blackout on the case of the six detainees. But he still hasn't made any attempt to explain why there is a need to impose a press ban. He may not be under any legal obligation to do so, but I hope the Press keeps pushing him on this until we get a proper answer. As I mentioned before, the threat of terrorism is very real so it is all the more important that we hold fast to principles now. Otherwise, expect to hear many conspiracy theories on the streets in the coming days.

Here is the report from the GDN:

MANAMA: The Public Prosecutor yesterday denied he should have referred to the judiciary an order banning publication of stories about the six terror plot suspects who have been re-arrested.

Shaikh Abdul Rahman bin Jabor Al Khalifa said he was under no obligation to give reasons to the judiciary for his order.

He also rejected a suggestion published in an Arabic language newspaper yesterday that his banning order should have been referred to parliament for debate.

The Public Prosecutor said that under the terms of the law, his duties formed an integral part of those of the judiciary. His role was also that of an investigative authority concerned with crimes and accusations.

Shaikh Abdul Rahman said the constitution guaranteed freedom of the Press, publication and circulation, other than in cases where investigations being conducted by the judiciary or the Public Prosecutor could be adversely affected.

He added that the law had not granted the courts special authority to overrule banning orders issued by the Public Prosecutor.

Shaikh Abdul Rahman said neither was it true, as suggested in a local newspaper, that the Public Prosecutor's publicity ban should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

He said that while the constitution specified the separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary authorities, this stipulation was based on their right to collaborate with each other.

Shaikh Abdul Rahman said the order banning publicity was adopted only after a thorough study of the case. He added that the ban was in the public interest and would preserve the rights of the six suspects.

The moths and the flame

For quite a while I've been wanting to read Fariduddin Attar's Conference of the Birds (Mantiq at-Tayr), but somehow I just haven't yet gotten around to ordering a copy. Today though I came across a website that has several excerpts from the book hosted, so I read through them and I found it as beautiful as I was expecting. One of the excerpts that I really liked was the story of the moths and the flame. At first I was expecting it to be another version of the legend of Icarus from Greek mythology. But if you read through to the end you will see that Attar seems to hold exactly the opposite approach to life and knowledge. Beautiful.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle's light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned -
And went no nearer; back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: "He knows nothing of the flame."
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he'd been,
And how much he'd undergone and seen.
The mentor said: "You do not bear the signs
Of one who's fathomed how the candle shines."
Another moth flew out - his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both Self and fire were mingled by his dance -
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head;
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw the sudden blaze,
The moth's form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: "He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak."
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
will drag you back and plunge you in despair -
No creature's Self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

Visit Zeeshan Hasan's website for more excerpts from the book.

Bahrain makes it to Asian Cup quarters!

A 10-man Bahrain team defeated Indonesia to make it through to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup. I didn't get to watch the match myself, but apparently it was quite controversial. Read the AFP report here. If luck continues to be on our side through this tournament we may even come back with some silverware!

One! One! One! Bahraini number one!

Shisha Men

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Ahh, the luxury of shisha in Bahrain. The picture above was taken in a local cafe. Click on the photo to enlarge it so that you can read what it says:

SHISHA MAN: Push button to call server

Let me explain. There are hundreds of cafes, big and small, dotted around the island which are frequented by all types of people every evening. Asides from being able to order beverages and snacks, one can also order a shisha (aka argile, nargile, hookah, hubble-bubble), which is usually the most popular item. At the cafe where I took the photo you don't even need to use your voice or raise your hands to get the attention of the waiters. You just have to push the button, which is conveniently located in arm's reach, that sends a radio signal to a receiver near the kitchen. Upon getting this signal, a man carrying around a pile of red hot charcoal (the "Shisha Man") will run over to your table and replace the coals on your shisha. What a marvellous use of technology. (Although most cafes here don't have these radio units, it is quite a common feature among the more upmarket places).

I'm really getting spoiled by all this. I think I appreciate it so much because while I was studying abroad it was quite a bit different. There was only one place that served shisha in the area, and they charged something like $25 each. So we used to smoke our own shishas in the dorm. It was such a hassle. Changing the water, cleaning out the bowl, repacking the bowl with fresh mu3asel, poking hundreds of tiny holes in aluminium foil with a pencil (okay I admit, that part was kinda fun) and finally lighting the coals. And since it was so exotic to most of our Western dormmates, a circle of ten or twelve would usually gather round to join us and you would be lucky if you got a puff of smoke once every ten minutes. And this is separate from the additinal trouble of trying to explain what shisha is to a Customs Officers.

I love this island.

Camel crossing

Friday, July 23, 2004

Yes, we have traffic lights just for camels.

More blogs from Bahrain?!

Yes, that's right. It seems like new Bahraini blogs are popping up everyday. It's great. So here they are:

  • Shoufy the cat: "Read about Shoufy, the cat, that lives in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This is our little way to try to promote good feelings about life in the Middle East."
  • The Special Correspondent:  "describes the life of an American expat living in the Middle East, in all its glory. As such, it covers numerous subjects: politics, the war on terrorism, religion, books, movies, family, and anything else that strikes my fancy."
  • The Fantom!!! Fries Nightly too:  "Another nutcase from the cultural mix called Bahrain"
  • Garden of Eternity: [No description provided]
  • 55disk: [I'm not sure if this is a Bahrain based blog, but it is a photoblog with lots pictures of the island]

So, uh,.. keep 'em coming.

The art of presence

Thursday, July 22, 2004

In the latest ISIM newsletter, Prof. Asef Bayat has a great great article titled The Art of Presence (pdf 100KB). I think that we in Bahrain certainly have a great deal to gain by learning and adopting the "Art of Presence". Read the whole article, but the excerpts I've provided here should give you a gist of what this "Art of Presence" is all about.

What options do ordinary citizens [in the Muslim Middle East] have when faced, in political, economic or cultural domains, with constraining forces and institutions? Some might choose complicity or “loyalty” by joining the mainstream currents. Others, while not approving of the existing arrangements, may well disengage, surrendering their rights to voice concerns and thereby exiting the political stage altogether in the hope that things will somehow change someday. Then again, others may choose to express their contention loudly and clearly even if it means remaining on the margins of society: to be vocal but marginal, or, even worse, irrelevant. It is, however, extremely challenging to be heavily present at the heart of society, to struggle for liberation, and yet maintain one’s integrity; to be effective but also principled. More precisely, I am referring to that delicate art of presence in harsh circumstance, the ability to create social space within which those individuals who refuse to exit, can advance the cause of human rights, equality and justice, and do so under formidable political conditions. It is this difficult strategy, demanding sharp vision, veracity, and above all endurance and energy, that holds the most promise. Meaningful change in the Muslim Middle East may well benefit from such a protracted strategy.

Prof. Bayat goes on to talk about Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi as an exemplifying the art of presence through her work. He then explains what the art of presence means in practical terms:

I envision a strategy whereby every social group generates change in society through active citizenship in all immediate domains: children at home and schools, students in colleges, teachers in the classrooms, workers in shop floors, athletes in stadiums, artists through their mediums, intellectuals in media, and women at home and in public domains. This means that not only are they to voice their claims, broadcast violations done unto them, and make themselves heard, but also take the responsibility of excelling in what they do. An authoritarian regime should not be a reason for not producing excellent novels, brilliant handicrafts, math champions, world class athletes, dedicated teachers, or a global film industry. Excellence is power; it is identity. By art of presence, I imagine the way in which a society, through the practices of daily life, may regenerate itself by affirming the values that deject the authoritarian personality, get ahead of its elites, and become capable of enforcing its collective sensibilities on the state and its henchmen. And in this, the role of women in challenging gender hierarchy in and outside home is indispensible.

By art of presence, active citizenry, I do not necessarily mean pervasive social movements or collective mobilization for political transformation, although such imagined citizenry is likely to welcome largescale collective action. For authoritarian rule not only impedes contentious actions, but it is unrealistic to expect society to be in a constant state of vigour, vitality, and collective struggles. Society, with its ordinary people, also gets tired, demoralized, and even repressed. Activism, the extra-ordinary practices to produce social change, is the stuff of activists, who may energize collective sentiments when the opportunity allows. The point is not to reiterate the political significance of contentious movements, nor to stress on the necessity of undercutting the coercive power of the states. The point rather is to stress how lay citizens, with their ordinary practices of everyday life, through the art of presence or active citizenry, may recondition the established political elites and refashion state institutions into their habitus.

Yes, he's nailed it. We in Bahrain who want to bring about social change must adopt this strategy. As Prof. Bayat says: "Excellence is power; it is identity". Instead of attracting the ire of the regime through revolutionism, we need to achieve excellence in whatever it is that we do in our daily lives and maintain a principled stand. This allows controversial personalities to exist in the public space without allowing the regime to marginalize them.

Bahrain imposes news blackout on detainees

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I'm not sure what this means exactly, but here is the report from Reuters:

MANAMA, July 20 (Reuters) - Bahrain imposed a news blackout on Tuesday in the case of six Islamists arrested last week for allegedly planning attacks in the pro-Western Gulf Arab state.

The Information Ministry said its decision was based on a ruling by the public prosecutor.

"The prosecutor's office has decided to ban any news, comments or information about the ongoing investigation," the ministry said in a statement that quoted the ruling and was faxed to media organisations. (Continued)

Does this mean that the local press is not allowed to report on the issue? Well we'll have to wait for tomorrow's papers to find out... or not.

Rap al-Bahraini Update

Monday, July 19, 2004

A few weeks back I posted about my discovery of a Bahraini hip-hop scene. As I mentioned in the post, Infinity and DJ Outlaw were due to perform at the Alliance Francaise's annual Fete de la Musique along with many other local musicians. I've been meaning to post something about the performance but I never got a chance until now.

Anyways, the concert was great. You had to be there to feel their energy, as they had a huge crowd of teenage fans at the show just to see them. Although it's common to see kids in Bahrain dressed in American clothing, it was quite funny and interesting seeing both the performers and the fans dressed in clothes imitating their hip-hop idols. I had a hard time wiping the smirk off my face when I saw the big group of adolescents decked out in big Timberland boots, Fubu, Ecko and NBA gear, wearing bandanas, with big chunky gold medallions hanging around their necks. There were even a couple of Bahrainis in the crowd who had their hair done in cornrows; I wasn't aware that there are hairdressers on the island that will do that for you. Seeing these kids reminded why I still find Ali G so funny.

One thing that I was really impressed with was that they had their very own crew of b-boys to start off the show:

There were probably around 8 b-boys pulling some pretty crazy moves. I had no idea that there are kids on the island who take break-dancing seriously. I look forward to the day when we might see b-boys dancing on a flattened cardboard box below a palm tree on Al Fateh Corniche to the sounds of a ghettoblaster :) ... okay, it's unlikely, but possible.

The music itself was not bad either. DJ Outlaw was dropping some ill beats... much better than I expected (that's him below).

The rappers really had energy and they knew how to get the crowd going. But I wasn't able to understand anything they were saying, except the repetition of stereotypical phrases associated with hip-hop. On top of that I'm still trying to figure out where these kids might have picked up their accents. It was a very strange mix of a Bronx NY and a Compton CA accent, with an ever so subtle touch of Bahraini. It's not just these guys though. I've never understood why so many rappers from the global hip-hop scene insist on imitating these accents, even when they aren't rapping (see Outlandish, or Too Phat for example).

Asides from that it was quite an entertaining show. I'm sure that the subject of their music will mature as they themselves grow older, and the hip-hop movement here grows. Also, I hope that hip-hop will start to be used as a medium for the marginalized communities here to express themselves, as is taking place around the world. Right now it seems that both the musicians and the fans belong to the rich, private school going, English speaking part of society. I don't think it will be too long before we start seeing the movement spread to other sections of Bahraini society, and maybe we'll soon get to hear some kids rapping in Bahraini dialects of Arabic, rather than just English.

Anyways, my support goes to Outlaw, Infinity, the b-boys, and the rest of the Bahrain hip-hop scene.

Taking steps for migrant worker's rights

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Just a follow-on to my previous post about the abuse of foreign workers in Saudi.

As I mentioned, the abuse of migrant workers is not restricted to just Saudi Arabia, but is widespread throughout all of the Gulf countries. I have previously highlighted the cases of an Indian housemaid who was raped by her sponsor, a Bangladeshi man who was tortured by his employer, and of twenty-one Indian workers who were mistreated and withheld their salaries by their employers. All of these incidents took place in Bahrain, and are just a tiny few among the hundreds of cases that go unreported.

Although I don't think it occurs on the same scale as it does across the causeway in Saudi, the abuse of foreign workers in Bahrain is certainly a huge problem that we have to contend with if we ever want to claim any moral authority in the face of others. But I am quite pleased to see that the necessary steps are gradually being taken in Bahrain as the country progresses. Just today the GDN reported that:

Labour issues affecting Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Filipino workers are be to discussed at regular six monthly meetings with Bahraini officials, it was revealed yesterday.

The four countries will set up a joint sub-committee with Labour and Social Affairs Ministry officials to report on the labour situation in their communities.

Labour and Social Affairs Ministry Under-Secretary Shaikh Abdul Rahman bin Abdulla Al Khalifa made the announcement yesterday after a joint meeting with Indian Ambassador Bhaskar Kumar Mitra, Pakistani Ambassador Sabih Uddin Bokhari, Bangladeshi Ambassador Anwarullah Chowdhury and Philippine Consul Jousi Della Russa. They discussed the need to institute legal procedures to safeguard the rights of expatriates.

This is something that I suggested last week in a comment to one of my posts. Great. It seems like this move may be in response to the HRW report about Saudi. Meetings every six months seems hardly enough considering the number of cases we hear about, but it is a positive step that a means of communication has been set up between the expat worker communities and the Ministry of Labour. It is now up to the governments and the embassies of the migrant worker communities to really put the pressure on Bahrain to guarantee their rights.

Newsflash: Saudi system abuses foreigners!

Sorry for the sarcasm. I was just slightly amused by the headline of the report on the BBC website: Saudi system 'abuses foreigners', as though they've discovered the missing WMDs or something. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I am referring to the report published by Human Rights Watch a few days ago: "Bad Dreams:" Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia.

At last... it took a long time coming, but I'm relieved to see that finally the world is becoming aware of the huge problems faced by migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states. The report is quite thorough and includes some chilling personal accounts by migrant workers in Saudi and their families. Below is an excerpt from the report about the story of a Filipina, Melda, hired to work as a housemaid for a Saudi family:

On the morning of June 2, 2003, Melda was cleaning the hallway on the second floor when Rashid walked out of his bedroom, naked. “I was frightened. He grabbed me and pushed me down on the floor. I was shouting and crying. He told me that he would kill me if I said anything to his wife,” she said. She could not describe the details but told Human Rights Watch that she tried to fight Rashid as he raped her. “He finished,” she said, shaking, “and then went into his room, closed the door, and ignored me. I washed myself, stopped working, and waited for my madame to come home.”

Another story documents the case of Joselito Alejo, also from the Philippines, who was arrested in 1997 in connection with the murder of a Saudi policeman. He was not brought before a court until five years later:

Joselito told us that he was instructed to return on July 2, 2003, for the court’s decision. He said that the judge referred to the Arabic confession that he signed in 1997, and sentenced him to 350 lashes for “not telling the truth.” Noting that Joselito had already served almost six years in prison, the judge did not impose a prison term. Joselito described what happened next:

"The interpreter asked me if I accepted the judgment. I told the judge that I had to do what the police wanted or they would have continued to beat me and torture me. I told him that they threatened to kill me. I told him they tortured me five or six hours a day and I did not know when it would stop. I told him about the first three days and nights, when I felt there was air inside my brain, as if I was floating."

The judge showed no interest in Joselito’s allegations of mistreatment and torture which led to his coerced confession. The judge apparently accepted that Joselito was telling the truth before his court but sought to punish him for signing a false statement in 1997.

I'm not too sure where I would want to be if I had to choose between Abu Ghraib or a Saudi prison.

But to further add to the insult are the denials coming out of Saudi in response to the HRW report. Here are the responses of some members of the National Human Rights Association (NHRWA), Saudi Arabia’s newly formed human rights group (from Arab News):

Suhaila Hammad, member of the NHRA, said: “The HRW report is an exaggeration. There might have been individual cases but they don’t reflect the majority. Otherwise, there would not be a lot of foreign workers working in the Kingdom.”

Dr. Bahija Ezze, another NHRA member in Jeddah said: “There is a committee for detection and follow-up, which receives complaints from expats. It has not received any complaints from foreign workers.”

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US said in a statement:

We disagree with the report by Human Rights Watch and do not believe it is a fair or accurate reflection of Saudi Arabia and grossly exaggerates the few instances which in no way reflect the positive experiences of the millions of foreign workers in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has effective labor laws which protect all workers, including foreign workers. If there are any violations, there is legal recourse and people who have violated the laws are subject to punishment.

Shameful. There obviously must be something wrong with their labour laws and their "committee for detection and follow-up" if they are unaware of any wrongdoings, while I sitting here in Bahrain can tell you about many many cases of abuse recounted to me by friends and family who have lived in Saudi.

The dangers of self victimization

Friday, July 16, 2004

From the GDN:

A two-day photography exhibition under the theme American Freedom to Hell opened yesterday at Al Jazeera Theatre, Arad. It featured around 50 photographs collected from news agencies showing various atrocities committed in Iraq. The exhibition, organised by National Committee in Support of the Iraqi People, was part of the activities marking the theatre's 30th anniversary. It aims at creating popular support to end the suffering of the Iraqi people. Visitors were also asked to sign an Iraqi flag, which will be sent to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, calling for an end to atrocities in Iraq. (Continued)

So they actually showed this same "exhibition" a few weeks back at the Al Oruba Club, and I decided to take the time out to go and see what it was all about. The description in the newspaper said that it was a "photography exhibition" so I was expecting to see some high quality and artistic snaps by professional photographers highlighting the plight of the Iraqis. That it was titled "American Freedom to Hell" did of course make me suspicious of what I might actually see.

It turned out to be a collection of the Abu Ghraib photographs, and a few others, enlarged and placed around the room. I was a bit disappointed. Yes, those pictures have a very important message and they should get all the publicity they can. But the message they were trying to spread was different. As you can judge from the title, their message was to blame Americans for everything and to garner hatred towards them. As I have stated before, we need to move away from this idea. Those pictures should be a reminder to us that torture must not be tolerated anywhere, in the US, in Iraq, or in Bahrain. However the one-sided stance taken by the organizers of this event was quite embarassing.

I decided to have a quick word the organizers to ask a few questions. There was a very nice looking young girl standing at the entrance who seemed to be in charge at the time. I asked her what the purpose of the exhibition was. She told me that it was so that Americans will begin to become aware of the atrocities being committed in Iraq by their military. I tried explaining to her that naming the exhibition American Freedom to Hell was not really going to be much of a crowd-puller among the American expats here, but I don't think she understood my point. I suggested that maybe next week they should do an exhibition of all the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorists in the name of Islam. She responded by trying to explain that those "mistakes" are not "part of Islam", implying that we as Muslims don't bear any of the responsibility.

But there is a much more worrying aspect to all of this self-victimization. The latest ISIM newsletter has an article titled A Culture of Righteousness and Martyrdom (pdf 191KB), by Elliott Colla, assistant professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. In it Prof Colla makes a very interesting observation:

We might remember that whether in post-WWI Germany, or more recently in Serbia, Israel, and Rwanda, or in the US following 9-11, the deployment of military force has all too often been preceded by a popular discourse of national victimization. This history suggests that since it is no longer considered acceptable to engage in political violence except in the cause of defence, we should be wary whenever we see cultures, as in the US right now, which invest so heavily in images of victimization. Such images—regardless of their veracity or applicability—are essential for legitimising violence and military intervention.

And this is equally applicable to the Arab and Muslim world, where we spend so much time trying to portray ourselves as the victims of atrocities in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and of course, Iraq. Now I don't mean to suggest that the cute girl who I spoke to at the Al Oruba Club was necessarily to trying promote the use of violence. Rather, I think it is worrying that this portrayal of self-victimization is taking place in Bahrain because it pushes the momentum of public discourse in the direction towards a point where the use of violence is justified for the sake of a "greater cause". And this is nothing new. It is exactly these types of images that have mobilized large numbers of youths around the Muslim world (even those from well-off homes) to join the movements of violent "resistance", or become suicide bombers. It is crucial that we do not let the emotions evoked by these images obscure the beauty of passive resistance.

More Bahraini bloggers

I'm glad to see more and more bloggers from Bahrain come online.  Here are a few that I just discovered today:

Also, Salman of sairafi.com has finally got around to posting stuff on his blog.

For a complete list of Bahrain blogs check out the 'Bahrain links' part of my blogroll on the right. If you know of any more then please drop me a line, or leave a comment.

Shisha pipes and accessories

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Actually, I'm not sure what those things that he is painting are. They look like clay pots to collect coins... but that doesn't seem to go with the shisha theme of the other items on offer in the store. Anyways.

The saga continues

Here we go again (from the BBC):
Bahrain has arrested seven people on suspicion of planning bombings in the strategically important Gulf state. They include six alleged Muslim extremists who were detained last month but released without charge. Their alleged targets were government, economic and tourist facilities, the interior ministry said in a statement. (Continued)
These guys have been arrested and released without being charged several times now I think. I wish the authorities would take the time to collect enough evidence before arresting them. It is interesting though, the way in which many news outlets are suggesting that this may be part of an ongoing tussle between the Bahraini and American authorities. As you may recall, the families of Fifth Fleet servicemen were ordered to temporarily relocate soon after these accused terrorists were released three weeks ago. I'm not sure what's going on behind the scenes, but life on the island is normal as usual.

No need for UoB segregation

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Last week, MP Ali Mattar of the Services Committee proposed the idea of segregating the University of Bahrain. Well, guess what (from the GDN)?
Bahrain will open its first all-female university in September next year, it was revealed yesterday.

The Royal University for Women, which is also the first of its kind in the Middle East, will offer degrees education, design and computer sciences and management.

The Faculties of Education and Management are affiliated with McGill University, Canada, while the Faculty of Design and Computer Sciences is affiliated with Middlesex University, UK. (Continued)
Hooray! This is all the more reason for MP Mattar to not waste the Parliament's time with his UoB segregation proposal. It looks like the Royal University for Women will be an excellent institution for women who are not comfortable with a co-ed educational environment. Of course, it might not be possible for everyone to afford it since it will be private. But when the public budget is so tight as it is, it would be irresponsible of the government to commit precious resources towards the segregation of Bahrain University.

If you'd like to tell MP Mattar what you think about his segregation proposal (in very polite words, of course), then please contact him:
Ali Mohammed Abdulla Matar
Telephone: +973 39468054
Fax: +973 17779761
Email: amater@nuwab.gov.bh
Best of luck to the Royal University for Women!!

Proposed: Bahraini Mutawwas

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen. Another example of Muslims in Bahrain obsessed with controlling the bodies of others. This time, if MP Al Saeedi has his way, way may soon have our very own mutawwas!

Now, I'm quite confident that this proposal will never be able make its way through the legislature to be put in to law. But I will defend the right of anyone (even this guy) to put forward any idea (even this one) on to the table to be debated; for this is after all what democracy is all about. However, I shall also be quick to criticize those MPs who do not use this right wisely. There are so many more important issues that need to be discussed: poverty, crime, unemployment, health, racial, sectarian, and gender discrimination. It is the responsibility of the MPs to know that they shouldn't be wasting the Parliament's time with proposals about religious watchdogs and segregating the university. Other ideas that have been proposed in the past by MP Al Saeedi, which are similar in that they waste the Parliament's time and resources are:
  • Proposed Motion on reducing prison sentence of inmates who recite parts of the Qura'an or the righteous path of the Prophet. Presented by the H.E.: Jassim Ahmed Al-Saeedi, dated: 20/10/2003

  • Proposed Motion to allow the growing of beards for men and the wearing of head scarves for women in the Kingdom's ministries and its institutions, Presented by the H.E.: Jassim Ahmed Al-Saeedi, dated: 20/10/2003

  • Proposed Motion on not allowing those under the age of 21 to travel outside the country without the consent of their parents. Presented by the H.E.: Jassim Ahmed Al-Saeedi, dated: 22/10/2003
(Taken from the Council of Representatives website)
My point is not to suggest that these ideas are completely ridiculous (although the one about reducing prison sentences if you can recite the Quran comes quite close). Rather, my point is that the MPs really need to prioritize, and must be very selective about which ideas are relevant enough to the Bahraini masses for them to be proposed in Parliament. The day that unemployment falls below 10%, and crime is not so rampant, I will be quite happy to hear a healthy debate on these issues. Until then, please, let's focus on the more important issues.

If you'd like to give your opinion to MP Al Saeedi about this, or any other issue, then here is is his contact info:
Jassim Ahmed Al-Saeedi
Telephone: +973 39460513
Fax: +973 17761997
Email: jalsaeedi@nuwab.gov.bh
I do encourage everyone in Bahrain to get in touch with their representatives as frequently as possible to let them know how you feel. Contact info for the Shura Council is here, and for the Council of Representatives here. So please, call them, fax them, e-mail them, and tell them to get their act together.

Well, this is the report from today's GDN:
Bahrainis could soon be told how to behave, by a proposed religious watchdog.

Its job would be to monitor social behaviour, to promote Islam and admonish those who behave in an anti-Islamic manner, says the MP behind the idea.

Jassim Al Saeedi, who represents part of Riffa, said the Islamic Affairs Ministry backed the plan, which will be discussed in parliament once it resumes in October.

The council would offer spiritual guidance and religious encouragement through the media and by publicly preaching Islamic teachings.

But it would not have any power to police the community and would function under the ministry's umbrella, said Mr Al Saeedi.

He said the proposal had already been endorsed by the parliament's legal affairs committee and Islamic Affairs Under-Secretary Shaikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

Mr Al Saeedi stressed the panel would focus on spiritual guidance, while respecting the freedoms of others, within the provisions of the country's constitution.

He said that the aim was to safeguard the community's traditions and culture.

"We are seeing every day behaviour which is against the teachings of Islam such as theft, vandalism and other heinous acts," said Mr Al Saeedi.

But he said there was no place for violence in Islam and criticised vigilantes who had reportedly attacked some people over the past few months.

"The people who acted violently against others in the name of Islam are the ones who should be approached by the council to teach them about religious behaviour," said Mr Al Saeedi.
Hmmm... I'm confused.

Summer load-shedding

Ahh, as the summer heat rolls in, the power outages seem to be on the rise, this year more than usual. I don't know if this is the case for everywhere on the island, but where I live, we seem to experience about two outages every day, lasting from anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours.

I've been trying to post stuff on the blog since yesterday but the power keeps going out while I'm writing. This time I've been saving this every two minutes to make sure I don't lose anything. I understand that it is necessary for this load-shedding to occur, but I wish they would at least announce the timings in the media as they usually did in previous years. That way I would know not to sit down and start writing just before the power goes out.

I don't want to sound ungrateful though, as I do have the relative luxury of being able to enjoy an air-conditioned home, workplace and car. There are thousands of others that aren't as lucky, who have to toil away underneath the boiling sun day in and day out, such as this chap:

But I do think that the Ministry of Electricity & Water should be able to predict by now the level of energy consumption this summer, and have arranged for something. It seems bizarre that given the vast amount of natural resources available to us on the island, and in our neighbouring countries, that we should still have such shortages.

That said, I also think that real efforts should be made in tandem to encourage consumers and industry to conserve energy and water during the summer months. It would be good to see some local environmental societies collaborate with the Ministry of Electricity & Water to start a public awareness campaign about the necessity to conserve resources. Usually, the most we get is a statement in the GDN from a ministry official urging people to limit their consumption. But it might also be useful to take out a few full pages colour ads in the local press, and on some road side billboards, informing us of what each of us can do to reduce energy and water consumption. They should also remind consumers that it is in their interest to do so, since it will reduce their bills.

I'm back

Monday, July 12, 2004
Sorry, for not blogging this weekend. I left the island to visit some friends. It was lots of fun, and I'll hopefully have some posts and photos of my trip soon. Cheers.

Raising awareness of maid abuse

Monday, July 05, 2004

If any of you have seen Lukas Moodysson's recent film Lilja 4-ever, then you will definitely recognize this story, which occurs all too frequently in Bahrain and around the Gulf. Says the GDN:
An Indian housemaid was raped by her sponsor, locked up and beaten by her employment agency and then put on a plane before she could complain to the police, according to human rights volunteers. (Continued)
Although we read such stories in the newspaper everyday, sadly, these are but a few of hundreds of such cases that go unreported on the island. In some cases the women are raped by just their sponsors, and in other cases their sponsors force them into prostitution. Again, thanks to the Migrant Workers Group (MWG) for picking up on this case and raising awareness of it.

Because it is something that is so prevalent the MWG should make a package to be given to all female domestic workers arriving at the airport. The package should detail their rights, make them aware of the prevalence of abuse here, provide emergency numbers to the MWG, and let them know what to do to get help in the unfortunate case that they are mistreated. Because the biggest problem is that the women themselves don't seem to be aware of what they may be getting in to when they arrive here, and have no idea where to go for help.

I don't know if they've shown Lilja 4-ever in Bahrain but I hope they do so. I will try to contact the Bahrain Cinema Company and see if something can be done (if they haven't shown it already).

Bahrain University students may be segregated

Just marvellous. While I fully support the right for segregated education, at this time, when there are so many other pressing issues, and the budget is getting ever tighter, we should not be wasting precious time and resources on these these things. If there is so much demand for segregated higher education, then by all means I encourage private investors to set up their own institutions to cater for this. But as acknowledged in the news report, making such changes in Bahrain University would cost alot of money, which need not be wasted. I'm sure it is possible to arrange some form of segregation within the lecture halls by merely reserving some of the seats exclusively for women, if they want. We need to focus on more important issues like the quality of the education being provided.

Why are we Muslims today so obsessed with controlling other people's bodies?

Anyways, here is the report from the GDN:
MANAMA: A Parliamentary committee yesterday approved a proposal to segregate students at Bahrain University.

This paves the way for the plan to be discussed before a full house, once parliament re-opens in the second week of October.

Services committee vice-chairman Shaikh Ali Mattar said although the proposal would cost the government a lot of money, university officials gave the committee assurances that segregation was already underway where possible.

"The university has obliged administrators and lecturers to wear acceptable, decent clothes when coming to university and this dress code would be also enforced on students soon," he told the GDN yesterday.

"There are segregated places at the university at the moment and more would be introduced.

"We are not looking for immediate segregation because we know this is impossible with the current tight budget allocated to the university. Hopefully, segregation would be introduced gradually.

"The mixing of sexes is Islamically unacceptable and the sooner we segregate students, the better it will be."

More on expat life

Saturday, July 03, 2004
Like before, Kuwaiti resident David Olivier has another great post on his blog. This time he details the way in which business is conducted in our part of the world. Here is a short excerpt:
More than this however I've enjoyed experiencing the process of negotiation which has involved many delayed or canceled meetings on both ends and Mafioso-like arbitration through suggestion and ambiguous implication.
"Nothing personal. It's just business"

I drank my tea and in a voice that was somewhere between a whisper and a mumble I said, "I can write course syllabus on my own time. This is no problem. I enjoy it."
Translation: I'll plagiarize similar course descriptions from various web sites and I won't charge you for my time.

He said, "Inshallah you will have them by Monday and I can begin promoting the class."
"Please have them ready within the next two weeks and I will start making the rounds at the diwaniyas using my wasta to get other people to use their wasta to get contracts with ministries and businesses."
Hilarious stuff, yet so true. Read the rest of the post here.


US Military dependents being relocated

Well it seems like Chan'ad's sources on the possible relocation of military dependents were true. From the US Department of Defense:
WASHINGTON, July 2, 2004 – Increased threat of terrorist attack has led Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve the temporary relocation of eligible family members and non-emergency Defense Department personnel from Bahrain.

Military officials are developing procedures to execute the mandatory departure, Pentagon officials said. News reports said the order could affect up to 650 family members and DoD employees who would be sent to safe haven in the continental United States.


Pentagon officials said the departure has been approved for 30 days and will remain in effect thereafter until terminated. Those who leave may not return until the mandatory departure is terminated.

Military officials have also issued a "stop-movement" order for all dependent personnel bound for Bahrain.
Sadly, this includes several of my friends and acquaintances. I wish them the best, and hope they can come back soon under better conditions.

More news reports:

US urges citizens to consider leaving Bahrain

Friday, July 02, 2004
Well, here is the travel advisory issued by the US State Department which was posted on the website of the US Embassy to Bahrain yesterday:
This Travel Warning is being issued to alert U.S. citizens to increased security concerns in Bahrain. U.S. citizens in Bahrain should evaluate their own security situation and should consider departing.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer travel to Bahrain. American citizens currently in Bahrain are urged to consider departing.

The Department has received information that extremists are planning attacks against U.S. and other Western interests in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Credible information indicates that extremists remain at large and are planning attacks in Bahrain. In neighboring Saudi Arabia, for example, terrorists have targeted residential housing compounds using vehicle bombs, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries, including to American citizens.

U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for further terrorist actions against U.S. citizens abroad, including the Persian Gulf region. U.S. citizens who travel to, or remain in, Bahrain despite this Travel Warning should register at the U.S. Embassy in Manama and enroll in the warden system (emergency alert network) to obtain updated information on travel and security in Bahrain.
Chan'ad's sources also tell him that on Tuesday a large number of families of 5th Fleet Navy servicemen were planning on flying to the US (via Germany) on their planned summer vacations. Apparently, their flight to Germany was cancelled at the last moment because, they were told, they may soon get orders to leave Bahrain permanently.

Other sources tell Chan'ad that the coast guard is also on high alert. Apparently, leisure boats which normally roam around the Marina Club and the Juffair area (not far from the 5th Fleet Navy Base) have been approached by the Coast Guard to make sure that nothing fishy is going on (hmmm... bad choice of words maybe).

Otherwise, things are quite normal on the island. Although the US has suggested that Bahrain might be the subject of a terrorist attack no one really seems to be aware of it, or cares all too much (apart from the Americans, I imagine). I just hope that everything remains okay. After the tragedy in al Khobar, the terrorists would need only to drive a further 30 minutes across the Causeway to carry out their mischief in Bahrain. Given that the US Navy 5th Fleet is located in Bahrain, and that huge numbers of Westerners from Saudi are relocating on the island, it does seem like an attractive target. But somehow, I feel safer here than in most parts of the world.

Here are some reports about the issue from other news sources:

Global chaos

I stole this picture from Sensed, our resident Hungarian blogger (I hope he doesn't mind!). The photo shows some buildings in Manama city centre, right next to the Bab al-Bahrain. Sensed titled this photo "Global Chaos", which I thought was a very appropriate name. In the frame you can see the American Coca-Cola, the Spanish Antonio Banderas, the Chinese and Indian cuisines on offer, and the Arabic and English languages on display. Yet even this does not do enough to depict the extent of diversity we have available on our island.

But I thought the name "Global Chaos" really does fit the scene because we do not see all of these different cultures coexisting in a comfortable "melting pot" as Bahrain's tourism board might want to have us believe. It is rather a mish mash of different cultural influences not really taking into regard each other: Global Chaos. And this does seem to be the reality in Bahrain. Although there are large numbers of Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Iranis, Nepalis, Balochis, Europeans and Americans residing on the island with the Bahrainis, very often I get the feeling that we all live in our own little worlds (or rather "our own little Bahrains"). There are so few opportunities where the different cultures can get together and interact, outside of the "employer-employee", or "customer-salesman" relationships. I'm really amazed sometimes at how little my parents know about Bahraini culture having lived here for so long. Each of the different cultural groups have their own cultural societies which hold events for themselves. It's not very often that an event will be held specifically aimed towards other cultural groups.

There really is so little sharing and exchanging going on, and no one seems to care about anyone else. We all have our problems and we don't bother about asking others for help. If you were to ask them, a Bahraini might tell you about the political troubles, an Indian worker might tell you about being mistreated at work, an Indonesian maid might tell you about getting raped and beaten by her "owner", a British wife of a banker might tell you of the trouble she has in locating the right brand of cat food from the supermarkets for her pet cat. All of these things are going on, yet so few of us are aware of our neighbour's problems, are care to help each other out.

Anyways, back to the initial topic of globalization, below is a page taken out of the GDN:

I find it quite amusing. Globalization is here to stay. The article at the top discusses the Bahraini prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who have allegedly been abused by United States military personnel. Just below the article is an advertisement for the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine, which has just hit the island. Now what could be more American than this piece of merchandise? In my eyes it's as American as apple pie, or the blues. I haven't seen the infomercial on any of the local TV stations (thank God!), but I wouldn't be surprised if it shows up soon. Anyway, I found the juxtaposition of those two items quite funny and interesting. Very similar to the graffiti that I discussed before. It's just another illustration of the very confused identities that have been created by globalization and are really quite difficult to unravel or correctly interpret.


Thursday, July 01, 2004

Here's a site I came across yesterday: NightLifeInBahrain.com. The site doesn't cover all of the nightspots in Bahrain (as the name would suggest), but just three which have the same owners I believe. The reason I'm posting it here is so that those of you who haven't been to Bahrain can get a glimpse of a side of the island that isn't often portrayed (the site has lots of photos). You won't see any camels, men in white thobes, or faceless women in black abayas here. Certainly, this only represents a small section of Bahraini society, but it is nonetheless a part of Bahrain's modern-day culture which I feel should be presented.