Long-suffering Bahrainis want democratic change. In response, Al Khalifa security forces attack them.
Washington turns a blind eye. So did Formula One’s governing body. On April 22, Bahrain’s Grand Prix goes on as planned. Protesters call it “blood on the track.”
Money, prestige, and face saving matter most. So does enforcing power through the barrel of a gun. Justice is nowhere in sight.
From April 20 – 22, the February 14 Youth Coalition promised “three days of rage.” Huge masses rally for justice. London’s Telegraph said protesters “flooded a main highway in a march stretching for miles….”
Out with the hated monarchy. Stop the hypocrisy of racing in a virtual war zone. Security forces responded as expected. Violence raged. It still does. Tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, sound bombs, buckshot, and what some called toxic gas are used.
On April 20, Bahrain’s senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, delivered a sermon denouncing Al Khalifa brutality. Ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix, he said crackdowns resembled “a war” zone.
“This is a crisis of a government that does not want to acknowledge the right of people to rule themselves and choose their representatives,” he added.
On April 19, the US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a press release denouncing the “indiscriminate and systematic use of tear gas against civilian protesters and densely populated Shia neighborhoods.”
According to PHR’s Richard Sollom, tear gas is “potentially lethal” when used against “men, women, children, and the elderly….” Long-term health consequences include miscarriages and birth defects.
PHR’s past president, Holly Atkinson, said:
“When all eyes turn to Bahrain this weekend to watch the Formula One race, we cannot forget the protesters who are being constantly attacked by their own government.”
PHR expressed concern for tear gas’ “suspected severe health impact on the population.” It also stressed Al Khalifa hypocrisy. Despite promising long needed reforms, excessive force is used. Instead of improved conditions, they’ve deteriorated.
In solidarity with protesters under the banner of “#OpBahrain,” the Anonymous hacking group took down Formula1′s web site. At least temporarily it couldn’t be accessed. An accompanying message said in part:
“For over one year the people of Bahrain have struggled against the oppressive regime of King Hamad bin Al Khalifa. They have been murdered in the streets, run over with vehicles, beaten, tortured, tear gassed, kidnapped by police, had their businesses vandalised by police, and have tear gas thrown in to their homes on a nightly basis.”
It continued saying instead of reform, crackdowns increased. F1′s Grand Prix “should be strongly opposed.” Its governing body knows what’s ongoing but plans to race anyway. Authorities promised to use live fire to assure it.
Anonymous won’t be silent. “We Do Not Forgive. We Do Not Forget. Expect Us.”
An earlier OpBahrain press release said Anonymous launched “Operation Lightening Rod” along with “Operation Gun Shy.” Both provide news on Bahrain.
On April 20, London Guardian Middle East editor Ian Black headlined, “Bahrain Grand Prix revs up polarisation of Gulf state,” saying:
Despite demands to cancel it, King Hamad plans going ahead as scheduled. “Bahrain is gearing up for trouble as the controversial Formula One grand prix gets under way. But whatever the outcome on the track, it’s a fair bet that the Gulf island state’s political tensions are not going to disappear very soon.”
Unwanted foreign journalists were denied visas or entry permission on arrival at Manama’s airport. PR spin doctors try putting a brave face on unspeakable repression and the hypocrisy of racing while it’s ongoing.
“Even the slickest PR cannot disguise the fact that the monarchy has failed to enact constitutional and institutional reforms to ensure a fairer division of power.”
On April 21, London Independent journalist Robert Fisk headlined, “This is politics not sport. If drivers can’t see that, they are the pits,” saying:
“When the Foreign Office urges British motor racing fans to stay away from Bahrain, this ain’t no sporting event, folks, it’s a political one.”
“The Bahraini authorities prove it by welcoming sports reporters but refusing visas to other correspondents who want to tell the world what’s going on in this minority-run, Saudi-dominated kingdom.”
What if Jews, not Shia Muslims, were being attacked, asked Fisk? F1′s governing board would turn tail fast.
An Independent op-ed headlined, “No credit to Bahrain or Formula One,” saying:
“The Formula One Grand Prix should not be happening in Bahrain this weekend. That is the long and the short of it.”
Officials handling security said assuring it can’t be guaranteed. At issue isn’t security, it’s doing the right thing and condemning Al Khalifa brutality by F1 governing board and drivers canceling out and going home.
Two members of the UK-based Force India team asked to leave after seeing petrol bombs burning in streets. A car carrying four team members witnessed police violence against protesters.
Bob Fernley, the team’s deputy principal, let two of his staff go home. They wanted no part of what’s going on. Police already killed one man. His body was found near Mananma clash areas. More deaths and injuries may follow.
April 22 potentially could replicate Derry, Northern Ireland’s January 30, 1972 Bogside Massacre called Bloody Sunday. UK soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilian protesters and bystanders.
Fourteen deaths resulted as well as injuries. Later reports said five civilians were shot in the back. The incident occurred during a nonviolent Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march.
Critics called what happened reckless. Authorities largely cleared participating soldiers of blame. The controversy still resonates today. Everyone shot was unarmed. Much too late to matter, a 2010 Saville Inquiry said killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.”
In response, UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal apology. Lost lives won’t be restored. Nor will surviving family members forgive.
During Sunday’s race, Bahrain authorities promised to use live fire against disruptive protesters. Blood on the streets and track may follow. In his Saturday radio address, Obama said nothing.
The best from America’s State Department was spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressing administration concern about “the increase in violence in Bahrain, especially leading up to the Formula 1 race. These are unproductive, unhelpful acts….”
Throughout months of state-sponsored terror, the administration’s been largely silent. Comparisons with Syria are obvious, the hypocrisy glaring. Most US domestic and foreign policies disregard fundamental human and civil rights.
Washington gets away with murder. So do valued allies like Bahrain. If blood flows Sunday, expect little said in response. Bahrainis are on their own.
Their courage shows they won’t quit. Eventually they may prevail. Maybe they’ll inspire others. The so-called Arab Spring’s just a slogan, not a reality. Sustained freedom fighting may make it one, and not just in Bahrain.