Call For Submissions: “Longing: Homeland and Sect”

longing homeland and sect - call for submissions

Tasa’ol تساؤل is pleased to invite you to participate in its upcoming digital project: “Longing: Homeland and Sect”, which focuses on the Bahraini film, Longing حنين, directed by Hussain Al Hulaibi and written by Khalid Al Rowaie.

The project is made up of a series of articles, videos, and podcasts which will be published on www.tasaol.org, timed with a film screening of “Longing حنين” in September.

“Longing: Homeland and Sect” will analyse issues of sectarianism, religious extremism, and patriarchal sectarianism through a variety of written, audio-visual and digital mediums, with the aim of reaching better understandings of ourselves, our society and our identities.

We invite all writers, bloggers, film critics, activists and cinema enthusiasts to participate in the project through one of the following options:

  • Film review article
  • Analytical article discussing a different topic within the film
  • Opinion editorial discussing the film from a personal point of view
  • Short video collecting audience reactions to the film screening
  • Audio podcast; a discussion between the filmmakers, film critics, and activists

Final deadline for submission: Saturday, August 22.

Watch the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9IraEgChBw

To send pitches and suggestions, please contact us directly on tasaolquestioning@gmail.com or on https://twitter.com/Tasaol

 

“Longing” centers around the story of two co-existing Sunni and Shi’ite families whereby these two families are a living representation of the Bahraini family in the nineteen eighties. The families grow, and the children grow along with them until a sectarian flame begins to build in the new generations.
The film’s event take place between the years 1983 and 2000, portraying numerous political and social developments in the historical memory of Bahrain. The film recollects volatile global events and their impacts on Bahrain such as the Iraq-Iran War and the Soviet War in Afghanistan.

Society and State: Between Confessionalism and Citizenship

WHEN: June 30 from 9:00PM-11:30PM
WHERE: Nestle Toll House Cafe, Budaiya

“Society and State: Between Confessionalism and Citizenship” aims to analyse concepts of citizenship, society and state in an effort to gain a better understanding of current systems in Bahrain and to reach new conclusions about how to build a better state and society.

The event features paper presentations about the concepts of equal citizenship and sectarian confessionalism, in addition to an open discussion about the systems of parliament, government and the job market, with a special focus on gender, youth and citizenship.

The event is moderated by Mr. Bader Al Maskati, Master’s Graduate from the University of London, School of African and Oriental Studies in International and Diplomacy Studies.

The speaker panel includes:

  • Dabya Al Rafaei, Politics and Economics graduate from Queen Mary, University of London.
  • Ali Salah Al Zayani, Law student at the University of Bahrain and an avid follower of politics.
  • Khalid Al Khayat
  • Isa Al Sheroogi

Stories From Yemen

Stories from Yemen
Photo credit: RAW Media
WHEN: Tuesday, May 26 at 7:00pm
WHERE: Eat Cafe, Hamala (near Room 2 Rock)

A storytelling session bringing together Yemeni voices, storytellers, writers, poets, filmmakers and journalists, via video conference to provide Bahraini audiences with their perspective on the current ongoing conflict in Yemen, the state of civil society, the country’s history and the everyday challenges Yemenis face.

Following this, the audience will reconvene to discuss these narratives, and reflect on what this means to them as Bahrainis in an effort to understand Bahrain’s own conflicts, society and challenges, through comparison with Yemen.

The event also features the “Nqoosh Ala Al Jedran” traveling art installation featuring artwork about conflict, sectarianism, dehumanization and graffiti.

Speakers:
  • Ahmed Saeed, an independent activist and a public policy analyst from the city of A’den. He is a ICANN 53 fellow selected to represent civil society in the Yemen and MENA region and was selected as a civil society representative to the Arab Internet Governance Forum.
  • #SupportYemen, an independent media collective engaged in using video to tell under-told and under-heard struggles in Yemen. Made up of a group of Yemeni organizers, activists, journalists, videographers, bloggers and photographers who are passionate about using creative communication strategies as a tool for social change.

Towards Deeper Understandings of Sectarianism

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questioning conflict event poster high quality
WHEN: Headquarters of Society of Sociologists in Adliya
WHERE: Saturday, May 16, from 6:30pm-9:30pm

Towards Deeper Understandings of Sectarianism is a discussion workshop session that aims to raise critical questions about sectarianism and social and political divisions by defining and analysing the phenomenon of sectarianism in an effort to understand ourselves, our own communal identities and the forms sectarianism may take in society.

The moving art installation “Nqoosh Ala Al-Jedran” featuring art and photography by Questioning Conflict contributors will be exhibited at the event.

Segment 1:

  • What is sectarianism?
  • Is sectarianism a religious or political term?
  • What are the roots and causes of sectarianism?

Segment 2:

  • How does sectarianism take shape in society?
  • Who is “us” and who is “them”?
  • Does diversity create sectarian societies and sectarian states?

Conflict and What It Means To Be Bahraini

 

In this video, Mariam Al Zeera outlines her views on issues of conflict, in addition to her views on sectarianism in Bahrain. She raises critical questions about what it means to be Bahraini.


 

Mariam Al Zeera is a pacifist from Bahrain. She is a student, reader, writer, and occasional video blogger. All she wants is to nudge the world in a nicer direction. You can watch more of Mariam’s videos on her YouTube channel or follow her on Twitter @Mariamnessi.

Sectarian Conflict in Iraq: A Non-Sectarian Analysis

by Dabya Al-Rafaei

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Volatility of the Middle East and frequency of civil conflicts on ethnic and sectarian grounds, in comparison to other regions in the world, had largely been explained through the primordialist account of political identity. The distinct communities that occupy the region had long been argued to be geographically homogenous and mutually hostile towards one another (Dodge, 2007, p. 24). However, this explanation of political identity as a core factor in driving violence in the Middle East ignores the historically and pragmatically grounded complex reality.

This paper argues for an alternative, modernist explanation of political identity within the framework of the modern state. In this approach, the politicization of ethnosectarian identity is an effect rather than a cause of state weakness.

Exclusive bargaining in the process of state building, weak state capacity to legitimize its monopoly over the use of force as well as external influences combined, give rise to ethnic entrepreneurship in divided states.

Consequently, mobilization of ethnicity by these “entrepreneurs” more often than not leads to widespread violence in a race for security and scarce resources. The way these dynamics interplay in a volatile region like the Middle East, determine the degree to which ethnic entrepreneurs can mobilize ethnicity and religion.

Accordingly, in Iraq, as the paper aims to demonstrate, it is the primordialist understanding of Iraqi society by the U.S.-led coalition in 2003 that exacerbated divisive sectarianism into Iraqi politics. Due to the disintegration of the mechanisms of centralized government, dangerous competition over local resources generated ethnosectarian violence as individuals found that pre-emptive actions against other groups were a necessary means for survival (Bunton, 2008, p. 631).

Priomordialism and Iraqi Political Identity

The primordialist account insists on the centrality of collective identity that is rooted in historical experience in determining the political behaviour of people groups. (Esman, 1994, p. 10). It is primordial loyalties, therefore, that cause ethnic and sectarian conflicts in Iraq. The apparent lack of a national identity among Iraqis and their political affiliations with either sects (Sunnis or Shias and their sub-sects) or ethnicity (Arab, Persians or Kurdish origins) defends such view.

When conflicts arise, members of different ethnic and sectarian groups act upon the impulses that their sense of kinship dictates, aligning themselves with their fellows who share the same objective traits in an expression of solidarity. According to Toby Dodge in Iraqi Transitions: Preventing a New Generation of Conflict, this primordialist understanding of the roots of conflict in Iraq influenced the formation of the first post-Saddam governing body. However, because it failed to capture the complexity of Iraqi society, it was unable to deliver the reformed political structure the U.S. officials running the occupation had sought (Dodge, 2007, p. 25).

Part of this complexity is derived from the overlapping constituents of political identity. Religion, language, geographic location and historical experience that make up a certain group are not mutually exclusive. As the discussion of the role of state policy will convey, whichever of these traits prevails as the main determinant of political identity for the most part depends on its relevance to the context in which individuals interact.

Moreover, primordialist views on conflict in post-Iraq almost entirely overlooked the significance of sub-sectarian and sub-ethnic divisions in shaping the internal dynamics.  The resulting political structure under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) institutionalized ethnosectarianism by word and deed in the mindset of the people and most dangerously, in the body politic (Dawisha, 2008, p. 222). This unprecedented endeavor in Iraqi politics was meant to overcome the past difficulties that were perceived to be a natural consequence of the lack of representation of the Iraqi people aspirations.

However, just like the case with Lebanon’s disastrous confessionalism, the divisive nature of the process of selecting representative government officials, nurtured a political culture concerned with particularistic concerns, rather than national interest; concerns that became a driving force behind governmental policies and parliamentary behavior (Dawisha, 2008, p. 222).

Failure of incorporating the pluralism of Iraqi society in the body politic to as a necessary effort to demobilize ethnicity and sectarianism is primarily due to the failure of the primordialist approach to assess the role of state policy, capacity and external factors in giving primacy to an otherwise passive constituent of identity.

The State and the Political Arena

The state as the arena in which different groups compete and contest to put forward their interest is central to the modernist explanation of political identity. In the modernist analytical framework, the environment shapes ethnic and sectarian identity rather than a fixed set of objective traits as the primordialists suggest. Deployment of ethnicity as means for political gain is highly dependent on the opportunities it offers in comparison to other instruments. Like other people, Iraqis’ societal identity is shaped by various determinants such as the financial situation, profession, education, and the degree of exposure to cultural globalization, as well as religion and ethnicity. What makes the last two of these the main vehicle for political mobilization is the state itself, not any inherent privilege that these two traits they possess.

When the state enjoys autonomy from ethnic contestants, it can function as a neutral arbitrator where healthy forms of competition over allocation of resources through merit, productivity and opportunity can take place. However, when the state is controlled by one of the contending communities as is the case in Israel, Syria and Iraq, it is perceived as a partisan that even when succeeding in managing conflict, it will not be immune to future ethnic conflicts i.e. that the system is not sustainable (Esman, 1994, p. 19). Even though ethnosectarian identity cannot be deconstructed, functionality of the state can contain and deactivate its violent politicization.

Conflict in the Political Economy

Activities of the modern territorial state are not limited to security and law enforcement. States aim to penetrate society through taxation that finances services of great importance of all their members such as education, public health, transportation and regulation of economic and social activities (Esman, 1997, p. 19).

As the allocator of vital resources, policies adopted by the state directly affect the population and generate different consequences accordingly. Unless the state is perceived as a neutral arbitrator, members of different groups find it rational to mobilize in order to make credible claims and secure a favorable allocation of wealth, goods and services.

For civil society to become the foundation upon which national identity could be built, citizens needs to believe that their interests are best served by the state instead of their sub-state alliances. Under the Ba’ath governance, oil wealth secured that objective. Abundance of oil granted the Iraqi government great influence over society as 21% of the active workforce as well as 40% of households were directly dependent on government payment (Dodge, 2005, p. 708).

Even though bigoted views against non-Sunnis were held by both Abdul Salam Aref and Saddam Hussein, ethnosectarianism was not allowed to “become the key criterion for apportioning governmental and administrative positions and responsibilities, nor in any way was it advertised as an element of public policy” (Dawisha, 2008, p. 220).

Of course after sanctions in 1990 and the following uprisings in 1991, the political tone had changed following the violent campaign against Shias and Kurds. The authoritarian state could no longer deliver economically, and therefore the population could no longer be kept under control. The difference between Ba’athist Iraq and post-2003 Iraq is less to do with the ethnosectarian social structure that was consistently problematic for the state, and more to do with the policies adopted by the state and the degree to which they were legitimate in the eyes of the population.

The CPA and Political Sectarianism

The CPA’s (Coalition Provisional Authority) attempt to establish a stable democracy after the downfall of Saddam brought about the infusion of particularistic identities in the concept of political parties. Parties thereafter, became instruments of promoting ethnosectarian interests that led to the inevitable collapse of the political body. This is because elite bargains that were central to the negotiations that took place to pave the path to democracy and prevent the occurrence of violent conflicts were exclusive, not inclusive.

While an inclusive bargaining approach integrates a broad section of the existing national elites into the ruling coaling, the settlement created by the United States after the 2003 war involved an exclusive set of elites with narrow ethnosectarian interests (Dodge, 2012, p. 41). This arrangement, coupled with aggressive de-ba’athification was a recipe for a sectarian disaster as Sunnis were systemically excluded and marginalized, which birthed insurgency and encouraged monopoly of the Shia elites over mechanics of Iraqi politics.

The partisanship of Iraqi politics after 2003 could have succeeded in conflict management through accommodation, or -most likely- coercion. However, the lack of the state coercive ability to enforce order made neither option possible.

According to Toby Dodge, the institutional capacity of the state must be judged and compared to the capabilities of non-state organizations that seek to mobilize the population and deploy violence as means for political gain.

State Legitimacy

For the state to be legitimate, there must not be other forces capable of competing with and challenging its monopoly over the use of violence. However, as is the case with other Arab states that were created through colonial powers, the only strong government institution in Iraq is the military. As part of de-ba’athification, the Iraqi military was disbanded and the American-led troops were left to restore order in a state of chronic weakness while lacking the necessary troop numbers to control the chaos. Consequently, a security vacuum has emerged where no community could secure its interests without threatening the interests of other communities when power devolved from the collapsed central authority to local organizations.

The primordial loyalties cannot be mistaken for a cause, for they are only instruments mobilized to sustain survival by granting fundamental economic and security gains that could no longer be provided by the central government. As ethnosectarianism became a feature in Iraqi public policy, the majority of Iraqis deemed state actions illegitimate and no public consent could be fostered. Criminality therefore flourished to serve the pursuit of narrow interests and resist state-driven repression as state prohibitions on murder became meaningless to the public (Dodge, 2012, p. 32). Therefore, the monopoly of the Ba’athist state over both economic resources and legitimate use of force were two key features in demobilization of a population that now found itself no longer able to rely on the state to provide basic human needs. Instead, they sought these services from local competing establishments that seemed to promise the best options of survival.

Geo-Political Sectarianism

When ethnic and sectarian relations become the most visible feature of state dynamics, they also become issues of macropolitical concern that can be manipulated, exploited and escalated by transnational actors. Whereas the primordialist account assumes the answer to ethnosectarian conflicts lies in voluntary apartheid, the modernist approach finds such settlement counter-productive due to the interconnectedness of world states through networks that recognize opportunity, not borders.

These networks consist of either states to which strategic interest is the mobilization of groups outside their borders, or organizations that are often militarized and well able to reach out groups abroad through direct and indirect means. Interference in Iraqi politics was made possible because Iraqi borders became meaningless as the state lost its administrative and coercive capabilities which caused decision-making power to leak out across the boundaries and into the hands of competing powers that further escalated conflict in Iraq in pursuit of their interests (Al-Sayyed, 2009, p. 39).

Power-sharing in Iraq where each groups’ interest is at odds with one another translated into an increasingly militant rivalry between the Sunnis and Shias due to advanced warfare techniques that were made possible through external support. Iran for example, found it easy to mobilize Iraqi Shias to extend its sphere of influence in the Gulf region as Saddam’s Arabization process involved expulsion of many ethnically-Persian Iraqis who sought refuge in Iran and later returned to Iraq both ideologized and militarized (Nasr, 2006). This has bred anxiety amongst Sunni Iraqis who found themselves at a great disadvantage and acknowledged the centrality of state peripheries as means of political organization. Sunnis too, sought foreign aid through connections with Al-Qaeda as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and sympathetic powerful individuals across the Gulf. Dominance of the Sunni faction in most of the Middle East allowed insurgencies to establish networks and move money, goods and personnel back and forth with relative ease (Herring & Rangwala, 2006, p. 164).

Path Dependencies Pre-2003 and Political Mobilization Post-2003

Path dependencies were built long before the collapse of the state as the Ba’athist regime chose to manage potential conflict between rivaling factions through coercion. It was only after state collapse post-2003 however, that the passive sense of collective identity was translated into an assertive, organized communalistic body led by formerly inactive shapers of path dependency; the sub-national political elites and the ethnic entrepreneurs (Dodge, 2012, p. 34).

As ethnosectarianism became infused in the political structure of Iraq under the CPA-created government, the political economy became an arena of rivalry in the national culture. Therefore, it became the duty of ethnic entrepreneurs to provide what the different communities desperately need in times of uncertainty, and that is leadership in the quest of securing access to scarce economic resources. Existence of influential community leaders, as well as well trained, economically motivated ex-soldiers and ideologically driven Shia former exiles created quasi-states within the collapsed Iraqi state that seemingly offered best chance of survival. Therefore, the instability and violence that became a prominent feature of Iraqi politics is shaped by path dependencies built up before 2003 and the actions of political entrepreneurs in the wake of state collapse after 2003 (Dodge, 2012, p. 34).

Conclusion

In conclusion, mobilization of ethnicity and religious communities in the political arena is conditioned on whether citizens believe their interests are best served by the state or elsewhere. Contrary to the primordialist explanation of political identity, ethnicity and religion emerge as core constituents of identity only when the state fails to represent and carry through the interests of its citizens.

In the case of post-2003 Iraq, the resulting fragmentary nature of the state, “partial as a mechanism of order and weak as a service provider…. has been instrumental in the alignment of populations with groups rooted in principles specific to a sect” (Herring & Rangwala, 2006, p. 159). Therefore, rise of sectarian warfare is the product of fragmentation, not a cause for it. Pre-1990s Iraqi politics demonstrates the validity of such a proposal, as sectarianism was not infused in the body politic at the time. Its unprecedented infusion after the U.S. led coalition, as well as the irrelevance of state institutions all-together, were bound to be critical factors in mobilizing formerly passive ethnic and religious communities in response to the absence of means to obtain essential economic needs as well as security. Relevance of ethnicity and religion, therefore, is context-dependent; adaptable and prioritized in the face of threats and marginalized in the face of new opportunities that can best serve society.

 

Bibliography:

  • Esman, Melton J. (1994). Ethnic Solidarity as a Political Force: The Scope of the Inquiry. In: Ethnic Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 1-25.
  • Dodge, Toby (2007) State collapse and the rise of identity politics In: Bouillon, Markus E. and Malone, David M. and Rowsell, Ben, (eds.) Iraq: Preventing a New Generation of Conflict. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 23-39
  • Dodge, Toby. (2005). Iraqi Transitions: From Regime Change to State Collapse. Third World Quarterly. 26 (4-5), 705-721.
  • Bunton, Martin. (2008). From Developmental Nationalism to the End of Nation-State in Iraq?. Third World Quarterly. 29 (3), 631-646.
  • Al-Sayyed, Mustafa Kamal. (2009). Identity and Security in Arab Countries. IDS Bulletin . 40 (2), 62-69.
  • Umut Özkirimli (2005). Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Engagement. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Dawisha Adeed. (2008). The Unraveling of Iraq: Ethnosectarian Preferences and State Performance in Historical Perspective. Middle East Journal. 62 (2), 219-230.
  • Toby Dodge. (2012). Understanding the Drivers of Violence in Iraq. In: Iraq: From War to New Authoritarianism. London: Routledge. 31-52.
  • Nasr, Vali. (2006). When the Shiites Rise. Available: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61733/vali-nasr/when-the-shiites-rise. Last accessed 19th December 2014.
  • Herring, Eric & Rangwala, Glen (2006). Iraq in Fragments: The Occupation and its Legacy. London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. 161-209.

 


 

 

Dhabya Al Rafaei

Dabya Al-Rafaei is a third year Politics and Economics major in Queen Mary, University of London. A freelance journalist with contributions in Al-Arabiya Online, she is also a member of the International Gulf Organization (iaIGO), and the British Middle East Center for Studies and Research. Dabya also served as the President of Spring Thinkers Political Society at Queen Mary, University of London from 2011-2012. You can contact her at D.alriffai@gmail.com.

Conflict and Sectarianism – A Vicious Circle

by Mohammed Al Sayed

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Does sectarianism create conflict or does conflict breed sectarianism? Countless academic papers have been written going round in circles on the theme of how sectarian tensions emerge and whether they are the product of conflict; or whether these tensions are the engine that gives rise to further conflict.

Below, we will look at recent experiences of conflict and sectarian tensions in the region. The conclusion we will arrive at is that one does not necessarily precede the other, but rather, the two are interrelated in a vicious circle where conflict creates sectarianism and sectarianism in turn fuels further conflict.

Modern conflicts and sectarianism

In our recent memories, the earliest and most dramatic explosion of sectarian tensions came after the Iraq War in 2003.

During the 2003-2006 period in Iraq, groups associated with Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists targeted Shia-majority areas and Shia mosques. Meanwhile, Shia militias linked to Iran attacked Sunni areas and abducted and murdered Sunni civilians.

Both sides were seeking to stir up sectarian tensions in order to advance their own primarily political agendas of consolidating their power and influence across Iraq and undermining the new Iraqi administration. Sectarianism at that time was foreign to most of Iraqi society, with Sunnis and Shia living together and intermarrying.

Conflict in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere has recently followed a sectarian logic. In all these cases, sectarianism doesn’t spontaneously erupt. Sectarian consciousness only gradually emerges after sustained efforts by extremist groups to provoke sectarian consciousness for political ends.

Historical roots of sectarianism

Sectarian figures will try and portray the Sunni-Shia split as going back almost to the time of the Prophet, dividing the Muslim world up into “true” Muslims and “deviant” Muslims. Such people will spend hours explaining current political events in the context of incidents that occurred between early Muslims nearly 1,400 years ago.

In reality, most of these 1,400 years is a history of coexistence and sharing of ideas and ideologies. Large numbers of Muslims for most of this history would never have recognized the Muslim world as being fundamentally divided into Sunni and Shia. That is certainly the case for Bahrain for much of its history.

Many historians would claim that our modern understanding of the sectarian divide goes back to the conflict between the Ottomans and the Safawis around the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For the most part, Shia and Sunni clerics across the Arab world before that period recognized that they had to live together and avoid inflaming divisions. It was only when the Safawis and Ottomans identified their sectarian orientation with their political goals that this Shia-Sunni polarization took shape and acquired political dimensions.

Sectarianism and the desire for an “Islamic State”

Prior to the Iranian revolution, we find that most Shia clerics rejected and opposed Ayatollah Khomeini’s principle of Welayat al-Faqih (rule by clerics), because they thought it was a theocratic innovation and they realized its potential for stirring divisions.

Prior to Khomeini, most senior Ayatollahs preached coexistence with Sunnis and with rulers who were not Shia clerics. Therefore Khomeini’s Iranian revolution was not just a revolution against “godless” rulers, but against the long-established principles of Shia Islam. Even today, many Shia clerics in Al-Najaf and elsewhere reject Khomeini’s teachings; even though Iran has created a generation of clerics for whom Welayat al-Faqih is a central principle.

We find the same process with Sunni extremists. Many extremist groups adopt the principle of “takfir”; rejecting as non-Muslims all those who think differently from them. Such extremists believe in the necessity of establishing an Islamic state based on the teachings of their intolerant principles. We see this happening in parts of Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Such Sunni extremists generally view Shia as non-Muslims and would go as far as saying that Shia should be killed.

One of the many problems with all projects that have sought to establish a state where Islam and the state are inextricably linked and religion is made central to all aspects of society, politics and economics, is that the proponents inevitably hold a very narrow interpretation of Islam. Such projects thus tend to be just as intolerant of other Muslim sects as of non-Muslims. In Iran, there are countless examples of the marginalization, discrimination and persecution of Sunnis and other sects.

Sectarianism in Bahrain

From the outset of the unrest in February 2011, it wasn’t immediately obvious that it was of a wholly sectarian nature.

Both Sunnis and Shia went to Pearl Roundabout (Duwar Al LuaLua) urging reforms. However, it was the radicalized Shia organizations that were best able to mobilize their support bases and drive the unrest in a more extreme direction, calling for revolution and an end to the monarchy. Almost immediately, most Sunnis distanced themselves from the protest movement and the result was the sectarian polarization of the movement.

The most radical Shia groupings like Haq Movement and the Islamic Freedom Movement united in a “Coalition for a Republic” calling for protesters to forcibly overthrow the Monarchy and establish an Islamic Republic along Iranian lines.

The Sunni segment of Bahrain’s population saw this as very dangerous and in the eyes of many, the removal of the Monarchy amounted to a theocratic Shia takeover.

The result was that the unrest took a strongly sectarian turn, with both anti-Sunni and Shia incitement being witnessed in mosques, social media and various media outlets. By mid-March 2011 Bahrain was on the verge of serious sectarian conflict, as different localities set up road blocks and checkpoints guarded by vigilante groups.

It is credit to Bahrain’s leadership that we were able to take a step back from this brink and that there have been serious efforts towards dialogue and reconciliation. New laws have outlawed sectarian hate speech. However, Bahrain is certainly a more divided society than it was just five years ago.

Reconciliation and national unity

I have been lucky enough to attend more than one reconciliation programme in Northern Ireland as part of efforts to empower Bahrainis to take action to consolidate national unity.

It was instructive for me to see that Ireland is gradually healing its wounds after far worse sectarian violence and divisions than we ever experienced in Bahrain.

As levels of violence and unrest diminished in Bahrain over the past four years we can see time slowly healing these sectarian tensions. It may take years to get back to a situation of peaceful coexistence, but with each year that goes by without a major outbreak of renewed tensions there is hope that we can make progress.

This teaches us the degree to which conflict and sectarianism are related: Conflict inevitably gives rise to sectarian tensions, which further fuels the conflict.

However, reconciliation doesn’t just happen naturally. As the experience of Northern Ireland demonstrated; consolidated efforts are needed and genuine political will is required to bring the sides together in order to overcome the hatred and mistrust.

In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere; continued conflict results in worsening relations between sects. In Bahrain there are grounds for optimism that the worst is behind us and that Bahrainis have the desire and the maturity to find a way of peacefully living together.


 

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Mohammed Al Sayed has over 10 years of experience in the field of media. Previously a journalist for one of Bahrain’s top English language newspaper, he later joined the Supreme Council for Women as a Senior Media and International Cooperation Specialist and has worked on several national women’s empowerment programmes including Bahrain’s official report of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Currently, Mohammed heads “Citizens for Bahrain”, an organization dedicated to reflecting the views of ordinary Bahrainis and ensuring that the full spectrum of opinions get a fair hearing locally and internationally. You can contact Mohammed and Citizens for Bahrain on Twitter @citizensforBH.

“Nqoosh Ala Al-Jedran” Art Installation

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Nqoosh General Poster - Black
WHEN: May 16+26, June 30 / TBA
WHERE: Present at all Questioning Conflict events / The Walls of Bahrain

Nqoosh Ala Al-Jedran is a traveling art installation presenting artworks about issues of conflict, sectarianism and dehumanization.

Participating artists:

  • Hajer Ghareeb
  • Khalid Al Qahtani
  • Marwa Khalil
  • Ahmed Al Noaimi
  • Sayed Ali Hasan

 

nqoosh ala el jedran poster yemen web use

Announcing the “Questioning Conflict” Project

Announcement in Arabic

Conflict is an everlasting and persistent feature of human history and debates around issues of conflict will continue for as long as conflict remains a part of our reality.

Today, the world is plagued by the rise of groups like the Islamic State (Daesh); the breakdown of diplomatic relations and security; high levels of state repression and dictatorship; the deepening of social and communal conflicts between people of different races, religious sects and political affiliations.

All these conflicts, political and social, present a challenge for us as individuals, societies and cultures, to overcome in a meaningful and positive way. As such, the aim of the project is not to resolve conflicts, but to gain a better understanding of ourselves; our societies; our cultures and “the other”.

We invite all writers, bloggers, artists, photographers, poets and filmmakers to take part in creating a project that will raise meaningful questions about society and about the world we live in. Each of us has a particular issue that they feel connected to and we invite everyone to find that issue that draws their interest and make it the subject of their contribution to the project.

The project itself will feature:

  • E-book collecting works of original writing about sectarianism, divisions, dehumanization and different types of gender, political and social conflict. This e-book will be published for free online.
  • Audio version collection of the e-book submissions.
  • Discussion workshop focusing on sectarianism, divisions and dehumanization.
  • Art installation featuring works of original art and design about themes related to conflict.
  • Video series inviting participants to discuss their views on issues of conflict, sectarianism, dehumanization and divisions.

The main guideline for submissions is that they must be related to the themes of conflict, sectarianism, divisions and dehumanization and to present the topics in an interesting and thoughtful way.

Deadline for e-book submissions is February 25, 2015. Information about other components of the project will be announced soon.

Please contact us if you have any questions:

tasaolquestioning@gmail.com               Twitter