Catherine Shakdam's Blog

Sowing religious tensions in Bahrain as a defence strategy – a King’s tale

May 26, 2014

Amid yet more reports of grave human rights violations against Bahrain Shia community, a rather worrying development has come to light in the kingdom island as King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa is attempting to sow discord amid the Christian and Shia Muslim community, intent on pitting two friendly and traditionally peaceful communities against each other, to serve his own personal political gain.


Earlier this month local media in Bahrain confirmed that King Hamad had decided to grant the Roman Catholic Church a piece of land on which to build a new church. The move, which was hailed by the authorities as a symbolic gesture of friendship toward Bahrain Christian community and proof of the regime’s utmost respect for freedom of religion, came however at a grave cost to the Shia community.


King Hamad’s gift, his so-called act of benevolence toward the Christian community, serves a darker and rather cynical purpose. The land which King Hamad so keenly donated the Church happens to be the very site upon which only a year ago a Shia mosque stood erect. One can understand that while Bahrain Christians would hail the news as progress toward social and religious inclusion, Shia Muslims however, perceived it as yet another manifestation of the regime cruelty toward their community.


It important to stress that for the past four years, ever since Bahrainis rose in protest against the monarchy, calling for democratic reforms based on international law standards, King Hamad and his goons have systematically targeted Bahrain Shia community in retaliation for their “dissidence” and political “arrogance”.


For four years the regime has, in complete impunity, attacked Shia Muslims places of worship and religious centres as well as persecuted religious leaders in a bid to destroy the social foundation of an entire segment of the population, as to silence a people’s claims for justice and freedom.


Since Bahrain Shia have proven more resilient and determined before adversity than the King could have ever anticipated, His Royal Highness chose to change strategy, looking to use a third party to destroy the very enemy he could not annihilate alone.


The plot is rather sickening in its nature. By extending a friendly hand to Bahrain Christian community, King Hamad quite simply intends on rallying the Church to his cause and political rule, cunningly putting Bahrain Shia leaders in an impossible situation. The regime is looking to generate a backlash against Bahrain Christians. He wants Shia Muslims to view Christians as the new enemy to be had; he wants tensions to erupt and violence to ensue.


If as planned, Bahrain Shias oppose the construction of the new church, then King Hamad will be able to turn around and prove to the world how irrational and violent Shia Muslims have been, thus justifying to the international community his own aggressive stance.


But how could Bahrain Shia community ever condone having their own places of worship defiled? Activist Ali Al Fayez explained that Shia leaders would have opposed any construction projects, regardless of their purpose or nature. “Whether the regime wants to build a school, a hospital, a shopping mall or in this case a church is not the issue. What we oppose is the destruction of our mosques. Our places of worship should be protected under international law. Religious persecution stands in opposition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and this is what we are condemning … Shias in Bahrain have no quarrel with Christians. We will stand with them and fight for their rights as we fight for ours, we are one and the same … our country is Bahrain.”


But Christian leaders remain oblivious to King Hamad’s manipulation. Back in 2012, when the monarchy first unveiled its plan, Bishop Camillo Ballin – most senior Catholic religious figure in the region - announced that his Vicariate of Northern Arabia would soon move from its current location in Kuwait to Bahrain, some 260 miles to the southeast. At the time, Ballin reacted to King Hamad’s gift by saying, “We thank Bahrain’s king and ruling family for their magnanimous gesture of goodwill to the Catholic community of Bahrain in granting 9,000 square meters of land” for the building of a church that will also serve as the vicariate’s apostolic headquarters.”


But not all were blinded by the King’s treachery, some saw right through the regime’s attempt to sow discord. Mohabat news agency, which speaks and represent Bahrain Christian community wrote, “One crime of Al Khalifa and Al Saud in Bahrain is that they destroyed Shia mosques and Hussainia … Now King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, dictator of Bahrain, has allowed the first Christian church to be constructed in Bahrain … By giving a construction permit for the first church and catholic vicariate in Bahrain, the king of Bahrain introduced himself as an open-minded man.”  


According to Shia Rights Watch – prominent rights organization based in Washington D.C -  over 35 mosques have been destroyed in Bahrain since 2011, all in the name of the regime’ state policy against the Shia community.  The state began its attacks against Shia mosques when the Peninsula Shield Force troops - the GCC countries’ gun for hire – entered Bahrain in March 2011 to crackdown on revolutionaries.


The organization strongly denounced King Hamad’s plans, warning that such blatant disregard and disrespect against an entire segment of the population, on the basis of their ethnicity is not only morally unacceptable but illegal.


“Clearly King Hamad wants to generate tensions in between Christians and Shia Muslims … to what end? Does the monarchy seek to promote cultural genocide? Does the King want to turn Bahrain into an incubus for hatred, a new apartheid terror state?” stressed SRW.


What Bahrain needs at the moment is a real national dialogue, where all actors and groups will be able to voice their opinions, away from persecution, political manipulation and coercion. If Bahrain is to move forward and heal as a nation, all citizens will need to trust that all will stand equal before the law, their rights protected, in accordance with international regulations.


Without fairness and justice, only tyranny will strive.




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