The rhetoric of hatred and the Need for Reconstruction

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

The following warning echoed in the Holy Qur’an amply applies to Bahrain: “Do not be like a woman who unravels the thread she has firmly spun, using your oaths to deceive each other so that one party may be more numerous than another”

Here is a country that had been exemplary among Gulf states in its respect for plurality, cultural and sectarian diversity as well as religious tolerance. Now it has become socially fragmented after being ravaged by a flood of sectarianism, while the cancer of hatred tampered with its fabric and its homes have been overrun by a stream of violence and militancy. All this has been inflicted by the hands of Bahrain’s own sons and daughters. the so called political, cultural, religious and media elites. They have led segments of their society into splintering, extremism, violence, hatred and division.

The fruits of long decades of love and social peace and harmony have been wasted on the altar of private benefits. This took place with terrible recklessness. As a result we yet again talk about how to restore what has been lost, and we wonder as to how we deteriorated into this abhorrent schism?

Sabotaging the social fabric and the launch of the unprecedented wave of hatred and violence took place in haste; however our country will need decades of re-construction to recover. Demolition is rather easy, but construction is a much difficult task. Three years of self-destruction may require three decades to restore what has been damaged in ourselves and in our society. The construction, which some of us began to contemplate and exhort is not going to be an easy task. It cannot be achieved through religious preaching, articles, speeches and superior settlements, as much as it needs a correct strategic vision based on scientific grounds. Such a strategic vision should address the root causes of problems and lead to the deactivation, if not elimination, of sectarian and hate speech, while instilling in future generations, hopes of firmly-established co-existence, freedom, justice and the rule of law.

Hate speech is merely an outcome of the performance of the political and social forces within the community. Such a discourse is an off-shoot of the dormant sectarianism which has been awakened by the devil. This outcome cannot be controlled without diving deep and eradicating it from its roots. But is this really possible?

Some argue that the discourse of incitement and hatred in Bahrain could be attributed to the lack of a deep sense of faith in the equality of members of the society, and to the lack of respect for diversity. Others see the cause lurking in discriminatory policies and the attempts by politicians to utilise the latent sectarian discourse in the political conflict, whether in favour of or against the existing political regime.

But what is striking here, is that the rhetoric of incitement and hatred, whether sectarian, racial, tribal or otherwise, is not new, but has always been embedded in all our cells. It is not an extrinsic or incidental discourse but has been there all the time albeit kept under wraps. By contrast, the discourse which was introduced to foster tolerance and coexistence is a fairly new one that Intellectuals have attempted to instil during the first 10-year term of reforms. However, this discourse did not entrench sufficiently. Thus, when the political crisis broke out, the old deeply-rooted discourse, charged with repugnance and fear of the other, soon surfaced to erode and annihilate all the achievement, which we have been waiting for in a country of freedom, justice, equality and tolerance.

Fortunately, we did not get to the point of infighting, especially at a time when our region is rife with conflict and political transformations, and where the sectarian, hatred and racism rhetoric is being exploited to the maximum and in an unprecedented manner in modern history.

What happened in Bahrain was a mere extension to an external state of affairs. Perhaps what has happened may have been partly due to an external element that influenced some segments of the society who felt threatened and found no haven other than the sect. Such segments sought no protection against psychological and political breach of their boundaries other than the fence of sectarian discourse.

Politics and politician’s interests were the reason behind the outbreak of the sectarian discourse crisis. Though the discourse has been present all along during the past decades, it effects still remained limited and confined to certain neglected segments. It was neither widespread nor influential on the public social life between Sunnis and Shiites. But the involvement of politicians in the exploitation of this discourse led to its circulation both at the top and in the grassroots level, including private, official and religious institutions, as well as civil society and others. None of us was able to escape from this, and it can be said that none of us has succeeded. We have all been afflicted with the insanity of sectarianism and stereotypic perceptions of the other. We have all talked about our respective sects instead of our united homeland. Our ambitions were confined to ourselves, although some were moulded to appear like national projects. Some would raise the slogan “Sunni and Shiite brothers” although the only Sunnis present with them are a handful few, whose presence only matters to further so-and-so’s political project. Others describe their activities as ‘national’, knowing full well that the other is ‘absent’ and virtually non existent. A third group may encase their positions with patriotism although their projects in essence establish a state of sectarianism and segregation in the society.

All claim adherence to patriotism, while in effect it is nothing more than a thin crust that conceals our sectarian feelings and calculations.

Over and above, religious and political platforms are still chanting the tune of sectarianism. Some orators believe they are smart enough to take advantage of the inadvertence of others, as if people do not understand the Arabic language nor read beyond the lines. Thus they avoid some descriptions and words but the meaning and goals, in essence, are purely sectarian, and even the accusations against “the other” and the beating below the belt are present in all the speech. There are others, however, who do not even care to embellish their speeches, and convey them to the public through the shortest route and in the most lethal fashion. One orator describes a certain group as ‘Safavids’, only to be answered back by another describing the counter-group as ‘naturalized mercenaries’. This hate speech is exchanged with no accountability from the state organs, which seem to be totally absent from the scene. This is either because they are unable to hold to account a certain sheikh, politician or institution, due to false moral immunities, or for fear of being accused of favouring one party or the other.

So what is to remain of the pretension of the state of institutions, law, tolerance and moderation, if the element of accountability is absent? How can we ever stop the continuous pumping of the fire of political and sectarian sedition, let alone reach any solutions, if the fuel is available and may be used without restriction?

Some would like to lay out charges of promoting hate speech solely at the state’s door. The state does indeed bear the greatest share of responsibility, particularly for allowing its agencies to participate in hate speech, providing the ground for social conflict or for failing to deal with citizens on an equal footing. But however true this may be, it does not eliminate the community’s responsibility with all its Sunni and Shiite segments, including the educated elite, journalists and clerics and politicians of all types, whether religious, liberal or secular. While extremist feelings are ignited, everybody is involved in sedition and promoting it. Everybody influences and is influenced. If this had not happened, we would not have been in the current position.

Some have tried in vain to solve the problems away from politics. That included calling for dialogue between clerics and developing laws to regulate religious discourse. But clerics and even media workers can only move within the sphere of politics and hence are governed by its dynamics . In fact some of them are driven by the politicians themselves to adopt a discourse with provocative specifications that spread hatred in the community.

This poses the question of whether we should start with internal social dialogue to reach a political solution; or whether we should start with a political solution, bearing in mind the fact that it was the political interests which triggered the crisis and hence a political solution would reflect upon the social fabric, by lowering the ceiling of hatred?

Why is it rather difficult to find a political solution without social pacification? This is because a politician, as he keeps his eyes on his popularity with the masses, is wary of giving the concessions needed for a conciliatory solution lest he upsets his populace whenever he expresses any gesture of mutual concession. The street which is tense with hate speech is still governing the political leaders, who have charged it in the first place, with the sectarian bug. Thus, as far as political leaders are concerned, the street is still reducing the margin of political manoeuvrability available for a solution.

Moreover, the social dialogue, whether among civil society, the clergy or the intellectuals on both the pro-government and opposition sides, is bound to fail if not supported and motivated by politicians. After all the society’s machine cannot overcome nor impose its will on the political will.

Therefore we say that political reconciliation should go hand in hand with social reconciliation. Pacification of political discourse is required to prepare the atmosphere and enable the success of dialogue as it would have a favourable social impact that could weaken the hate speech. Equally, the internal social dialogue requires climate amelioration and initiatives to encourage politicians to approach a solution.

Through our collective ignorance, we have destroyed our historical and political model of coexistence and harmony. A question remains to be answered: after having stumbled, can we take advantage of that experience to rebuild our shared home and collectively enjoy its umbrella of security and stability?