Human Rights Culture in Bahrain: its Importance and Challenges
The protection of human rights depends on various mechanisms.
This includes spreading human rights culture in society, especially
among the new generation and teaching them how to practice this
culture on the ground. Despite the difficulties that some societies
face in accepting human rights culture, the latter has become an
international culture whereby no society is able to free itself
from its effects. Also, no country is at present able to openly
disregard this issue whether at the national, regional or international
Arab societies in general are some of the least able societies
in terms of absorbing or even accepting human rights culture. One
reason for this could be attributed to the oppressive political
legacy which still dominates Arabic culture. Another reason may
be attributed to the perception that human rights- despite their
international appeal- are perceived as a foreign product coming
from an environment which is perceived as hostile in the eyes of
Arab societies. They are, therefore, challenged because the source
of this product is hostile to their specific culture, the way they
live and the nature of their political system. In addition, the
Arab mentality is of a suspicious nature and tends to blow conspiracy
theories out of proportion, constantly connecting human rights culture
with political conspiracy.
One of the most serious challenges relates to double-standards
in dealing with human rights and exploiting them as a political
tool particularly by some countries that are regarded as the producers
and protectors of such rights. We have seen examples of this unfortunate
application by some countries which claim to defend human rights
and democracy. Apparently, the West’s involvement and support to
Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict has created a climate of suspicion
in which Arabs and Muslims have felt the need to return to their
own history and culture in order to protect themselves from the
perceived external threats and injustice.
In addition, the dominance of a conservative religious spirit,
which positions all or some religious texts in opposition to international
human rights values, has led Arabs to believe that some human rights
standards are at odds with their religious culture. This so-called
clash, despite its limitations, has been highly exaggerated. In
fact, most international human rights standards are very much in
line with the spirit of Islam, but religious scholars and especially
those concerned with tafseer have not make any efforts to provide
new interpretations of religious texts and to adapt them to human
rights standards. This is due to a weakness of religious ijtihad
and the fact that current interpretations of religious texts are
For all these reasons, religious culture has been posited as
an opponent of international human rights culture, either as a result
of ignorance or as a means of escaping political accountability,
just as some regimes have done by pointing to religion as the ultimate
reference point in order to get away with abuses, which are unacceptable
internationally and religiously. Thus spreading human rights culture
in the Arab world faces many challenges that need to be addressed.
At the religious level there are very few human rights standards
which contradict religion or society’s traditions. In this case
it is possible to find ways of adjusting traditions in accordance
with modern human rights standards (without imposing such adjustments)
considering that culture –regardless of the religious aspect- is
characterised by rapid change and is by no means sacred.
In order to succeed in spreading human rights culture, we should
initially solve the problem of it being perceived as a western product.
This culture should instead be regarded as a civilised human product
to which all religions and cultures have contributed. Secondly,
the culture of democracy and human rights should be valued as a
tool for the development of all countries and nations, regardless
of whether it has been politicised by an international body for
example, or whether the concept has been misused to undermine a
particular country. The fact that human rights have been misused
does not change the fact that they are universal principles. Nor
should it deny the intrinsic value of democracy or justify dictatorship
and human rights violations under the cover of religion, for no
religion condones injustice, oppression and backwardness.
Thirdly, human rights and democracy should be integrated in local
cultures, for as Arabs and Muslims we do not perceive any contradiction
between our religious culture and the human rights. There are even
some among us who have issued human rights conventions based on
religious culture itself, and in accordance with international standards.
This assimilation requires an effort in order to reconcile what
is being presented internationally and what can be adopted religiously
and culturally, so that both can be presented together. It is possible
to produce a democratic culture based on Islamic standards and in
line with international human rights culture, even with the existence
of minor differences between the two.
Fourthly, there are appropriate tools and methods which should
be followed when sowing the seeds of a human rights culture amongst
the new generation. It is clear that we are not only distant from
human rights culture but also from our own religious human rights
culture as well. Spreading this awareness of human rights within
an Islamic framework can only be achieved by incorporating human
rights culture in all aspects of our daily life such as in the mosque,
school, civil and official activities, politics, media, at home
with one’s spouse and children, and in social relations.
Fifthly, spreading human rights culture is the Governments’ ultimate
responsibility and it should therefore issue clear policies and
give the subject special attention, as well as working towards applying
it through training the police and security forces, teachers, clergymen,
judges and public servants.
Exposing serious human rights violations and punishing perpetrators
is not enough and cannot replace human rights education. Human rights
education provides the best guarantee that violations would not
occur in the first place. Therefore, education should come first
and before punishment, or at least side by side with it, as ‘prevention
is better than cure’.
The dissemination of human rights culture has become a priority
for international human rights organizations. This interest was
developed during the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education
(January 1995 - December 2004).
Bahrain is going through a critical time in enforcing the rule
of law and the desired democratic transition, which is why spreading
human rights culture is crucial in order to develop the concept
of participatory democracy on the ground. This can only be achieved
by incorporating human rights culture in school and university curriculums
on one hand, and on the other, encouraging individuals to be proactive
in defending it as it is a guarantor of public participation in
It is obvious that spreading human rights culture helps in establishing
new social values which target the behaviour of individuals and
become embedded in the public consciousness as well as reflecting
practically on the ground. Therefore, human rights education should
begin from the family, school, street, work place and public and
private institutions. Spreading human rights culture amongst the
security forces and law enforcement institutions is especially important,
as many human rights violations are committed by such institutions.
This would help in building public trust in these institutions.
What Bahrain needs at this stage is the promotion of the values
and principles of human rights which centre on equality of rights
and obligations on the basis of citizenship. This will ultimately
lead to a citizen who is capable of confronting calls to violence
as well as violations of his economic, social and cultural rights.
Spreading such a culture in Bahrain will help limit the political
fluctuation which has characterized the reform period. In this sense,
it is useful to draw upon and benefit from the experiences of other
countries in spreading human rights education, in order to overcome
past grievances. These countries achieved their desired goal mainly
by integrating human rights principles in their school curriculums.
It is worth mentioning here the importance of the role of civil
society organizations in building and creating a positive balance,
which Bahrain requires, and presenting special programs on human
In light of the relative openness in Bahrain, it is now possible
to rely on various institutions in order to spread the culture of
human rights. These include the media, theatre, conferences and
seminars, posters and paintings, training courses, discussions,
and educational leaflets.
Finally, there are several elements which help overcome the challenges
facing the spreading human rights culture:
It is important that there is a genuine will from all the concerned
parties even if they have different political positions.
Schools should be the basic framework for spreading human rights
culture as well as the family and society at large.
Incorporating human rights values in education, including school
and university syllabuses, and providing training to the teachers
will facilitate the process.
Allowing civil society organizations to participate in devising
Ratification of the relevant international conventions, and the
harmonization of national laws to conform with international conventions.