Confronting Sectarianism to Protect Tolerance
Tolerance as a concept, value and virtue is but a link in a broader
chain of greater human concepts and values. As such it represents
a gateway to the creation of cooperative and harmonious societies
regardless of cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity.
Tolerance is especially important to Bahrain as it is a country
where Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs
and Baha’is have all co-existed for a long time. This was not a
coincidence; because if that was the case , you would wonder how
come that there exist no such diversity in any other GCC country.
Bahrain has long embraced this diversity, thanks to the religious
tolerance among its people. The Government has long realised that
there is a social susceptibility to host such diversity in the existence
of churches, temples, graveyards, religious groups and practices,
civil society organizations, private schools, festivities and special
holidays etc etc.
It is important to sustain this state of affairs in Bahrain in
order to emphasise the prevailing human values and partnership in
land and in benefits as well as to impress upon the new generations
the fact that cultural diversity is a great asset , and that rather
than constitutes barriers or ghettos , it does offer an opportunity
for openness, dialogue and enrichment.
With sectarianism showing its ugly face, we are supposed to be
looking for projects that would help bring people together, prevent
the creation of boundaries and barriers, and make it difficult for
extremists to be influenced by extremist ideas from abroad. Projects
that would eliminate the prospect of social and political polarizations
along ideological, ethnic, sectarian or stereotypical lines .
Without tolerance, the rule of law, and a margin of freedom,
the country’s diversity could turn into a curse rather than a blessing,
rendering the country less immune and more vulnerable to the viruses
of militancy and hatred , and more exposed to those twisted ideologies
that claim monopoly on the truth in order to wreak havoc on the
country and its people .
In order to maintain a tolerant society and make our country
immune against extremism and hatred, we should look for new programmes
and policies that promote tolerance and educate new generations
through schools and religious platforms. We should also treat all
citizens and residents equally without discrimination or denial
of their rights. This will promote tolerance on the ground and prevent
the emergence of stereotyping and arrogant attitudes towards others.
The Danger of Sectarianism
Tolerance in Bahrain is now threatened by the increasing level
of sectarianism that endangers the social fabric, shakes stability
and contradicts the basic principles of Human Rights. Sectarianism
contradicts the basic principles of Human Rights as well as the
reforms and the efforts to instil them .There can be no real reforms
project or respect for human rights in any country where sectarianism
is deeply rooted in its political, and social structure, and prevalent
among its cultural and religious elites. Sectarianism also contradicts
the notion of citizenship and equality as it legitimizes discrimination
between citizens, whereby the religion or sect you belong to determines
whether you are a first or second class citizen. This contravenes
with justice and the instinctive human spirit .Sectarian practices
constitute an impediment to the enjoyment by citizens of their rights
as established by the Constitution and relevant international conventions.
Sectarianism denies the simple fact that people whatever their
background are born free and have equal rights and dignity. It also
ignores the concept that cultural and sectarian diversity – as in
Bahrain- is a source of enrichment, progress and prosperity for
societies in general, and therefore such sectarian diversity should
not only be recognised and appreciated, but also protected and defended.
Diversity should not be seen as a source of schism, danger and instability.
Moreover sectarianism violates all human rights principles stipulated
in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which encourages the
respect of basic rights for all and without discrimination on the
basis of race, colour, gender, language, religion, political opinion
and national or social origin.
It is in the nature of sectarianism to incite blind hatred, encourage
schisms, insults and abuse, and dehumanize the ‘other’. It does
not only prevent the establishment of good, cordial and peaceful
relations between citizens, but also causes many local disagreements.
Sectarianism is an effective tool in destroying social peace and
threatening the security of citizens, reflecting negatively on political
stability and on people’s daily lives.
Sectarianism contradicts the sacred values preached by all religious
beliefs including Islam and endorsed by humanity in the form of
Human Rights’ charters, such as justice, forgiveness, freedom, brotherhood,
moderation and equality. We cannot accept the notion that any particular
sect possesses a superiority based on racial pretensions or monopoly
of the religious truth and that only its followers are the ‘saved
group’. Such a notion is scientifically unacceptable , ethically
condemned and does not do justice to the followers of that particular
sect or to the others , not to mention its detrimental effects as
it could lead to social schisms , disputes , militancy and eventual
It is obvious that the increase in the level of sectarianism
in political rhetoric and religious platforms or in the public conduct
of individuals and institutions is extremely dangerous and is indicative
of narrow mindedness. Succumbing to irrational sectarian feelings
that do not abide by the discipline of the Islamic principles, the
Constitution and the law, is an insult to the country and to the
people. It also indicates that the available margin of freedom has
been abused as has the authority enjoyed by some individuals.
The elimination of sectarianism is an impossible task and is
beyond the capacity of any country. However, it is possible to reduce
its intensity and manage sectarian differences if the Government
and all other political and social parties work together.
The Government bears the responsibility of managing the sectarian
disputes in order to prevent them escalating into a social conflict.
In other words, it is the Government’s duty to intervene when necessary
to prevent society slipping into schisms and conflicts with dire
consequences. This means that the Government is required to adopt
legislations that criminalize sectarian activities and introduce
deterring measures. It should also contain religious and media platforms
within appropriate legislations to prevent incitement and provocations.
In addition, the Government is required to ensure the impartiality
of its own agencies during sectarian conflicts; otherwise it will
become part of the conflict itself and loses its credibility as
an impartial guardian and judge. It should keep state institutions
away from sectarian practices and warn Government officials and
employees against sectarian bias. At the same time, nevertheless,
the Government is required to continue respecting religious freedom
of expression and legislations concerning human rights. It should
ensure that no violations of the general principles outlined in
the Charter and the reform project take place during the process
of containing sectarianism. Freedom provides an effective mean for
controlling sectarianism, its discourse and advocates, as extreme
measures yield opposite results and will only inflame sectarian
Finally, the Government should provide programs that could bring
together dissonant views and put into place anti-sectarian national
projects which promote stability and social and political integration.
The society’s elite also bear a responsibility. Sectarianism
is an elitist concept and it feeds the public with an over perceived
sectarian concerns. The elites have failed to find joint social,
political, religious and environmental institutions. It is saddening
that in a period characterized by pluralism, openness and freedom;
issues like segregated housing and neighbourhoods are increasing
whilst the number of inter-sects marriages is decreasing. It is
also saddening that charitable organization limit their services
to certain communities without any religious or humanitarian justification.
Sectarianism is contagious and has the tendency to spread in
interlinked circles. For example, sectarian discourse in Parliament
is reflected on the media and on the street. Likewise, sectarianism
in civil society and charitable institutions weakens the humanitarian
spirit and sectarian religious discourse affects political discourse.
Civil society institutions are usually perceived as free from
sectarian and ethnic divisions and are assumed to be driven by humanitarian
and national causes. However, there are some national societies
that adopt sectarian discourses as a consolidated ongoing pattern
in their statements, literature and strategies.
Abandoning sectarian discourse is an indication of the maturity
of individuals, society, the state, civil organizations and the
media. It is the minimum requirement at this stage that would hopefully
be followed by further steps, such as the formation of joint projects
and institutions. We aspire to the day when political societies
represent citizens of all different sects and when charitable organizations
provide their humanitarian services to all citizens. We also look
forward to civil society organizations that would serve and are
open to everyone.