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Monday, March 12, 2012

Bahrain: The Forgotten Revolution. An Interview With Asma Darwish, Part II

To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action - President Barack Obama, march 28, 2011, speaking on Libya. Read the full context of the President's speech here.

Human rights activist Zanaib al-Khawaja
 shortly before being handcuffed, dragged and beaten
by police in December, 2011. 

That the Obama Administration has been silent on the civil war in Bahrain is troubling. Simply by the act of allowing our military to do business with the Khalifa regime we acknowledge the Khalifa regime's legitimacy -- in spite of the atrocities of the Khalifa regime.

The Assad regime's violence against its own people in Syria festered for nearly a year before the world took notice and imposed sanctions, even while appeasing Putin's Russia -- a staunch ally of Assad. Meanwhile, the world has conveniently chosen to look away from the Khalifa regime's own terrorism campaign against a similar minority in Bahrain.

I am not suggesting military intervention in Bahrain, but we partner with that country to headquarter our US Navy 5th Fleet there, so turning a blind eye to the acts of the Bahraini government is inexcusable. The lack of consistency in US foreign policy is troubling at best, deadly hypocritical at worst.

This is Part II of my interview with Asma Darwish, a 21 year-old political exile currently living in Switzerland.

Do you have an update on Zanaib Al-Khawaja's condition?

Darwish: Zanaib is not on a hunger strike right now, her father is. He is in prison for life as an opposition leader in Bahrain. He was tortured severely and he was beaten [after] his arrest in April [2011]. He had to go to the hospital and be admitted there for some surgeries on his face. He's on his 26th day of his hunger strike right now [as of March 7, 2012] in a Bahraini prison.
What message can I help you get out?

Darwish: What Bahrain is suffering from is a double-standard. There is media attention for Egypt and Libya and Syria and other countries in the Arab Spring, but when it came to Bahrain there is very little news and media coverage on what is happening. The regime in Bahrain is not even allowing people working for the media, media personnel, to attend the protests or to enter Bahrain [in an attempt] to cover up what is happening.
What I think is good to happen is for the American people to raise up in solidarity with the Bahraini case. If they could lobby for Bahrain in organizations and media and share information and send broadcasts of the stories happening in Bahrain from arrests to torture to expulsion from education and work.
So, I think it is only the sympathy that we need because the [American] people have a huge influence over their [government] and their country. It is obvious that the United States administration is not cooperating with what is happening in Bahrain and they are applying a double-standard when it comes to the Bahraini case.
Do you think that might have anything to do with our naval base?

Darwish: Exactly. That's because Bahrain is an ally because of the 5th Fleet and because maybe the oil that Bahrain has. But it is more. When I moved to live in Switzerland I met so many people [who] would ask me where I was from. I would tell them I am from Bahrain. Some of them would ask 'where is it?' Then whenever I say 'Dubai' they go 'oh, Dubai, you live in Dubai.' I would say, no, I live in Bahrain, it's near Dubai. And some other people would go, 'oh, okay, we know Bahrain, there was a revolution there. But it ended in March last year when the Bahraini government controlled the situation.' I tell them, no, that's not right, that's not correct, the revolution has been going on on a daily basis in the villages and cities of Bahrain. Around 200 hundred protests happen all over Bahrain every day. They ask me why the media isn't covering this situation, why do we see so much of other countries like Syria on CNN but we don't hear anything about Bahrain?
This makes it harder for the Bahraini people to deliver their voice and to deliver their struggle in the country.
Where do you see Bahrain in a year?

Darwish: I see the people stronger in a year. I see them more aware of what is happening. What has happened in Bahrain has raised people's awareness about the political system in Bahrain and so many other countries. It made everyone a human rights activist and a human rights defender. But the political situation in Bahrain isn't getting any better until there is an international pressure on the Bahraini regime.
Without [international] pressure he will not step down, he will not even [implement] reform.

In tomorrow's column Asma will discuss the imprisonment, injury, and death experienced by the Bahraini citizens who spoke out against their government.

They didn't run away. They faced the bullets head-on.
- Robert Fisk, February 20, 2011

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