The media likes a world where everything is black and white: Good guys – bad guys; us and them; friends and enemies; heroes and villains. Portraying the world in this way makes for clear and attention grabbing stories which appeal to the readership, avoiding ambiguities or complicated detail.
As children we all liked films where the bad guys were really bad and there were brave heroes who we could support or emulate. Unfortunately the real world rarely works like this, but that doesn’t stop the tendency to divide the world up in this way.
In the case of Bahrain, many parts of the international media slipped into this habit: Bahrain’s leaders are bloodthirsty dictators slaughtering their citizens; the opposition are thus the heroes braving arrest, torture and brutality in order to defeat their evil rulers.
For us here in Bahrain, such a portrayal is clearly ridiculous. we have seen the lengths the Authorities have gone to in recent weeks to avoid injury or death each time protestors have come out; we have seen initiative after initiative in order to implement the BICI, we have even heard our King apologizing for any abuses which took place.
All this would make the international media’s lives very difficult in continuing to weave their stories about Bahrain. Except that in most cases they have adhered to the rule that if the facts don’t fit the story, just ignore the facts.
So while the media in recent days widely reported criticisms from Human Rights Watch about the use of military justice; it ignored the Government’s announcement that military tribunals were a thing of the past and that these cases had been transferred to the civilian sector. It likewise ignored the announcement of a new fact-finding unit for investigating alleged abuses by the security forces.
These are hugely important measures which should be welcomed and applauded, but if you google international news reports on Bahrain over the last few days you just see more of the same stories about repression and torture.
Things get even stranger regarding the way the opposition is covered. The global media has largely swallowed the opposition’s propaganda that they are peaceful democrats, dedicated to a democratic and progressive Bahrain. The media so wants to portray them as the good guys that they ignore the Molotovs, the sabotage, the terrorism and the extremism. Where does Issa Qasim’s call to crush the police fit into this picture? It doesn’t so it is cut out and ignored.
Bahrain is not Iran or Saudi Arabia. The liberal, open and tolerant Bahrain that the media claims that the opposition is fighting for is the Bahrain which we have already. The Bahrain of intolerance, violence, extremism and anarchy which the media portrays as the present state of our country is actually the vision which the hardliners within the opposition has for the country. The vision which they want to drag us kicking and screaming towards.
Let’s also be honest ourselves; things are not perfect and we would all like to see a fairer and more accountable system which caters better for even the poorest and most marginalized of society. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! If things are not perfect, let’s support our King’s ambitious vision for reform. None of us want to go down the path of Egypt, which a year after its revolution is still in a state of chaos, with tourists and investors scared off and the parliament full of tired old men with long beards. Some revolution!
But, let’s not be defeatist; Bahrain has a huge amount going for it and we must show this to the world.
We have always welcomed the outside world to our shores and thus we must do all we can to allow the world to better understand our little islands. The Grand Prix will be an excellent opportunity to receive the outside world on our doorstep, which is why the opposition has been trying desperately to get it cancelled. Let people come here and see the real Bahrain and come to better understand Bahraini society. We must do more to be better understood; continuing to engage with the media and patiently pointing out where they have got their facts wrong.
If 2011 was a year when things went backwards for Bahrain. Let’s work together to make 2012 the year of a big step forward; reengaging with audiences abroad, healing the sectarian wounds within our communities and rebuilding Bahrain’s reputation as the beautiful and welcoming place we all know it to be.