Starting to blame all your woes on America is usually a sign of desperation and impending failure; just ask a Palestinian whether they’re any closer to achieving their objective of statehood than they were 60 years ago!
Bahrain’s wannabe revolutionaries have adopted this very tactic; increasingly taking to chants of “Death to America” and “Down with the Great Satan”, or simply burning the US flag in their protest rallies.
It’s obvious to all of us where such chants originated; they come straight from the rhetoric of the Islamic Republic – another good example of a desperate regime, which has failed domestically and seeks to export its failure.
Iranian rhetoric has been increasingly infecting Bahrain’s opposition. If you look at its websites and propaganda material, you’ll find that much of it originated in Iran, with material translated from Farsi attacking the Saudis, “Arabs” and the “Persian Gulf Cooperation Council”!!! When so much of the opposition’s activity has been paid for and instigated by Iran, it is unsurprising that the language of the sponsor permeates the speech of the sponsored.
However, this is also a sign of the increasing radicalism and loss of direction of the opposition. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates began life attacking the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations for being insufficiently Islamist. When their terrorist atrocities failed to have any impact they shifted their target from the “near enemy” to the “distant enemy” – America and the West – who they believed to be supporting these “ungodly” governments.
The protest movement no longer even bothers to pretend to be peaceful and it proudly displays its videos online (although usually not translated into English) showing the best of its youth showering the police with firebombs, blocking roads, burning tyres and destroying infrastructure. As its slogans mutate from “Death to Al Khalifah” (the ruling family) to “Death to America”, we see a parallel slide towards violence and terrorism.
Sadly, this move towards violent tactics was also an inevitability. The revolutionaries are no longer a mass movement. The liberals, intellectuals, Sunnis, moderates and progressives who first gathered at Pearl Roundabout calling for reform have long since deserted this movement – repulsed by its radicalism and sectarianism.
We know from experience of other formerly popularist Islamist movements, that their only means to having an impact when their numbers start to drop is by turning to terrorist methods in order to capture the headlines.
We saw this in Algeria during the 1990s, when an initially moderate Islamist movement, in desperation at its failure to take power, turned to horrific acts of terrorism against Algerian police and civilians alike; before imploding completely as different factions slaughtered each other for being insufficiently radical in their Islamist credentials.
Thus, the King is absolutely right to continue efforts to engage sufficiently moderate figures in dialogue, while pursuing the reforms agreed on during last year’s national dialogue – in order to seek to meet the opposition half way.
We should work to reconcile those young people who still associate themselves with the protest movement before they become further radicalized and hostile to everything Bahrain stands for. Such extremism is foreign to Bahrain’s shores and Sunni extremism is no more acceptable than Shia extremism.
The current direction of travel of the protest movement – out of desperation rather than design – divines very badly for Bahrain, so we should learn from experiences in other parts of this region to ensure that terrorism and intolerance do not take root here.