Jan 15, 2014
One of the most shocking features of the 2011 unrest in Bahrain was the way that individuals abused the public domain to spread hatred, sectarian discord and to incite violence.
This phenomenon includes the role of some preachers and public figures, but it also includes journalists and users of relatively new tools of social media.
Figures on both sides of the sectarian and political divides were equally guilty. We heard Sunni preachers openly attacking and denouncing Shia citizens and their faith. We also heard figures associated with the opposition advocating acts of terrorism and adopting slogans which suggested that the Monarchy along with their Sunni supporters should get out of Bahrain.
Sections of the broadcast media were particularly guilty in stirring up sectarian unrest. For example, Arabic-speaking Iranian outlets like Al-Alam TV, Mayadin TV and Al-Manar were very dangerous in propagating lies and tensions; but also Bahrain TV attracted criticism for a highly partisan stance.
But we should stress that all of this at first seemed very foreign and strange to Bahrain. Most of us were barely aware of what sect our friends and colleagues came from. We celebrated each other’s festivals (one of the reasons why Bahrain is blessed with so many public holidays) and respected each other’s beliefs. We even coined the expression “Sushi” for the many Bahraini marriages between Sunni and Shia.
This is why the setting up of a committee to combat hatred and sectarianism is important and necessary for our society.
The decision was announced at a cabinet meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, but is a product of the directives of the King for finding measures to renounce hate.
The committee’s duties will include proposing and adopting policies and programmes, which address the problem of “hate speech”. It was stressed that “hate speech” would be combatted “regardless of its origin” – i.e.: irrespective of whether the source of the hate speech was Sunni or Shia; loyalist or opposition.
According to the Cabinet statement, this Committee’s agenda will focus on “spreading the spirit of tolerance, reconciliation and coexistence and on enhancing unity within the Bahrain community”.
We hope that this committee will be energetic in pursuing its goals and we hope to see it completely non-partisan in going after those guilty of spreading hatred and discord.
Silencing these intolerant voices through legal channels is a necessary element of the reconciliation process. It is very difficult to envisage a successful National Dialogue process when different communities are being incited against each other.
We wish this new public body every success.