After the publication of Sarah bin Ashoor’s Op-Ed, Bahrain’s Hijacked Reform Efforts, the New York Times was bombarded on social media with harsh statements dismissing her piece as “regime propaganda”, “paid PR” and some went so far as to call it “government trolling”.  

What critics obsessed over the most was the fact that her bio stated that bin Ashoor is a founding member of a London-based organization called the Gulf Affairs Forum. And since Google has currently become the ultimate source of all knowledge, critics took advantage of the fact that the organization currently has no online footprint to claim that it does not exist; it does.     

What is most shocking is that whenever one legitimately criticizes those who claim to defend and fight for freedom of expression – they become the first to completely throw it out the window. Earlier this month, two Al-Arabiya journalists attempted to cover the February 14 protests and were physically attacked by protesters, to which most of those brave defenders of free speech in Bahrain had no comment. 

Following the publication of bin Ashoor’s Op-Ed, numerous blog posts surfaced accusing the New York Times of “giving credibility to misleading” narratives about Bahrain’s political situation as well as accusing bin Ashoor of having a biased sectarian agenda against the sect to which she herself pertains; quite bizarre. 

Maybe not so bizarre if you subscribe to the notion that anyone who accuses Iran of meddling in Bahraini affairs is guilty of propagating “Saudi sponsored-disinformation”, as so articulately stated by Justin Gengler, the author of the blog site Religion and Politics in Bahrain.

Despite concrete and historic evidence of Iran’s interests in Bahrain, foreign spectators, such as Gengler, have been quick to dismiss allegations of Iranian interference and even quicker to accept and perpetuate blatant lies about Saudi involvement in Bahrain.

Although Gengler acknowledges Iran and Hezbollah’s roles in Syria and Yemen, the thought of Iran having any interest in Bahrain seems to him entirely ludicrous.

Despite Iran’s lousy attempts to disguise its interests in Bahrain (just browsing Iranian media sites makes their stance fairly obvious), all it takes is some research on Google to find the history of Iranian interference in Bahrain’s politics. And we already know how fond opposition advocates are of Google!

In 2007, only four years prior to the unrest, Hussain Shariatmadari, an adviser to the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, had announced “The public demand in Bahrain is the reunification of this province with its motherland, the Islamic Iran,” a statement that caused shockwaves throughout Bahrain and the GCC.

Bahrainis were once again outraged in 2009, when another Iranian politician, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, had claimed that Bahrain was rightfully Iran’s 14th province, “under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, this useless king, one of our provinces which has now become a country named Bahrain was taken away from us. At that time Bahrain was our 14th province,” a US Embassy document posted by Wikileaks confirms the incident.

It is also no secret that the 1981 coup attempt by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (IFLB) was supported and sponsored by Tehran. The IFLB was a militant organization that continued to stage attacks on Bahraini soil till the 1990s.

IFLB member Abdulhadi Al Khawaja later established the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) after leaving the Front in 1992. This fact is also confirmed by the BCHR itself in a 2007 press release. Another statement by the BCHR released in 2007 also describes how the Islamic Action Society (a defunct political party in Bahrain that at one point held seats in parliament) is a “direct descendent of the militant organization, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.”    

Since its inception, the BCHR has worked to achieve political objectives under the guise of a human rights organization. A 2006 study of Bahraini politics, entitled Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain described the BCHR as “the most radical opposition group currently found in Bahrain.”

The author clearly states “the BCHR and it allies (mainly the ‘Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture’) address two main audiences and hence employ two different rhetoric strategies: Pro-democracy rhetoric is directed mainly to US and UK audiences (both, governmental and NGOs). The Bahraini audience on the other hand is addressed in sectarian terms.”

Therefore it is not surprising when an independent Shia Bahraini commentator posts an Op-Ed stating what is already obvious to us Bahrainis, she is quickly discredited and accused of spreading sectarian propaganda by the same “governments and NGOs” who were duped into believing that Bahrain’s protesters are fighting for democracy.

Sarah bin Ashoor’s Op-Ed is closer to the truth than most of the biased, uneducated and overdramatized pieces published by non-Bahraini audiences; and the malicious comments and criticisms circulated over Twitter are not only unwarranted but absolutely distasteful.  

The New York Times is right to disregard these comments entirely.  

2 thoughts on “Attacking Freedom of Speech: Why the New York Times should disregard criticisms of Sarah bin Ashoor’s Op-Ed

  1. Fully agree, Sarah Bin Ashoor is the nearest to describe what’s happening in Bahrain. I am really surprised how those HRD’s claim defending feedom of speech yet when its against their story version they start shooting everywhere! Bahrain have always been the land of Peace and Prospority until the Pro Iran Opposition groups started their coup in 14 Feb 2011 annoucing the formation of an islamic Republic similar Iran!!

  2. On his blog Justin Gengler describes himself as ‘currently living in Qatar’. What he means is that he’s on the faculty of the University in Doha and the Qatari government pay his wages. What you won’t read on human rights advocate Gengler’s blog is any criticism of the Qatari government or any indication that there is such a thing. Like the PR flacks Gengler spends his time warning about his own interest in human rights depends on who’s paying him. It’s a charade but what’s not to like when there’s all that money coming in?

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