As soon as it was reported that John Legend would be performing in Bahrain as part of the “Spring of Culture” events, the same predictable figures were out pestering him through the media about why he should boycott Bahrain.
Why should he boycott? They of course give the same account of events that happened four years ago, which were adequately covered by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and which most Bahrainis want to put behind them.
Over the last three years we have seen shrinking numbers of activists out calling for the Formula One to Boycott Bahrain. Last year they showed how irrelevant they were, with barely any need for an enhanced security presence. Meanwhile, most of Bahrain was enjoying this sensational event held at night in a beautifully lit stadium. There are several reasons why respected performers should completely ignore these boycott calls:
Spot the hidden agenda
Firstly, they should realize that those people approaching them are professional lobbyists acting against Bahrain. If you Google any one of the figures who have been speaking out – you will discover that these are not regular human rights activists, but rather people working full time to advocate the cause of the Bahrain opposition.
Do not boycott cultural freedom
Participating in Bahraini cultural events means ensuring that this country remains a centre of tolerance in a region not known for diversity and cultural freedoms.
Year after year, a small clique of Islamist MPs has been trying to ban the Spring of Culture, because the music, diversity and enjoyment contradicts their rigid interpretation of Islam. Anyone thinking of boycotting should be clear which agenda they are aligning themselves with.
Bahrain is back to normal
Ignore what is being claimed by figures who haven’t even visited Bahrain and come and see for yourselves: 95% of Bahrain is normal, safe and welcoming for 95% of the time. In a few villages you will find sporadic rioting and you may even come across a burning tyre in the road. But this militancy did not begin in 2011 and the only people these extremists harm are the long-suffering citizens from these localities. Bahrain greatly needs some festivity and fun after the events of previous years.
Why penalize Bahraini citizens?
Does anybody imagine that a single performer choosing not to stage a show in Bahrain would have any impact on the political agenda? The only people harmed by a boycott are Bahrainis themselves.
Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo and Eric Clapton are among the many performers who have recently put on concerts in Bahrain. Concerts have sold out quickly, demonstrating that Bahrainis themselves certainly aren’t boycotting. The Grand Prix demonstrates that Bahrain knows how to stage spectacular and popular events.
Why penalize the most socially and politically liberal Arab state
Several entities have rated Bahrain as the most liberal Arab state; see here for more detail. Bahrain is a Constitutional Monarchy, centered around a parliamentary system.
Those same pro-opposition activists calling for a boycott want to see a revolution here and the Monarchy brought down. Please advocate reform, but don’t join those advocating violent revolution, when this turned out so badly in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere.
Come and see for yourself
John Legend was right to come and visit Bahrain and find out for himself what kind of country this is and we hope he enjoyed his stay in Bahrain. By visiting, he was also able to express his views directly to Bahrainis. Legend said that he was at the festival “to celebrate art and its power to bring us together and help us see each other’s humanity.”
Legend later added that: “A just society is not one built on fear or repression or vengeance or exclusion, but one built on love”. Few people would disagree with these sentiments and we hope that John Legend found here in Bahrain a country moving towards a more representative and just political system; where efforts for reconciliation can once again make Bahrain a society “built on love”.
We applaud John Legend’s wise decision to show his solidarity with Bahraini people by coming and performing here. We hope over the next 12 months to see a string of big and popular names visiting our shores and experiencing the warm welcome which Bahrain always offers.