Bahrain and the Democratic Uprising

  July 15, 2011

Bahrain and the Democratic Uprising

Hamid Dabashi: The Cold War delayed the democratic movement in the Arab world, but it will not be stopped now
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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.

Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.


Bahrain and the Democratic UprisingPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in New York City. In the Middle East, the rebellion that perhaps gets the least attention is in Bahrain. At any rate, the struggle and conflict in Bahrain does continue. And now joining us to talk more about it is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is a professor at Columbia University in Iranian studies and comparative literature, and he's also the author of the book Brown Skin, White Masks. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So what's your take now on Bahrain?

DABASHI: Bahrain, Paul, as you recall, began as the rest of the Arab region, in the aftermath of Tunisia and Egypt, in solidarity with them and for their own reasons. It happens that inside Bahrain you have a majority Shia population ruled by a minority Sunni caliphate, a caliph ruler, king, monarch situation. So they immediately turn it into, oh, this is a Shia-Sunni conflict, and because Iran is Shia, so Iranians are helping it, this has nothing to do with the Arab Spring, and so forth. The demonstrations, one after another, in Manama, in the Pearl Square [incompr.] happening. Sunnis were there, Shias were there, activists, scholars, university professors, poets, journalists. They were telling the world repeatedly this has to do with their civil liberties, this has to do with their dignity, has nothing to do with Sunni-Shia. But the dominant press, the dominant narrative of the ruling regime, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia is petrified not only by its own Shia minority but by its rivalry with the Islamic Republic, they succeeded in narratively turning it into a Sunni-Shia conflict. And soon, in collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi went and sent an actually occupying army to quell it, to stop it. Hundreds of activists were arrested, including physicians, for example, that in the hospital were treating the [crosstalk]

JAY: That's a very important point. A lot of the protesters, when they get injured, they will no longer go to the hospitals, because the army and police are showing up at the hospitals, arresting protesters right out of their beds, doctors, as you said.

DABASHI: [crosstalk] was absolutely--Patrick Cockburn wrote a fantastic piece a couple of months ago in The Independent about the repression of the Shia. They are targeting the Shias. But they have temporarily succeeded, in collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council and a Saudi occupying force, and they have put--they have given anywhere between two to life sentence to these activists. And the great United States, because of the Fifth Fleet, has been watching this to happen, and--.

JAY: Now, just in case you haven't followed this story, the Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain or has a big base in Bahrain.

DABASHI: Exactly. I mean, the fantastic thing, Paul, about all of these uprisings, it exposes everybody's hypocrisy, okay? US and its Arab allies, so-called Arab allies, they mobilize for human rights and the civilian rights and protection of the civilians in Libya. And there is a massacre of civilians in Bahrain, and nobody talks about that, because that's not politically beneficial. The same is [incompr.] the rest of the region--the exposure of Hassan Nasrullah, for example, of Hezbollah, who is very gung ho when something like this happens in Tunisia or in Egypt, but is--mum is the word when it happens in Iran or Syria, you know, his own benefactors. The same is with Bahrain. Bahrain is a tiny country, but it strategically is very important. And also, because as a catalyst is--exposes the hypocrisy of the status quo, what is emerging is the fact that the geopolitics of the region has a catalytic effect. The uprising has not died away. A young woman who had just gone from Europe and married and lived in Bahrain just wrote a fantastic article, published in Al Jazeera recently, simply saying the ideals and aspirations of Bahrainis, what is it that they want for their country, has nothing to do with Sunni-Shia, is a young and progressive and ready population for democracy, for rule of law, for civil liberties, and for decency. It is integral to the rest of the region. But both United States and Saudi Arabia--and Islamic Republic--. It's a joke to say that the Islamic Republic is on the side of this democratic uprising. The only thing that Islamic Republic provides for Bahrain is actually a model of repression to the ruling regime, has nothing to do with the democratic aspirations. There are two things. In the short run, from Libya to Syria to Bahrain, they manage to contain it. But the fact is that these ruling regimes, they're like a person who has cancer but they're in denial. They take aspirin for it. Well, you take aspirin, you may control it, but the underlying force, the subterranean forces that have caused this revolutionary uprisings, they have been in the making, Paul, I've been telling you since day one, for 200 years. This was supposed to happen in the aftermath of European colonialism. So they're deep-rooted. They're demographic factors. This young, progressive generation will not stand for these corrupt, medieval potentates.

JAY: This is a very interesting point, 'cause partly what you're saying, then, the Cold War stopped this process.

DABASHI: Exactly. Exactly.

JAY: And now the Cold--they're kind of going back and doing the work of the Cold War.

DABASHI: Exactly. I call it delayed defiance. It is delayed [incompr.] they're picking it up. It is massively based, it is predicated not only on economic factor, but also look at it on the question of integrity, dignity. The slogan in Egypt was Hooreiya (freedom), El Adalla el Ijtemaeya (social justice), Karama (dignity). It is indecent for these potentate octogenarians to rule for 30, 40, 50 years, rule over this young, progressive, fantastic, liberated generation that in their mind and soul they're free, and they can't stand these guys.

JAY: And the US policy, especially in Egypt, 'cause they're certainly not doing this in Bahrain, are trying to look on the side of the democratic movement doesn't actually seem to be working all that well. Recent polls of Egyptian public opinion still say the US policy is the bigger problem.

DABASHI: Of course it is. But the thing is that, fortunately, as you see in the demonstrations, they are not having this knee-jerk reaction, US imperialism, Zionism, etc. They realize that in order, for example, any point of commitment to the Palestinian cause will have to begin with the democratic uprisings at home. If you have these democratic institutions, then the expression of that democratic aspiration is no longer with wars and attacks and invasions and suicidal violence and so forth. This is why Israel is not ready for these democratic uprisings. Israel has wedded itself to all of these dictatorial potentates. They're petrified out of their wits. They are now rooting--Ted Koppel wrote a piece for whatchumacallit, for Wall Street Journal, asking US to go and save Saudi Arabia. I mean, the liberals are outed now that they are also for Saudi Arabia in order to assure Israel that all is hunky dory. All is not hunky dory. We have a democratic uprising. And Israelis need to rethink their future in democratic terms with what is happening, and not in terms of these potentates that are--that have been ruling.

JAY: That will be the day.

DABASHI: It will come.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

DABASHI: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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