Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]

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Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

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U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

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Assad’s war on doctors

Annie Sparrow, deputy director of the human rights program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, writes: Over the last few weeks, the growing plight of Syria’s civilian population has drawn belated international attention to the country’s failing health system. In late October, in the eastern part of the country, the World Health Organization confirmed an outbreak of polio — a highly infectious, fast-spreading disease that poses a potential threat not just to Syria but to the entire region. At the same time, reports of malnutrition and disease in the besieged areas on the outskirts of Damascus and other embattled cities, where there are severe shortages of food and milk, have raised new fears of a spreading public health disaster. But these developments are hardly new, nor are they, as the international press has suggested, simply the unfortunate byproducts of an increasingly brutal war. They are connected to something far more sinister: a direct assault on the medical system by the Syrian government as a strategy of war.

The Assad regime has come to view doctors as dangerous, their ability to heal rebel fighters and civilians in rebel-held areas a weapon against the government. Over the past two and a half years, doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists who provide treatment to civilians in contested areas have been arrested and detained; paramedics have been tortured and used as human shields, ambulances have been targeted by snipers and missiles; medical facilities have been destroyed; the pharmaceutical industry devastated. Directly and indirectly, the attacks have had a profound effect on tens of thousands of health professionals and millions of Syrian patients, let alone the more than 2 million refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

Here is how a surgeon from Aleppo describes the attitude of the Syrian government. Last April, while treating a man seriously wounded by a government sniper, he was accosted and wrenched away by a military intelligence officer: “We are shooting at them in order to kill them. This is obvious,” the intelligence officer told him. “Since you are stopping him from dying, you are a terrorist. For this you will be punished.” The surgeon’s clinic was destroyed, his wife’s clinic was shut down, and they were forced to flee Aleppo. As a surgeon, he is not authorized to practice in Turkey, where they have taken refuge, despite the urgent need of his skills there.

In the northwest city of Idlib, the Red Crescent hospital was simply taken over by the Syrian army after a systematic crackdown on its medical staff. Before the war, the hospital had some twenty doctors and forty nurses. By March 2012, when the army arrived, there were only three doctors left — two anesthetists and a surgeon — and two nurses. The hospital’s director, Dr. Abdulrazaq Jbero, had been killed a few weeks earlier by a government sniper on his way back from Damascus in a Red Crescent vehicle. [Continue reading...]

Among observers who are reflexively skeptical of any reporting critical of the Assad regime, here is one attempt to dismiss Sparrow’s report:

Given how accurate coverage of Syria over here has been, I’m skeptical. The hospitals in Iraq were a complete mess after the invasion, between destruction and looting and lack of power. And the professional classes were fleeing because they had enough money and skills to do so. Oh, and no media coverage of that here, from what I could tell at the time. So a comparison v. how messed up Iraq’s hospitals were v. Syria’s now would provide a useful reality check.

There is actually a much more obvious and immediate parallel that can be drawn: attacks on doctors in Bahrain.

Having witnessed the Obama administration ineffectual appeals for Bahrain to exercise restraint even as the U.S. has continued supplying it with weapons, Assad could reasonably have concluded that he could employ the same tactics with impunity.

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Ignoring Bahrain’s iron fist

Sarah Margon and Mary Laurie write: For two years, as the United States has condemned massive abuses of protesters throughout the Middle East, it has largely turned a blind eye to equally horrific treatment in Bahrain, a small but significant ally. As the situation in Manama shows no sign of abating, the United States needs to step up its game– before it’s too late.

Last week, a Bahraini court sentenced 50 Shiites, including the human rights activist Naji Fateel, to harsh prison terms of up to 15 years after a mass trial allegedly linking the activists to the “February 14″ movement, which it claims is working to overthrow the government. February 14 is the date in 2011 when the recent protest movement began. The leaders of those largely peaceful protests remain in prison and have been joined over the past two years by other activists convicted solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

A week before the sentencing, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unexpected reference to Bahrain, alongside Iraq and Syria, as a country fraught with sectarian tensions that challenge democracy and regional stability in his September 24 address to the U.N. General Assembly. This reference prompted the Bahraini foreign affairs minister to issue a statement extolling the country’s culture as tolerant. Bahrain’s U.S. ambassador also responded, contending the speech did not properly portray Bahrain’s progressive and open-minded society.

The presidential mention ruffled feathers in Manama — a sure sign of U.S. diplomatic leverage there — but it was not enough to stop last week’s sentencing. [Continue reading...]

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Who wants to help improve the image of an oppressive government?

pr-execs

The deceit at the core of public relations is contained in the name.

Public Relations, or PR — it has a Stalinist blandness, as though it might perform the most benign, necessary, and mundane of functions. One might imagine that someone in public relations dealt with issues like making sure the trains run on time.

But if its name was more befitting of the function, then PR should be called mind twisting. It’s all about obscuring reality and shaping perceptions so that those perceptions meet the interests of the PR client, irrespective of the interests of the public.

The autocratic and brutal rulers of Bahrain have called out for the services of the best mind twisters in the business and bids have been made by companies that clearly have few concerns about tarnishing their own images. Why would they? After all, most PR outfits have less public visibility than intelligence agencies.

Bahrain Watch is calling attention to six major American and British PR firms that are hoping to win a new contract with the Bahrain government, those being, Bell Pottinger, Hill & Knowlton, Weber Shandwick, Portland Communications, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, and Consulum.

These aren’t household names and neither are the people who run them — but they should be, because these are people who not only advise Middle Eastern autocrats but just as often they counsel the leaders of Western governments.

Lord Bell, chairman of Bell Pottinger, was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher during three general election campaigns. Jack Martin, chairman and CEO of Hill Knowlton, was a senior advisor to the Democratic National Committee and the U.S. Senate Democratic Committee. Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick, was a senior aide to U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Tim Allan, founder of Portland Communications, was a key media adviser to Tony Blair and served as deputy press secretary in Number 10, Downing Street.

With advisers like these, it’s small wonder we have such little confidence in our own democratic leaders. If those who have perfected the art of lubricating the wheels of government in Washington and London, can just as easily offer their services to a government that “has received widespread condemnation from international human rights bodies for human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture, mass political sackings and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and association,” what does this say about the condition of contemporary Western governance?

Everyone knows our political system is rotten, but far too little attention is given to the individuals who, outside the media spotlight, have played such an instrumental role in turning democracy itself into the practice of public relations.

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The U.S. must not bear silent witness to another crackdown in Bahrain

Jeffrey Bachman and Matar Ebrahim Matar write: While the US media focuses on events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, the people of Bahrain continue to risk their freedom, their mental and physical well-being, and their lives, to carry on with their demands for democracy and human rights. Members of the political opposition, human rights activists, doctors and ordinary Bahraini citizens have been arbitrarily detained, charged with crimes such as “inciting hatred of the regime” and “attempting to overthrow the government”, tortured as a form of punishment and as a means to acquiring forced confessions, and killed by excessive use of force.

The popular protest movement in Bahrain began on 14 February 2011. At one point, early in the uprising, an estimated quarter of Bahrain’s population participated in nonviolent protests. That is equivalent to 75 million Americans protesting simultaneously. The Bahraini regime and its Gulf Co-operation Council partners, led by Saudi Arabia, crushed the protests with overwhelming force.

Yet, Bahraini people still do not have the overt support of the US government – despite President Obama’s (and other administration officials’) claims that the United States stands with all who have democratic aspirations. [Continue reading...]

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Ian Henderson and repression in Bahrain: a forty-year legacy

IPS reports: Ian Henderson’s death announcement Apr. 15 in Bahrain brings to an end the life of a British expatriate who was the architect and supervisor of the harsh internal security policies of the al-Khalifa ruling family since the early days of independence over 40 years ago.

Henderson’s life’s work intertwined intimately with al-Khalifa, especially with the family’s all-powerful perennial Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, the ruler’s brother.

The policies of discrimination, exclusion, and intolerance practiced by the Sunni minority ruling family against the Shia majority were designed and executed by Henderson and his subordinates and blessed by the prime minister. They have been grounded in fear, repression, systematic violations of human rights, and in some cases torture.

This is the legacy that Ian Henderson has bequeathed to the people of Bahrain.

Henderson was a British national and a colonial officer who was renowned for using violent tactics to subdue the anti-British Mau Mau movement in Kenya. After independence, the British government in 1968 removed him from Kenya and installed him in Bahrain as a security adviser to Al-Khalifa.

Three years later, when Bahrain acquired its independence from Britain, the Bahraini prime minister retained Henderson as his security adviser and head of Bahrain’s Security and Intelligence Service.

His department employed British, Bahrainis, Omanis, Jordanians, Sudanese, Pakistanis, and others. He was responsible directly to the prime minister and acted in his name. The main mission of Henderson’s BSIS was to penetrate dissident and pro-democracy groups – Sunni and Shia – and defeat them.

The Security Service under Henderson’s supervision and control commonly practiced fear, intimidation, and “enhanced interrogation methods”. Like the prime minister, in the early 1970s Henderson perceived all human rights advocates and proponents of the constitution and an elected parliament as “radicals”, “extremists”, and “terrorists”. Many were arrested without due process or clear charges and often beaten and tortured. [Continue reading...]

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Bahrain’s continuing war on doctors

Rula al-Saffar writes: When the Arab Spring swept through Bahrain in 2011, citizens there — just as in other Middle East countries — took to the streets demanding political and economic reforms. Also just as in other Middle East countries, peaceful demonstrations were soon met with a violent crackdown by government forces.

When it began, I knew that it was my duty as a nurse to help. So I made my way to Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s only public hospital, to do what I could to aid the overwhelmed staff, even though I did not work there myself. What I witnessed was horrifying: Evidence of the use of live ammunition, bodies battered by tear gas canisters fired at close range, and protesters blinded by the use of bird shot. In the months that closely followed, nearly 50 people were killed as a direct result of the violence against protesters, a number which has risen to over 100 since 2011.

As a healthcare professional, it was my duty to aid the injured. But as a witness to the Bahraini security forces’ violent response to the peaceful protests, I also felt a duty to speak out against the abuses. Many of my colleagues who felt the same way spoke on the record with the media to describe the types of injuries they had seen, shedding light on the nature of the government’s brutality. After authorities barred ambulances from bringing injured protesters to Salmaniya Medical Complex, we joined in protests to demand that the wounded have access to the hospital and care. [Continue reading...]

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The video that stunned Bahrain on its uprising’s anniversary

France 24 reports: The second anniversary of Bahrain’s popular uprising was marked by renewed violence, resulting in the death of a 16-year old boy. In the video, filmed right after the teenager’s death, a desperate protester can be seen risking his life to stand up to the police.

The victim’s name was Hussein al-Jaziri. According to opposition websites, the teenager was killed by fragmentary bullets. Overwhelmed by this death, which he had just witnessed, a protester walked up to police and screamed at them. The policemen tried to intimidate him, but seemed thrown off balance by the protester’s daring.

This footage exemplifies the standstill at which the Bahraini opposition finds itself, faced with unyielding government repression. Since the start of the uprising, the confirmed death toll has risen to 82 protesters, including nine children.

“You criminals! You murderers! You hope to escape God’s wrath? God will avenge us! Go on, shoot me! Shoot me if you dare, I won’t leave!”

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Bahrain, a brutal ally

Zainab al-Khawaja writes: Earlier this month, Aqeel Abdul Mohsen, 19, was shot in the face for protesting against Bahrain’s government. He was covered in blood, with the lower side of his face blown open, his jaw shattered, and a broken hand hanging awkwardly from his wrist. It’s one of those images that you wish you had never seen, and can never forget.

After more than 10 hours of surgery, and before Mr. Abdul Mohsen regained consciousness, his hospital room was already under guard by the police. Had he been able to speak, he might even have been interrogated before going into surgery. Others have lain bleeding without medical attention while government security agents asked questions like: “Were you participating in a protest? Who else was with you?”

Bahrain, a small island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia, has been ruled by the Khalifa family for more than 200 years. It is also home to the headquarters of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols regional shipping lanes, assists with missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and monitors Iran as tensions in the region mount.

The oppressed people of Bahrain joined the Arab Spring soon after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. With newfound hope, Bahrainis took to the streets on Feb. 14, 2011. Rich and poor, Shiite and Sunni, liberal and religious, they felt what it was like to speak freely for the first time in the capital, Manama, at a traffic circle with a pearl monument at its center. The Pearl Roundabout came to symbolize the Bahraini revolution.

But this newfound freedom didn’t last long. The government’s security forces attacked the peaceful protesters, then tore down the Pearl monument. And in March 2011, troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened to suppress our pro-democracy protests.

Going out on the streets, carrying nothing but a flag and calling for democracy could cost you your life here. Chanting “down with the dictator” could lead to your being subjected to electric shocks. Giving a speech about human rights and democracy can lead to life imprisonment. Infants have died after suffocating from toxic gases used by riot police. And teenage protesters have been shot and killed. [Continue reading...]

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Beneath Bahrain’s Shia-versus-Sunni narrative, only the tyrants benefit

Maryam al-Khawaja writes: When you pick up the day’s newspaper, it is not likely that you will find much coverage of the ongoing popular revolt in Bahrain. But on the off chance that Bahrain is mentioned, it is almost certain that two words will jump at you: Sunni and Shia. It is even more likely you will see some mention of a Shia revolt against a Sunni monarchy.

This is unfortunate; a very complicated situation is expediently packaged into a soundbite-like myth. That narrative is ahistorical and dangerous because, like all myths, there is a grain of truth to it.

Last year, when Bahrain’s revolution began, it was not about sects. Sunnis, Shia along with Bahrain’s “sushis” (people of mixed background), non-Muslims, atheists; all came together in Bahrain’s version of Tahrir – Pearl Square. Their unifying demand was for a constitutional monarchy to be established in Bahrain. The people were demanding that the king honour his lofty reform promises made when he inherited the position from his Emir father.

This was the third act in a struggle predating the so-called Arab spring. It had started in the 1990s when the people of Bahrain had their own uprising largely forgotten in the west. Then, their demand was a return to Bahrain’s more democratic 1973 constitution that gave people a real parliament. Instead, thousands of citizens were arrested and imprisoned. Dozens were killed, many under torture.

In 1999 that cycle was interrupted as Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa inherited power from his late father amid soaring hopes of reconciliation and reform. His first act was to announce a referendum promising to establish a constitutional monarchy. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. and U.K. are to Bahrain what Russia is to Syria, says prominent Bahraini human rights activists

The Independent reports: Maryam al-Khawaja doesn’t mince her words when she’s asked to assess what many Bahrainis think about Britain. “It’s not a very positive picture,” she sighs, stirring a spoonful of sugar into a steaming latte.

“People today are saying the United States and the UK are to Bahrain what Russia is to Syria. They are countries willing to aid repression, people who are willing to overlook human rights violations because it’s in their own interests. The only difference is that Russia doesn’t try to present itself as a beacon of human rights and democracy.”

Al-Khawaja – one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights activists and the daughter of jailed opposition activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja – doesn’t want to be down on Britain. She recently travelled to the UK to hold talks with the Foreign Office and desperately hopes Downing Street will signal some sort of policy shift towards our ally in the Gulf. But she knows it is unlikely.

Over the past 18 months – as whole swathes of the Arab world have hit the streets to demand greater democratic representation and the end of autocracy – Britain has tried to portray itself as a friendly benefactor who is willing to help Arabs achieve a greater level of personal freedom. In Libya and Syria especially we marketed ourselves as supporters of a just cause, whilst chastising countries like Russia and China for blocking the march of self-determination. But with Bahrain our silence has been deafening. [Continue reading...]

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Why didn’t CNN’s international arm air its own documentary on Bahrain’s Arab Spring repression?

Glenn Greenwald describes how CNN International appears to have engaged in self-censorship in order to protect Bahrain’s repressive regime.

CNN’s total cost for the documentary, ultimately titled “iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring”, was in excess of $100,000, an unusually high amount for a one-hour program of this type. The portion Lyon and her team produced on Bahrain ended up as a 13-minute segment in the documentary. That segment, which as of now is available on YouTube, is a hard-hitting and unflinching piece of reporting that depicts the regime in a very negative light.
Amber Lyon, former CNN report Amber Lyon on CNN, commenting on the March 2011 repression in Bahrain

In the segment, Lyon interviewed activists as they explicitly described their torture at the hands of government forces, while family members recounted their relatives’ abrupt disappearances. She spoke with government officials justifying the imprisonment of activists. And the segment featured harrowing video footage of regime forces shooting unarmed demonstrators, along with the mass arrests of peaceful protesters. In sum, the early 2011 CNN segment on Bahrain presented one of the starkest reports to date of the brutal repression embraced by the US-backed regime.

On 19 June 2011 at 8pm, CNN’s domestic outlet in the US aired “iRevolution” for the first and only time. The program received prestigious journalism awards, including a 2012 Gold Medal from New York Festival’s Best TV and Films. Lyon, along with her segment producer Taryn Fixel, were named as finalists for the 2011 Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. A Facebook page created by Bahraini activists, entitled “Thank you Amber Lyon, CNN reporter | From people of Bahrain”, received more than 8,000 “likes”.

Despite these accolades, and despite the dangers their own journalists and their sources endured to produce it, CNN International (CNNi) never broadcast the documentary. Even in the face of numerous inquiries and complaints from their own employees inside CNN, it continued to refuse to broadcast the program or even provide any explanation for the decision. To date, this documentary has never aired on CNNi.

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Video: Why is the U.S. still arming Bahrain?

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Bahrain police battle biggest protests in weeks

The Associated Press reports: Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas and stun grenades Friday as tens of thousands of protesters staged the biggest anti-government demonstrations in weeks in the divided Gulf nation.

Opposition groups called for major rallies after a prominent rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was placed back in detention earlier this week on fresh charges linked to his social media posts.

Bahrain has experienced near daily protests for 16 months caused by an uprising by the kingdom’s Shiite majority seeking greater political rights from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.

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Video: As Obama OKs weapons to Bahrain, neurosurgeon tortured by regime faces trial for treating protesters

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Bahrain may not be Syria, but that’s no reason for activists to turn a blind eye

David Wearing writes: A violent crackdown on a broad-based, pro-democracy movement is, with the best will in the world, never going to be the easiest thing to defend. Nor is the staging of a major international sporting event in the country in question, when the regime is obviously going to try to use that event to help launder its reputation in the eyes of the world. Still, it remains inevitable that, when power and profit are at stake, the indefensible will be loudly defended. So it proved with last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

One recurring theme in the efforts to deflect criticism of the race was the line that there are worse places than Bahrain. Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, the regime’s foreign minister, tweeted: “If any here to cover ugly bloody confrontations, go to syria. Here we have a grand Prix to enjoy”. Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone advised journalists to “Go to Syria and write about those things because it’s more important than here”.

Even David Cameron, while dodging the question of whether the race should proceed and making the standard noises about the importance of Britain’s ally undertaking political reforms, echoed the line when he said: “I think we should be clear: Bahrain is not Syria.”

The retort from Ecclestone and the Bahraini foreign minister, that worse things are happening elsewhere, also happens to be a favourite of the Israeli state and its defenders. A week before the Bahrain Grand Prix, activists arriving in Israel to protest about its treatment of the occupied Palestinians were presented with a letter from the prime minister’s office, noting that they had not chosen to protest against the Syrian or Iranian regimes, or against Hamas’s rule in Gaza, but instead had chosen “the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear”.

Activists and journalists who draw attention to Israeli human rights abuses are by now well accustomed to hearing this argument being made, sometimes with the accompanying insinuation that Israel is being “singled out” for more sinister reasons. It is interesting to see this rhetorical device being employed in both these situations, and of course, fairly obvious problems apply in each case. [Continue reading...]

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