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article imageOp-Ed: The Bahrain-Northern Ireland Parallel

By Paul Iddon     Sep 16, 2012 in Politics
What the horrific sectarian strife that plagued Northern Ireland in recent memory can teach us about the present situation in Bahrain.
Dr. Mike Diboll an educator, scholar and advocate for democracy in the Middle East wrote a very brilliant comparison study of the sectarian situations in Northern Ireland and Bahrain, and how the former can teach us what to expect from the latter .
Obviously this is a latent comparison study as no two historical cases are exactly alike, but as Mr. Diboll demonstrates the two examples bear striking similarities, meaning that, as a comparative study Northern Ireland gives us a very insightful precedent for understanding today's ongoing situation in Bahrain and what we could expect down the road in the coming years if the regime continues to suppress rather than reform.
The most salient of comparisons comes in the manner in which the Shias in Bahrain are segregated, a manner which is reminiscent to how the Catholic population of Ireland was segregated by state sanctioned sectarianism that discriminated Northern Irish Catholics and deprived them of various education and employment opportunities.
Indeed in Bahrain many fear that disenfranchised Shia youths may use the state-sanctioned sectarian discrimination that has been leveled against them as an excuse to express their pent up frustration through violent means. It was in such an atmosphere within the Catholic communities of Northern Ireland that the Provisional Irish Republican Army grew, and indeed the infamous events of Bloody Sunday 1972 in Derry City which saw to the shooting dead of 14 civil rights activists that gave the IRA quite a bit of support within these communities, and memories of those dark times were used by the IRA as an excuse to wage its campaign of terrorism across Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
Interestingly when bomb components were discovered by the Bahraini regime, a team of British forensic detectives who went to the island kingdom to investigate commented that the device under construction was "almost at the level and style of the dissident IRA."
Indeed, in the various analyses and commentaries on the Bahraini human rights activist who undertook a hunger strike in protest of his imprisonment by the regime Abdulhadi al-Khawaja Bobby Sands -- the IRA member who starved himself to death in protest at being prohibited from having the status of a political prisoner -- is often mentioned as the prime precedent and comparison (albeit comparisons focusing primarily on the aspects of the similar conditions the two men lived in when going through those strikes rather than their political motives).
Last year's uprising in Bahrain which brought to light the simmering tensions between the islands two diverging communities, was also reminiscent of the tensions in the communities in the North that eventually exploded into the Troubles era.
In 1969 when clashes between Catholic Nationalist elements and Protestant Unionist elements in Derry City turned into the violent riot that was the Battle of the Bogside, Northern Ireland security forces and eventually the British Army intervened.
Last year in Bahrain the predominantly oppressed and marginalized Shia staged a relatively peaceful sit-in protest in the capital city's Pearl Roundabout. The security forces -- which only Sunni's are allowed join -- were sent into violently and brutally crush them. Soon thereafter the Saudi Army intervened.
Although -- as Dr. Diboll points out -- there are important distinctions to be noted, Bahrain, whilst the two salient communities that exist are divergent and relations between them are currently tense the island isn't divided in the manner Northern Ireland was. However, there is another similarity that is worth pondering. That being the professed outlook the Sunni Bahrainis and the Northern Ireland Unionists who support segregationist policies had, and the justifications they accordingly used to excuse their suppressive actions against those respective segregated communities.
The Northern Ireland Unionists felt marginalizing the Irish Catholic Nationalist communities was essential since they were seen in essence as fifth columnists of the southern Irish state and of the Catholic Church. Similarly the Sunni elitists and regime supporters in Bahrain have striven to portray the insurrection that was predominantly carried out by the islands suppressed Shia majority as foreign meddling, because, essentially they see the Shia as little more than fifth columnists of the Shia theocracy that is currently ruling Iran. The Saudi family oligarchy also sees it this way, which is why they have been so adamant in suppressing and crushing any Shia insurrections, be they in eastern Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
These things happened, they deteriorated, and brought out the worst in people. That is why it is important to encourage reform and give the oppressed our heartfelt solidarity and help bring about a tenable solution to this ongoing trouble in Bahrain, closely applying to such a solution the important lessons the past has taught us.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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