On the front line… at Starbucks

I’m on the plane home to Paris and, frankly, I am happy to be there. We have passed a fascinating few days in Bahrain. It was a race meeting the like of which I have not seen in nearly 30 years of reporting. I’ve done a lot stuff in that time, but this was above and beyond. Most foreign journalists are currently barred from entering Bahrain, because the government feels that their coverage of its activities has been deeply biased. I see the latest reports saying that some people from Channel 4 in England have been arrested, for filming when they entered the country on tourist visas. I have no sympathy for them. They made a decision and they were breaking the law.

Before I went to Bahrain I thought very differently about the troubles there. I was very critical of the decision for F1 to go there. The powers-that-be in the sport did not like that. The Bahrainis tried to convince me otherwise, but I felt that the race was being used as a propaganda tool and should not be allowed to go ahead, on the basis that the FIA statutes state that the federation shall “refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect”. I was invited over the winter to go to Bahrain, all expenses paid by the government, to see for myself. I declined because I could not see the point. Bahrain on a quiet day was not going to be the same as Bahrain when the F1 circus comes to town. It was obvious. I also felt there was a danger of being given a huge snow-job.

I have always respected the work of the newsagencies. When Bernie Ecclestone questioned some of the things that I had written, in a nice way, in the period leading up to the race I explained to him that newsagency folk “do not make this stuff up. They are the best reporters there are and it is not easy to pull the wool over their eyes. There is no reason for them to be going after the Bahrainis. The reality, therefore, is as is being reported. We also have to be a little careful about what the government tells us, because a year ago they denied everything that they were doing, and yet it all came out later in the independent report into the troubles. Everything that the media and the human rights people said was happening proved to be true. Most of what the government said was shown to have been false. Thus are we really sensible to believe what they are saying when the other sources are again saying the opposite?”

I also went on to explain to him that while I am primarily an F1 reporter I know rather a lot about resistance movements. I have written a book about the French Resistance. I wrote a dissertation about the covert activities of the CIA in South East Asia and (and I still marvel at the lunacy) back in the early 1980s I was nearly blown up twice on the same day by IRA bombs in London. My reaction was strange. While most people got angry, I simply found that I wanted to understand why. I was not a journalist then, but I wanted to talk to terrorists and ask them to explain why they were blowing up innocent people. I began this process by walking into an Irish pub on the Kilburn High Road in London and asking them if they could put me in touch with the people from “The Cause”, as at the time you couldn’t get a drink there without making a small donation… I went on to meet two people who purported to be members of the IRA and the INLA. The first was not very clever, the second was chillingly bright. And he explained how someone who feels oppressed can justify terrible actions in the name of the cause.

I explained to Bernie that if I was one of the opposition in Bahrain I would see the arrival of the F1 circus as a challenge, and a great opportunity to get my message across to the world and I believed that two things were inevitable: that there will be attempts to use the F1 race to draw attention to what is going on there; and therefore there would be a violent government reaction to that.

“This means that whether we like it or not the race is in the firing line and it is just a matter of how bad things will be,” I wrote. “The only way to guarantee that there is not trouble is not to go. That may not help Bahrain, but trying to help them could do F1 a lot of damage, politically and commercially”.

What I found when I got to Bahrain was that, yes, there are problems, but they were far less widespread than the reports have suggested. We spent three days criss-crossing the country on different routes, twice each day. We never saw a single protester, let alone a rioter. We saw a lot of police cars, but only one armoured car. We saw no burning tyres, smelled no tear gas. We even went to some of the hotspots such as the old Pearl Roundabout, but all was quiet. But that was not the message that was sent out around the world. Bahrain and Formula 1 was on the front pages of newspapers everywhere, with lurid reports and ringing condemnations. A lot of the F1 journalists who work for newspapers were asked by their employers to go and find the trouble. They got very excited about being involved in something a bit different. They soon discovered that if you wanted to find trouble you could. And the activists were only too keen to help and give incendiary interviews.

On the other hand the government was bending over backwards to deliver its message, but unsurprisingly most media did not trust “the regime”, because of its past record. I was definitely wary. But it became clear very quickly that this was no insurrection and that the one group of people who were not being given a voice were the silent majority to whom no-one was bothering to talk.

Enter Hasan Emad, a blog reader, who wrote welcoming me to Bahrain: “I am a normal citizen, have my own business here in Bahrain, and I live in Juffair. It is going to be my great pleasure to invite you for a cup of coffee or a dinner if you have a time to do so. So we can sit and chit chat about F1 and what is going on here in Bahrain”.

Why not? I thought. Here was a chance to hear from people who are not activists. I was slightly worried that this might be a government plant but I would have to figure that out as I went along. I did not for one minute think I would be kidnapped or anything like that. I mentioned to my pal David Tremayne that I was going to be doing this and he asked to come along, in his role as a reporter for The Independent. Similarly Brad Spurgeon of the International Herald Tribune joined the party. Hasan turned up with a mate called Yaqoob Salman Mohamed Al-Slaise, a Sunni IT lecturer at Bahrain University and the five of us then wandered off to Starbucks in Juffair where we met up with Ahmed al Mahri, a Shia banker. We sat upstairs at a large table where Hasan said he used to do his homework. We had talked about F1 and it was clear that Hasan was a huge fan.

“I had tears in my eyes when they first announced a Grand Prix in Bahrain,” he said. “I have been a fan since 1994.” The other two said that they liked F1. They were a bit vague about how they had met, but David, Brad and I all concluded independently that they were not plants. They were just normal people expressing a view. Hasan and Yaqoob were Sunnis, Ahmed a Shia. But Hasan said that he employed Shias in his real estate business.

“We are living in a mixed community and we never differentiate,” said Hasan. “Between the normal people, let’s say, who don’t have an agenda, we don’t have any bad feelings between each other. We live together. We have marriages from both sides.”

“Only yesterday I was paying respects to my friend’s brother who passed away recently. He was a Shia,” said Yaqoob, “but because of the events we have reached a level of sectarianism.”

How does F1 help to solve all this?

“Because people like you are here and you are listening and getting the right picture of what’s going on in the country,” said Ahmed. “F1 is sport, it has created a lot of jobs for Bahrainis, created a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs, raised the standard of life in Bahrain during the past eight years. It’s marketed Bahrain. Nobody knew anything about Bahrain before the grand prix. But when you are in a position claiming that you want a reform, you want a better future, you don’t fight to stop such an event, where your people are the number one beneficiary out of it. I don’t understand what is the point of that?”

“We frankly need the race,” Yaqoob said, “whether to help our slumping economy with many Bahrainis buying tickets for the first time in sake of making the race a success and that the country and its people will not ‘stand down’ in face of those who incite violence on the street under the cloak of ‘peaceful protesting’ or as an attempt to sabotage the F1 by scaring away teams, media and fans from our GP. Violence does not bring democracy nor better human rights nor does sabotaging a sporting event bring reforms. It only leads to more hatred and spite and keeps us in a political stalemate.”

They disagreed on whether or not the government reforms promised are too slow. Yaqoob saying that “one of the reasons why people protesting felt that wheels of reform aren’t moving fast enough, and I agree with that, especially now that we have the BICI report and the national dialogue in July, we are not feeling the results of this, some steps have been taken, but not as fast as people would like. But at same time feel that because there is escalated violence on the streets it won’t lead us to that, rather than force the government, blackmailing them with violence, these things aren’t helping.”

Ahmed did not agree. He said that the country is far more advanced than anywhere else in the region and that King Hamad is largely responsible for that. He came to power in 1998 and the reforms began in 2002.

“Actually the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister are idols for us as Bahrainis,” Ahmed, the Shia remember, says. “The Crown Prince is highly target orientated, same as the PM. The PM has long experience in this country. I am not saying he’s perfect. Many voices here and there say he isn’t good, but the thing is that most people love this man, and honour and respect him and don’t want him to leave. It is just not right to overthrow him. Respect will lead to dialogue and it happened last year, but when people are rejecting the outcomes of that, through violence in the street, this doesn’t help the country to move on. Come and participate with us to improve the future, don’t just stand your ground and fight on the street. They are strong-headed, but they don’t want to share their personal target with the rest. They claimed last year they didn’t like the atmosphere, but the majority managed to put across their views. But there have been changes to the Constitution as a result. Some aspects have been slow: living standards, salaries, housing services, but it is not fair compare Bahrain to other countries. People in US wouldn’t get these services, the US government does not provide these resources. Every man in the US needs to work all his life just to buy a house, and if he misses a couple of instalments he loses it. People compare Bahrain to Syria. This is disgraceful. The picture that is being portrayed about Bahrain, 90 percent of that isn’t true.”

Yaqoob argued that it was only the extremists who are opposed to the grand prix itself, but they nonetheless see it as a means to get their view across to the world. All three of them believe that the extremists are co-ordinated and funded by Iran, and that it is their intent to try to impose its theological dogma on the multi-cultural society in Bahrain.

“I have seen reports that ask why the rioters are there,” said Ahmed. “Frankly, they don’t know why they are there. They are kids.”

“These people are brainwashed,” says Hasan, “and they are being paid. Why do they start at 3pm and end at midnight? So they can sleep and go back to school.”

Yaqoob summed it up well.

“As a Bahraini I cannot trust people who call for and use the word democracy when I know that behind that is a theological ideology. I cannot risk this very huge jump into elected government or a republic. It’s like throwing myself into a pool of sharks. We need to push toward more freedom, more democracy in the country but you need to do it in phases. I cannot jump right into an elected government especially with a community or society like Bahrain which because of events has turned into a sectarian monster. Sunnis not just shias, shias not just sunnis. Suppose a shia majority in Parliament goes on to form a shia government, I cannot trust then because I have other examples in front of me, like Iran… When it comes to elections the ayatollah gets into his pulpit and he reads a list of people and you as believers must vote for these people. The term that’s used is ‘the faith list’. If you do not vote for these people you are a non-believer, you are violating God.”

“I tell you something,” said Hasan. “In the villages if people are not with the shias, they get their houses firebombed.”

All three recounted tales of personal experiences in the troubles. Things that had happened to them, people they knew who had been killed or injured.

“Violence anywhere is unacceptable,” said Hasan. “The majority of people here are not protesting. If I cannot go to my office because of protests, how do I earn money? Where is my human right to work? I have salaries to pay, but if I can’t work I cannot earn money.”

“Our aim is to throw what happened here last year behind our backs,” says Ahmed. “We need to get back to what we were before February 14 2011, to be one society again. I don’t know who created the Unif1ed slogan and it may have sounded bad, but it shows to people reading it how you should feel about your country. The most important thing is to stop the violence. You have to respect the law. If you break the law, there are no excuses. If you don’t like this country, you can leave. Even if you are not a Bahraini, a foreigner, you have to respect the rules.”

“The matter in hand is that these protests that are continuing on an almost daily basis don’t lead us to a political solution, which at the end of the day has to happen,” says Yaqoob. “If you have one part of society who is happy to be violent, and endangers the lives of your fellow countrymen, I find it not to reflect the values we hold. We need to establish that the events in Bahrain gave birth to what was once the “silent majority” or now called “Al-Fateh” (the grand mosque near your hotel), a place that’s welcoming to people of all faiths and backgrounds as was the Gathering of National Unity which brought over 100,000 Bahrainis to Al-Fateh Mosque’s parking area in solidarity and fear for the shattering of Bahrain’s national unity due to events and called for reforms and end to violence and bloodshed. From that day, February 21 2011, the political scene in Bahrain shifted from a Al-Khalifa vs Shia opposition to one with three sides Al-Khalifa vs Al-Fateh opposition vs Shia opposition. From February some steps were taken by all sides in search of a solution, one being the National Dialogue in July 2011 and the BICI report last November and the start of implementing the report’s recommendations. The Shia opposition must stop all violence against fellow countrymen from whichever sect. The opposition must stop violence against police officers, expats and neighbors from different sects and faiths. The government must complete implementing the National Dialogue recommendations and the BICI report recommendations fully. The Shia opposition must acknowledge what appeared in the BICI report especially Chapter 8 regarding assaults against the expat and Sunni communities and apologize to those who’ve suffered from their racist and sectarian actions. Political development should occur is phases and not in a giant leap. Democracy is a culture in addition to process or system. We unfortunately have a culture of following religious figures who seek a theological system which goes totally against the idea of freedom and democracy in my opinion. Building a democratic culture through implementing reforms in stages will hopefully lead us to a better democracy in Bahrain rather than ending up with a sectarian government in seek of revenge. Through dialogue and reaching a consensus hopefully we will see a better stronger Bahrain and maybe this year’s F1 slogan “UniF1ed” will be achieved.”

On Sunday morning I put all my thoughts together in a blog post called “A reflection”. I had read that morning that “the dozens of armoured cars that were lining the routes to the circuit” and I knew that this was a complete invention. My faith in much of the media was completely undermined. Perhaps you get what you deserve. The Bahraini’s idea of not allowing in established media outlets has meant that the news available has been scraped together by local stringers and anyone else available and everyone seemed to have been sensationalising everything. My view was echoed throughout the F1 paddock. All our relatives afar were worried and we were all saying the same things. There is nothing to worry about. There was certainly no insurrection.

After the race I was busy working away in the Media Centre. The story was motor racing again, with a passing reference to a rather poor effort of a protest at the race behind the main grandstand, which had resulted in the swift arrest of two women protesters. It was perhaps not the best moment to talk to anyone, as deadlines were upon us. Nonetheless I was asked to go and see the Crown Prince, who had expressed the desire to speak to me. At times like that I would normally refuse all invitations, but this one was intriguing. I went, pondering what on earth he might want to say to a reporter who is only really interested in Formula 1. What message did he wish to deliver? I was somewhat taken aback when he simply shook my hand and thanked me. All that he wanted, he said, was for people to give them a chance to fix the problems and he wanted to thank me for having done that. That was amazing for me. I said what I always say. I was simply telling the truth, as I see it. I may not always be right, but I do the best I can.

My piece was quoted in the local newspaper, called the Gulf News, which I had abused a few days earlier for its toothless coverage of events. They did not mention that I was still of the belief that the Grand Prix should not have happened because of the politicised nature of the race. I hear all the arguments about how it can be a force for good but I still think it is wrong. The sport ended up serving the interests of both sides in the conflict – with no real voice for the views of Yaqoob, Hasan and Ahmed and the hundreds of thousands of others like them.

All Formula 1 got from Bahrain was awful media coverage. It was universally negative. There are some, Bernie Ecclestone among them, who do not believe that there is such a thing as bad publicity. One should never forget that Bernie uses controversy on a regular basis to create interest in events. Some years ago in the United States he described America’s motorsport sweetheart Danica Patrick as “a domestic appliance”. That made a huge impact.

There is no question that the Bahrain Grand Prix did get the sport into the news, but will that really lead to new viewers? Or will it sully the image of the sport and make it harder for everyone to sell F1 to sponsors?

Despite this I could not disagree with some of what FIA President Jean Todt said. “I am not sure all that has been reported corresponds to the reality of what is happening in this country,” he said. “But I feel F1 is very strong. It is a very strong brand, and all the people among the teams to whom I have been speaking are very happy. Yes, there are certain problems, yes there are some protests – because it is a democratic country and protests are allowed. At the most it is 10 percent of the people who are anti. So do we have to penalise 90 per cent of the population because 10 per cent are against it? My answer is no.”

My answer is that we should have stayed out of it but, once committed, then if we managed to show the world that there are three sides to this argument then I guess we served a good purpose.

At least I hope so.

And we gave them a good race, which is why I was really there…

358 thoughts on “On the front line… at Starbucks

  1. Brilliant piece of reporting, now I know why you are my No 1 F1 reporter, well done.

    Paul M

    Cruising the uk canals

    1. Well perhaps I won’t leave it at that when I think about it. I want to say that I agree with your original argument that F1 should not have been there nor should they have risked being manipulated like that.

      Regarding this particular post, I must say your name is well respected and known throughout the F1 community. The Crown Prince himself requested to talk to you. I would not be surprised if you were to some extent monitored, followed, and interacted with many planted individuals.

      I just wish that outside critical media sources were allowed in the area on a long term basis in order to follow up with what is going on there. If they have nothing to hide then they have nothing to hide. The extent of manipulation by self interested groups (authoritarian government and extreme opposition) is far reaching and is quite easy to achieve over the course of a weekend.

      It is hard to draw definitive conclusions because there is no consistency in their transparency. The power of foreign investment and military alliances can be far reaching. I would be interested to hear if anyone you know visited a majority of the neighborhoods, even the bad ones, in the area and actually spoke to a more diverse range of the population.

      I am not saying your wrong and have no doubt you accurately reported what you personally saw and experienced… but I also think that the truth behind what you saw could have been very skewed.

      One society is not necessarily a healthy society.

      Then again.. I could be completely wrong and things really are shaping up for the better without any overwhelming ulterior motives.

      The FIA did break its statute and the good governing policy it claims to follow. F1 was manipulated to be a political tool. They may have contributed to making the situation worse, especially if accurate sources dig up a series of corruption and scandals. In my opinion, the decision made by the powers-that-be to hold a race in Bahrain is one that was far from moral.

      1. I don’t think I was monitored or followed. That is silly. I have no doubt that people wanted my opinion to be behind them, but I do not think the guys at Starbucks were plants. And if you know this blog you know I have my own opinions and I fight for them.

        1. I didn’t mean to convey that they were plants in that particular case.I just wanted to caution that it could have been a possibility that you were.

          How is this silly? Bahrain is an international hot zone of strategic importance. There are intelligence and counter intelligence operations constantly taking place there. US personnel are briefed on this all the time. This is one of the reasons why their 2002 Press Law came into effect in the name of “national security”. Your a journalist, more than likely your going to be followed without you knowing it. It isn’t a silly idea. In my research as an academic and 10 years of military experience I have found that this is usually the standard.

          This still doesn’t conclude anything though. I respect your tenacity as a journalist and believe without a doubt you go to great lengths to find the truth in a situation. I know that personally you may not want to be there but it is a shame we can’t have you there longer. A week there isn’t enough to draw a conclusion about how things are.

          If Bahrain has nothing to hide and if they are a member of the UN then they should have no problem with Amnesty International, Freedom House, etc reporting there.

          I do thank you for writing this though. However, As I mentioned above, The FIA did break its statute and the good governing policy it claims to follow. F1 was manipulated to be a political tool and yet no one is being held accountable for this. I just hope this doesn’t have negative long term effects on the people of Bahrain or F1. I guess we will see

          1. We are not idiots and we saw very clearly that there was a chance that they would be plants, just as they might also have been extremists. We talked to them at length and we made our decisions based on their views and on the fact that they did not all have the same opinions. If you look through these comments you will see that two of them have made comments. Read them.

            1. I already told you that I did not mean to convey that there were plants in this particular case I was just wanting to clarify that you were aware of the situation. I was only interested in the following:
              (1) hearing a comment on this type of thing in general.. and to remind the audience that there is a reason why there is such a law in Bahrain.

              (2) Getting your opinion on the other points

              (3) Reinforcing your point that there was violations of the statutes and the good governing policies by the FIA and F1. I only do this because no one is being held accountable for this and even worse are playing the card of ignorance. A lot of people are resigned to just move on. When someone in power goes above the law.. even for what they perceive to be the greater good.. and that goes unchallenged then there are far greater implications further down the road.

              I see that there are other people acting malicious towards you and directly attacking you in a very fallacious manner. I know that can be extremely annoying to deal with. Please understand that I am not attacking you here or am I trying to discredit you. I am simply inquiring into something (so I can understand/learn more from what you were writing) and offering light critique. Not once have I implied that you were an idiot. In each comment I wrote positive things about this particular post and your situation. I know you are a busy person and I appreciate the time taken to reply. I guess chock it up to a misunderstanding that often happens with comments.

              I posted this before there were a significant amount of comments. I have read through each of them and the ones you suggested. I try to be as thorough as possible and do my best to check on this blog throughout the day just to check comments.

              Thank you for your time.

  2. Bloody Hell Joe. Good work. A rather different story to that which ITV led with on Sunday night, where they claimed that the view in every direction from the circuit was black smoke rising from burning tires of protesters I paraphrase but they did use words close to that and then cut to shots of black smoke which they say ‘ringed the circuit’.

    I did wonder why those claims didn’t seem to fit with the wide footage from the circuit which was distinctly dusty but not wreathed in burning Bridgestone.

    Have a safe and enjoyable journey back Joe.

  3. Also would like to say thank you. Fantastic reporting and my respect for you (already large) has further grown.

  4. Joe, you are without peer. I cannot thank you enough for your insight and your unique, no-nonsense way of conveying it, but I’ll start with a retweet…

  5. The lack of off track V the on track ‘action’ was always likely to disappoint the media.
    I am surprised that with you being in the trade could have such a rose tinted view of the media as some ‘force for good’ That has rarely been the case and was pointed out to me by my late father who after being interviewed by the press was misquoted to give a 180 opposite opinion of what he said. He shrugged and said they simply spelt his first name wrong and hence there was no come back.

    Even earlier a school friend was interviewed by the BBC and we ribbed her for what she said on TV. Her reply was that she was told what to say to camera. My thought even back then was if the BBC would make some kid say things to make a story about a local postoffice then it was unlikely they would not be biased on far more important issues.From that point -in my early teens- I have always felt the press start with the headline and work backwards.

    Both were in the early 70’s and it’s unlikely the press has got better or more honest as the on going investigations into hackgate shows.

    I avoided voicing any opinion on Bahrain before the race as I was fairly certain media opinion was formed then ‘proved’ and yet again it is quite probable my long held belief has not been successfully challenged.

    I must admit I thought joe was being a complete hyprocrite when he went on and on about how the race should be cancelled only to announce he had booked his ticket. I perhaps erroniously thought it was primarily to keep the 100% record. Now reading the above I apreciate the report and whilst I still not totallly convinced of the motives perhaps in this case the end justifies the means…

  6. Joe
    I totally agree with your view of the reports that went looking for trouble, Tom Byron and Dan Roan among them. I have suspected for some time that some reporters use these events to get themselves a platform for their own careers.
    It is good to read an unbiased report of what was seen and not what they would wish to see.

  7. What a great piece, as always just reporting what you see and have personal experience of. Thank you for taking the time to meet with Hasan and his friends. Your reasons for going are justified, your critics will hopefully read this post.

    On another note, you say your opinion of the respected international media outlets has been undermined, I would say nothing has changed. My experience of growing up in Belfast through the 70s and 80s and since then being fortunate enough to travel the world brought me into contact with lots of people who were of the opinion that I lived in some kind of warzone. While there were terrible things happening in Belfast and the rest of the country during that time, most people lived their normal lives. So my personal experience doesn’t tally with the outside worlds view of my home town.

    The wider picture never gets reported, the ordinary lives of people away from the drama isn’t worthy of a front page headline or top story on the nightly news.

  8. Thank you Joe. Thoroughly enjoyed that piece – your willingness to adjust your position with new perspective and information really demonstrates your integrity (now if only we can get Fox News to follow suit!).

  9. Joe, I’ve just returned from a week in very wet France, so make sure you have your wellies at the ready when you get home (:O)
    You always provide the deeper insight gained from being on location and talking to the people involved, which is why so many of us respect your opinions and your honesty to say what you beleive, this piece was outstanding. Thanks as always

  10. Fantastic piece, Joe.

    As a Bahraini it’s quite refreshing to read an objective article by an international journalist which wonderfully summarizes the real situation in Bahrain.

    Much thanks to Yaqoob, Hasan, Ahmed and yourself; keep it up, mate.

  11. I was, like you, dead against the race ever going ahead. I assumed that the ruling few were deluded, trotting out the same old platitudes, like the band on the titanic playing as it sank.

    I now understand that my view has been hugely affected by the reporting on the TV and the web. Reporting that could be best termed one sided.

    Although I agree that the race should not have gone ahead, in one way I’m pleased it did because it gave truly impartial journalists like yourself a chance to find out what’s actually happening. Your report is the only one I’ve seen that seems to give a more balanced real world view of the current situation and, for that, I thank you.

    One has to wonder what the press agenda is, do they wish to overthrow the current government?

    1. F1 coming to Bahrain doesn’t make any headlines, but F1 coming to an unsafe Bahrain where protests are being allegedly held on every street and activists falsely reporting deaths and abuse in villages around the shiny circuit where the smug royals enjoy the race, that would definitely sell.
      Sick media.
      The people of Bahrain would have been deeply affected both financially and emotionally had it been cancelled. Thank you for coming to Bahrain.

  12. Good – if a bit wordy and repetitive of his belief here and there but thats OK. It is a pity that his experiences and the voice of “ordinary” Bahranis as in the coffee house conversation do not get the international media prominence that they deserve. There again it is a bit too much thinking man for the average journo and probably the average “dude in the street” not spicy enough.

    It is the usual attitude of the flipping mass media to doubt everything or to believe everything – both of which are equally convenient solutions to not doing a proper job and both attitudes dispense with the necessity for reflection. This article shows how you can – reflect that is. Enjoyed.

  13. It’s a complicated situation, and there are probably more than 3 sides to it, as with the troubles in Northern Ireland’s past.
    There are obviously injustices being carried out there, but it’s good that the truth of the extent of the violence is getting out.

  14. Held my attention to the last word Joe, thanks for all the time and care you put into work like this – it really has made me consider the whole thing a lot more deeply. A very fine piece.

  15. Hi Joe – I have been meaning to send this link to you for a while. It is a fascinating little video about the paradoxes of photography and journalism in conflict areas and the symbiotic relationship between journalists and protestors – how one feeds the other, how they both need each other. How journalists should acknowledge the part they play in fanning the flames of conflict. I think it will be of interest to you:

    I am a photographer and have always felt uneasy (and therefore never done it) about following the pack to news events because of this, yet quite obviously there is the need and necessity to repeort on issues.

    I guess the romantic view of photographers and journalists working on their own, uncovering stories and conflicts and traveling the world is long gone and perhaps naive. It is a big business and there are hoardes of people descending on hot spots – like haiti a few years ago, or japan after the earthquake/tsunami – and the effect on peoples behaviours should always be taken into account.

    In short I have to agree entirely not only with your stance throughout the build up of the grand prix but on your personal journey and evolution of views. There are undoubtedly issues in Bahrian, but at the same time the issues have undoubtedly been removed from the wider picture and taken out of context and the flames fanned by the spot light that has been placed on the country recently…

  16. Is it just me (I), or is this blog post a collection of “I” this and “I” that…
    Sorry for not being a cheer leader, but some posts on this blog (i.e. those which stay from strictly reporting on the sport) would benefit from an editor.

    1. You really need to learn the meaning of the word blog then you would understand. Try reading Blog Rules.

    2. This is maybe THE most personal post on this blog to date, and one that is a great example for dealing with a change of opinion: openly and honestly. That’s why there are a lot of ‘I’s, I think … he could have paraphrased most of them, but it’s more straightforward the way it is. If you comment on too many ‘I’s on THIS blog post, I fear you may have missed its importance.

  17. Following the initial shock of the Force India “incident”, I noticed on Twitter that F1 folk, while uneasy, were calming down the longer they were there.

    I enjoyed the post – and it is impressive (if entirely logical) for you to go “not as bad as I was led to beleive”. I have great respect for all the F1 journos that have been honest with their position – or not being entrenched in a position – let’s put it that way. I am less impressed with those that have ignored the political situation for the most part. None of us are political experts but I fail to see how journalists could just report on the race this weekend.

    Your point about the “Silent majority” is something that is often forgotten, and thankyou for bringing it up. I forget the technical term, but the modern world is full of “you are with us or you are our sworn enemy” – something which is glefully reported by 24h News operations that need to fill air time with the extreme opinions. The silent majority is nearly always lost.

    Remembering these quiter souls frames the situation somewhat and I understand more the balance that is going on there now.

    I do however think that Todt and Ecclestone were shown to be struggling in the interviews they gave that I saw. They may be big fish in their little world, but when it got to “international incident” politics, they both looked a little like rabbits caught in the headlights.

    I still however think that “It’ll be OK” is not justification for risking F1 physically or politically. If that petrol bomb had fallen a few feet different the result could have been very different. And still not worth the risk.

  18. Joe,
    Several times I have said that your background pieces do us fans who cannot attend all the races a huge service. This is the best example yet. Thank you.

  19. Did you get time to find out about the F1 staff that had been sacked and imprisoned for taking part in the protests?

  20. Joe,
    that has to be one of finest posts. It was thaught provoking, incitefull and balanced.

    I had thought some of the reporting leading up to the race was sensationalist and certainly some politicians (Milliband….who else) made silly comments which led to a certain level of fear and panic amongst the families of staff attending the race. As it turned out there were 2 minor incidents with Force India and Sauber getting too close to the protests.

    Thanks for a great piece of journalism,

    Iain T

    1. Miliband made me sick. Cheap opposition politics from which the actual (hidden) message is “if you elect me Prime Minister, I’ll respond to major events only when it’s too late”

  21. Joe

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s a different view to many but also an important view that isn’t shared enough.

    Well done and continue your excellent work.

  22. Fascinating post – it’s been a fascinating ride reading this whole thing through blogs as well as media outlets. Thanks for putting in so much detail Joe. I guess the first casualty of the propoganda war is the always the truth.

    Personally I agree – F1 shouldn’t have gone. As a PR exercise it may have helped or hindered either the regime or the protestors, it’s still unclear who benefited from it.

    Clearly the regime denying reporters into the country who weren’t part of the F1 circus was a self-defeating angle. If they’d wanted the truth reported they could have allowed the media in, let them see the rather normalised day to day life and the story wouldn’t have been as abused by soundbites and exaggerations (well, not as badly). That was a spectacular own goal. The headlines are now – ‘Reporters excluded from Bahrain’…

    But whatever the reality of the Bahrain situation, Formula One did not benefit itself. This did not endear it to a lot of hardcore fans and I’m sure it turned off a lot of casual viewers. Formula One seems to be working hard to tarnish it’s image, which is a shame as so many have done so much to try and make the sport more open and accessible.

  23. Joe, how did the coverage of “the trouble in Bahrain” in other countries media compare to the British media? Was it such a big thing?

    A very interesting post, thank you.

  24. I’m guessing Bernie has approved your application for a new pit pass after this pathetic propaganda laced drivel.

    1. Your ignorance is spectacular on so many levels. First of all Bernie does not issue media passes. Secondly, media passes are issued by the year. Thirdly, your arrogance is astonishing. You know all this because you watched TV and read newspapers. Did you get off your couch and go to Bahrain to find out for yourself? No. So don’t judge me when you are the being led around by the bullshitters.

      unless you are someone on the ground in Bahrain, you really ha

      1. So you don’t feel that Bernie would have any power over who got accreditation and who didn’t? Let’s just say I have experience of that sort of thing and to suggest that Bernie couldn’t stop you being an accredited journalist is laughable. I’ve seen people lose accrediation for a lot less.

        Why should I have to go to Bahrain to have a view on it? I’m not stupid enough to think that the whole of Bahrain is in flames and every person is up in arms, but just because you saw no trouble doesn’t mean Bahrain is a great place to be.

        1. Well I have not seen that and I’ve been around F1 for 25 years and I have pissed Bernie off many times. I have also pussed off Max. Mosley and Jean Todt, but I have had a pass at all times. I once had a little warning when I had upset everyone at the same time but they were told what I thought of such things and I am still here. So if you want any cred get specific about what you are talking about.

        2. Second point. I had a different view before I went to Bahrain. So if you are willing to have an open
          Mind maybe it would change your view too. If you don’t go, you will never know.

          1. I think this is what has impressed me the most. You went to Bahrain with your opinion clearly stated over many posts. What you saw changed your opinion in some ways and you have written about that change eloquently and honestly.

        3. If you think Joe is scared by Bernie not renewing his pass, how do you explain to yourself that Joe did dare to write dozens of very critical posts on this topic over the last year, knowing fully well that Ecclestone, for example, wouldn’t be overjoyed about it? I doubt that anyone can be paranoid enough to believe Joe, of all F1 journos, was “bought”, therefore I suppose you may be an interested party in this whole thing.

  25. Joe, you can’t remain a diehard for the views you held before going even when you’ve explained to us they were wrong.
    “The sport ended up serving the interests of both sides in the conflict – with no real voice for the views of Yaqoob, Hasan and Ahmed and the hundreds of thousands of others like them.”
    But they did say to you that they wanted, needed, f1 to come to their country.

    “a reporter who is only really interested in Formula 1. ” or an expert on the history of political insurrection as you claim?
    Joe make up your mind, please

    btw BBC of all people got some kids to set 3 old tyres alight so they could have sensational pics round the world

    1. I am what I am. Don’t attack me. All I am doing is trying to open minds. I have heard too much drivel from couch experts to have much time for it. I was there and did it first hand. Believe if it you like, reject it if you like, but don’t spout platitudes at me. I’m really not in the mood

      1. Joe, that’s poor
        You can’t just wave a DON’T CRITICIZE ME banner. You invite responses from readers remember. Fair’s fair.

        1. No, it is not poor. I invite discussion. I do not invite disrespect and rudeness. If you look you will see that responses are based on the tone of the comments. Do you allow people to insult you?

          1. Joe, this is your favourite device. You always meet the slightest argument by kicking up a big storm of indignation and finding insults where there are none.
            I’d like to ask you: why did our media exaggerate the scale of protest?

            1. It is not a device. I accept sensible argument but a lot of people make it personal and rude.

              Most of the reporters on the ground are doing what they are told to do. They are reacting to what their editors want. “Dog bites man” is not a news story. “Man bites dog” is. It is really very simple. The editors do not seem these days to care much about truth. They want more than anything to sell newspapers or maintain their ratings (in order to keep their jobs). Thus they will always go for the sensationalist approach because that is what sells newspapers and keeps ratings high. They are also very loathe to report things that say something different to the rival papers/TV channels, because proprietors will say: “That is not what is happening, Look at all these other outlets. Besides, it is not as exciting it will sell fewer newspapers”.

              This is the truth of the situation. In this respect the only people you should really trust are the reporters who have no bosses, but who still have journalistic morals.

              1. thanks for an honest answer that makes perfect sense.

                btw no rudeness at all intended. I’m a fan.

  26. Joe, this past week your blog has provided much food for thought in contrast to what has been circulating. Thank you for your insight, and well done on a difficult job.

  27. As always, your integrity shines through. Thanks for being the best F1 journalist out there!

    Probably the best race at Sakhir since it started, would you agree? I’m still confused over the Rosberg Hamilton/Alonso incidents. Seems to me dangerous defending like Rosberg’s should have been punished, or at least deserved a warning.

    At last we are back to Europe for the next race, hurray!

  28. That may be the best piece of truth I have ever gotten to read on the internet. Like others, this is why your blog is the one worth reading.

    I rarely watch the news at home, how can it be truth they are selling when they are fighting for ratings and revenue.

  29. Of course channel four’s reporters were there without official accreditation; as you say, reporters who don’t kiss the feet of the regime are not being allowed into the country.

    The only thing I’d say is arresting and deporting Channel Four’s foreign affairs correspondent, and giving his Bahraini driver a thorough beating for his troubles, is a funny way of showing to the world that there’s nothing wrong with the country.

    I don’t doubt your account, I just can’t help but think that the Bahrainis might want to think about getting some decent PR on board…

  30. Thank you for this post Joe, I was intrigued to find out your view after the event,and it is interesting that both sides can claim victory in the F1 visit, yet actually the one side that isn’t heard is, as you mention, the regular public.

    I was made to feel guilty for watching the race as I was “supporting the sponsors’ greed”, and so I have a sour taste in my mouth from the overall experience (by that I mean events outside of the race / qualifying / Nico’s off the road racing) but there are two issues still going round in my head

    1: Will the voice of the regular Bahraini ever be heard?
    2: Now that the media circus has left town will we hear so much about the “intense” troubles in Bahrain?

    Personally I am ashamed by the UK politicians all jumping on a news story that gives them coverage, but more than this I am left wondering what news sources I should ever look to in the future. I’m left questioning the value of “the media”, not of the reporters or the individuals, but the juggernaut of screaming hysteria that “demands” my attention, and “demands” that I am “outraged”

    I guess the one thing it does do is justify my personal view which is never to buy a newspaper, or pay too much attention to these people.

    I used to trust the BBC as an impartial adjudicator, but now I guess they have to be lumped in with the ITVs / Daily Mail’s of this world.

    It’s a shame, but thank you Joe for highlighting what a non-event the issue turned out to be.

  31. I expect that this race attracted more viewers than usual, those that were waiting for, and those that wanted something to happen during the race! I am glad it all went off without a hitch. However I do feel as if I have been duped by the press in the run up to the race, believing that there would be a massive protest and equally massive clamp down by the authorities! Maybe it did happen but nobody saw it?

    I did notice the less than half full grandstands and the empty track everywhere else. You cant help but feel that this race is laid on for the elite few who can afford it.

    Its hard to know what to believe any more?

  32. From the USA, one of the best pieces I have read in a long time. Thank You for sharing the 3rd side to the story.

  33. Kudos Joe, top reporting.

    I also believe that F1 should have stayed away and avoided the bad PR, but ultimately there are two sides – or three in this case – to every story. Thank you for making an effort to bring us another side to all of this.

    Was there any word from those working at the Sakhir track on exactly what happened with regard to staff there getting arrested last year?

    I know it’s early to say, but do you think the seemingly successful running of the Bahrain race will ensure it stays on the calendar or will we have this debate all over again next year?

  34. Thank you for that Joe. Interesting stuff. It really is so like Ireland during “the troubles” isn’t it ? Low-level discrimination over a long period which eventually explodes into demonstrations, cack-handedly put down by self-righteous authorities, which brings out the gangsters to attach themselves to the religious labels that they think define people’s legitimate grievances, and then it takes on a life of its own. I hope it doesn’t take as long to fix Bahrein as it did to calm down NI. Genies and bottles come to mind.

    I do note that your Shia is a banker, not a carpenter or unemployed.

    The authorities should seriously calm down their police, and try to make their society a truly “religion-blind” one. Do they really want to ? Have they realised there is no alternative ? And I’m sure there are a lot of people in prison who shouldn’t be there, particularly the medical ones.

    I do really get the impression that BE and JT thought they were doing a good action for their friends this weekend, although they would have done better not to. Is it possible that such a “moral” goal could exist anywhere is F1, or should I be more cynical ?

  35. Peerless.

    Honest, thorough & balanced. Joe you are the most trustworthy and respected F1 reporter I have come across. A great piece.

    Sat in the Emirates lounge downloading An Aside With Joe to listen to during the flight.

  36. Very interesting piece and great insight into Bahrain.

    Joe, do you think F1 will/should go back to Bahrain next year?

  37. Superb Reading Joe, and superb reporting… you keep saying that you are just an F1 reporter… Sir,you are a Journalist… a pure bred

  38. Did it ever occur to you that a business owner in Juffair, “a typical sandy suburb of Manama…close to the acronym-laden district where the American (and British) military are secreted,” where “[you] felt entirely safe,” might have sought you out for the express purpose of selling you a bill of goods? At the very least, this man stands to gain nothing if the protesters are successful.

    Where’s the critical thinking, Mr. Saward?

    Beyond that, where’s the other side of this story? You’ve expressed a past willingness to seek out terrorists to ask the simple question, why? Why then would you not seek out lawful demonstrators to hear their story first-hand?

    Instead, you rely on weak anecdotal evidence to justify your views. Frankly, that’s lazy and irresponsible reporting.

    This story is getting about as much traction here Stateside as I would expect from something like this. It’s in the news, but you’ve got to find it, because it’s pretty well buried below the fold. We’re far more interested in a Florida manslaughter case and the impending presidential election. If there was any more coverage than that, I might be tempted to agree with you and say that perhaps the matter is being blown out of proportion. Then again, I’m admittedly a cynic.

    It’s only in the world touched by F1 where this story is being made out to be something it’s not, one way or the other. It’s bloody murder in the eyes of those who are just sick to death of the inherent nature of the sport and point to this as the latest example of the unscrupulous greed that somehow taints their idyllic passions, and it’s much ado about nothing to those who benefit richly from a strict maintenance of the status quo.

    I think both sides should be ashamed of themselves for losing the forest for the trees, because people are suffering and people are dying, but no one is paying attention. It seems selfish points of view just get in the way.

    1. If you read the blog post you will see that we went through this process. But as I have said to others if you think you know best because you have watched TV and read newspapers then who am I to pop your bubble. Believe what you like I’m simply trying to tell you what I think is the true situation.

      1. Those assumptions are the hallmark of why you’re a poor journalist. I think I know better because I haven’t relied on you to tell me the story.

        The last lines of the defenseless are incredulity and name-calling, and that’s precisely what I’ve seen from you when confronted with critical thinking that refuses to buy your brand of bullshit. It’s all over this blog.

        Don’t be confused by the other sheep, the ones who bend over backwards to tell you how great you are. They just want their grands prix, and, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t believe the hype from those who will beLIEve anything you say.

        Good day, sir.

        1. I have no problem with critics who are about the content of an argument, but you insult me as well. I ask on what basis you are qualified to know anything about the subject and you abuse me again. I’m not impressed by you or your arguments

  39. Brilliant piece of JOURNALISM !! I am really disappointed with the news agencies and also the BBC which was a reference for me on my days of war correspondent. Not any more !! I am really glad that the people of Bahrain had the Grand Prix. They deserve it .

  40. Have you considered a book about the ten years Don Nichols spent in F1? (…and his journey before he joined the circus?) It seems a natural intersection of your interests.

    The nadir for me this past weekend was the reference by a number of people from F1 to a piece written by Robert Fisk.

  41. Great blog. Mirrors my experience of the UK media in other parts of the world where I have worked in so called troublespots. “Proper” considered journalism seems to be losing out to the need to have a gripping 3 minute storyline preferably with the sick and the dying in the forefront and the smoke and the masked faces in the background.

    My experiences of these types of events are often that “the truth” is much more complicated and difficult to report – let alone make judgements about from afar. Much easier to present everything as a good versus evil battle with spectacular footage. Cynical and misleading.

    Well done for scratching beneath the surface. First account of recent events in Bahrain that I can believe

  42. Fantastic. Just pity the poor blokes trying to get on with life, brought down by the brainwashed children that thrive on the appeal their ‘movement’ supposedly gives them.

    Paddy. Hungover, Fundee, Scotland.

  43. Thank you Joe…you do speak the facts as you see them, even in person. The readers of this blog should thank u for your unwavering commitment to F1 and how you provide insight into the complex issues that polarize opinions, even when they disagree with your opinion of them.

    You have shed a whole new light on the issues currently facing Bahrain, and opened my mind a little more to what I should or (in many cases) shouldn’t believe in the mainstream press. Keep it up, there are many many more silent (lurking) supporters here, than the fools who feel they have the right to question your integrity. Cheers mate!

  44. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights confirms 78 dead in the uprising so far, of which the government admits killing 20 of them. A massive and brutal clampdown keeps the streets clear over the Grand Prix weekend, so Joe says it is all OK really. I mean really!

    1. You can believe the activists if you like. You can believe the government. I am merely saying that you need to be careful what you believe. Why do you think you know best because you have watched TV and read newspapers?

      1. Or you can believe Joe, who didn’t go to any of the hotspots and seems to want to talk about things with some misplaced sense of authority.

          1. Why is that even relevant? Listen I’m not doubting that what Joe has said is true, it would be silly to invent these people and go out and have a fake chat with them. But let’s be straight about things, Joe isn’t a journalist who specialises in this sort of thing, he wasn’t in Libya or Egypt or Tunisia or any of the other countries which went through the Arab Spring, he doesn’t have the experience of this sort of thing that others have.

            If we take me out of the equation, why should we believe Joe over others who’ve been to the hotspots in Bahrain and experienced the troubles for themselves?

            It’s always great to have different viewpoints and sometimes two viewpoints which conflict can both be right, but for Joe to come out and basically put it to everyone that the worlds media are all lying is a bit rich non?

            1. Did you consider the possibility that not being in Libya, Egypt or Tunisia as actually an advantage? A fresh view.

              You do not seem to understand that the reporters on the ground are doing what they are told to do. They are reacting to what their editors want. “Dog bites man” is not a news story. “Man bites dog” is. It is really very simple. The editors do not seem these days to care much about truth. They want more than anything to sell newspapers (in order to keep their jobs). Thus they will always go for the sensationalist approach because that is what sells newspapers. They are also very loathe to report things that say something different to the rival papers, because proprietors will say: “That is not what is happening, Look at all these other newspapers. Besides, it is not as exciting it will sell fewer newspapers”.

              This is the truth of the situation. In this respect the only people you should really trust are the reporters who have no bosses, but who have journalistic morals.

              1. And the inference to be made is that because you’re “independent” that you’ve got no bias whereas that’s all these other reporters have and their reports are just full of untruths.

                Joe, you saw a few days of what was going on and you’re trying to sell yourself as some sort of seasoned political reporter whilst at the same time trying to make the actual seasoned reporters look bad.

                1. I am not selling myself as anything. I ams imply telling the truth as I see it. Accept it or not. You are banging on, trying to undermine it. I don’t know why you would want to do that, and what is your agenda but it is what it is and nothing you say is going to change my view because I have seen it and you have not.

                1. No, I am not. I am saying that the culture in the modern media is to sensationalise because it is better commercially. I am also saying that editors are frightened to be independent because they will be questioned by their owners if they do not keep up the numbers. On the ground level this is translated into journalists from rival papers working together to decide on what story will be used on a given day so that they do not get into trouble with their editors for having missed a story. If they all do the same thing they are safer, aren’t they?

        1. Daniel,

          I’ve been to the “hotspots” (I live a stones throw from many of them). I know what I’ve seen. And it’s enough to make me very very wary of any narrative that paints the protestors as peaceful innocents being set upon by brutal police. And indeed, extremely suspicious of those who spread those sort of stories.

          What’s your experience?

          1. Nelson, I’ve never for one moment though that that Bahrain is blanketed with violence. But the footage speaks for itself.

            As always one mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist and all of that. If the government is overthrown then I’m sure a lot of horrible truths will come out, as is much more likely if the govt is not overthrown then they will be able to keep a lid on things somewhat and keep the ugly truth concealed.

            There’s a reason why Joe himself felt that the GP shouldn’t go there before he went there and that should say a lot about the situation there……

          2. Thanx god someone has seen the what they used to call them selfs as (pieceful protesters) how silly its, basically they r a terrorists.

        2. Misplaced sense of authority? The man’s got an ego but he’s been doing this job for 25 years for goodness sake. Your articulate statements are no guarantee of common sense, thankfully.

  45. How do you define political reasons? Isn’t the incumbent government in France trying to revive the French GP for political reasons? Not being provocative but genuinely interested. Out of interest what message would a South African GP send? An endorsement?

      1. A very very good piece of reporting – and reflecting Joe. You are a wise man and my level of wisdom increases by reading this blog. Thank You!

  46. A really thoughtful and well written piece of reporting Joe. You are a wise man – and I feel I’m becoming wiser by reading this blog. Thank You!

  47. What an excellent, thoughtful and truthful post Joe.

    A household name you were called in Sidepodcast, how true, even in the royal household of Al Khalifa.

    I am very happy to have some of my misapprehensions corrected, however I noted that the danger of active religious polarisation in the country is a real one, let’s hope that does not happen.

    I am afraid that the Channel4 guys will become headlines of the worst kind for the country, unless some strings are pulled to get them released, perhaps followed by public deportation. (Note that in the UK it can take 5 years to deport someone)

    The FIA’s own code has most definitely been broken by the very blatant use of F1 for politics. Had they not used the “UniF1ed” header everywhere and indeed for the theme then it would not have been so obvious that F1 was being used but there is no getting away from it.

    Now searching for “Seward on the CIA in South America.” (was it published or a thesis, if so which uni?)

    1. No not published. I was at School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London for that course.

  48. A very well considered piece Joe, I read this blog because of my interest in F1 but your comments on the overall Bahrain situation have been as informative as any I have seen from any source. This entry, giving the “man in the street” his chance to comment, was particularly enlightening.
    I agree that the F1 circus can only come out of this with a reduced reputation – that is why I still feel that they shouldn’t have gone – but if the race results in more “real” information making it into the general public domain then perhaps it has been a good thing overall?

  49. It was my great pleasure to talk to you and your friends and i hope that we can see you here again in Bahrain.

    thanks Joe for your valuable time and i wish you,David, and Brad all the best and success in your career.

    1. No, thank you and the others for your welcome and your openness. It helped to alter my thinking and I think that you guys can be proud that through us you have helped to tell the real story of what is going on in Bahrain. Next year I’m buying you guys dinner!

  50. Thank you for the follow up posted today. I thought the race was quite good and your coverage is always excellent, even if you don’t agree that F1 should be in Bahrain. Keep up the great work.

  51. I am a lifelong F1 fan and this race has left a very sour taste in my mouth. The brand is sullied.

  52. Thank you for that. It had the ring of truth for this commentor. Sorry now not to have watched or heard actual race.

  53. I reckon you should click on the google add below your piece and “improve your brain”

    http://chirpstory.com/li/6607

    That’s the tip of the iceberg these people were murdered by their government largely during peaceful protests and the race served only to support the monarchy that sanctioned these killings. Maybe i was out of the room getting a cup of tea during all the interviews with protestors that bernie promised they would be allowed to do. I think it more likely how ever that they were allowed no where near the circuit as several journalists reported a country wide lock down on the towns whilst the race was in progress. You make the point your self who should we believe the bahrain royal family who are proven liars bernie who is a proven liar or journalists who make their bread on reporting facts and truth, even if they do go in search for it you can’t find what isn’t there and an increase in oppression was most certainly in bahrain over the weekend as a direct result of there being a race on.

  54. This is what insightful journalists, and more importantly – intelligent people – should do. Form an opinion based on their best understanding from a distance, and when on the ground receiving controverting facts – re-evaluate all of it. Brilliant, Joe, just brilliant.

  55. So now instead of two views, you have six views. Keep on going and you will eventually reach over a million different views of different Bahraini, views that mean little since they do not determine who runs their country and who allocates the wealth.

    You had a chance to speak to the crown prince himself yet didn’t think to ask why is it if there is a ‘silent majority’ or support does he not simply call an election or a referendum? Surely that would silence all critics.

  56. As an ex-pat living in Bahrain I and many of my colleagues and friends have written to complain to Sky News and the BBC on several occasions since last February. Their reports are one sided and sensationalist and it makes one wonder how much of their reporting elsewhere is equally unreal. God forbid that their reporting has actually made things worse. To the best of my knowledge none of us has even received an acknowledgement.

    Life in Bahrain is interesting and we certainly see and hear evidence of the hooliganism that is portrayed as protests. Burnt tyres and tear gas wafts are things we witness from time to time. But this is not Syria. The intelligent opposition know their cause is not served by violence. I agree the government is equally foolish from time to time taking a hard line and creating its own bad publicity. Who can blame a policeman for shooting tear gas when confronted by a petrol bomb thrown at him. But why use so much tear gas?

    There is another ‘Silent Majority’ which is the ex-pat community. Approximately 50% of people who live in Bahrain and who form an essential part of its economy are Ex-pats. Many from India, Pakistan, Indonesia and The Philipines as well as those of us from Europe. We have no vote yet we live here too and we certainly do not want to see the sectarianism continue.

  57. You are absolutely right about being careful who you believe but when creditable organisations like Human Rights Watch and others have real concerns it is clear that there is much more to this than just press hysteria. The press want to sell newspapers, dramatic headlines help, but the truth is out there for those who want to search for it. – Keep up the good work

  58. Great piece of journalism, which ,I appreciate and very much enjoyed reading. However it can be, like anything interpreted whichever way you please. I find anyone who makes statements like :

    “Actually the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister are idols for us as Bahrainis”

    …………rather hard to digest without a certain amount of disbelief. I can’t say I am any more or less informed after the reporting from this weekend. For certain, the only way to know more information is to allow the press back in, then maybe less alleged fiction would be reported.

    1. The comment about the Crown Prince is one I’ve heard echoed by individual protesters as well. I’m sure that some disagree – one of the more foolish and insulting things the press and armchair experts have tried to do is paint any of the sides as monolithic – but the CP seems to be largely regarded as a reformer and one Khalifa, at least, who listens to the people.

    2. Agreed – with respect to all involved, this and other sections read far too much like a press release for my suspicions to be allayed. They may very well have been earnest in their opinions, but for my part there were too many conflicting accounts for the less favourable image to be deemed “completely unrepresentative” as Joe would suggest. Much as he may not have seen violence and unrest, there are many other journalists who did and thus far I have seen little to cast doubt on the credibility of their accounts. Certainly, some sensationalist claims have been made such as the Syria comparison, but by and large much of the reporting seems to have been fairly balanced and corroborated. Incidents such as reports being refused accreditations for no apparent reason do little to help the government’s cause on this occasion.

      For my part, I feel the race should not have gone ahead in the first place and I stand by that opinion. The moment F1 was touted as a unifying tool in a political context, the FIA should have invoked the provisions of their Statutes and called the race off (which, despite protests to the contrary, they were entitled to do). They fined Turkey $5m for sticking a breakaway politican on the prizegiving panel, after all. In not doing so, they have made a rod for their own backs and I have no sympathy for them whatsoever.

      1. “I find anyone who makes statements like :

        “Actually the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister are idols for us as Bahrainis”

        …rather hard to digest without a certain amount of disbelief. “

        I can appreciate the sentiment to some extent, but I don’t see it with the same mistrust.

        It’s very easy to say from afar that “surely no-one adores their dear leader like that” but it wasn’t all that long ago that Princess Diana died and the United Kingdom seemed to get whipped up into some state of hysteric grief over it.

        1. Not even in the same ball park to being the same in comparison. We’re talking about the leaders of the country here, with citizens clearly scared out of their skins to bathe them in compliments and sugar coated BS. Can’t say we’d do any different in the same circumstances, right???? Either that or these people were simple government plants. I kind of take Joe’s article as a giant piece of journalistic irony, perhaps that is the way it was meant..

  59. Interesting article. To hear the testimony of those men was quite illuminating. Of course, one must consider if what they are were saying is representative and where their allegiances lie. Quite different than what the Guardian.co.uk reported with descriptions of burning tires, armored cars, etc. I can’t tell where that reporter was in-country or not.

    Again, for all those with the self-righteous, proclaimed indignation about human rights, where were you two weeks ago in the lead up to China?

  60. Joe,

    now that at last you have had your mind expanded and spoken with some real people in Bahrain , you can see that for the most part there is very little problem. The suggestion it is being choreographed by Iranian Shia influences is in my view clear,those that I speak with daily concur. The Gulf region is a complex area, there are extreme elements for sure but there are in Europe too but the main body of the region just wants to make money,look after its families and get on with life. Even Islam, having been demonised in the West isn’t really the driving issue. The main stream press seem to think that minority protests are always give a valid perspective and give far too much weight to ‘sources’. In my view this is just shoddy journalism of which there is plenty.
    I was critical of your pre -race perspective on the matter but this article re-dresses the balance and I shall continue to appreciate your writing on all things F1.

  61. Joe, I was born in 1982 so I did not experience the military dictatorship years in Brazil. But I do know what happened, I’ve heard many things and I’ve red and studied a lot about that period. It is important to understand the history so we let only the good things happen again.

    Anyway, one of the most interesting things about those years was that the middle class started to take a stand against the regime only when the economy went sour, in the second half of the 1970’s. For more than a decade, the middle class saw with good eyes the military ruling in Brazil, simply because life was good enough. Those were the Cold War days, so the US was pouring money into Brazil like never before. Credit was cheap, the gasoline was cheap, and everybody had jobs.

    The democracy fighters were being tortured and killed in the regime’s basements, but nobody seemed to care. They were deemed terrorists. Thousands were being kidnapped to never be found again. To this very day there are hundreds of families trying to understand what the hell happened to their relatives.

    And I’m not talking just communists here, but politicians, scholars, intelectuals, artists, journalists. Students. The freedom of speech was revoked completely and the entire media was under censorship – television and radio networks, newspapers, books, musical production, cinema, you name it. The very right of association was revoked.

    But the economy was doing just fine, so why bother?

    I won’t try to convince you of anything. I was not on the groud, I’m nothing much more than a couch potato these days. Also, my left-oriented student days are behind me right now, I’m turning 30 this year and I’ve had enough of the policians for a lifetime by now so I don’t even care anymore.

    But reading your excelent post reminded me of stories I’ve heard all my life, so I thoght I should just let you know about it.

    Those Starbucks guys could be planted, of course. It woud not surprise me at all, that’s preciselly how totalitarian regimes work. But let’s just assume they weren’t. Again, I wasn’t there and along these past few years I have come to trust whatever it is that you have to say since you come across me as a very decent and honest reporter.

    So let’s assume they were legit. They are still middle class people that are happy enough that the economy is doing ok. And that’s it. They don’t go against the regime because they don’t have to, life is good enough for them and for the majority of the population, yes, but that by any means make it okay that Bahrain is not a democratic country.

    Of course there is also a majority of the press that really likes to sell, that loves a nice headline and that does not hold a commitment to the truth, which in itself is a very lamentable as a fact alone. But the cry for help of those who are being sent to jail and tortured and killed must not be devalued because the majority of the population still think it is good to live under a dictatorship regime.

    One must not forget that if Bahrain didn’t have any oil and a slightly bigger consumer’s market, the US would be aligning their war vessels around the island as we speak, not just to use it as a base but to invade and install a puppet government. It is the way they do business.

    Today in Brazil we celebrate those democracy fighters almost as war heroes. Our very president, Dilma Roussef, was a terrorist back in the day. She was brutally tortured, I didn’t vote for her. Turns out our heroes like pocketing public funds as much as the next dirty politician, and that’s why I no longer bother about brazilian politics. But that’s just a sidenote.

    Even as it is, they were the ones that made possible the freedom to be reinstalled in Brazil. The same thing will happen in Bahrain I’m sure, it’s only a matter of time and oil. I just thought I’d give you some perspective on that.

    And, yes, I don’t think it is F1’s business to be involved in political battles. But I also thing the human rights organizations are not always right. And by allowing them to say which country can or cannot hold a grand prix is risky business. Eventually they would protest agains the chinese grand prix. Or maybe the russian event, as the election there might have been fixed. Or the brazilian grand prix, because Brazil might or might not have children working as sexual slaves. Or maybe the indian grand prix. The list could go on and on. Maybe they would have to protest the very US grand prix. Is the Guantanamo bay prision still there?…

    1. You make interesting observations, Victor – I was going make very similar ones about Northern Ireland. You can kind of notice this by the difference in demographics between Catholics voting Sinn Fein vs SDLP in the North – two parties with VERY different views on the situation.

      1. (though that’s not intended to be a criticism of Joe, because it is very striking that absolutely no one else quoted anyone from the middle ground over the weekend….)

  62. Well done. Before you went I was beginning to think you had lost the plot. Glad to see you haven’t.
    WRT “The News (Show)”, I’m quite close to an ex BBC News film editor, since talking him to him I don’t watch the news.
    The quote I tried to put on an earlier comment was from Gautama Buddha: “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

  63. Very very eye-opening read Joe. Being half Tunisian I was gripped by the arabian events from the off. you have bought an insight to it which dare I say supports both sides of the arguments when we are lead to believe nowadays there isn’t two sides.

    Brilliant journalistic skills sir, thankyou for such an interesting read.

    Naithan, Manchester, UK

  64. That was awesome. Strangely enough in the US we hear next to nothing about issues in Bahrain. (nor about F1 for that matter, but anything that doesn’t go in circles and causes spectacular crashes isn’t considered racing!) There is a small following of F1 fans and Barhain never really made the news. I watched the race yesterday with commentaries in Spanish (I am traveling) and barely a mention of unrest in Bahrain was made during the entire coverage.

    I love your coverage!
    I read both your books, is the dissertation also available for reading?

  65. Joe, I’ve never commented before, but this piece is very impressive. Especially – as someone stated already – the evolution in your opinion. Where the gap between reports of Bahrain and the situation on the ground is concerned, might I suggest these books from a Dutch former foreign correspondent? They describe how these reports are made, basically something like: correspondent flies into the ‘war zone’, grabs the first protester he sees to get a quote and preferably some ‘crazy eyes’, then buggers off again. Even the correspondents who are stationed there do not have the local knowledge to accurately gauge what is happening and cannot resist the pressure from the editors at home demanding simple stories and spectacular images, making for lopsided reporting. Here are Amazon links:

  66. Joe, I have read your blog for the past two years, but only recently (since the hugely amusing Lotus press release) have I started reading through the comments on them.

    I was amazed in the first instance at the level of ‘abuse’ that your reaction to that release received but in many ways I am more surprised that people can criticise your writings on Bahrain. In my opinion they have all been insightful yet factual – this last one especially – and I find it very difficult to understand how people can accuse you of bias (or whatever else) when you have gone to Bahrain to find out and write about your changing understanding rather than to confirm your preconceptions.

    As many have said above, your reporting on Bahrain has (and on most cases is) peerless so thank you very much.

  67. I’m so glad to read this article. In the week leading up to the Grand Prix, what was being reported in the media and what came across on twitter from people on the ground were almost completely conflicting.

    The “Days of Rage” tag line a lot of the press decided to lead with was unhelpful and hardly descriptive of what actually seemed to be largely peaceful protests.

    Hopefully the people in power in Bahrain will work hard to push through democratic change before next years race lest it give the press another opportunity to go on the attack.

  68. An outstanding piece once again, Joe. Goes along with what I’ve spent the last year and more trying to tell people who don’t live here.

    It should be required reading for anyone with an interest in Bahrain or the GP – and in particular for the lazy journalists and attention-seeking politicians (hello Mr. Miliband) who are more interested in their agenda and profile than in the facts. One can dream it might even lead to a bit of self-cricticism on their part.

    Depressing to see the backlash from people who are so reluctant to let go of their preconceptions that they resort to attacking your integrity or coming up with conspiracy theories. As the saying goes: there are none so blind as those who will not see…

    Funnily enough, your thoughts seem to be pretty consistent with others who’ve actually spent some time looking critically at the situation here (eg Yates of the Yard). And inevitably, they’ve had the same attacks on them, rather than people actually listening to what they’re saying (and why).

    (PS to the conspiracy theorists – it would be extremely naive to think that only governments are capable of media manipulation)

    1. David, Brad and I discussed this at length and we agreed that they were almost certainly not. Given that two of the three have made comments on the blog as a result of the story it might be helpful for you to read what they have said.

      1. David if you have any concerns you can ask me whatever you like? Am not here to defend the government am here to enjoy f1 and to defend my country’s name from those terrorists whom they work day and knight to mislead the audience.

        1. The audience? Do you think the rest of the world views bahrain as a soap opera a middle eastern eastenders? Those outside of bahrain who do follow what is going on there do so as observers of a WAR they do not tune in for bahrains nightly bed time story to the world. The torturing shooting beating and gassing of innocent people isn’t something we look at lightly or for fun. We want to know whats going on to find out for our selves what a terrible ruling religious sect you have and incidentally i am guessing, that you are a part of.

          Rest assured that no amount of propaganda from your government or people like your self will ever make the majority of people across the world want to visit bahrain ever again. You’d better come up with some new plans for when the oil money runs out.

          1. as i said earlier, you see one side of the story. didnt you ever asked you self what lead to that action from the police? i condemn violence from all parties whom ever it was. but what if you go out in your country carrying fire bomb, metal rods and guns. start attacking the police what would be the reaction from police? salute you? or shoot you down? do you know that the toll number of injured policemen in Bahrain exceeded 900! arent those human too? and what give the protesters the right to attack and kill?

  69. Having said above that I found it interesting, like all your stories about this sorry affair, and while respecting your journey over the last month, there is one thing that worries me Joe, and it’s this :
    “I see the latest reports saying that some people from Channel 4 in England have been arrested, for filming when they entered the country on tourist visas. I have no sympathy for them. They made a decision and they were breaking the law.”

    Isn’t that what investigative journalists have to do every day if they can’t get the story by legitimate means ? A law which shuts out the light of enquiry is not a law to be respected. How many atrocities and scandals would have been left undiscovered if those journos lay down and said – well, it’s against the law, we can’t go ?

    1. Yup. When any non-sports-media news team was banned entry, how else were they supposed to get in? And reports that their local driver was arrested and taken away aren’t encouraging either.

      On the other hand, it sounds like they would have only provided an exaggerated view anyway, although I’d trust Channel 4 more than I would the BBC (don’t even mention ITV) these days.

  70. Joe, Thank you for making the time to go find the story and share it with us. Also, thank you to Hasan for making the effort to shine a light on the truth from the inside.

  71. Excellent post Joe, and thought provoking as these comments show.

    I, too, thought you had lost the plot before you went and had stopped reading your posts. But I’m back on board now.

  72. An enlightening and insightful blog piece. Having read all your blogs on the Bahrain situation over the last year, I was curious to see what you would find when you arrived. I hope you continue to write on the country’s situation for as long as it is part of the F1 calendar.

    I also hope that F1 considers how it adds events to its calendar and how it deals with the fact that nearly all its events are now either subsidised or completely paid for by federal, regional or local governments. The use of an F1 Grand Prix as a political tool by both sides can and probably will happen again, and the sport needs to learn its lessons rather than simply being relieved that we got away with it this time around.

  73. Those 3 you met sounded like elite Bahraini instead of normal people on the street. Of course they tell you the good story.

  74. Joe – I’ve only recently been introduced to your blog so apologies if you’ve covered this subject before… you refer to the FIA’s contravention of its statutes by visiting Bahrain. How do you believe this differs from the F1 events in China, Turkey, South Africa and indeed any of the new race additions over the last few years.

    Given the size of the F1 marketing machine (I believe it only attracts fewer viewers than the Olympics and World Cup) it is largely used by Governments to put themselves on the map. I also read recently (taking into account one cannot always believe what one reads on the internet) that the choice of track in France could be dependent on who wins the next election there. Even countries without a race get in on the act by sponsoring cars. I believe it is therefore a question of the degree to which F1 is used rather than a purely “black and white” issue.

    I applaud you for having the fortitude to openly admit to your changed opinion. Your blog is the start of a process that hopefully will encourage others to do the same. The BICI report detailed atrocities and inaccuracies on both sides. I have seen countless images purporting to relate to damage caused in Bahrain that were not (coming from Egypt, Palestine etc). Unfortunately many F1 fans that have not had the opportunity to experience these falsities first-hand will still believe the myopic and lazy, sensationalistic reporting conducted initially that continues in some publications to this day. Furthermore, your blog readers should also be made aware that there are human rights groups in Bahrain that are linked to political parties. In Europe they would not be allowed to carry the name.

    Last week Bahrain hosted an invitational golf tournament which the likes of Montgomerie, Casey and Bjorn attended. There were no attempts at protest or disruption. Absolutely F1 was used as a showcase for both sides in Bahrain. Yet the fact the Bahrain authorities allow the protestors a voice demonstrates that this young democracy is moving in the right direction. How long has it taken to shape the British democratic process and is there anyone who believes it is perfect?

    In a recent survey 85% of Bahrain’s residents felt that F1 would benefit the economy with only 3% against. Not even the British population could reach those numbers when deciding who to elect and how to elect them.

    I believe it is inevitable that F1 will be used politically – it simply needs to try to manage HOW it is used. Sport is one of the best ways to heal rifts. F1 has allowed the majority in Bahrain to start this process openly – let’s hope this continues. Hosting the race has helped dispel so many myths about the country (on and off track) that will allow the healing to continue. It’s early but is that not a great benefit for F1 to be associated with?

  75. Thoroughly insightful post. And one that shows that openness of one’s views leads to better things in almost all situations.

    Just wanted to mention a curious bit of editing that happened to a comment I posted to the Sky F1 site. I was commenting on Anthony Davidson’s article about the Bahrain circuit and had a relatively tame bit about F1 being there because Bernie can’t pass up profits removed. I should mention that this was the closing sentence to my comment and the rest of my words remained unchanged.

    Nothing too sensational but it does show how some media are censoring discussion on issues.

  76. You do realize you have now opened a ‘can of worms’!
    Who do we trust when it comes to reporting from the Middle East?

    The mainstrean western media have their agenda and
    all roads lead to Rome, or these days, Washington…

    Great blog, thanks!

    1. I think calling the coverage a USA-led conspiracy rather misses the point that sensationalist news sells, even if what you’re “selling” is ostensibly free. Advertisers will pay more to be on a high-ratings “man bites dog” network than a low-ratings “dog bites man” network.

      Capitalism comes before conspiracy in the dictionary, and frankly almost everywhere else too.

      1. News these days seems to be exaggerated and sensationalised to sell and spin it to the public. Nothing to do with a Washington conspiracy or capitalism, more compliance with Tel-Aviv.

        Hopefully all roads will soon lead to Beijing…

  77. This whole debate is moot. As soon as an event is reported it is mediated by the reporter.

    That means (amongst other things) that the ‘reporter’ either intentionally or unintentionally applies an interpretation to events which may be perceived differently by other observers.

    Joe’s interpretation is neither right or wrong and his bias towards one viewpoint over another is his right and a cornerstone of journalism in any true democracy.

    What that does mean though is that Joe’s interpretation of events is no more valid that any other media outlet (Joe is a media outlet).

    He has interpreted a set of events in the same way as the BBC or Channel 4 has interpreted a set of events. His account is no more or less accurate than any other account and should be treated with as much scepticism.

    What makes this post disappointing is that Joe seems unwilling to accept that. He has responded with anger and arrogance on this blog if questioned, dismissing the concerns he has voiced when they are directed at him.

    This is not a piece of ‘brilliant journalism’ because Joe has voiced an alternative point of view. It is as flawed and biased as any other news report we receive day in day out from all our other print journalists and broadcasters.

    1. So no-one’s view is valid. How can you form any sensible opinion using that philosophy? And why read any of them? If you learn nothing from anyone, why not let ignorance be bliss?

      As to whether I reply curtly to people, as I have explained before, I have no patience with people who are rude and disrespectful. Why should these paper tigers be allowed to be unpleasant. Are you so laid back that you let people abuse and insult you?

      1. Listen, you’re the one who is putting across that the views of other journalists are not valid and that yours is more valid.

        1. And I believe that because I have seen it at first hand. Why do you believe what you believe? Have you seen it first hand?

          1. Is seeing believing though? Sure, blindly listening to what others say is stupid and that’s essentially what anyone who is listening to you without having experienced it for themselves is doing…….

            Trying to have your cake and eat it there.

              1. No Joe,

                You invited a discussion and just because someone has pointed out the gaping holes in your arguments you try and call them rude?

                1. No Daniel, you called my views stupid. That is rude. And you have consistently dodged the question of why you have an interest in this subject and have posted so many comments on it. I have put up with your sniping. You do not raise many valid points. You do not seem to have any knowledge beyond what you have read and seen on TV. You have had your say. Enough is enough.

                  1. I have an interest in this subject because I believe your attempt at political journalism is extremely poor and ill thought out. If you read this whole page you’ll not see me say that your views were stupid.

                    Joe, if you can’t take the heat then don’t post stories which are going to blow up in your face like this.

                    1. You wrote implying that I was stupid with the remark “blindly listening to what others say is stupid”… You know it was not unintended. So don’t play the innocent. If you will not open your mind to a different argument, then I cannot do any more to help you. In any case, who are you to judge what I write? Tell us why you are someone who has a right to call my work “extremely poor” and I will listen. If you read the comments you will find a lot of Bahrainis who say that this is the true story. Tell us that you have been to Bahrain or know about this subject than what you have read in the papers or seen on TV. And tell us why you are so tenacious in your attack on me. If you cannot do that, then stop mouthing off.

      2. I’m interested in all viewpoints and consider all to have validity within the wider debate. I can’t get to Bahrain so I can’t make a judgement based on my own experience. Instead I read, watch and come to a conclusion based on the best information I can get. But, I hold that view lightly in the understanding that it is my interpretation of the limited facts available to me.

        I try to be a pragmatist. Your post was interesting and it gave me another, less reported perspective on the country. It is another ‘voice’ in the debate…and it is a ‘debate’, not fact, because of the grey area that exists in all moral questions.

        I hope my approach is the very opposite of ‘ignorance is bliss’, I try to learn something from everyone (very sanctimonious I know!) rather than nothing from anyone.

        I replied because I thought that you might be interested in another perspective, interested in a non partisan response.

        I’m not particularly laid back but I think I would take anonymous insults on a blog reply with a pinch of salt. I understand why you might get irritated but it is an inevitable by-product of posting opinion on the internet.

  78. Joe,

    Thank you, you have been the voice of reason, a source of balanced and well researched facts, fair but forceful opinions.

    You should be proud of the coverage you provide for those of use who are interested enough to be concerned but are in no position to be able to attend.

    Mike

  79. This time last year I was packing my life into boxes and decorating my flat ready to move to Paris. My humble abode was in an interesting area of Bristol that was not that well known at the time called Stokes Croft.

    However the opening of metro supermarket changed that, as riots ensued. I was as you say on the ground and my view of the media coverage was not good, aside the issues involved it was clear to see that the reporting made the disturbances seem far worse and dehabilitating than they actually were. Also it a allowed a vocal element to give the impression that their view was the only one.

    This was a bit of wake up call for me, as friends and family were all concerned for my well being knowing where I lived. However I was pretty nonchalant about it all as I was there and was able avoid the trouble despite it being quite literally on my doorstep.

    Mainsteam media articles portrayed Stokes Croft as the start of the revolution against big business, whereas it actual fact it was possibly more to do with some very hot weather, a bank holiday weekend, some deranged cider drinking squatters and the Police blocking a main artery into the city centre.

    The media coverage served some agenda, certainly not mine as I was unfortunately left trying to let a recently decorated flat in a supposed riot zone.

    The point of all these ramblings is not trying to compare unrest in Bahrain to Bristol a year ago but more importantly how quick and easy it is to forget the lesson that unless you are there yourself you will always be seeing something through someone else’s eye with any opinion, bias or more importantly their desire to make the story newsworthy and sell copy. Your article has reminded to take a lot of what I read with a soupçonne of bullshit to avoid becoming one of the mindless herd.

    I appreciate your ability to acknowledge your change of viewpoint, however thanks to the Five live James Allen coverage of the Grand Prix I now have a tick whenever I hear “controversial grand prix”, all F1 fans were aware that it was controversial by the build up however I was tempted to watch in silence to avoid being brainwashed.

    Bon retour

    1. I entirely agree. During the looting last year (I refuse to call it rioting…)people on twitter were stirring up all kinds of things about “An angry mob getting violent” when there was no one in the town at all.

      My only hope is that technology will help things and that when people make things up, others will post pictures showing what is actually going on…either nothing, or a mass of photographers filiming one or two people.

  80. ”Fantastic” piece of journalism joe im very impressed, dont take this as sarcasm i mean it, it is brilliant and very brave of you guys to go in to the unknown and interveiw the three men who explained in what seemed clear calarity. journalists do really have to earn their dough. im impressed.

  81. Reblogged this on johnnyjohnsen. com and commented:
    I recommend to all Formula 1 fans to take the time to read this post.
    Enjoy 🙂

    What I found when I got to Bahrain was that, yes, there are problems, but they were far less widespread than the reports have suggested. We spent three days criss-crossing the country on different routes, twice each day. We never saw a single protester, let alone a rioter. We saw a lot of police cars, but only one armoured car.

  82. Joe, you’ve been very forthcoming about receiving new facts and insight, then revising the stance you previously had. Most only seek proof for the opinions they had going in just to show they were right. I’m glad you value the truth over ego, regardless of the specific context. I applaud you.

    1. Ahmed,

      According to your IP address you are in England. Thus you are basing your views on the reports you receive from the media. You are even quoting them to me. If you read the blog you will see that I mention very clearly that bad things were done and mistakes were made. But is violence the way to solve these problems? Will that help anything? The Crown Prince is moderate and trying to solve the problems, just as he did a year ago. Did you read the Bassouini Report? Did you see what Zayed Al-Zayani was doing when the conflicts were beginning? I was surprised to find that he was one of the people who was leading the peace process. Read it. Do you honestly think that violence will lead to elections? The best that the violent extremists can hope for is a revolution, but what will happen then? Do you think that the Sunnis will not resist? One of the stories that has also not been told has been the role of the police in stopping Sunnis attacking Shias. Yes, there have been some attacks, but there might have been many more. The best way to peace is moderation and negotiation.

      1. “But is violence the way to solve these problems? Will that help anything? The Crown Prince is moderate and trying to solve the problems, just as he did a year ago.”

        The protests were peaceful until people started being shot….

        1. That is true. And the government is paying for that mistake. The question is: is it wiser to give them a second chance, or is it better to see Bahrain spiral out of control into a bloody sectarian battlefield? If you read the Bassiouni Report in its entirety, you can see that there were abuses on both sides. This does not excuse one side or the other but highlights the fact that peace and compromise is the way forward.

          1. Dear, violence was there way before 2011. watch this video taken july 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCuuFlM2S9c.

            peaceful is what the media shows you, but the truth is way far from that. i personally was threatened by those protesters back in March 2011. my house was marked to be targeted, my mother was threatened so it was never peaceful.

  83. It was long enough to make the eyeballs bleed but a very interesting and thought-provoking blog nonetheless! In fact what you’ve written about Bahrain before, during and after has all been really thought-provoking so many thanks for all of them.

    It was certainly interesting to hear the thoughts of the three guys among the ‘silent majority’. After this year’s event (for which I felt the FIA’s mistake was to include it on the calendar in the first place – because the process for reform is always a long one – more than failing to cancel it thereafter) I felt uneasy about the prospect of future races in the kingdom. But Hasan, Yaqoob and Ahmed make some interesting points about the race, and the fact that while news agencies have at times portrayed it as a kind of black-and-white, Sunnis-oppress-Shia case, they emphasise that the situation is more nuanced and must be handled delicately to ensure that things do not descend into increasingly sectarian fighting.

    From a ‘couch potato’ viewpoint I do think reform is still needed, because some of the violence may imply those taking part do not have a stake in their society. There is caution in the blog (from at least some of the guys) about going too fast, but equally it must not be too slow though, ultimately, the challenge is to get it right, however long or short that may take.

    Although the BBC has received some criticism here for its reporting in the comments above, I will add that Frank Gardner did talk about the ‘silent majority’ in the country, as well as how a late cancellation of the GP may heighten tensions on both sides, in reports on Friday.

    1. Of course, reform is still needed and that is what the Crown Prince and other moderates are trying to do. And, that is what the people want.

  84. I would like to hear some opinions from drivers and team bosses now they are back home. They have been TOO silent over the past few days.

  85. As I read through your account, it seems that you changed your mind based on what you saw and who you talked to while you were in Bahrain to cover the race. Fair enough.

    But based on what you shared here, your interactions appear to be quite limited, both in terms of people and locations. Not a criticism, but just the reality of an F1 reporter under deadlines over a race weekend.

    I am relieved not more people were killed or injured, including all of you in the “cross-fire.” I know it made no difference in the big picture, but there was no part of me that wanted to watch the race this weekend.

    1. I accept your remarks. I cannot be everywhere and talk to everybody but if you read some of the comments here from Bahrainis you will see that with one exception they agree with the remarks made by the people I spoke to. The criticism of this post is coming from those who know nothing of Bahrain and have formed their opinions from the newspapers. As to whether I went to the hot spots or not, I hardly need to. The views of the extremists are everywhere so it was actually a waste of time to do that. It was better to talk to the silent majority.

      1. “It was better to talk to the silent majority.”

        I’m sorry they are really not the silent majority i have seen pro government bahraini’s commenting on european formula one websites since feb last year. the anti-government groups fight in the streets the pro government fight on the internet. They are no different both sides are trying to convince the rest of the world that they are right.

        1. Stop and read through the comments on this blog relating to bahrain. You will clearly see that there is a silent majority. It strikes me that you have arrived late into this discussion and it would be best if you read through what has been said before trotting out views that are simply not correct.

  86. Wow Joe,
    THIS is why I read everything you write! I didn’t know what you would say after the race, but this is fantastic. I was wondering if no extreme violence happened if you would have said “yeah, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be” and I’m happy to see that you changed your opinion and are telling the truth, rather than just sticking to your viewpoints like so many pundits do on the 24 hour news cycle here in the ‘States. Well done! I hope Bahrain gets their act together because we definitely don’t need another Iran on our hands!

  87. Top Shelf Reporting Joe. It is refreshing to see journalism conducted in a professional manner. I apreciate your work and this coverage specifically. Makes me feel like my subscription to GP+ is waaaay undervalued. Also, my copy of Grand Prix Saboteurs arrived today! Thank you again for the excellent coverage!

  88. Firstly, always a first rate job. Congrats on having the most credible F1 blog out there. However, having been there, i do disagree with some of what you said. We left the circuit early Friday in order to be home before dark. That got us to the infamous Burgerland junction on the motorway about 5:45. Things were just starting to kick off. There were fires, smoke, and burning tires (presumably) off to the left side of the highway. The demonstrators had just begun their move to cross it. There really, really were loads of amoured personnel carriers on both sides of the roads. (I can can send you pix) We counted 17; although rather quickly as were were weaving to get through before it got serious. It s all a matter of timing. Ours was much luckier than Force India’s.

    You said Pearl roundabout was quite. That is how we found it too. We also found it surrounded by rows and rows of barbed wired and APC’s from the Saudi army. The guys patroling it were rather demonstrative that we: 1. Move off NOW and 2. Do not take any pictures.

    Most of the Bahrainis that we met wanted normal back too. But normal varies from area to area. In the name of full disclosure, you should have mentioned that the nice gentlemen in Jaffair live in the shadow of NSA Bahrain. Home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet; as well as their British cousins. This is possibly the safest and most secure place on the whole island.

    Still a big fan though. Keep up the good work!

    1. Kevin,

      I do not doubt your experiences. We were all travelling at different times and on different routes. It sounds like you found a hotspot. As I said in one of the pieces I wrote, if you went looking for trouble you could find it. You might have done it accidentally, but you found one, although the “infamous” reference suggests that you knew that it was a troublesome spot. It is interesting too that your experiences of weaving in and out of trouble were not picked up in the paddock, presumably because you did not tell any journalists.

      1. Hi Joe, We were aware of the danger of the area from an expat we had met earlier. The usual M.O. is for the protesters to convene at Burgerland (if there is a less noble nexus for rebellion i don’t know!) and then march on the police. Our issue, and probably the same that faced Force India and Sauber, is that this is right next to the major motorway (Shaikh Kalifa bin Salman Hwy) on the way into Manama. One can detour through the eastern approaches to the city; but they are less heavily patrolled by the police and still go through several red no go zones (as defined by the US Embassy). We did not go looking for trouble. Just our hotel.

        1. We were using the US Embassy map as a guide and from this it was clear that the Budaiya Highway was where you were likely to find trouble. The section of highway between the Budaiya Highway and Sanabis had red zones on either side of the highway, but on the two occasions we went through there, on Sunday (at 07.30 and at 22.30) there was nothing happening. On the other occasions we turned off on the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway, that looped round to the south of Manama. We did not try the Majilis Al Taawon Highway route through Sitra at all.

  89. Thank you for your honest reporting Joe – and so glad that F1 personnel have remained safe throughout the weekend (Force India “scare” notwithstanding). I have to agree that F1 should not have gone to Bahrain this year (the above comments alone justify this conclusion – race… what race?) and look forward to reading about the racing in Barcelona. Just the racing, that is, not the Spanish political situation 🙂

  90. Required reading. Can you get this picked up by other news organisations? And would any of them be interested now the spotlight has moved on?

  91. Thank you Joe.

    An excellent piece of journalism, maybe one of your finest.
    Also, It tells a lot about you as a person, in the sense that you were able to recognize that your views about Bahrain were somewhat distorted and you openly rectified them but at the same time sticking to your initial conviction that the race was politicized.
    I have to agree with the latter, even if I felt that the decision to go to Bahrain was the right one.

    Happy Landing

  92. “We never saw a single protester, let alone a rioter. We saw a lot of police cars, but only one armoured car. We saw no burning tyres, smelled no tear gas. We even went to some of the hotspots such as the old Pearl Roundabout, but all was quiet”

    Joe, I’ve been reading reports from a variety of online sources, from newspapers to quasi-acedmic journals like Foreign Policy to the major human rights org. And guess what – not a single one of them agrees with your version of what really happened in Bahrain.

    Is it really reasonable to expect that because you, a sportswriter lacking the experience and organizational resources of large media political bureaus, “never saw a single protester”, we should believe that all those other far more qualified professional political reporters, all those videos and photographs, are wrong, and you and the Bahraini government are correct?

    A far more likely explanation is that you saw nothing because you lack the experience, connections, or knowledge to get the story. Did you not read the numerous reports that the riot police blocked every attempt to march towards Pearl Roundabout? Did you go to the Shia villages from which your informants reported that the residents being penned in by massive police presence? Unlikely – because you you almost certainly don’t have such informants in all the Shia villages, because you’re not part of a media org, and you’re not a political reporter.

    I’m sorry, but to believe that a single sports journalist, working alone, somehow knows better than all the professionals with their vast resources, is absurd. Especially when you make the novice error of generalizing the opinions of a few people in Starbucks to represent the attitudes of the Bahrainis as a whole. Just as when one article claimed what you believed was an exaggeration of the police presence on the roads to the track, you tarred the entire media as a result, without considering that (a) you could have been wrong, since you were certainly not able to simultaneously monitor all routes at every moment in time, or (b) one article does not represent the entire media. You simply don’t seem to bother about the difference between anecdote and statistically significant evidence.

    These glaring errors make me wonder how many times you have made similar mistakes in pure sports news. I’ve come to suspect that your forte is as an opinion-writer, and not a reporter of hard news, either on politics or on sports. From now on, I’ll view your blog as a place to find entertaining opinion pieces on F1, but I’ll need to look elsewhere to get actual news on politics or racing. Let the cobbler stick to his last …

    1. You believe what you want to believe. Who is to say whether I am a better reporter than the sensationalists working in the mainstream. Certainly I have more independence than they do because they have to answer to editors, and these guys seem to have their own agenda. It is a reflection on the media that pieces by David and Brad along similar lines have not appeared in their publications. As to how you read the blog that is up to you. If you have no faith in me frankly I don’t care whether you read it or not.

      1. Chris, I think Joe has made it very clear this blog is meant to express his opinions, so I don’t know why it’s news to you.

  93. On reading your post, i was left wondering how those that were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and convicted to lengthy sentences for minor offenses, in some cases for doing their job, would feel about your conclusions.

    Im not knocking what your saying, its an honest question, because that seems to be the issue people on the outside are most concerned about, they didnt want F1 to be associated with a ruling party that would sanction such behaviour.

    1. I agree with you and like the others hope that these abuses will be fixed. However one must also question whether the stories about the imprisoned are true given the sensational nature of the other reporting.

      1. Not to mention, Bahrain isn’t the only country on the F1 calendar that has authorized unkind treatment of prisoners…

        1. There are a number of other countries that F1 visits which can be questioned on human rights issues. The problem with this is that if such rules are applied there will be very few venues left available to F1 because things like torture and rendition flights affect many more countries than we would like to think. The key difference is that Bahrain was a race at the very centre of a political debate and was as a propaganda tool by both sides in the conflict. F1 should not allow itself to get into such positions.

  94. The single best written and thought out piece on the Bahrain situation I have read. And (please don’t take this as an insult, rather the opposite!) from an F1 reporter rather than what we are suposed to regard as a world affairs one.

    I congratulate you Joe, splendid stuff

  95. The insights of the local residents you met were eye opening to say the least. Makes you wonder how so many people can be totally right and totally wrong at the same time without consideration for the silent majority.

  96. And to followup on my earlier comment, regrading your somewhat snide remarks about the Channel 4 team. They weren’t in Bahrain under legal media credentials, because the so-open Bahrain government barred almost all foreign politcal media from the country – as I’m sure you know.

    Those guys had the courage and initiative to put themselves in danger, in order to their jobs in the face of censorship and repression, and I have nothing but respect for them for it. Your lack of sympathy for such efforts makes me question whether obedience to authority matters more to you than journalistic integrity.

    1. If you want to be a credible reporter, arguing in favour of democracy and the rule of law, you need to show that you respect the rules. If you decide not to do that, you must accept the consequences of your actions. I can see why they might justify going in as a tourist but if you read my conclusions you can see why the government decided to take that action because they do not believe they are being treated fairly.

      1. The idea that journalists can use the “ends justifies the means” to get stories is the same as phone hacking and other underhanded means to sell news – everyone forgets that these news outlets are businesses that sell grief, not do-good charities.

        If I enetered any country on a tourist visa and was found to be working I too would be arrested, why shouldnt they – in fact they could be tried as foreign spies – try that in the UK, Greece (remember the plane spotters); America etc etc.

  97. Really very very good Joe. I was wondering whether you would be honest enough to admit that maybe you had it slightly wrong initially in saying that Bahrain was a disaster area (admittedly not your fault – the reporting was misleading) and this piece has just the right balance of correcting previous errors and including the areas that should be focussed on going forward. best f1 blog by a distance

  98. Well done Joe. So glad you were there to tell us all how it was.

    To me it is just symptomatic of the world today. Always its the extremes at both ends of the (any) spectrum that get all the attention and focus, and the silent majority in the centre just try to get on with their lives and keep the world turning.

  99. Joe,

    I have tremendous respect for someone who can objectively challange and change their own views and opinions based on evidence and information. Never stop improving.

    Adam.

  100. Joe, thanks for the thought-provoking write-up (and thanks to the gents you spoke to). This has changed my perception completely.

    Suddenly I’m thinking in terms of hooligan protestors stirring up trouble rather than a downtrodden underclass fighting for their rights and their survival.. or maybe both descriptions are true, I don’t know. Clearly there needs to be further progress on all sides, in my view the government still needs to answer for some of their abhorrent actions over the last year, we’ve all seen the videos of police firing live rounds at unarmed protestors, scenes which can’t be fabricated, and the many beatings – these can’t be acceptable. Equally the most violent protestors should be accountable.
    After seeing those scenes I can well imagine why an angry ‘world news media’ rallied around those who were fired upon, to show the big bad bully government oppressing the people. It worked too. Rather than a fairly moderate government (by the standards of the neighbours) which happened to use a few misguided methods, but which can still learn and change for the better, a lot of us took it to be a brutal dictatorship which must be removed at any cost. The power of media.

    When it comes to real world events I don’t know who I should trust any more. No wonder people are switching off TV news and aren’t reading the papers. Yet some become still more sensationalist, ever desperate to get ratings and sales. Even Auntie Beeb.

    I’ll be honest, after reading the Reflections piece on Sunday morning I wondered if you (of all people!) had been nobbled by the government, such was the change in tone. Yes there were criticisms but still.. a turnaround. When you said you were ‘not looking for trouble’ it gave me mental pictures of being cocooned in the hotel only to venture out to a laid-on minibus, on roads lined with 80 police cars (but no armoured cars!) past the security cordon at the track… I’m glad that picture was false.

    I’d hoped for much more of an explanation of what you meant yesterday. I am glad and thankful you’ve taken the time to do that here. I genuinely hope the men you spoke to are representative of the majority view over there.

    This in addition to Kate Walker’s posts over the last few days about the motiviations and desired outcomes of at least some sections of the protestors, well, if they want to turn Bahrain into another Iran they lose my sympathy quite quickly.

    You both said you were going over there to see what it was really like and you did exactly that. The outcome wasn’t anything like I expected. Thanks for going and being honest.

    Maybe the return of F1 was a year too soon, however I genuinely hope all parties in Bahrain work together to overcome their issues. If South Africa and Northern Ireland can do it I’m sure they can too.

    I’ve dragged my heels about it for weeks but I’m now signing up for GP+.
    Apologies for the very long comment. As I said, thought-provoking.

    1. dear, you know one thing. its funny too, did you know what did those protesters do before the shooting? they provoke police, throw fire bombs and when the police react the camera start rolling. so the world got to see the reaction and not the action that lead to that.

      1. Interesting to know, thanks.
        The only footage I had seen (via al Jazeera on YouTube), the protesters were chucking fire bombs but it was quite half-hearted, they weren’t rushing at the police. Just walking along, half-throwing a ball of fire in the street. But yes I can quite believe the video was edited purposely to show that and not the reality.

        1. Aljazeera, is one on those news agencies that are bias. and really not showing the truth. i am really amazed by the amount o lies that agency broadcast about Bahrain; they threw “professionalizm” in the trash bag

  101. This Iran thing is a red herring. The US ambassador to Bahrain wrote in the leaked WikiLeaks cables that there was no evidence to suggest that Iran was involved in previous uprisings in Bahrain and put it down to the regime’s paranoia. To insinuate that because the protesters in Bahrain are Shia that they would automatically turn the country into an Iranian style theocracy is insulting.

    Also, even if we assume all the rubbish is true for a second, why is being manipulated by Iran any worse than being manipulated by Saudi Arabia (the Wahabbi country responsible for basically inventing modern ‘Islamic terrorism’ and a place so backwards women can’t drive or even go out without a male chaperone)

    1. well, i have an answer to that. if Iran was not behind it. then why they are soo eagerly supporting it? and why they are hosting memebers of the opposition? why hezbollah (terrosim group) meeting with leaders of the opposition?

      when u r able to answer those you will find the “missing”link

      1. The population of Iran is majority Shia (c.90-95% according to Wikipedia), and it is the Shia populace of Bahrain which is expressing strongest grievances. A sense of sympathy and support for those with shared beliefs is hardly surprising, just as there was sympathy and support from Irish emigrants (among others) in the United States towards Catholics in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Aside from the involvement of George Mitchell in the peace process negotiations, however, the US Government played no direct role in the conflict, and thus far it appears to be the same here. Much as Iran has done much to erode international goodwill in recent years, evidence of them playing a direct role in stirring up proceedings is non-existent as far as I can tell, as is the case with Hezbollah. Guilt by association does not really wash as an argument.

        1. there are evidence my dear, but the gov didnt share it with the public due to “security issue”. and what about the latest german intel. report that says more than 400 hezbillah militia are in bahrain?

  102. Hi Joe

    Didn’t agree with much of the build up, but nice to see the honesty and open mindedness to accept a change in position. Top post and much appreciated

    Looking forward, what do you see happening with F1 in Bahrain in 2013 and beyond?

  103. Good piece, Joe.

    However I think I would be happier about this had I not heard that 60 leading members of the opposition protest movement were arrested and detained last Tuesday or so in order to keep them out of the way over the Grand Prix weekend.

    I would have found it difficult to watch a Grand Prix knowing that 60 people had been locked up in order for it to take place for our viewing pleasure. Luckily, it being a Sky weekend, I didn’t have to make that decision, and I chose to just find out the result rather than watch the BBC highlights.

    I wonder if they’ve been let out yet? Along with last year’s medics, etc.?

    1. That’s just not true. All the active politicians in Bahrain don’t even reach 60. From both sides. We’re only 500K Bahrainis

      It might be true that some people have been held, but those are most probably rioters and gang members and definitely not as you described them.

      Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 influential names in the movement which non of them got arrested and they’re constantly on twitter and they arrange for gatherings and what not.

    2. i wonder from what news agency you got this news?? the opposition leaders were shouting to stop the F1 during the race non of them was locked as you are saying.

      please dont believe everything you hear. touch the ground and you will know the truth.

  104. Thank you, Joe. You have given me much to think about. I have been very strongly opposed to this GP taking place at all but now I have to reconsider.

    Well done.

  105. There are so many sides; and one’s view changes as one moves between them. I’m off to read Hamlet (it’s supposedly the Bard’s birthday and the selection seems appropriate).

    A thought: “Silent Majority” is a term coined and popularised by Nixon and Agnew to counter and discount the Vietnam war protesters.

    You, and so many, are right. But I am still troubled.

  106. a fantastic well written objective report thanks joe…i actually left Bahrain after being there for 12 years one month before the troubles started and i have to say i loved the country and the people…i hope things get sorted out…
    kevin

  107. Great post, Joe. This really held my interest. I’m of the same view that F1 should not have gone to Bahrain in the first place; but if that meant being able to give new insights on the current situation there as this piece has done, then I am grateful.

    Of course, this does not paint the entire picture. No piece ever truly does. Nonetheless, it’s nice to hear the views of ordinary Bahrainis who don’t seek out publicity as either of the extremes do.

  108. Hello,

    It was very refreshing to read your article. I have been living in Bahrain for the last 18 months. I am an avid F1 fan and an ex NZ policeman and lawyer. I have found myself at several events and incidents over my time here which were subsequently reported in the western media.

    I was very suprised by the inflammatory, bias and basically inaccurate reporting by many major media organizations in regards to some of the incidents which I was present at. The BBC being the main culprit in this.

    This is not a comment on what has or has not happened in Bahrain but I had always believed that the BBC held itself to a high standard of accurate and truthful reporting but have found this is not the case. I guess now even major mainstream media is influenced by factors other than the truth.

    I would also like to comment on the support for the Bahrain F1 from a large portion of the Bahrain community. There had been comments made in the media about the empty seats in the stands but what they did not show was the thousands of people enjoying the other entertainment while the actual race was on. Thousands of locals both Sunni and Shaia came out to support the event even though they had little interest in motor racing. When I left the track at 6.30pm there were still young people lining up at the gates to get in even though the racing was long over.
    An interesting situation in this supposedly deeply divided country. It seems the country is divided more by various news agencies that it is in reality.

    Steve

  109. Great post! Ever considered installing the PayPal donation button on your site? I’d certainly pay you a coffee or two for this article….

  110. Great piece! i know i speak for many many expats here in bahrain who were embarrassed by some reports coming out of here by our own media! your honest reflection of the situation on the ground is a breath of fresh air and puts the rest of them to shame. Thank you

  111. Thank you Joe for giving us some of your time and for giving us a voice! It’s a great and refreshing piece, didn’t expect to be this heavily quoted. Looking forward to seeing you round next year in better political climates.

    1. Yaqoob,

      You did a good thing for Bahrain and I am happy to have aired your views and those of the other two. Sadly the work of David and Brad is not being given as much airtime because the newspapers appear to be frightened to report things differently. Fortunately I am my own editor so there are no controls. It was great to meet you and we must definitely have dinner next year when I hope things will be better.

      1. I read the IHT and don’t have the impression that they are afraid to report things differently. Maybe the Independent and the IHT thought that the people you met might in fact have been governement plants?

          1. I take back the comment about the Independent and the IHT. They both ran the stories mentioned. It just took them a little longer to do so.

  112. Dear Joe,

    Great article!

    There are thousands of Hassans, Yaqoubs, and Ahmeds in Bahrain. Being sunni or shiia was never an issue, we never identified ourselves as part of a sect, we are all Bahrainis, but political and religious extremism has crept in and taken hold, on both the opposition and pro-government camps. This unfortunate situation silences liberals who accept a non-violent non-revolutionary approach to democracy (as preached by the Crown Prince).

    The F1 has helped Bahrain and the people of Bahrain even if the publicity was generally negative. It highlighted our unsolved problems and provided a much needed push for our economy which is severely hampered by our troubles. It also gave a platform for journalists like yourself to hear the views of our Hassans, Yaqoubs, and Ahmeds.

    This is my first time on your blog and the first time I’ve read one of your pieces. It will not be the last! As a Bahraini who has lived here all my life (bar from a few years studying abroad) I am really grateful and thank you for the sincerety and unbiased reporting presented in this wonderful piece.

    Zaid

  113. Thank you Joe for a great article. I am Bahraini and live in Bahrain. I have been VERY disappointed with the foreign media’s coverage of Bahrain over the past year and a half, and especially during the F1. At some point, I had to accept that bad news sells and that’s what they were looking for. It is business as usual for us here – and no, I’m not paid by the government to say that.
    Thanks for a refreshing article, what a great F1 it was!

  114. Thanks Joe for a great article. I am from Bahrain and I live in Bahrain. I have been VERY disappointed with the foreign media’s reporting of Bahrain over the past year and a half, and especially during the F1. But I have come to accept that bad news sells and it’s obvious that’s what they’ve been looking for. It is business as usual for us here in Bahrain – and no, I’m not paid by the government to say that.
    Thanks for a refreshing read, what a great F1 it was!

  115. Hi Joe,

    Some 18 hours after I left my original post and we are up to near 200 published responses. Once again the silent majority speak (and I count myself in among them).

    Two things strike me
    1: the amount of people who still don’t understand this is an opinion based blog, based on an individual’s perspective on what he sees.
    You’d have thought any serious, consistent readers of yours would have had this message drummed into them repeatedly. So either they are not serious readers and are jumping onto another piece of reporting around a sensitive issue, or they don’t listen to the message you have (continually and repeatedly) aired on this blog – it is your opinion, and that is clearly stated.

    2: the second thing that strikes me is also the silent majority. Not here, in Bahrain. It would be interesting to have a major media outlet canvas opinion of these silent majority, and allow a balanced view to be formed one way or the other.

    But of course, this wouldn’t sell copies, its not inflammatory enough. Fairly indicative of the current state of the world’s media, sadly.

  116. Excellent report. I live in Bahrain and although it has not been pretty for the last fourteen months the distortion by the media has caused me to loose complete faith in any reporting. I now show my young daughters how a scene can be captured on camera to make it look as dramatic as possible or from another angle to show the whole balanced picture. Thank you for the clarity which I will forward to my family and friends in Europe to put them at ease.

  117. Even as a “blog” this is uninformed. When you say something like:

    “We saw a lot of police cars, but only one armoured car. We saw no burning tyres, smelled no tear gas. We even went to some of the hotspots such as the old Pearl Roundabout, but all was quiet. But that was not the message that was sent out around the world.”

    Without qualifying the hundreds of meters of barbed wire, chicanes, barricades, and other military paraphernalia, it goes into the realms of willful disregard of truth in order to portray your own pre-set conclusions. Especially when surrounded with cheerleaders rather than opinion formers who are more than available to imbue your piece with a reality check. I’m afraid I won’t run out to buy your books, if this is the same standard adopted “to try to understand situations.”

    But thanks for visiting Bahrain. You’re more than welcome again.

    1. Mahmood,

      I am not disregarding the truth at all. I am disregarding your idea of the truth. Just as I am disregarding the majority of the media coverage, because it is flawed. I saw some of the things that you have mentioned. Why is it there? Is it because the authorities are trying to maintain the rule of law? Is it because the police are trying to stop the few trouble-makers from setting up flaming tyre barriers that make good TV and disrupt the nation? Violence never solves anything and the smart people in Bahrain know this. Mistakes were made (and are still being made) but the situation is difficult and at least there are signs that the Crown Prince is trying to find solutions. Are you?

      In any case, your comment about “pre-set conclusions” torpedoes your argument completely. If you had read the blog, rather than just finding this one single post, you would know that I was absolutely against the race until I went to your country and saw what was happening (and more importantly what was NOT happening), and I then changed my opinion. That is the whole point… and you missed it. If you wish to make such judgements on my abilities as a journalist, at least be informed before you do it.

      As to my books, I suggest you read the Grand Prix Saboteurs, you might learn something about resistance movements and how secret agents tried to set Europe ablaze. But be warned, it does not have a happy ending.

    2. JUST TO CLARIFY, the barbed wire, chicanes, barricades”are set to protect the civillian from the hooligans molotov attacks that target main streets and civilian homes, last night the “protesters”blow up a C4 injuring 4 policemen badly, the night before a woman and her child was badly injured when “protesters” detonate a gas cylinder next to thier house. so the barbed wire is the least that the gov can do to protect civilians

  118. first, i would like tosend my regards to you Jeo and thank you for this outstanding report.

    i have no sympathy for those who argue, or says that Bahrain in “flame”and every body is in arm!! comon what channel you are watching!

    i think he was watching afghanstan news!

    we are the people of Bahrain we knew the truth of whats happeing here. what Jeo wrote is nothin but the truth.

    i personnall lost trust in most of the news channels because of thier bias reporting and not taking a chance to chance to listen to both side of the story.

  119. The background issues in Bahrain haven’t changed but it seems the situation there seems much over hyped by the media. If a journalist stands in the street and looks one way and sees 100s of people shopping and going about their business but around the corner a few people are throwing petrol bombs at riot police then the journalist is going to report on the violence. There is no story in shopping. It becomes untruthful when the journalist reports the rioting as going on generally. When lots of journalists do this the story becomes “the truth.”
    I’m very disappointed with the so called impartial media.
    Thanks for the insight, Joe.

        1. Tyre strategy in Bahrain was actually an interesting subject. There were police cars along the freeways at regular intervals. It was explained to me by someone not in the government that this was because they agitators were involved in a cat and mouse game with the cops to try to set up flaming tyre barriers and mess up the traffic flow. The police were there to stop that.

          1. Joe, is there any chance you could repost DT’s original article? It would be fascinating to see the Indy editorial process laid bare…

  120. Thank you for being partial first of all, I am one of the silent majority who my voice wasn’t heard properly, the F1 and sport in general should not be politiclized, but it was. Hearing the national anthem on the race day brought tears to my eyes, because after all of that negative media before and on the race day wasn’t really fair, I started loving the F1 race since the first grand prix in Bahrain, and now I love it more because it showed a little bit the truth of what is really happening in Bahrain.

  121. Joe,

    I thought you might be interested in this interview from C4 news in the UK between John Snow and Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a Bahrain government spokesman. I have to say your reporting has made me re-evaluate the way I digest and accept news for fact. It was incredible to read tweets and blogs over the race weekend from you and one or two other journalists, who by and large saw nothing and yet the big three news agencies in the UK were showing images and reports that made it seem as if just outside the circuit gates it was utter carnage.

    I don’t for one minute believe everything Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa says in the video, but I’m struggling to believe a lot of what John Snow says either.

    http://www.channel4.com/news/channel-4-news-team-deported-from-bahrain-after-release

  122. Joe : A report that shows a man of integrity. Would have loved to join you , Ahmed, Hassan & Yaqoob.. I’m a third generation Bahraini Christain. My family fled to Bahrain looking for peace. Here we are working towards a better home .. Bahrain is not perfect. Has a long way to go.. but let the MEDIA give us a chance. I respect your words.

  123. Interaction is a funny thing.

    Blogs, in the cognition of the readership, are not “here or there”.

    The entirety of your replies (save for personal remarks) to the comments here are – “in my humble opinion” – far more instructive than the initial piece of writing itself. I’m tempted to summarize those for the benefit of the reading public. Or perhaps you should consider if something could yet be made of those? For instance, follow up on those commenters who’ve reported their first hand experiences in Bahrain for the duration of the GP and have professed to have more than anecdotes to share?

    A further point on “normalcy”: Yes, the news media tends to be concise in reporting conflict, totalitarianism, etc. That leaves little room for material about chatting around Starbucks’, but a savvy media reader with most average intellect knows this perfectly well so this hardly does an intrepid foreign correspondent a hack make. Under any circumstances life has to (attempt to) go on and people are not uniformally reduced to caricature-like panicky idiots or randomly bloodthirsty savages under pressure. The most persisting, enduring quality about conflict might be waiting. Just waiting and doing what people do meanwhile. I and some of my friends have experienced as much ourselves, though not in Bahrain.

    Silence, be it in “majority” or not, is not a one dimensional quality nor necessarily a passive act and probably the least translateable facet of any social or literal language. I often wonder what avoided “faux pas” I have to discount for in your writing – and, on more somber occasions, wonder about myself as well. It’s no coincidence that art often excels as a medium under adversity; of the more recent work in this field I was particularly impressed by is Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, her personal story about Iran.

    Incidentally, some of its most poignant depictions are of silences.

    As for my impressions “here”, on this blog, I can’t say those have emerged unaltered on any subject, context or actor.

    I think at the very least there’s a closing of ranks going on (… social psychology has it that mere imagery of violence increases group cohesion, btw; evolutionary echoes of survivals past). F1, trademark and all, is near and dear to you and many “here”. You don’t see a particular way out of this (at least di-lemma), it’s mostly out of your control so you accommodate. It’s not all pretty, it’s not all ugly. Just don’t close those ranks for any movement, lest you have to choose again. You may not want to damn all, but that – as silence – is no absolution either.

    Perhaps, in a way, you F1 folk are “all Bahrainis now”.

    In action, inaction, and all.

  124. Dear Joe,

    As a British expatriate who has lived in Bahrain for 12 years I would really like to thank you for such a great piece of writing that gives a very open, honest and real view of what is happening currently in this great country.

    It is so frustrating to see the international news media, the likes of BBC and Sky News fabricate and sensationalize a story so much and report so affectionately towards kids/young activists/rioters on the street throwing fire bombs at the Bahraini police. I’m sure if this happened in London during the Olympics the story would be very different. I have now lost all trust in Sky News and wonder if any of their reporting is actually true.

    Bahrain is a wonderful country but sadly like all countries it has it’s problems and issues. However let’s also get some perspective – Bahraini’s do not pay any taxes, they have free education, free healthcare, free/affordable housing, free training for the unemployed, government subsidies for businesses (large and small), cheap electricity and water and a full tank of petrol is about 8 quid!!

    Bahrainis are fantastic people with a huge majority working alongside one another in harmony day to day. Sadly though it’s the very few who stamp their feet and create violent and aggressive statements who get the attention.

    So why do the media reward such behaviour by giving them what they want and the exposure that they seek? Do we reward a child who’s having a violent tantrum by giving them an ice-cream?!!!

    Thank you once again!

  125. Joe Saward, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am the most distant person from politics, yet as all of us experienced, we were all either categorised by others or ‘forced’ into categorising ourselves.
    We have been subject to the most biased reporting here in Bahrain – and like one of your readers commented – we wonder how true other accounts are of elsewhere.
    Either way, classic case of sour grapes. It is very funny, they call for democracy yet when they encounter another opinion they bash it and beat it up to a pulp, very very unaccepting of anyone who differs with them. Activists on twitter (who unfortunately are gaining popularity and credibility) block anyone who write views they disagree with.
    And then we have those that spilled gallons of oil on our roads and highways while we speed to work in the morning, these stories are surprisingly forgotten already. Shame really, these are acts of terrorism that weren’t echoed throughout media, but instead these people are called “peaceful protestors”.
    Just this morning a friend and her son are undergoing surgery following a gas cylinder explosion so close to her home that the windows shattered, into their faces and foreheads.
    But again, this won’t be heard of outside Bahrain, because the Govt Opposition are not really people looking for reforms, they are an organised group with connections in places, looking to overthrow the Govt and change ALL.
    God bless journalists like you, you have restored my faith in journalism.

  126. I’ve not read all the comments, but I have read the blog post twice, and some of these comments, some of which I find amazing.

    I’m a journalist, and a blogger (an armchair F1 blogger too, but I don’t pretend to know what’s going on behind the scenes, I leave that to the professionals). So I know the difference between the two – it’s just a shame some don’t. I come on here to read Joe’s VIEWS on news subjects. If I just want the facts, the reports, I read the magazines.

    So I know what the media is, a lot of outlets will sensationalise something, and it still amazes me how much people suck it in. In this day of 24 hour news streams, people have stopped being objective, and started believing what they hear, what they are told. People don’t ask questions any more.

    I skim-read this post yesterday afternoon, and that was enough to make me re-tweet Joe’s link to it. I think what stands out to me, is that, having read this blog a lot before, I know Joe was not happy about Bahrain hosting the GP (in a nutshell). I read his views, and when he announced he was going, I didn’t think he was a hypocrite, I thought he was brave. Here is a man with strong views on a subject, who is still prepared to travel and find out for himself. A man who, despite his misgivings, will follow his sport into what could almost be considered a warzone.

    And now I read this. I read it in full last night, a very objective piece. Joe didn’t go to seek out terrorists, he didn’t need to – we’ve seen all that on the news. Instead, he’s gone to seek out people. He has written a very balanced article, one which counters some of what he has said in the past, which he has also acknowledged. How many reporters would actually be brave enough to do what he has, meet people which could have been a trap, could have been anything, and then write about it despite what has been written before.

    In terms of the Channel 4 reporters, again, in the media we all know the risks. If you are not allowed in and decide to go anyway, you know the risks.

    Joe, thank you for this piece, and I will always continue to read your blog, and your work.

  127. Joe, always remember something… There is someone called Satan roaming the earth and Satan’s only purpose is to cause grief and sadness in this world. It doesn’t make any sense – never has and never will – but this “power” over us humans has always existed. I’m not trying to get in to any religious discussion, but be aware that it’s there…

    1. To cause grief and sadness the World doesn’t need any Satan or Diabolic entity, the human race is very capable to do it by itself, and History proves that it has done it with quite succes for centuries and milleniums….

  128. Joe, have you read Kevin Eason’s tweet referring to you as “watching the situation of bahrain from starbucks” ??

    1. Some of my colleagues have become rather excited in recent days and are expecting Pulitzer Prizes when they hand in their flak jackets and tin helmets.

  129. Interesting piece.

    The FIA and FOM are extremely protective of the F1 logo and name, remember Force India has to change their logo be less like F1. So how come Bahrain International Circuit and event sponsor Gulf Air were allowed to use “UniF1ed – One Nation in Celebration”?. Here we have a blatant use of F1 within a political slogan and not peep from Bernie.

  130. thank you, Joe. It is a very interesting article to read and especially knowing your views on the events and situation before you actually went there.
    I have to note, that being ex-Soviet citizen I am far from trusting person towards mass-media and my critical point of vierw just became stronger after all Iraq and Lybia situations. I still think that Lybia was a complete farce and those that rule the country now are far from being ‘good guys’ as they were shown on TV regularly. way far from it.
    I have to admit that on one of the F1 forums there was a girl from Bahrain who actually expressed similar views to those two guys: there is a gevernement and protesters and no one can say that either side represents the majority of population, but still some progress has been archived in previous years.

    Your story is a kind of story you won’t find on main news sites. Thank you, again. No support, no fight against; just trying to give as much information as possible.

  131. Dear Joe,

    you do not hold a conflicted crowd as well as Brutus. I may, neither, but in this we have a distinction: though i do not tolerate personal insults, i am inclined to roll with the punch, provided in my return i may make my argument more thoroughly. When you simply slap the wrists of dissenters, you do not further your position, and invite polarisation of opinion as to your views. That counts contrary to your aims to promote positive debate and restricts you in winning over who cares not to pay due attention to how your views are formed. You posess the skill and oratory to dispel the clawed reach of adhominem, but forget that in even heated debate of pure contrary that sense is not self evident, neither to your detractors, nor who listens to your exchange. Were this a personal letter to you, i would example how my own misjudement of sentiment wreaked devastation in my life, barely caught in time. I support you because i take my time to appreciate you, learn your appreciation of life, and sense agreements from highly different positions. Few will take that time. That you have so many devoted readers is testament. But of itself, that testament reaches only so far. Ignorant, or plain rude, puerile or simply abusive, i cam tell you it pays to treat who would denigrate you with greater consideration. You need to respect the individual, but only note that every accumulated detraction, unanswered, deflects your message from who follows not the story with care. I speak as a correspondant admirer and as a friend in heart, that you can do more through your reactions to promote your ideals, even faced by intellectual indigents and deliberate dunces. Yours always, john

  132. No criticism intended of Joe, but it’s a sad indictment of the international news media that it’s taken a specialist F1 reporter to show how shallow and sensationalist most of the other coverage has been.

    To the cynics/attackers – have a look at the comments on here from Bahrainis/people actually living here… you can see that they’re very strongly supportive of Joe’s piece.

    Thanks again from Bahrain!

    1. I think that Joe’s visibility as an f1 journalist and blogger provided an opportunity for him to meet with the citizens of Bahrain at the Starbucks, so although it is easy to attack the general media, but how often do they have the ability to both cover the story and have an opportunity to meet a normal/well informed citizen who doesn’t have a strong bias.

      1. They have the same opportunity that I had. Indeed two guys working for mainstream newspapers came with me.

      2. geo,

        but surely it’s the job of the “general media” to go out and report on the whole story from all sides – including listening to “ordinary people”?

        If all they do is parrot what they are fed by “activists” for one particular cause then they are not journalists, they’re lobbyists and should make that point clear in their reports.

        Sadly, most of the UK media fall into this category, and their viewers are none the wiser.

  133. Joe – Echoing what many others have said. Stories like this is exactly why I visit your site with regularity, why I read GP+, and listen to SidePodCast. Thank you – you are the very best.

  134. Excellent Reporting, Joe. Glad a western journalist took the time out to investigate and find the truth for himself. Good job!

  135. Just read your blog Joe and thank you for taking the time away from the track to meet these guys.

    Days before the race I felt uncomfortable about the prospect of watching it and after some mental fisticuffs decided not to.

    I don’t regret that decision, it was my choice but I do believe that choice was foisted on me by likes of Bernie Ecclestone and it would have been better at least for the present, to not run the race in Bahrain.

    After reading your blog I can if I accept your version of events conclude that Bahrain is a country in transition and hopefully for the better, but whilst this state of flux continues so does the threat of violence and repression.

    Allow the country to sort it’s difficulties and return when all of Bahrain feels it can embrace F1, until then it does not reflect well for an elite sport to be seen to support and condone the actions of those in power, even if they are on the path of reform.

    Alan W

  136. Hi Joe,

    Interesting article, I was struck by what you left out of your piece.

    No mention of the protester that was killed during your visit.
    No clarification of what you saw at Pearl Roundabout… Were there rows of barbed wire and APC’s as mentioned by one commenter…?
    You say interference of Iran was the view of the people you spoke to, but no mention that the BICI dismissed this claim as unfounded.
    No historical context i.e. that this problem has been going on 40+ years and Bahrain has an appalling human rights record.

    1. I am sure you can find a million things that I did not include which you consider to be relevant, but one has to reasonable. It was a very long article. I was not writing a book about Bahrain. I did not mention the history of Bahrain for this reason. I did not mention the violence during the race weekend because it has been mentioned everywhere. I saw no APCs or barbed wire at the Pearl Roundabout but I was not there looking for things, I was passing by. The BICI did not say there was no interference from Iran. It said that there was none proven. I was merely quoting what people think.

    2. Cutter, you were able to learn about some of the items you mentioned through traditional media sources, so would it not be redundant for Joe to echo it?
      It was a pretty meaty blog (free) post following compilation and distribution of the magazine to paying readers. As to Iranian influence, any of the Middle East states with significant Shiite populations generally has ties to Iran. For example just look at the History of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq over the past 30+ years. A strong Royal Family with US, British, and Saudi support has minimized any influence or impact of Iran, One only has to look at the “democracy” of Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Egypt to question whether the western model of Democracy is the best model of governance at this point in sectarian countries at this point, even in Europe it took the benevolent strongman of Tito to keep Yugoslavia together, and after his passing that country split into its sectarian/cultural/ethnic sectors/components.

  137. Interested to see someone seeking out another side to the story rather than spewing the well-versed formula that seems to haunt the country.

    However, I do need to point out that the local newspaper is called the Gulf Daily News and not Gulf News which is an entirely different UAE-based paper.

  138. Hello Joe, Thank you for at least trying to see the ‘other side’ The opposition has cynically and effectively manipulated the world’s media and tried to make Bahrain look like a war zone with valiant little oppressed villagers being crushed by a vicious and mighty police force and regime. It is very far from the truth as you have found out. I have lived here for 45years, and I have Bahraini citizenship by choice because of the love I have for this country. I am heartbroken at the violence and destruction perpetrated by these so called ‘peaceful protestors” They are dangerous and armed with home made molotovs and sharpened iron rods and attack the police en masse..the police are not armed.Their mullahs incite them to violence regularly and one implored them to ‘crush the police’ with any method they could. It is true that people in the villages who do not agree with all this are targetted and threatened by the opposition..is that ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy?’ For sure if these people get their way Bahrain will go from being a forward thinking, fledgling democracy, to a brutal theocracy.

    Nonie

  139. I’m curious as to why you would state someone’s opinion, but not provide the counter point that there was no evidence of interference as evidenced by BICI and the US.
    So there could have been barbed wire and APCs at Pearl Roundabout, but you didn’t see them because you weren’t looking?

      1. No, just clarification.
        If as you say the media are over blowing the whole thing, why do you seem to be playing it down? I have have asked you explain points I feel are relevant to the general discussion.

        Looking but not seeing, eh Joe?

        “On the frontline… at Starbucks”… Sounds about right.

        1. Cutter, You have obviously made up your mind that you know best. I am sure that it is really easy to be rude about me from your comfy couch in Sheffield. That is fine, but why not have a think about how your views were formed and what you saw or read that made you think that way? I had similar views and then I went to Bahrain and saw for myself. Have you done that? My views changed because I went there and talked to people. All you see on the TV is the activists. It is a completely one-sided story. Read the comments here from the people of Bahrain. Open your mind a little and look at a bigger picture.

  140. I guess the message from this blog and those who agree with it is that the activists who risk govt violence and those who’ve been tortured and murdered are not worth listening to because Joe Saward didn’t care enuf to learn about them.

    1. That is such an unpleasant and unfair thing to say. I know about all the things have happened. I have read the entire Bassiouni Report (have you?) and I follow the news in Bahrain, so making such remarks is just plain wrong. The fact that I changed my mind about the situation is a sign that I felt things being reported were wrong.

  141. Joe Saward has made no attempt to actually learn about the situation in Bahrain. He talked only to people not targeted by the govt and parrots the popular myth that the protesters are all “extremists” backed by Iran. Yes I know many people in Bahrain believe this nonsense–they’re just parrotting govt propaganda. You seem to have expected something like Syria or Libya but Bahrain’s situation is different. There is a large segment of the population who do not suffer govt repression because they are the correct religious affiliation. Those who are not endure repression that the large majority never appreciate. You seem entirely uninterested in learning about them or hearing what they have to say.

    1. You speak utter nonsense. Alot of the prominent families are of the Shia sect – as opposed to those who claim Shia are targets in this country. Alot of the billionaires in Bahrain are of Shia families. If you have any knowledge or truth to what you say, you would say that Head of Shura Council is a citizen of Shia sect, or those that are KNOWN to be with the King, PM and Crown Prince. FYI THERE IS NO SECT STUDY, STATISTICS, FIGURE THAT PEOPLE QUOTE AND SAY SHIA ARE A MAJORITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      So much is unannounced because it doesn’t serve the purpose of the opposition, who want to create the illusion that it is a war-zone and targetted to Shia’s. Have you seen Sunni villages? There is Sunni suffering! Sunni’s are no more privileged – there is NO DISCRIMINATION IN BAHRAIN!

  142. @jaelle: I don’t think it is a matter of him not caring enough to learn about them but just offering another point of view(s) on the subject whether it is right or not. I would say the majority of the country’s national and expat populations are moderates and their views aren’t being reported because they are too, well, moderate. There is plenty more information about Bahrain and its disenfranchised communities elsewhere on the internet. Unless you think readers of this blog ONLY read this blog?

  143. @jaelle: It is a bit unfair to say these people are “just parrotting govt propaganda” as in many cases these are their genuine beliefs. It’s just like them saying protesters have been brainwashed by the Iranians. There’s no end to it is there? Also, if you claim to know so much about the situation then you wouldn’t simply summarise it as a sectarian issue.

  144. Many thanks for a lengthy and thought-provoking article Joe. Now I know why I signed up for this blog. I asked the question as to what was the best F1 blog….and was directed here. That advice was spot-on and to think we get all this for free!! I appreciate that not everybody is happy, as some of the comments above have suggested, however, we’re all entitled to our own view. Thankfully, we live in a free world and are able to express our views freely; not everybody in every country is so fortunate. Thanks again Joe. Roll on Barca!

  145. Joe, thanks for that

    It was a brilliant piece of reporting.

    It was such a great race, one which most of the media were not interested in at all.! as most of them had their own agenda as one could see clearly if one knows the facts.

    One can’t say that for the major TV broadcasting companies, it make one wonder why anyone should believe what that say.!

    I for one, when seeing it with your one eyes over many years, see just how wrong they can get it, make one just wonder how wrong are they getting all the other news that they feed us, from place we done know!

    I am a long time resident of Bahrain and know the issues well on both sides, and for a vistors perspective what you wrote was one of the most balanced reports I have seen over the F1 GP weekend. Congratulations on seen though the myth of so call peaceful protesters!

    May main point is that since when should the voices of a few who want to brake the law in support of their sponsor (in this case Iran, and the security intelegence know this in all weston countries), making unrealistic points of view (which they don’t even believe in themselves), be heard over the the vast majority of the population (of all religious beliefs) who want to see a show and see the benefits that this gives to their country!

    If a number of protesters go out to protest in the UK at the time of the Grand National, the Boat Race, the Olympics or the next UK F1 GP, should they be allowed to have it stopped ? Just because that say so and if you don’t listen to them they will tern violent on you ?

    If you let them do this, then don’t even try to hold any sports, recreational activaty or festival events anywhere at all.

    There is one thing about so called humane rights that these potentualy well meaning groups easily forget, and that is the humane rights of the silent majority of law biding citizens who are made hostage to a violent few.! who they wish to defend, has the world gone completely mad!

    Thanks for your balanced views, and what ever is siad please keep reporting as you see it from your heart and your own eyes and ears.

    Well done, and a great job. Thanks

  146. Joe, respect to you for stating your evolving opinion in a forthright manner. Many would tend to dig in to whatever leanings they had before. While your position on whether the race belongs there has not changed, the tenor of your comments has, and props to you for that. I say this even though I have reservations about what seems to be an important part of how and why your tone has changed.

    I am old enough to remember the advent of the phrase “silent majority” in American culture. It was a ploy of the Nixon adminstration to diss the not-so-silent minority who opposed the war in Vietnam. Of course, within just a couple years (which saw the return of far too many filled body bags), the majority view had shifted such that the silent majority and the vocal minority had the very same opinion.

    In the matter at hand, I do appreciate your reporting on the visit you had with the three citizens of the host nation. What I do not necessarily buy is the claim that their views are a fair representation of the nation as a whole. No way to answer that, really, so it seems a big leap based on not much. I would have felt better about your conclusions had you had a similaar opportunity to converse with members of the non-violent opposition.

    That one point of disagreement notwithstanding, I continue to find your coverage of this whole unfortunate mess to be exemplary. It is not necessary that we agree about the particulars.

    1. I did not have time to interview 100 people in different neighbourhoods. If I have I would have done.

      1. Of course you had only limited opportunities. You weren’t there for 3 months to do a comprehensive study. But the very real constraints upon your time do not mean that the 3 good people you spoke with provided the only reasonable and coherent point of view.

        Please understand that I am criticizing neither you nor the 3 men who were good enough to share their perspectives with you. It’s just that I expect there are other friendly and honest local citizens whose point of view would have been somewhat different.

        I say this because I can’t think of any topic where this normally would not be the case. Given that people don’t agree about things like F1, football and what to have for dinner, I can’t imagine how there could be only one valid point of view about topics such as social issues which, by their very nature, typically invite both strong feelings and differing points of view.

  147. Food for thought! The evolution of your point of view echoes mine. Surprising that some of the responses here are so polarised, since I felt your blog highlighted how grey the whole issue is.

    I no longer live there but try to remain widely informed. It seems to me, an absent observer, the current situation is predominantly one of violent, lawless youths being set upon by brutal security forces who are not held accountable.

    Initially I was skeptical of your interviewees – men from the middle classes with vested personal business interests, who contacted you, not the other way round. Costa Coffee on Budaiya Highway would’ve been a different experience from that of Starbucks in Juffair. I was surprised to see you dismiss as ‘silly’ the idea that you were possibly monitored and followed. The government’s banning of most other media, the fact that you were previously invited to Bahrain, all expenses paid, and that you were sought out personally by the Crown Prince himself, suggests to me it was highly likely you were being monitored, and possibly manipulated, to some extent.

    That said, like you, I believe the men were genuine because most of their views echo what I hear coming out of Bahrain from friends, ex-students and ex-colleagues and it was a relief to hear this ‘silent majority’ (because I do believe it is a majority) given a chance to air those views, to counter-act the sensationalism of the mass media.

    The rather sycophantic view of the PM raised an eyebrow. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Bahrain’s history knows his reputation as a very powerful, corrupt man with a finger in every pie and a tendency towards brutal suppression of dissent. I’d disagree with Ahmed’s comment that “most people love this man, and honour and respect him”. Their sentiments regarding the King’s and Crown Prince’s reputations resonated much more. Certainly when I lived there at any rate, these men were held in very high esteem by most.

    I think it is imperative that a distinction is made between the lawless protestors who are sabotaging their own ‘cause’ with their anarchic behaviour and those lawful activists, many of whom are from the intelligentsia and professional classes, who continue to be targeted for speaking out. There are still reports of abuses coming out of Bahrain, corroborated by credible human rights organisations, and it dismays me that this so often gets glossed over by so many when the debate becomes polarised. Should we care less because it is not on the scale of Syria?

    I think an opportunity was missed to raise the issue of the accusations of on-going detention and torture of activists by the NSA. I would’ve been very interested to hear the response and opinions of the Bahrainis you interviewed. With regards to the sincerity of the ruling elite to implement future reforms, to some degree the best indications of future behaviour are past behaviour. Googling ‘Col Ian Henderson’ or ‘The Butcher of Bahrain’ is very enlightening and there are some who suggest he still resides there as an ‘advisor’. I can’t corroborate that of course.

    I think Zaid Khonji above sums it up better than I can. Thank you for taking the time to delve into the bigger picture while you were there and for your post, which has generated such a lot of interesting responses. For the first time in ages I actually feel hopeful about it all.

  148. I often feel that your reporting is opinionated yet I understand that that is the very nature of a blog, and it is posts like these that keeps me returning to your site daily. Thank you Joe for a sincere, heartfelt and insightful account of your experiences in Bahrain. Even watching the BBC coverage I noticed Jake Humphrey trying to link to the unrest by showing a three second clip of a solitary armoured vehicle, or introducing the subject in driver interviews and it did smack of pandering to the sensationalists. He was obviously doing his job as directed by his bosses and to be fair the BBC were not nearly as bad as some of the other channels, but it gave me the impression as a viewer in the UK that the reporting seemed to be skewed. Thanks again for a great blog and background reporting of F1.

  149. I am an American who has lived in Bahrain with my family since 2010–before the protests of early 2011. I also lived here in the mid-90’s, when I was a pilot in the U.S. Navy. Something that has been frustrating and maddening for expats like me is the shoddy and often dishonest reporting on Bahrain by external news organizations. (That’s not to be read as an endorsement of internal news, either!) During the last two years, there have been a total of 3 days that I thought it was unsafe to take my kids to the mall or other places. That was at the worst of the problems back in March of 2011. As Joe correctly stated, most of the violence happening in Bahrain is done by teenage boys in villages, who set up roadblocks, throw oil on the highways, burn tires and throw molotov coctails. During the school day, one can safely drive through those same villages without fear. My main complaint with the media is their tendency to assume that somebody from the Shia opposition is always telling the truth and that anybody else must be a government plant. As such, they never bothered to investigate and actually talk to all people, in which case they would discover that the situation in Bahrain is much more complex than thought. They would discover that much of what is tweeted by the opposition is exaggeration and sometimes fabrication. After having personally witnessed some violent events and then seeing them grossly distorted in the media–even Al Jazeera–I developed a much more skeptical view of any stories that I did not see first hand. I tried for a while to argue online to present the truth of what I had seen myself, only to be threatened and accused of being a government agent. Are there problems and in Bahrain? Yes–on both sides of the issue. Are they being addressed? Yes, but maybe not as quickly as many would like. Let me tell you that nothing happens fast in Bahrain. Tell that to my landscape company, who has yet to fix my lawn irrigation system after 3 weeks of complaining.

  150. Joe, thank you for an insightful & balanced post. I now believe that I have so much more understanding of the true situation from this one article than I ever could have got anywhere else in the UK. Sitting here, overlooking 25 miles of peaceful Devon countryside, I cannot know the true positions or extent of the situation in Bahrain. I now feel so much better informed by an independent professional. Simply, thank you again.

    p.s. This is the first time I have read any of Joe’s work (I followed a link from the BBC’s F1 site), I will not be my last visit to your blogs Joe.

  151. As a long time reader and supporter of the blog can I just say thankyou to you for putting in the time and effort to share your experiences of the Bahrain situation. your reporting has been fair and truthful and has changed my opinion of the accuracy of mainstream media reporting and the whole question of wether F1 should have gone.
    Please ignore the idiots who pop up for one day to hurl abuse at you, they clearly aren’t speaking from a position of knowledge, and obviously are just trying to gain a bit of notoriety.

    P.S while visiting the planetF1 site a few days ago to see the drivel that a few people had written about you, I had to go through a registration process before I could post any comments. Maybe this would be an idea for your blog, it might keep a few of the trolls away.

  152. Well, I have just now read all the many comments published here so far. If we forget about those who don’t seem to know the difference between disagreement and being rude, I find myself disturbed by one particular theme that seems to be evident in more-than-several responses: the idea that Joe’s report somehow supports the view that the opposition is comprised of destructive hooligans whose claims of injustice are fabrications used to improperly justify riotous behavior. I do not believe Joe intends to support this or any other simplistic view, but regardless of that I find such reactions both unwarranted and disturbing.

    While I (1) fully accept the veracity of Joe’s report, (2) agree with his views on the sins of much of the news media these days, and (3) trust his view that the three men with whom he spoke were and are sincere people who sought to be honest with him, I fail to see how this undermines the legitimacy of the protest movement as a whole. I think it can be simultaneously true that (1) the media reports of recent social disruption are overstated and in some cases manufactured, (2) much of Bahrain’s society would prefer that the protesters would please just be quiet, and (3) the protesters include many who have a legitimate set of grievances which have been sufficiently ignored to the point where public protest is not only justified but also necessary. I see no reason to think it is a simply either-or proposition.

    I say this because of my first hand knowledge of the difficulties that caused, and were caused by, the Civil Rights movement in America that brought about important corrections in American society in the 50’s and 60’s. The relevant events of that period included actions that featured remarkably non-violent behavior on the part of protestors even when faced with violence done to them by the authorities, other events that featured riots and burning of parts of major cities, and a “silent majority” who wished it would all just go away. Especially noteworthy is that the “silent majority” included many adult members of the black community who were afraid of the consequences and felt that things were better left alone. Along the way, it was repeatedly charged that Dr. M.L. King was a Communist, that much of the trouble was caused by “outside agitators”, and that those doing the protesting were a selfish lot who failed to appreciate their blessings. Yet history looks at that movement quite differently than it was seen by many at the time. Many Americas (myself included) view that era as one in which America demonstrated what is best about it by recognizing and openly admitting our shortcomings and making important corrections to address them. And, while we have not fully sorted out the whole business of racial bias, we have made remarkable changes in a relatively short time (“short” as history views it, anyway).

    In light of that, my tendency is to assume that there is no adequate version of the truth that can be stated in just a sentence or two, that the social situation in Bahrain is more complex than blog-think typically accomodates, and that we’d all best hold our horses before reaching rash conclusions that falsely over-simplify the situation there.

    Also, re: the positive view of the Crown Prince as being a source of moderation and progressive outlook who wishes to see Bahrain improve itself without internal strife and violence, I think it safe to say that he very much needs an active protest movement to help him achieve the enlightend moderation he is rumored to favor. To address the shortcomings of any society is not an easy task, even for those in the most elevated positions. So, just as the two famous Kennedy’s and Lyndon Johnson admitted that they very much needed Dr. King to “make them do it”, I expect the Prince’s apparent goal of implementing corrections will require the push towards progress that only a viable protest movement can provide. Which is a rather different matter than unwarranted hooliganism. The fact that the recent treatment of Bahrain in the news media was not one of the news media’s finer moments does not change that.

    Nor will the Prince’s ability to help things be aided by a protest movement that is undisciplined and violent. I would think that it would be easier for that movement to be better disciplined if they had the freedom to be out of the shadows, as being forced into the shadows makes many things more difficult including proper disciplined and enlightened behavior. The shadows attract and encourages yobs, so if that’s what you don’t want, let the protestors walk in the sunshine with heads high instead. The TV cameras will have a better view that way, and it can only help Bahrain’s image to demonstrate that peaceful protest is respected in there.

    1. RShack,

      your writing as to the civil rights movement is really very close to my friend’s descriptions. My buddy is black, mixed race, born in the 40s, teen when things got rough in Chicago. He’s my buddy because we both bailed each other out in a tight spot, different spots, few years back, hardly knew each-other at the time, just did that without thinking, on reflex, which is to me having a proper friend. His dad made good helping build homes for who had to flee the projects, all on a shoestring. That’s one helluva story. But the undertone of everything my buddy says, in that, you can cut the air like cheese, it gets thick with all the resonance, because of how many families he knew who never made it out.

      When I grew up, the phrase “silent majority” was something I learned first in any detail by reading Nixon’s memoirs.

      Pretty odd thing for a 10yr old to be reading, but I know what age because it was my uncle’s book and i was given it because he passed that year. Just think a moment what kind of pampered kid at that age reads that. I don’t hate my childhood me, but I can sure say it makes some statements that many kinda like to hate.

      I was gripped by this expression, because it was if not the phrase my pop would say, the kinda thing he would mean. But I knew that to the generation I had contact with, my teachers (who were all a generation at least younger than my pop) they took that phrase to mean a kind of oppression to open society.

      So when I read Nixon’s book, I was impressed that he meant it to mean something significant, not just be a campaign slogan. I do not think it as empty as people maybe think. But the thing is that how Nixon read the world, he was from a poor family, took it tough growing up, he was in fact saying that thing for his idea of oppressed. I reckon he meant it a whole different way than it was understood by and used by later political sloganeers. What I got from his memoirs, is he had far more soul than anyone gave him credit for. He was one way or another, plain angry for people getting it tough for no reason.

      Since then, somehow, “the silent majority” has been co-opted to mean the pampered middle class. The people who would sit back, maybe, and tolerate rather than investigate. I don’t know when this situation flipped. But it did.

      As a result, I think that you can use the expression “the silent majority” in a good way, to reflect the conservative middle classes who may realistically be too busy to pay attention to what is going on, and also deserve a fair and quiet life to themselves. But equally you can use it to try to shut up who speaks out and needs to speak out because that all they got. It’s not to me a loaded phrase, any particular way, just a really tricky one. Whenever I hear it, the first thing I do is question who spoke it. Then, I reckon hard on what the context is. Then I have to try to suss who the intended audience is. Not before I suss through all those things, can I know what is meant.

      I reckon “the silent majority” is as polarized a statement as white men not knowing how to address their black brothers. Dumb and embarrassing would be the minor mistake, darn easy to get the wrong way. Bad bad bad if you step off the line the wrong way for real. And there are vast uncool spaces in between. I bet everyone heard that silence, one time. You need to know everything going on about you to not be totally wrong. Only if you get it all right, can you say. And your audience has to have real unwavering faith in you for you to say it to them.

      The problem I have is the whole rhetoric of discussion about repressed speech. Who needs to talk rarely if ever have access to a press of any kind, pixellated or otherwise. So this leads to who own the press sometimes trying to own who is righteously angry. By owning them for a minute, they can shut them up in the next issue, too.

      All I want to say here, is there are lots of ways of using the phrase, and maybe because it is too complicated thing to use casually, and maybe also the silent majority thing carries with it connotations noone wants to keep up in the air.

      I think my illustration is fair, in this way: how I address and am addressed by my buddy who is a mature mixed race black dude, Native Indian, Nigerian and some other wildcard genes we have in common I’ll skip, and me a younger white Irish German Hungarian Brit. Well, no way do we speak ever out loud how we might greet if there was nobody could hear us, not hardly even in private, because you have to keep the respect. Respect is ruined when someone else takes this out of context, figures it wrong. That would take away the respect for others that us, moreso than ourselves, and be shameful on us. When absolutely certain we are in private, it sure all comes out, no holds barred. Soon as we are safe, and not a soul can understand us wrong, then we tease and take the mick all night long. It’s great to chill out then, let it all hang, speakeasy, phew, the world gets better at that moment and there ain’t nothing more come up BS once we’re there. We chill into a total BS free zone. It’s winning the anti prejudice lottery, every night we hang out.

      Well my point is that this “silent majority” thing is a seriously mixed up idea. There are some times is makes perfect sense, and some others you should maybe no way use it. And it has to depend on the syle in which it is used. At the best of times, it’s a bit nebulous, but for almost any other time, I reckon it can be substituted with clearer words.

      Language is a wonderful thing, but we all need to keep learning it.

      1. I case anyone is curious, my friend and I talk a pastiche of our language styles when we meet, half way mostly or using his American when that emphasizes something better or my rather stilted or precise English, when that suits the subject material. I don’t think we consciously change a thing, it just works well this way, and is more descriptive. I guess I have a habit of speaking more like my friend, even here, when I am around him, we hang out a lot. I do understand some people think that I am insincere by changing my language use, but I think it simply accommodates a wider range of expressions. More people should experience what it means to make your living on the telephone, I reckon, as we do. “All you touch, all you see, is all that you will ever be” is the Floyd couplet (Richard Wright) but I am interested in hearing and speaking more than seeing. Does one not “hear” what one reads in a “voice”? There is something of that, at least, I think. I do not think I have any particular skill in this, either. Just how many times, say, can you sense insincerity in a politician’s talk? I reckon you probably spot that anomaly with considerable precision. So, you have the ability, inbuilt, to spot BS. Use it more! But now try to pitch something you only learned today, never heard of before. Play back that tape and you will get the same experience of disbelief. There is no magic way to intonate convincingly, it always gets called out. Believe you me, read my lips, I have really tried, for science and profit. But it doesn’t work. Trust me! 🙂 Seriously to get to the feeling of truth, all you have to do is peel away every other influence you think that can be tricking you, and just remember you have the essential sense built in.

  153. Thank you for finally speaking the truth about what is really going on in Bahrain. The lies that have been told over the last week, and in fact the last year, have me furious and this is an absolute relief to read.

    1. Thank you all for your comments on this subject. It is now over. I have read some interesting views from all sides, and have noted particularly the number of people who were pleased that the silent majority has had a voice, albeit a small one. Everyone has a different viewpoint and finding the right balance between the various parties is not easy at all. I hope that there can be some balance found so that the bloodshed can stop. However, this is a motor racing blog and we must now move on.

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