A final note on Bahrain

I hear that there are attempts going on to discredit the story I have written about Bahrain and the people with whom I spoke. This is no great surprise. There are plenty of people who do not want these opinions to be spread.

Who is to say what is propaganda and what is not propaganda? The thing that I think is very significant is that there have been many comments since the article was published from people inside Bahrain, from many different backgrounds, who say that it is a true picture. No doubt some people will say that they are all government plants. Reading their views I do not think is the case, but I leave it up to you to decide. As I posted a few hours ago, on the comment thread, I have read a lot of interesting views from all sides in the last few days. Everyone has a different viewpoint and finding the right balance between the various parties is not easy at all.

My fervent hope is that somehow Bahrain can find solutions to its problems, so that the bloodshed can stop.

However, this is a motor racing blog and we must now move on. I am not accepting comments on this particular item: for or against.

For those of you who are interested, here are the remarks made by people, who say that they are in Bahrain and who think this is the real picture:

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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)

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. 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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

Great article. Salaams (Peace) and thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to investigate Joe

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

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.

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.

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.

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