Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Full Light of History

To borrow a phrase - this post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern.  All impressions are my own, and all information is from publicly available sources of information - namely Twitter.

I'd intended to write a piece about immersing myself in the still-relevant history of World War I and how the book I'm reading has changed the way I look at my job and the world where I work.  I'm sure I'll write about that soon, but tonight, as the late night shows come to a close in Arkansas (local time: 0045), the sun is rising in the Gulf, and something is happening in Bahrain.  I am watching the updates flow through my Twitter feed, and as the morning advances in Manama, the rhetoric is ramping up.

A typical tweet -  URGENT:  is being confronted with army. Shots fired. Phone lines disrupted. Or another -  Fire in the pearl     .

Of course I have no way to evaluate the accuracy of these URGENT messages requesting #HELP in Lulu (Pearl) Roundabout, but this shakes me in a way that the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the many other restive countries in the region haven't.  I know this roundabout, and I know the neighborhoods and districts in Manama that are reportedly the sites of conflict now.

 Bahrain forces in drive against protesters: Tear gas fired as security forces attempt to disperse protesters fro... 

For a year, Bahrain was my monthly moment of sanity, the place to which I could escape for a breath of normalcy with friends.  I know the expat bars, the hotels, the quiet restaurants in leafy neighborhoods beside royal compounds.  I also know the poorer villages with unpaved streets and spotty electricity outside of Manama, only twenty kilometers and a world away from the flashy financial district.  Like everyone else in Manama, I dodged the packs of weekending Saudi and Kuwaiti youth who'd come to let their hair down for a weekend of relative freedom on Exhibitions Avenue (take the name to mean what you will).  And like every other expat in the Gulf, I watched the Bahraini Parliament's repeated attempts to ban alcohol sales with trepidation, not wanting my nearest draft beer to be somewhere in southern Turkey.

Did I contribute to the building social problems in Bahrain?  Did I just enjoy the respite while I could get it, and not ask uncomfortable questions about the source of this relaxing atmosphere?  One anecdote sticks with me: I spent one weekend with a friend from grad school who was living in Bahrain at the time - we'd moved to the Gulf at the same time.  We took a taxi to dinner on the other side of town, and while we were riding, we were talking about the demographics of Bahrain - total population of citizens and expatriates, nationalities of expats, sectarian/ethnic breakdown of the citizen population.  When we got to our restaurant, our taxi driver refused to take payment, because he said in shaky but clear English that he'd never heard any of his fares show an interest in or knowledge of the people of his country, and he thanked us for caring.
 @ is on-air live reporting from Manama , on @ , at least two dead when troops fired on protesters...

I watched the flight of ben Ali with surprise, and the downfall of Mubarak with absolute shock.  The recent events in Libya have broken my heart.  But I've never been to those countries - I only learned the names of the key squares and streets of conflict from the al Jazeera English coverage, just like everyone else.  But for me, Bahrain is different.  I don't pretend to know it perfectly, but it has a special place in my heart: so many of my good memories of happiness with friends and loved ones are there.  With every Twitpic I open up, I see another street scene I recognize, another neighborhood I passed through, but now with armored personnel carriers or riot police.

 According to Alwasat: two confirmed dead, Jaffar Abdali, 41 year from Karana village & Abdullah Hasan, 23 years, Hamad Town 

Whatever is happening in the Arab world, it's happening in the full light of history. I never thought I'd see the day when this sort of mass response would take hold from the Gulf to the Maghreb. I have no idea where this will end up, and I suspect few on the ground do, either. But something big is happening. I can only hope that the price of this change isn't too painful to prevent healing afterwards.


  1. I've been following your blog for awhile, but I don't know that I've ever commented before. But this was a very moving post and I wanted to say thanks for giving us a bit of your perspective. I hope you have a peaceful rest of your vacation.

  2. This was a compelling and beautifully written post. Great work.

  3. Loved the post too. You inspired me to buy A Peace to End All Peace. Would love to hear what you thought of it.

  4. This is a very touching post. I followed the events in Cairo with this sort of feeling as it was a very special and much loved home to us for many years. I can appreciate the want for change, but am very sad for the chaos and pain of the people.