Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Unlike Anything That I Have Seen in My Twenty Years of Investigating Human Rights"

CNN is putting Al Jazeera English to shame with its much-better coverage of the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. (CNN reporter Amber Lyon has thousands of Bahraini admirers because she's taken an interest in their plight.) Yesterday their London and Atlanta studios featured a new report by Physicians for Human Rights, whose head told CNN that the situation in Bahrain was unlike anything he had seen in his twenty years of investigating human rights abuses.

CNN's London studio added a feature with Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, in which he correctly noted that hundreds of Bahrainis have disappeared. Among them, of course, is our friend Shubbar. On this Holy Saturday, I am praying for Shubbar and the others who are imprisoned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week and Suffering in Bahrain

This week between Palm Sunday and Easter is the center of the Christian calendar, re-enacting the surprising events that (Christians believe) usher in the reign of God in human history: Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey (not a white horse), he symbolically re-claims the Temple, he washes his disciples' feet; he gives himself over to betrayal; he stands silently before his judges, torturers, and executioners; he carries the instrument of his own death to the site of his own execution. This--this?--is how the Kingdom is revealed, in the humble face of a suffering servant.

It's also the week of Passover in the Jewish lunar calendar, which is no accident, since the events of this week occurred during Passover, which is why the Christian church has always tied its observance of Holy Week to that calendar (and why Easter never has a fixed date in the solar calendar: it moves with the Jewish lunar months).

Just today, during this week of kairos (deeply meaningful) time, I received a disturbing message from my friend Shubbar's wife:
Thugs and security have attacked us twice, threatening to take my kids as hostages and causing my mum to go through a collapse two times. They stayed for two hours or so and created horror among the women and children in the house. They also took my brother in law and tortured him with electric shock to reveal the place of my father. We don't know where my father is since more than a month, but they are not believing us. I don't know what to do.
Pray for me and I seek your help if you have any idea.
In an earlier message she also said that her little two-year-old, who is just barely talking now, was deeply troubled by the original intrusion of masked security forces and the abduction of Shubbar. In fragments, this adorable little guy said
Mama; they came, they broke the door and the gate; they hurt baba [daddy]; they went; I don't like them; they are not nice; mama I am scared.
How do we even begin to comprehend the fear and anxiety that this family, like hundreds of others, is facing?

I couldn't help but notice some resonances between the suffering of Jesus and his community in Holy Week and the suffering of the Shiite community in Bahrain. Of course, there are many differences between the early followers of Jesus and 21st century Bahrainis, but their stories converge on this point: the Powers seek to crush resistance through force, to disperse opposition through fear, and to deprive their opponents through denying any hope. And ordinary people lose their will to resist; they scatter; and they lose hope. Rome (and the Al Khalifa) appear to have won.

So is there hope for Bahrain or for our friends? I see little, but the story of Holy Week suggests that hope may emerge at the darkest moments. Yesterday, liturgical churches would have read Isaiah 50:4-9, part of which reads
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? (vv. 6-9)
The church reads this prophetic, poetic text as pointing toward the drama of what is about to happen to Jesus, who was tortured.

But this suffering, paradoxically, is the way to glory. How can this be? The prayer for Wednesday of Holy Week in the Book of Common Prayer offers a model:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed.
I pray this prayer for our friends in Bahrain. I pray that the path of Jesus--through suffering toward redemption and glory--will be their road as well.

During this week, my Jewish friends say "Next year in Jerusalem," recalling how God liberated them from Egypt. During Ashura, my Shiite friends speak of the way of 'Ali and Hussein as opposed to the ways of Yazid and Mu'awiyya (Caliphs who tried to crush the Shiite movement). And, today and tomorrow, Christians speak of the way of Jesus as opposed to the ways of the Sanhedrin and of Pontius Pilate. We are all praying that justice will be done and that the weak will be vindicated.

May the reign of God triumph here on earth as it is already ruling in heaven. May justice be done. And may the captives be freed, here, today, as in heaven and in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday: Two Weeks: Still No Word . . . And Increasing Tension

I heard tonight (as I do every twenty-four hours) from the wife of my friend Shubbar. After two weeks, there has still been no word about her husband. Nor have family members been able to get word to him. The crackdown on the Shiite community continues unabated, as she makes clear in this message sent tonight:

It is 3.00 a.m and thank God they did not come. But they attacked our village with tear gas and Bang Grenades; my kids couldn't sleep until very recently because they were scared of the sound. As we are at home, tear gas comes inside the houses but with a very little degree. All this is done by the security accompanied by troops to scare people and prevent them from sleeping.
Until today, I don't know anything about my husband. Today professional people were arrested, a doctor, two nurses (females) and other young people (6 or 7). Still, the hospitals and clinics are besieged and people cannot go to receive treatment. On the national TV, it was stated that 51 of University of Bahrain's employees were sacked because they took part in the protests in the roundabout. Many students will also be kicked off the university but the number is not known yet. The ministry of education said that the teachers who took part in the strike were 7000 teachers; so I wonder whether all will be sacked as well. It is worth mentioning that all sacked people are Shiites only. Today they also attacked an elementary school to arrest two teachers but after two hours they were released.
Today, the troops destroyed three mosques in different place, and by this we have 18 mosques destroyed by cranes; all are Shiite mosques. [Several other sources have mentioned the destruction of mosques.]
Tomorrow the strike will begin and many are taking part in the activity.

As an employee of the University, Shubbar's wife is very concerned about her own safety. She said in an earlier message that the Bahrain state TV was singling out people at the university today, so she was worried that she might be arrested tonight.

It's hard to imagine how the situation in Bahrain could turn out well. There seems to be little hope.

But as the Christian world enters into Holy Week, I'm reminded that Jesus and his followers appeared to have been defeated in this week. By Friday, Jesus was dead and his disciples were in hiding. All hope was lost.

But, it turned out by Easter Sunday, passage through death was the way to life; defeat was the way to victory; laying down one's life was the way to gaining it; washing the feet of the lowly was the way to being glorified; betrayal was the way to community; turning aside from power was the way to gaining it; loving one's life meant losing it, and giving up one's life meant gaining eternal life.

As Jesus said early in Holy Week:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:23-25). 
Thinking of the Holy Week drama, John Howard Yoder wrote in The Politics of Jesus that the cross was not just a detour or a hurdle or even the way to the Kingdom. Rather, it was the paradoxical Kingdom come. The rule of God came through submission and self-giving service.

In some mysterious way, then, we have to hope that God can work even through the most destructive work of the Powers. I'm praying that the self-destruction of Bahrain might eventually produce many seeds of justice. And I'm waiting impatiently for those seeds of justice to start blooming . . . soon!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sample Letters to Urge the Release of My Friend Shubbar

In my previous post, I told the story of my Bahraini friend Shubbar who was arrested in Bahrain on the night of Sunday, April 3. I am asking you to consider writing government officials demanding his release. I have no idea if this can work, but I think it's important that the U.S. and Bahraini governments know that Shubbar has friends overseas. It can't hurt.

So here's a template:

[Your name and address]
[Please include your e-mail address]

To the White House: use the White House contact page or write a snail mail letter to:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


To the U.S. Secretary of State: 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520


To the Minister of Interior in the Bahrain Government:
His Excellency Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa
Ministry of Interior
P.O. Box 13, al-Manama, Bahrain
Fax: 011-973-17-232661

Dear President Obama [or Secretary Clinton or Shaikh Rashid]:

I am writing to inform you of a serious injustice in Bahrain that you are in a position to help reverse. On Sunday, April 3, my friend Shubbar Hameed Ebrahim, aged 35, was taken into custody by Bahraini security forces without being charged of any crime. Since then, he has been held in an unknown location. He has committed no crime, yet he remains in detention more than one week later, still without communication with his family. I urge you to press for [or "order", in Shaikh Rashid's case] his release.

According to his wife's testimony, "One man pulled me from my hair down the stairs and another began threatening, but we [didn't] know where my father was. They just could not believe us. They began beating Shubbar in front of me . . . . After that, they handcuffed him, masked his face and dragged him to an unknown place after around [two hours of] of insults and violence. One of them told me, 'I will fire your beloved from his work; you should die from hunger.'"

This outrageous assault violates both the norms of Bahraini hospitality and of international human rights law. Shubbar is a gentle, non-political person, a beloved husband and father of two young boys. [You might want to insert a picture of the two boys here, copied from my previous post.] Having earned an MBA from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, he and his wife have friends in the United States. As his friend, I urge you to press for his immediate release [or, for Shaikh Rashid, "I urge you to immediately order his release"].

I also urge you to [press for the] release [of] other arbitrarily detained prisoners in Bahrain. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has signed, says that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention" and that "anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him."

Shubbar's arrest is a violation of international human rights conventions and of common sense. By cracking down on moderate, gentle people like him, the government of Bahrain risks alienating itself even further from the majority of its citizen population.

I pray that, with your help, the release of Shubbar might be a stepping stone toward restoring goodwill between Bahrain's citizens and its government.

[Your name]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tell the US and Bahrain Governments: Release Our Friend

Since tearing down the national symbol of Pearl (Lulu) Monument a couple of weeks ago (see my previous post), the Bahraini government has been busy cracking down on the Shia community there, using its newly announced "emergency law" powers to arrest people and hold them without charges. The Bahraini government, a key U.S. ally, has locked up as many as 700 people.

Among those arrested, for no good reason, was a good friend of our family: Shubbar (prounounced SHOE-bar) Hameed Ebrahim (right), aged 35. Shubbar is a beloved husband to his wife and father to two adorable young boys (left). He has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Kuwait University and an MBA from Bowling Green State University (2008) in Ohio, USA. Until Sunday night, he was working as a quality control engineer in Bahrain.

But at 11:30 pm on Sunday, April 3, masked security forces burst into his house. His wife, who also studied at Bowling Green, described the scene to me in an email:
I was in the sleeping room with my 4 year old son, S Ali, trying to put him to sleep as he has school next day, when I suddenly heard doors cracking and opened fiercely. I suddenly saw a man with a masked face, a pistol and a police stick asking me go out and take the baby out. Suddenly the house was full of these people. Most were huge and they messed up the whole house. They threw us all in the kitchen: my mum, my two sister, and two kids and me, and they took Shubbar. They were looking for my father [a leading opposition figure]. My mother went through a difficult collapse and we could not bring the ambulance since they are all accompanied with troops. One of the masked men told her you deserve to die, the world will be better without you. They broke our doors, stole 1000BD [$2,650 in cash] from one of our drawers, and some perfumes of Shubbar. They broke his glasses and they tore the tyres of our cars with knives: the total cost is also around 600-700BD [$1590-$1855]. They also stole more than 7 cell-phones.
One man pulled me from my hair down the stairs and another began threatening, but we don't know where my father was. They just could not believe us. They began beating Shubbar in front of me, but I could not help because I don't know. After that, they handcuffed him, masked his face and dragged him to an unknown place after around [two hours of] of insults and violence. One of them told me, "I will fire your beloved from his work; you should die from hunger." 
After seeing Shubbar taken away to that unknown destination around 1:30 am Monday morning, the family hasn't heard from him or the government. 

His wife writes,
I called a lawyer today, but we are still looking for him. We are very scared because missing people are found dead somewhere and since there is no law or order in the country, the troops do anything and at anytime. My kids are going through a hard time, they feel scared all night and keep asking about their father. They are scared from any knock at the door at night because they lived a real nightmare.
Their father had committed no crime and hasn't been charged with anything. He is being punished or used as leverage to find his father-in-law, a leading Shia opposition figure in Bahrain.

During his and his wife's graduate school years in Ohio, our two families got together several times for meals and outings. We discovered that Shubbar is a gentle, quiet, caring man with a great love for his family. He is no political radical. He's an engineer, for heaven's sake!

Please help me spread the word to the media and to the US and Bahraini governments: 
  • This kind of arbitrary arrest is unacceptable and must be reversed. Shubbar and the many other unjustly detained prisoners like him should be freed immediately.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. (2) Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
Although the Bahraini government will claim that its emergency law allows them to suspend this basic human right (under Article 4 of the ICCPR), the U.S. government should not accept the specious justification of a "public emergency."
  • U.S. officials have called for a political dialogue between opposition forces and the government. The Secretary of State should immediately appoint a mediator to facilitate this dialogue.
Thanks for spreading the word and challenging this injustice!