Baqer Darwish: About the Government's Mobilization to Rationalize Religious Speech

Baqer Darwish - 2023-06-15 - 9:10 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive):

A lot of incitement and a little change in the appearance of government mobilizations wishing to pounce on religious speech is what differs from previous campaigns that have not stopped for years. The main goal is to silence, with any kind of restriction, any platform from which this speech emanates as long as it criticizes or implicitly opposes official policies in Bahrain.

In terms of form: In the beginning, there was the statement issued urgently by the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments on the evening of Sunday, June 04, 2023. Then, there was the unusual clarification through Al-Ayyam newspaper, which is affiliated with the Royal Court, in less than an hour, from what it called sources. Next, the infamous inspection checkpoints at the entrances of Duraz returned last Friday. They were followed by the standardized report of clarifications distributed by the Bahrain News Agency to be published unchanged in the press, titled: "National figures emphasize the importance of keeping speeches away from politics and giving priority to social responsibility to take into consideration the interest of the country and the citizen." Afterwards, there was the statement of the head of the Al-Naeem Center of the Capital Governorate Police Directorate about the loudspeakers. Finally, there was the mobilization of the head of Jaafari Endowments Council calling for rationalizing religious speech and promoting the approach of moderation.

I mentioned this narrative of media incitement - without forgetting the incident of arresting religious scholar Sheikh Muhammad Sanqour and what coincided with it - to comment a little on the official phenomenon of intimidation towards religious speech.

It must be recalled, because this matter is not separated from its context, that the recent targeting of religious scholar Sheikh Muhammad Sanqour, after the return of the Friday Prayer speech in the Imam al-Sadiq Mosque (PBUH) in Duraz nearly a year ago, which is not the first targeting of course, was for two reasons - as it was clear in the statement of "the clock cannot go backwards" issued by the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science on the evening of May 22, 2023 - which are: insulting the authorities and openly inciting hatred and contempt against a group of people. However, the actual reason is criticizing the normalization endeavor in the Ministry of Education, without a doubt.

What about the mobilization of "religious speech", rationalization, and moderation?!

As if someone sits angrily at his table in the evening while he decides some internal policies, the procedures were implemented in the evening, and this is not a figure of speech. Note the statements that were issued by the Ministry of Justice or the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation. In the beginning, the incitement said, "one of the preachers," then "one of the mosques," then religious platforms, then mosques and Husseiniyas.

This intimidation or incitement, which came after a Friday sermon addressing the issues of people and religion with a calm and deliberate discussion, is not new. The government's project to restrict and criminalize religious speech was and still is being subjected to doses after doses according to the rhythm of the political crisis, and it is part of a larger project that falls under sectarian persecution. The situation of the Jaafari endowments is not very different. If the endowments and lands were encroached upon and the ownership verification was suspended for decades - even if they were found in the record of Sayyed Adnan Al-Moussawi[1] - the preacher of moderation, the Endowments Chairman, is not provoked; even if that was like responding to the campaign of calling to open the shrine of Sa'sa'a bin Sohan Al-Abdi by closing its door with stones in broad daylight.

Is the government really interested in protecting freedom of expression through criminalizing hate speech?! There are still thousands of messages in the electronic archive of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights that incite or help to incite hate speech against political opposition in various forms: articles, video comments, news coverage and reports. Some of those who wrote or said them died, and the government has not held anyone accountable, of course, because a large part of those messages are either issued from the same room of working in the evening, or their senders benefit from it. In fact, whenever I remember the term hate speech, the comments that preceded the official broadcast of the news of executing the three martyrs, Sami Mushaima, Ali Al-Singace, and Mr. Abbas Al-Samie, come to my mind immediately. Some announced the news before being officially announced while they were extremely ecstatic and joyful, and some commented being happy about the implementation and satisfied by seeing the scenes of grief over that crime.

It is strange how they talk about moderation and rationalization of speeches in a country where the official spokesman of the Bahrain Defense Force, Khaled Al-Buainain, describes the Shia in his Twitter posts with the worst terms of racism, contempt and even takfir (apostasy). Isn't he who wrote "grave worshipers"?! But who is being held accountable in a country where hate speech is considered a reflection of the Ministry of Interior's security doctrine? This ministry is still headed by the Interior Minister, Rashid Al Khalifa, who coincidentally was appointed Minister of Interior on May 22, 2004, on the same day of the arrest of the religious scholar Sheikh Muhammad Sanqour on May 22, 2023. It is true that the Minister of Interior has been in his position for 19 years, after years of holding different security-related positions, and he aspires to inherit the legacy of the former head of the General Directorate for State Security Investigations, Ian Henderson. However, he must remember well that when Henderson died in 2013 at the age of 83, no official British or Bahraini funeral was held for him. He died alone!


*Chairman of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights


Arabic Version 

[1] Sayed Adnan Al-Moussawi was a judge and head of the Jaafari Endowments. He made a great effort to preserve the known endowments at that time, as he carried out a complete and comprehensive survey of all endowments in all the villages and cities of Bahrain, defined their borders, mentioned those who endowed them, and stated how they should be managed. He wrote them down in a notebook named after him, "The Register of Sayed Adnan," which is considered a historical document and a basic reference upon which the Endowments Department relies in registering its undocumented lands and properties.