The Narrative of Resistance - Bahrain and Iraq
Buratha News, affiliated with Al-Hakim’s ISCI, accuses Saudi Arabia of employing former Saddam fedayeen27 to crush a protest movement that is only seeking “legal reforms for social justice.” The article uses terms such as “infidels” to refer to these alleged fedayeen working hand in hand with the Saudis to target the leaders of the Bahraini opposition.
In another article, Buratha reports a sermon by Hassan Al-Zamily, the senior ISCI leader in Qadisiyah province, criticizing the intervention of Saudi Arabia and the Bahraini government’s actions against its Shi'a population. The article presents an exhaustive series of metaphorical associations, through which it opposes the Bahraini Shi'a on the one hand, and the Bahraini authorities and Saudis on the other: “truth and falsehood, the weak and the arrogant, the oppressed and the tyrant.”28 Al-Zamily laments that the current conflict is nothing new, reminiscing over the intifada of 1991 and the government's attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, saying that Bahrain’s case constitutes “a replica of Iraq.” After detailing at length the similarities in experience and struggle that Bahrainis and Iraqis have grappled with, the religious figure holds the United States accountable for the military intervention by Saudi Arabia, calling both the United States and Saudi Arabia imperialist “tyrants.” “Victory is close for the Bahrainis. The Iraqi people are with them every step of the way,” he adds.
The display of solidarity between Iraqis and Bahrainis is a continuation of Iraq’s own narrative with its intifada. By choosing to call the events in Bahrain an intifada, Iraq’s Shi'a leadership categorized the demonstrations as a legitimate struggle associated with a long history of suffering and martyrdom, with religious overtones, while appropriating the struggle to itself. The prophesized victory lies in the religious nature of the message. Pictures of the “martyrs” (demonstrators who were killed in Bahrain), along with videos portraying the violence used against demonstrators, contribute to the broader discourse of violence perpetrated against a people seeking justice. The “martyrs” narrative stems naturally from the Shi'a’s apocalyptic world view and cult of martyrdom, glorifying sacrifice for the cause. It is the same approach to the glories of death as occurs in narratives of the 1991 events in Iraq29. The criticism leveled against the United States not only reflects a current Iraqi political position regarding U.S. influence in the region, but also the deep resentment inherited from the Khiyanah.
The framing of the social and political movements in a religious context fits into the Shi'a eschatology of political activism, whereby faith requires social action and possibly sacrifice for greater justice. Through this narrative, the Shi'a community in Iraq creates a bond of shared experience and a common future between themselves and their Bahraini brothers and sisters. Under Saddam Hussein, the values of Sunni tribalism were strongly promoted to counter the discourse of resistance circulated by Shi'a groups in Iraq and to undermine the validity of the groups’ demands. Bahrain offers today a similar landscape, where the kinship system of tribalism prevails, primarily in Sunni circles. While this notion exacerbates the polarization between the two sects, it also allows space for the idea of groups of tribes working together towards national unity and combating fissiparous elements inside Bahrain.
Sacrifice and martyrdom offer a gateway for the creation of a common identity cemented by sectarian belief. The glory and sacrifices emphasized in the Iraqi narrative and in Iranian discourse on what is happening in Bahrain is a unifying concept, pivotal to creating solidarity and eventually defining the identity of Shi’a groups, calling for some form of action as a “duty.”
More importantly, Iraqi leaders capitalize considerably on the sectarian rhetoric through the unraveling events in Bahrain. Solidarity becomes a political tool inside Iraq’s fragmented political and social landscape where the polarization of religious and ethnic groups has served to garner support at the elections polls.
2 Though an Iraqi Shi’a Marja, he resides most of the time in Qom, Iran
7 The National Action Charter of Bahrainis a document put forward by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain in 2001 in order to end the popular 1990s Uprising and return the country to constitutional rule.
12Insofar that historical and cultural symbols of Shi'ism appeal to the sentiments of the masses and have often been used by religious leadership to foment uprisings.
14 Cf. work by Mohammed El-Nawawy & Adel Iskandar, The Story Of The Network That Is Rattling
Governments And Redefining Modern Journalism
16 Ibrahim Al-Marashi, ”The Dynamics of Iraq’s Media: Ethno-Sectarian Violence, Political Islam, Public
Advocacy and Globalization,” Open Society Institute, 2007.
27 The Fedayeen was a paramilitary organization loyal to the former Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The name was chosen to mean "Saddam's Men of Sacrifice".