Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kafka in the Gulf 1

Think Britain handing Palestine to the Zionist movement in 1917, or the so-called Act of Free Choice of 1969 which led to West Papua being delivered to the Indonesians. Both were monstrous acts of injustice with the direst of consequences for the peoples of both lands.

And why cite such appalling cases? Well, I've just read this:

"Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bahrain's capital city of Manama today, condemning King Hamad al-Khalifa for agreeing to enter a formal union with the Saudi royal family. The deal has the island's Shi'ite majority up in arms, interpreting the plan as a thinly veiled attempt by the Saudis to sideline their calls for democratic reforms. Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain last year to help crush pro-democracy protests. The exact terms of the union have been nebulous so far, but officials have said it would unify the Saudi and Bahraini states on security, economic and diplomatic policies. Considering how much larger Saudi Arabia is, many have criticized it as a de facto annexation." (Tens of thousands protest in Bahrain against 'Saudi union', Jason Ditz, antiwar.com, 18/5/12)

What sort of regime could possibly contemplate, let alone carry out, such a flagrantly anti-democratic move? Obviously, one for whom the will of the people is, and always has been, anathema.

Meet the now 229-year old ruling dynasty of Bahrain, the Al-Khalifas.

One of the best introductions to the nature of this dynastic tyranny and its one-time British 'protectors' is a series of 3 feature articles by one of the UK's top journalists, the late Bernard Levin (1928-2004), published in the then progressive Spectator magazine in the early 1960s. In them Levin tells the story, in his own inimitable, punchy style, of a quite singular Kafkaesque injustice perpetrated on 3 hapless Bahrainis by the island's then ruler, aided and abetted at every turn by a motley crew of truly imbecilic Brits, some at the centre of British political life, some not.

In light of the appalling situation in which the people of Bahrain find themselves today, and the consequent need to background what it is precisely that they are up against. I've decided it'd be useful to resurrect (it's not on the internet) and serialise Levin's 3 articles - The Prisoners of St. Helena (1/7/60), The Prisoners of St.Helena: Part 2 (30/12/60), and The Ex-Prisoners of St. Helena (16/6/61) - under the heading of Kafka in the Gulf.

I'm not sure quite how many posts this will require, nor will they always be in consecutive order - there's simply too much else going on here and in the region - but I advise you to persevere. This surreal story has, in Bernard Levin, found an exceptional voice. Nor are the insights confined to the outrageously medieval politics of Bahrain. Few journalists have served up the politicians of their day on toast as well as Levin. But enough of that. I'll conclude this post with the opening paragraphs of The Prisoners of St. Helena:

On December 22, 1956, there appeared in the island of St. Helena (a British Colony) an Extraordinary Issue of the St. Helena Government Gazette containing the following announcement: An urgent request made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government was recently received by His Excellency the Governor, as to the possibility of arranging for the detention in St. Helena of five subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, convicted of political offences. After discussing all aspects of this request with the Executive Council, the Governor informed the Secretary of State for the Colonies of his concurrence in the proposed arrangements. It is expected that these persons will be brought to St. Helena in one of Her Majesty's ships in the latter part of January, and that they will be detained at Munden's.

And so indeed they were, and are. But since their trial for 'political offences' did not begin until December 23, the day after the publication in the St. Helena Government Gazette of the announcement that they would shortly be coming there, convicted, it seems to me that the Extraordinary Issue of the St. Helena Government Gazette was Extraordinary in more than the technical sense, and that the case whose outcome it so prophetically referred before it had started will bear investigation. And, as will be seen, the case becomes more extraordinary, and for that matter more disquieting, as investigation proceeds.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to it.

MERC said...

I assure you it'll be worth the wait.