Al Jazeera has cancelled plans to re-run its 50-minute documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark,” under pressure from Bahraini leaders — who are good friends with Al Jazeera’s patron, the Emir of Qatar. The documentary concerns the brutal suppression by the government of this year’s protests in Bahrain, “An Arab Spring abandoned by the Arabs.”
Bahrain is a Shiite-majority nation with a Sunni royal family widely seen as hugely corrupt and strongly anti-Shiite. The royal family’s connections are strong to Sunni Saudi Arabia (which contends with a Shiite majority on the rim of the Gulf) and Qatar. It was surely Al Jazeera’s connections to the leadership of Qatar that allowed its TV crew to be the only one remaining in the country during the brutal suppression.
Embedding is disabled for it on YouTube, and people I spoke to seemed to think it’s not unlikely the video will be pulled, so if you’re interested in what happened in Bahrain, “An Arab Spring abandoned by the Arabs,” watch it while you can. Even if AJ pulls it, it’s almost guaranteed that “Shouting in the Dark” will stay available on some level. Thanks to today’s ultra-spiffy high-tech technology, culture commandos and rebellious ragamuffins alike can download anything from YouTube with free software — not that the rule-of-law-loving readers of Techyum would ever do that with copyrighted material, let alone material that had pissed off that great Friend of Techyum the Emir of Qatar.
Like most documentaries attacking the entrenched power structures of Arab countries, this documentary has garnered many “dislikes” One of the commenters claiming to be a Shiite (presumably from the upper class, if it’s true) shows up as the first comment in English:
What is eye opening to me…is the amount of backwardness that I never knew existed in Bahrain. I have lived in Bahrain all my life, and I never thought there would be this amount of racism, sectarianism, hate, and stupidity in a sizable group of the society. The 616 people who disliked this video, and some of the disgusting comments written here make me wonder if these people have always hated me as a shii’i, but never showed it to my face until now. Very sad.
More info on the controversy can be found in yesterday’s New York Times story by Brian Stelter:
The decision this week to halt the repeats raised concerns among Al Jazeera’s staff members that the channel was succumbing to political or diplomatic pressure from Bahrain and its ally Saudi Arabia…The episode illustrates the thorny issue of independence for Al Jazeera, one of the world’s biggest satellite news organizations, which is financed by the emir of Qatar and is perceived by some people to be a diplomatic tool of the country. Al Jazeera insists that the Qatari government does not interfere in the network’s editorial operations.
Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English language channels both came under scrutiny in February and March for their coverage of Bahrain, an island kingdom just north of Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Viewers perceived that the Arabic channel, in particular, paid less attention to the Bahraini protests than it did to the earlier protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Qatar joined Saudi Arabia in sending troops into Bahrain to violently quell the protests in March.
Bahraini authorities helped to limit news coverage of the crackdown by blocking journalists from entering the country and expelling some who were already there.
Some video still surfaced, however; “Shouting in the Dark,” which was first televised last Thursday, featured footage that was secretly recorded during the protests, showing brutal violence and desperate scenes inside hospitals. The documentary contrasted that footage with the claims that were made at the time on state television.
Incidentally, predominantly Shiite pro-democracy movements in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain surely stress out the power structure in the U.S. as much as anyone. That’s because “axis of evil” member Iran is the largest Shiite nation. It is through the Shiite community in Lebanon that Iran has gained a covert foothold with its proxy Hezbollah, which was able to defeat Israel in the 2006 war owing to Iranian training and support. Also, the Iranian influence in Shiite-majority Iraq is one of the many things that the Bush administration didn’t plan for. (The Bush team apparently believed, according to Peter Galbraith, that Arab-Persian communities were more alienated from each other than Sunni-Shiite communities — a fairly ludicrous concept to anyone familiar with the Gulf.)
Furthermore, the Saudi Arabian rim of the gulf, close to Bahrain, is majority Shiite and has a notable Persian cultural influence; Shiites in Saudia Arabia are hugely discriminated against. That fact undermines the security of the security of the Saudi Gulf oilfields almost as much as the missiles Iran has pointed at it from just across the Gulf. The Gulf oilfields close to Iran are some of the richest oil sources in Saudi Arabia’s vast reserves; a pro-democratic Shiite revolution there is often cited as one of the major threats to American global hegemony and, in particular, oil security.
Once again, unfortunately, the U.S. and its close allies turn out to be on the side of a brutal dictatorship in order to secure perceived economic gain. The result is that rather than nurturing democratic reforms through diplomacy, we’re left howling “Wha-happen!?!?” and wondering why everyone hates us. American prestige in the Islamic world, at an all-time high during the Clinton years, takes yet another hit.
The result? The oppressed Shiite communities of the Gulf will move not toward the institutions that should be their natural allies in attaining Democracy and self-determination — the United States and the United Nations — but toward their natural allies in sectarianism, anti-secularism and anti-Western sentiment…Iran.
As an American, that‘s what I find sad.