Why?

The other day we were sitting around shayeshing saying how at our age George Habash was leading revolutionary groups all around the world. We on the other hand spend most of our time sitting around smoking shisha. Now obviously Habash is an exceptional and unique example, فأين الثريا من الثرى
but even when I compare our parent’s generation to our situation the contrast could not be sharper. No one can seriously say that we are as politically involved as they were.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Bahrain is less politically active nowadays when compared to the past. Bahrain is obviously one of the most politically vibrant countries in the region. I am comparing the affluent, supposedly highly educated youth back then and now. Back then getting involved in politics was the norm. Today we dare not, nor are we interested, to even speak of the subject.

Back in the sixties and seventies university students were at the forefront and indeed propelled political activism, especially those that studied abroad (which was the most back then). They filled demonstrations and political parties to the brim and even participated in revolutions (such as that in Dhofar). Brothers, sisters, friends, schoolmates, neighbours; the majority were involved or at least aware of the political situation. No one needs to be told this, just ask any of our parents. By contrast, the most educated and affluent nowadays (which us nidoers are a big chunk off) are one of the most politically lethargic groups you’d find across space and time.

Why are we so disengaged, so uninterested?……. Why is that?

Why is that in a region which is so obviously going through one of the most turbulent and important periods in its history, where lives, ideas, norms, economies, futures and even geographic boundaries are being reshaped and redefined? Where no one really has so much more at stake in what happens, and where nobody else stands to gain or lose more from the consequences? Indeed where no one else has any reason to be more concerned as to what happens?

Really? Why is that?

Is it because we live in a much more pessimistic and helpless age, where we’ve seen where the naivety and activism of our parents can lead you and where we now realize that the reality is we don’t have much of a chance to change anything? So why bother?

Or maybe it’s because our parents, having become dillusioned with their experience, decided to shield us and discourage us from politics and all its follies? But are we really going to pile the blame all on our parents?

Is it because there is so much nowadays in life to be distracted and occuppied with that we’ve lost sight of the bigger questions? What with all the videogames there are to finish, the premiership games to watch and the shoes to browse and buy, who can be bothered to even think of politics? I mean if you spend eight hours at mind-numbing work, then 2 hours watching tv getting tranced by nancy ajram and beyonce, then another 2 on the internet, add to this a couple of hours to take care of bodily needs, and then let’s not forget the gahwa session, when exactly, i hear you ask, do you intend to carry out a demonstration?

Or maybe it is all that you stand to lose if you get involved in politics. Shouldn’t we fear all that which we might have to give up? What about your career, your family, your community status? How about all those nice things in life like drinks at Trader Vic’s, comfy sofas with 52 inch screen TVs to watch desperate housewives, or indeed the internet? How are you going to afford all of that? And what if you get thrown in jail? There is too much at stake for so an uncertain a reward. Better focus on work, money, and football.

Maybe then it’s the government fault for making so much that is so important in our life dependant on absolute political loyalty or lethargy. But wouldn’t you expect the government to try and defend its perceived interests with all means available?

Or Maybe it’s because nothing is clear nowadays. The government is not perfect, but the alternative is Islamists. Things are getting a bit shady in Iraq with the internal killings and all, and who we should support is not all that clear. And maybe really the Americans are here to bring us development and freedom. Plus what should you believe in? Capitalism is awful but communism turned out to be worse. And Arab unity souds nice and rosy but it didn’t work out in practice. We don’t have as clear and defined a goal and ideology as our parents did. Everything is vague and confused.

Or, if we are being completely honest, maybe it’s because at the end of the day we are doing quite well, thank you very much. Yes Iraq might not be in tip top shape, and the situation Palestine is not exactly rosy either, but I can assure you everything is delightful here in the compounds of Budaiya. We feel sorry for them but what can I do for their tough luck? We are having a blast I will let you know, and all this voodoo talk about troubles and potential disasters is nothing but the ravings of a crazy doomsday fanatic.

But can anyone be so naive to miss all the dangers and troubles engulfing the region at the moment? And how much that stands to affect us,our lives, everything?

Why is it that so few of us bother, and if they do bother they seldom act? Why is it that for so many of us this is a pointless and boring topic that is best avoided? Why is it that we have only the courage to resort to anonymous blogs, while if the identity is public then you have to severely curtail what you dare say? Why is that Trader vics is packed on a weekend like a tokyo subway at rush hour while nidoers at a rally can barely fill a car? Why is that Tiesto can start a full blown riot while regional wars or local sea reclamation barely deserve a raised eyebrow?

I honestly have no idea. In my case it’s probably a bit of many reasons, but we seriously and urgently need to think of why this is so. Because no one stands to suffer or benefit from what happens more than us.

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27 Responses to “Why?”

  1. Fatema Ali Says:

    I have raised the same question many times but I believe that one of the reasons is:

    It was the FASHION ayyamha,, it was cool to read many books and go to your friends and show off the new “sophisticated words” that you have learnt, even if you don’t know thier meanings!

    it was cool to join a political party..it was cool to be a revolutionist, even if you don’t study enough and keep failing in most of the courses “which happened to many Bahraini students who studied abroad in the 70s”

  2. Iraq » Why? Says:

    […] Nido wrote an interesting post today on Why?Here’s a quick excerptThings are getting a bit shady in Iraq with the internal killings and all, and who we should support is not all that clear….Yes Iraq might not be in tip top shape, and the situation Palestine is not exactly rosy either, but I can assure you everything is delightful here in the compounds o f Budaiya…. […]

  3. bint battuta Says:

    Television is the opium of the people. (Or maybe it’s the internet.)

  4. B Says:

    I have to disagree with you Fatema. It has nothing to do with fashion or pretending to be sophisticated. In fact this type of pretending is taking place now and not during the 70s.

    I also disagree with you that the students at that time were lazy and didn’t do well in their studies. Look around and see where these students are now? Many of them are ministers, poets and artists. In fact the majority of these students were very knowledgeable especially in the political and cultural side. They used to listen to Um Khalthum, and read for Almutnabi and Ahmed Shawqi and their type of magazines at that time was AlArabi if you ever heard about it.

    Life has changed since then and there are many reasons for the big WHY. One of the reasons is that it was the time when most of the countries just gained their independence, so there was the need and the environment for the revolutionist.

    I agree with bint battuta that the information technology available at that time was not advanced or even affordable by the normal local citizen and that’s why Bahraini people used to read more than now as it was their main source of information. Speak to any Bahraini of that generation and you will be amazed, most of them are fully aware of the political scene at that time including those who quitted the school after the fifth class. The political movements in Egypt, Kuwait, Syria and Iraq had also its impact on Bahrain.

    Globalization brought the best and fastest information resources but it also brought with it other negative influences. We are the video games, satellite and Super models generation. We have time for many things but we don’t have time to talk or to see one of our family members who lives few meters away from us. So how do you expect us to have time to read about what is going on in the other part of the world? And really what are the things that make us busy? Material things that people lived and survived without in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    Ask any nidoer of what he/she thinks of the Israel-Palestine conflict and you will get the same answer. They got fed up with this issue and Arab should surrender and give up with their dream of a free Palestine. Some even called for normalising with the Zionist and the reason is its about time that we accept the idea of a shared land between the Zionist and the Palestinian, after all we need the US and Israeli approval to progress economically!!

  5. Gardens of Sand Says:

    I think there are several factors at play. Some of them you mentioned. Many of the parents heavily involved in politics suffered, some much more than others. Some were exiled, others blacklisted, others imprisioned. The parents shielded their children for fear of the same happening. A person may be willing to sacrifice herself to a cause, but her own child, I don’t think many would be willing to do that.

    Children grow up being shielded, knowing that they are shielded yet still are subject to the aftereffects of their parents former political activites. They know their parents no matter how smart and hardworking, will never be made a judge, or a manager or this or that because of what is in their file. The children themselves are subject to harrassment in college, denied opportunities at work etc.

    And for what? You toil and sacrifice and yet you cannot make a difference, so why bother try. It is like swimming against the tide. You will only drown.

    A girl once told me that she isn’t as selfless as her parents. She wants to live and earn a decent wage, not be harrassed and denied like her parents were.

    I think if people believe that their own involvement may actually make a difference. That their is a chance, they might surprise themselves and the people around them.

    Plus the country is polarized. There isn’t unity anymore. It isn’t I am a Ba7raini and must contribute to a better Ba7rain. It is I am a shee3i, sunni, 3jmi, holi, mjjanes, liberal, conservative etc etc, classification that in their nature, exclude many people out.

    Just my two cents. It is good to have you back Nido!

  6. Mariam Says:

    I think about that a lot too. I think its a combination of all the factors you mentioned. Its true – our parents have shielded us somewhat. But we – at least the ones still interested in politics – are also more cynical. Perhaps all the wars, the suffering, the lack of change got to us somehow. Also, those of us in private schools have a lot of friends that are loyal to the ruling elite. I remember in school, I was always afraid to criticize the government because most of my friend’s families were pro-government. That isn’t the case with our parents who went to public schools. Another thing is that many of us go to college in the west, and while there is political activism there, it isn’t the arab world, and so we’ve become more passive and less connected to the problems of our society. Another thing is that before the elite were politically active and the masses were asleep. Now that the poor are the politically active ones, maybe the elite want to distance themselves in someway by becoming less political? But most of all, I think, its capitalism and wealth. We simply don’t want to risk our comfortable lifestyles anymore. All in all, I think we are a bit more selfish that our parents and also much more cynical. I don’t feel that hopeful about the future. There is no leader who really inspires me. I feel all the good ones are dead. So sometimes I ask myself, why waste our time trying to change the world, lets just live our lives quietly and hope for the best.

  7. Global Voices Online » Bahrain: Lost causes? Says:

    […] Nido asks a similar question; he is wondering why his generation is not as politically active as his parents': No one can seriously say that we are as politically involved as they were. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Bahrain is less politically active nowadays when compared to the past. Bahrain is obviously one of the most politically vibrant countries in the region. I am comparing the affluent, supposedly highly educated youth back then and now. Back then getting involved in politics was the norm. Today we dare not, nor are we interested, to even speak of the subject. […] Why are we so disengaged, so uninterested?……. Why is that? Why is that in a region which is so obviously going through one of the most turbulent and important periods in its history, where lives, ideas, norms, economies, futures and even geographic boundaries are being reshaped and redefined? Where no one really has so much more at stake in what happens, and where nobody else stands to gain or lose more from the consequences? Indeed where no one else has any reason to be more concerned as to what happens? […] Why is it that so few of us bother, and if they do bother they seldom act? Why is it that for so many of us this is a pointless and boring topic that is best avoided? Why is it that we have only the courage to resort to anonymous blogs, while if the identity is public then you have to severely curtail what you dare say? […]

  8. nido Says:

    Hi Fatima,

    Yes there was an element of coolness in participating in politics back then, but the question then is why was it cool back then and so uncool nowadays? I don’t think being fashionable is the most important reason.

    Bint Battuta,

    Yes! In my case the opium is probably the internet.

    B,

    Agreed. It’s unfortunate that many use potential mediums of information to mainly check out what celebrities are up to nowadays and the latest fashion accessories.

    Gardens of Sand,

    You are right. You can’t blame parents for shielding their children and not wanting to them to suffer like they did. And possibly for no progress whatsoever. I just wish they’d at least talk more about their experiences instead of completely closing up like many do. There is so much we can learn from them and that we risk not knowing forever.

    And thanks for the compliment, it’s good to be back! I hope I don’t quit very soon this time around.

    Mariam,

    Couldn’t agree more. I just wish we don’t have to reach such a pessimistic conclusion about the situation. We need a new Nasser!

    The question that comes up then is what does it take for people, particularly nidoers, to get interested and actively involved in politics again. Then again, given nidoers general interests and tendencies, I am not sure if them getting involved in politics will have a positive effect. Thoughts anyone?

  9. Mariam Says:

    lol.. when I heard some of the political ideas of some nideors, I was definately glad that they’re not involved in politics! I’m not sure what the answer is. All I know is that we’re definately a shielded bunch – much more shielded than our parents. I think Nido schools should force their students to volunteer in places they would otherwise not go or do research there – e.g. the orphanage, elderly home, projects that force nidoers to go from door to door in the homes of the regular poor bahrainis (like maybe a survey on unemployment in bahrain or writing an article for journalism class). Basically nidoers need to become more socially active. While this may not translate into political activism it might at least translate into political awareness. My cousin who is four years younger than me told me of this school project where they had to go visit bahrainis living in slums (I had no idea that bahrainis lived in such conditions!) and she told me that it had a real profound effect on her. Another thing is that we should interact with people in public school more. There should be programs (other than MUN) which force private school and public school students to interact. How does this help? Well once my friend and I were asked to volunteer at some university fair two years ago that was organized by a jam3iya in bahrain. Now obviously these people were politically active!! Bahraini politics was all they talked about! They had projects, ideas, etc. ALL of them – except 1 – went to public school. The truth is, people in public schools are simply more politically active, and interacting with them may encourage us to be the same way!

  10. BB Says:

    The only difference between then and now is very simple. HOPE.

  11. nido Says:

    Mariam,

    It’s a great idea, and I agree that getting them to interact more might help, but to be honest the more realistic scenario is that most of them will only be interested and participate when they stand to lose a lot. And unfortunately most likely they’ll be very reactionary unlike 30 years ago when people in their situation were some of the most progressive. Nidoers nowadays are the rich, the landowners, the bourgeoisie, and they have the most to lose if the status quo changes. So I can’t see most of their political participation being very progressive.

    BB,

    You’re suspiciously sounding like Obama. Has the obamamania bug bitten you too? Next thing you’ll tell me it’s all about change!

  12. Fatema Ali Says:

    Well, my response might reflect a shallow perspective but its true..and I guess that I have already mentioned that its One of the reasons and didn’t mention that its the most important one. Plus I didnt said they were lazy I meant that they were very politically active that they couldn’t manage their time to study enough for their exams. Its uncool now because we have many options to entertain ourselves and we would definately choose to play games, surf the WWW or do anything else rather that knowing what happened in the last parliamentary session.

    and to answer your question i’ll tell you some of the answers:

    1- We don’t read unless we HAVE to read..to study for our exams

    2- We are being segregated from the public life, our voices are not being heard and our actions are not taking seriously, so why the hell should we be interested in politics?

    3- Because of the above mentioned reasons, we started to believe that we can’t change anything and we can’t do anything, so we simply did nothing.

    4- Leadership positions are not offered to us so we started to believe that we should follow a leader instead of being leaders.

    5- If it happens and you seem to be very interested in politics and keep talking about it other young people will start wondering why you are so wierd and why the headache? just live your life man!

    6- If it happens and you seem to be very interested in politics and keep talking about it other adults will tell you that you know nothing so its better if you keep your mouth shut!

    7- We believe that the reason of our existence is to study, work and get married.

    8- Those who were active back then were communists, most of them were communists, but now communism died already.

    9- Our media is not youth friendly, should I elaborate? i’ll talk about it in my blog one day.

    10- We are not being directly affected ( or thats what we think ) by the war on Iraq, or the Gaza siege so we don’t care that much.

    bas ta3abt!

  13. bikeshed Says:

    well, you can take the view that there is a global conspiracy to turn us all into consumptive sheep in order to suppress the poor and allow the rich to get richer (read anything by Nicholas Hagger)…a plan that would seem to have already succeeded here…alternatively, this was all started by a group of lizard-like aliens from outer space who are slowly taking control of the planet (read anything by David Icke)…I have always been struck by the 70’s show V so an inclined to go with Icke on this one….not to say that Hagger does not make a compelling argument…

    perhaps you can tell us, anonymous powdered milk person, for all your vitriol why you have not shaken the masses from they slumber? or is there a secret handshake required before such information is divulged? and the is the third time i ask, but what exactly are you trying to say with the cardboard cutout AK 47 motif for your blog?

  14. nido Says:

    فاطمة:

    كفيتي و وفيتي! مشكورة و ما قصرتي

  15. BB Says:

    Bikeshed, it does not surprise me when mocking investment *ankers in their sea-view swanky offices flippantly dismiss arguments as conspiracy theories just as they close million dollar property development deals and take home a nice fat bonus. What do you suggest are the reasons for political apathy from a money-talking hard-nosed perspective? Or is it just that, money?

    Nidoers on the boat of prosperity will not rock it, it’s just unfortunate for those who r waiting for the economic tide to lift them up. The dollar peg, inflation, hot money flows into property developments hiking up land prices are widening the inequality gap, more political problems to come. The massess will awaken from their slumber, it is just a matter of time.

  16. Mariam Says:

    I know this is a blog and not a message board but I was wondering what your opinion is on the indian worker strikes that have been happening recently in Bahrain

  17. nido Says:

    From my side, I’ve got a post plan which will hopefully tackle that!

  18. Global Voices auf Deutsch » Bahrain: Verlorene Fälle? Says:

    […] Nido stellt eine ähnliche Frage. Er weiß nicht, warum seine Generation unpolitischer ist als die Generation ihrer Eltern: Niemand kann behaupten, wir wären so engagiert, wie sie es waren. Ich sage nicht, Bahrain sei heute weniger politisch aktiv. Ganz offensichtlich passiert in Bahrain politisch mehr als in den meisten anderen Ländern in der Region. Ich vergleiche die wohlhabende, eigentlich gut gebildete Jugend von damals und heute. Früher war es normal, sich politisch zu engagieren. Heute wagen wir nicht einmal von diesem Thema zu sprechen, es interessiert uns ja gar nicht. […] Warum sind wir so unengagiert und uninteressiert? … Woran liegt es? Gerade in einer Region die gerade durch die turbulenteste und wichtigste Episode ihrer Geschichte geht, einer Zeit, in der die Leben, Ideen, Normen, Wirtschaftssysteme, die Zukunft und sogar geografische Grenzen geschärft und nue definiert werden? Einer Zeit in der niemand mit größterem Einsatz spielt als wir? In der wirklich niemand einen größteren Grund hätte als wir, besorgt zu sein? […] Warum haben so wenige ein Problem mit alle dem, und wenn sie dann schon ein Problem haben, warum handeln sie dann kaum? Warum ist Politik für die meisten von uns ein so langweiliges Thema, dass wir ihm am liebsten aus dem Weg gehen? Warum haben wir nur die Courage uns an anonyme Blogs zu wenden, während wir uns unter unserem eigenen Namen zurückhalten? […]

  19. Readers Edition » Bahrain: Verlorene Fälle? Says:

    […] Nido stellt eine ähnliche Frage. Er weiß nicht, warum seine Generation unpolitischer ist als die Generation ihrer Eltern: […]

  20. Sedition Says:

    Disclaimer: i have not read everyones posts here, although i probably should before i start.

    The question of political lethargy rampant in the Nido generatoin, as opposed to the 60’s and 70’s of our parents generation, thier fortitude, thier semblance of responsibility towards a country on the brink of independence, and thier internationalism, well documented by thier solidarity with groups throughout the middle east is one thats been on my mind for a very long time.

    There are many ways we can explain that particular snippet of history, but lets keep it lochal…The elite in Bahrain, and indeed in many other parts of the GCC, have now reliquished thier progressive role, completely. Elites have historically, at least in the third world, been very much part of the leftist project in thier respective countries. How they balance thier positions of privilage with the political demands of the masses the purported to “speak for” and “represent” mirrors the entire (and until recently mostly failed )developmental project of fledgling post colonial states, and thier inability to reconcile political representation with thier economic projects of “development”.

    This has even led to the (now almost complete) delegitmization of “development economics” as a subfield of the most powerful of the social sciences (economics). One by one, universities jettisoned thier development economics programs (although SOAS still has a somewhat solid one because of thier varied approach to the subject) Should i make predictions for economics itslef? I will not dare yet, but perhaps soon.

    Elites (in bahrain at least) now find it very difficult to play the dual role of statesmen/women, ministers, and maintain thier business elite roles as well. The good old days when a business and real estate empire was a default posseition of a state minister are almost gone. This is not to say that people in government dont have other “interests,” it is a self imposed separation of roles where an economic elite has little time or inerest, or ability to play the role of the progressive anymore, the economic and political stakes are much higher than they used to be.

    The underprivilaged, and poor, look to thier own institutional and cultural resources (the maatam, shaikh, and religion) for shelter, leadership, and clout. The embattled middle class, probably the most important to the future of this country if its numerical and economic integrity holds, will have to take on the role of pact maker with the government. If this happens then the slow transition towards a more palatable existence for all bahrainis will become more of a possibility, and will be something to look forward to I think. The primary mechanisms of that being a strong and large fold of taxation that ties government expenditure to the local economy, rather than the shady and undisclosed revenues from oil. On the condition that that fold of taxation, and incumbant government expenditure that underpins social stability with free and universal healthcare, meaningful education, and decent wages is spent under the pretense that this is PUBLIC MONEY, and can be accounted for as such.

    I dont want to give to much credence to the middle class, but in some ways it is our only shot, and its chances success will increase if the majority of the poor (numbers fluctuate between 6,000-10,000 families) are brought into that category, and that the entire class maintains its critical political engagement, even if its a consumerist polyglot of high healed, seef going, sequin clad isa town girls (no offence), and bored football watching, shisha smoking shabab. They will run after thier carrots if they see them.

    This historical process, although very eurocentric, and can be heavily critiqued as such, has been on my mind as to it pertaining in any meaninful way to this part of the world. I have somewhat reluctantly and not yet completely decided, that since we seem to be like them, and everything we do from cultural production, to theories of development seems to be some form of mimicry, then why wouldnt our historical processes be at least similar?

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