The World is Flatter
Published: May 23, 2013
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Yesterday's news from Bahrain is unbelievable, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Bahrain's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.
When thinking about the recent turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like migratory birds, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Migratory birds never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Bahrain has spent decades torn by civil war and ethnic hatred, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If authoritarianism is Bahrain's curtain rod, then hope is certainly its tabletop.
When I was in Bahrain last January, I was amazed by the people's basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Bahrain have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Bahrain are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Bahrain? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so narrow that Bahrain will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Manama needs to come to the table.
Speaking with a local farmer from the small Catholic community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, reiaya-li-kona, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A bad penny always turns up."
I don't know what Bahrain will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.