Al Jazeera is reporting that Bahrain’s government has initiated a policy of destroying Shiite mosques throughout the country. According to the main opposition party, al Wefaq (which is Shia in sect and Islamist in orientation), 28 “mosques and religious institutions” have been destroyed since the revolts began two months ago. Those conversant in Islam do not need to be reminded that this is an extraordinary step, one that will be deeply offensive to Bahrain’s Shiite majority.
Bahraini politicians have been quick to deny that this is an anti-Shiite policy, or that it is related to the crackdown at all–a senior parliamentarian, speaking with Al Jazeera, noted that three Sunni mosques had also been destroyed, and that the mosques and facilities had been bulldozed because they had been constructed without permits. This is a paper-thin excuse. While I am not familiar with the Bahraini construction permit scene, it is extremely common throughout the Muslim world for minority religions and minority sects to be denied the right to build new facilities. Thus, for instance, Coptic churches in Egypt that wish to make minor expansions can expect to see their applications get lost in Egypt’s massive bureaucracy. New mosques have no such trouble. In Saudi Arabia, the Shiite minority has also had extraordinary difficulty in constructing new mosques. Only in the past eighteen years or so have they been given anything remotely close to freedom of worship. It is quite likely that Bahrain had a similar policy–even with Shiites making up the majority of the population, they probably could not build new religious facilities easily, hence, illegally-constructed mosques.
The al Khalifa princes were of course aware of all this. Mosques, however, are traditional organizing centers for unrest, due to strong norms against government invasion of their premises–stronger, for instance, than the notions of “sanctuary” found in medieval Christianity. Mosques in the states affected by the Arab Spring have been turned into hospitals, storehouses, and headquarters. Manama had decided that these centers must be denied to their opposition even at the cost of violating centuries-old codes of conduct.
The Bahraini regime thus seems to be willing to anger just about any group in order to remain in power. They have been trying doctors for treating wounded protesters. They have destroyed national symbols like the monument at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout. They have fired on unarmed crowds. They have destroyed houses of worship. They have also destroyed truth–for each of these actions has been accompanied by Sahafian excusemaking: The mosques were illegal! The monument was impeding traffic! The massacres were accidental! The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his seminal work Beyond Good and Evil, warned that those seeking to destroy monsters must take care to not become monsters as they do so. The al Khalifa and their backers fear that a Shiite government will turn Bahrain into an Iranian colony. They have, however, been fighting Iranian influence with tactics eerily reminiscent of Iranian regimes, both before and after the fall of the Shah. The destruction of houses of worship is just one more similarity.