Educator and scholar in the comparative Humanities; advocate for democracy and civil society in the Middle East.
Since yesterday 5,000 Bahrainis have read my open letter to Ebrahim al Janahi 9below), the President of the University of Bahrain. I wonder if he’ll respond? I hope he has the courage to do so, but I doubt it.
What I expect is to be either ignored, smeared, or intimidated, as has happened in the past.
Any serious attempt at truth and reconciliation in Bahrain has to take into account the University of Bahrain incident and the university’s subsequent assault on academic freedom, freedom of speech, and human rights, in particular the imprisoned students, and all victims of the university should be compensated.
My letter is as follows:
13th March 2012
Sir, I write to you on the first anniversary of the violent incident that took place at the Al Sakhir campus of the University of Bahrain on 13th March 2011. I am writing to you publicly through an open letter because I have written to you personally on several occasions, yet you have not seen fit to reply to me.
I was an eye-witness to events on 13th March 2011 between the hours of 8.00 and 14.00, and made a personal effort to visit different locations that day to get the best possible overview of events that day. Thus, I witnessed events and spoke to faculty, students, security and staff at:
* Building S17, the Department of English Language and Literature
* Building S22, Bahrain Teachers College
* Building S20, the English Language Centre
* The university’s Main Square
* The car park bordered between BTC, DELL, the College of Arts, and the Business College
* The Food Court
* The security office at the main entrance.
I bore witness to these events at some personal risk to myself because reflecting on the situation it became apparent to me that my religious and personal ethics, my duty to my profession and its international standards and ethics, and my duty to my students outweighed my contract obligations to the University of Bahrain.
Accordingly, I probably saw more of events from different perspectives than any other faculty members who were present that day. My eye-witness testimony substantially contradicts the official report submitted to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry by the University of Bahrain. To-date I have given testimony to the BICI, to the re-trial of individuals convicted of offences in connection to 13th March 2011, and a number of international professional associations and learned societies.
My written testimony is supported by documentary and photographic evidence. In summary, my evidence shows that:
* tensions increased on campus for two weeks before the 13th March incident
* rumours of violence against on-campus demonstrations were rife during this period
* the UoB administration made no effort whatsoever to advise, instruct, warn or train faculty members with regard to their responsibilities and accountability in respect to this unprecedented situation
* although unauthorized and disruptive of the university’s everyday activities, the initial demonstration was completely peaceful
* the initial peaceful demonstration consisted mainly of undergraduate young women in their late teens and early twenties
* the first use of violence on campus that day was by pro-regime students who had arrived on campus armed and prepared
* these were reinforced by waves of pro-regime vigilantes who arrived on campus armed with sharp-edged and blunt weapons
* the Interior Ministry riot police actively collaborated with these armed students and outside vigilantes
* male students at first formed a human chain to protect the female students under attack
* these only gradually began to arm themselves with weapons such as sticks defensively in reaction to the violence that had been initiated by the pro-regime students and outsiders
* I personally visited Building S20, and witnessed not “Sunni” but pro-regime “mujannas” students carrying weapons that had been brought into the university with malice aforethought
* in S20 Salafite fanatics were giving highly inflammatory speeches expressing extreme sectarian hatred in a bid to motivate the students there
* anti-regime outsiders did indeed arrive on-campus and committed acts of violence that had no place on a university campus, but this violence too was in response to violence that had already been initiated
* at the main entrance security forces in and out of uniform openly collaborated with thugs armed with weapons such as axes, spears, and swords
I have strong reason to believe that in sentences handed down in response to the events of 13th March 2011 justice was not served and people were punished unevenhandedly: sentences handed down were excessive; pro-regime students and outsiders against whom there is strong evidence that they have gone unpunished; I have evidence that students who were eventually allowed to return to university have been subject to intimidation and humiliation upon their return to UoB.
I am not alone in this, as you know, many international professional, learned and accreditation organisations are deeply critical of the actions of the University of Bahrain and the Bahrain Ministry of Education on 13th March 2011 and subsequently. It is therefore my strong belief that the best interests of the academic profession worldwide and educational and scholarly ethics demand that the University of Bahrain is isolated from the international academic community until such time as real, externally verifiable reform has taken place in Bahrain.
This is because the events of 13th March 2011 and the University of Bahrain’s subsequent actions have demonstrated that the university has functioned as an extension of the state security and surveillance apparatus in a way that grossly violates fundamental principles of academic freedom and human rights.
I have personal evidence of how the University of Bahrain functions as an arm of the state rather than as a genuine higher education institution in the form of the 22nd July 2011 letter written to me by the Head of the University of Bahrain’s Legal Office. This letter cites surveillance of my Internet activity as a reason for refusing my letter of resignation from the University of Bahrain of 18th May 2011. This letter is published elsewhere on this blog.
Slanderously, this letter accuses me of “sectarian” and “unauthorised” activity when all I was doing was exercising international norms of academic freedom. Evidence that the University of Bahrain is genuinely committed to reform would be:
* a general amnesty for all those accused of crimes in connection to 13th March
* full and generous compensation for all those who have been suspended or dismissed or who have suffered damage to their reputations as a result of decisions made by the University of Bahrain during 2011
* a public statement of apology from the University of Bahrain
* a thorough change of senior management at the University of Bahrain including, Sir, yourself
Universities worthy of the name are an asset to any country undergoing uncertainty, change and transformation. Sadly, the University of Bahrain is at present a university in name only. The government of Bahrain puts a great deal of emphasis on one particular report, that of the BICI.
Northern Ireland is perhaps the world’s best-studied society in conflict. Decision-makers are able to draw on some 7,000 studies on the conflict over some six decades from a very wide range of academic disciplines including anthropology, economics, history, law, political sciences, psephology, psychology, and sociology.
Some of these studies were commissioned by the UK government, others by other political actors. But many have come from genuinely independent universities. This is powerful evidence of how a free and vibrant higher education sector is an asset to societies in conflict.
Sadly, I cannot imagine how in its current form the University of Bahrain could undertake objective scholarly research on the Bahrain crisis. Indeed, I am not at all sure that there is a critical mass of faculty and administrators at the University of Bahrain as to what such research really is. Rather, it functions as an arm of state power; therefore, the international academic community should shun it.
The steps outlined above might go some way to demonstrating that the University of Bahrain is beginning to understand what a university really is. I therefore strongly recommend it follows them. I will send you a hardcopy of this letter, CCed to other stakeholders, with an additional paragraph outlining what I would consider to be just compensation in my personal case.
Dr. Mike Diboll, FHEA