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My Parents' Bahrain

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by Maryam Al-Khawaja

Published on jadaliyya.com

I write this not as the human rights defender I have become known as, but rather as the daughter of Bahraini parents who painted an ideal image of Bahrain for us since we were children growing up in exile in Denmark. This reflection was prompted following my recent attempt at traveling to Bahrain when British Airways prevented me from boarding my flight at the orders of the Bahraini government. The realization that I am no longer in self-imposed exile triggered images of the Bahrain that my parents described while in exile, in comparison to the images I have of Bahrain now.

Born in Syria to activist parents who were forced to leave Bahrain, and then living in Denmark, I did not know the Bahrain my parents reminisced about until we moved there when I was fourteen years old. The Bahraini community in Denmark was rather small, comprised of twenty-one families. Our parents did everything they could to make sure we were raised in an environment that preserved our Bahraini identity. Once a week we gathered at the Bahraini-Danish Society, where they organized programs for us about Bahraini culture and society. We memorized and sang songs about loving Bahrain; we put on plays from old Bahraini series, and we celebrated religious and national events.

Bahrain in our minds was a paradise—the land of a million palm trees, of natural freshwater springs like Ain Athari, and a burning sun. My parents recall making what was once the long journeys (now a ten minute drive) to Athari to swim in the natural spring, and sit under palm trees to seek shade from the sun. My grandfather had a fishing equipment store at a time when the fishing industry thrived and had not yet been monopolized by the ruling family. Bahrain was an image of pearl divers and Bahraini men in their local attire catching fish. Naturally, we also learned of Al Khalifa’s repression in Bahrain. My uncle was a political prisoner, like thousands of others during the 1990s. Torture was systemic and systematic, and human rights violations were rampant. People were tortured to death, and we grew up hearing stories of how many individuals and families were forced into exile, their citizenships revoked. We knew Ian Henderson then as the British man who set up “modern” and more efficient torture methods that the regime used, and Adel Fulaifel as his right hand man.

Continue reading on http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/13532/my-parents-bahrain 

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