Monday, 23 April 2012

How soon will we forget?

Just to finish off my mild protest yesterday, here's what Cancel Bahrain F1 Grand Prix 2011 Facebook group (which I "Like") posted yesterday. It's more passionate and better informed than me, and almost elegaic in its disappointment. It was also accompanied by the shocking photo of the head of Ali Jawad Ahmad al-Shaikh. It's too gruesome to copy here.

"So the race went ahead today, contrary to all common sense and the precedent F1 had set in South Africa in 1985. We feel it is a betrayal of each and every one of the brave people of Bahrain who have risked everything for political reform – with far too many losing their lives, freedom, jobs, and the sense of well-being that comes with the expectation that one’s government will not use torture and collective punishment to trample on human rights. It is a temporary victory for a despotic family and its minions, who chose to embark on a campaign of terror to seek to remain in power, oblivious to the fact that in doing so, it forfeited any claim to legitimacy it may once have had. 

"Time after time, the Al Khalifa family has promised reform, only to deliver half-measures, bogus reform and nothing that anyone in a “civilized” western nation would accept and recognize as genuine democracy. The vast majority of Bahrain’s people have made their intention to live as citizens in their country – not as subjects – loud and clear.

"Although we expect some people will turn away from this subject now that the 2012 race was run, we feel there is still a great deal to do. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason to expect that the Bahrain government will free its many remaining political prisoners, cease its terror campaign that prevents peaceful demonstrations and even funeral processions from taking place without enormous amounts of tear gas being fired, create genuine political representative bodies, take serious reconstruction of destroyed religious shrines, end discrimination in employment for members of the majority Shia community, end the use of propaganda firms wasting money that could be used to better conditions in many villages, etc. We think it’s time for the Prime Minister to leave, after 42 years in power, but that, like all of the reforms mentioned, is a subject for the people of Bahrain to decide with or without the ruling government, which, lest anyone forget, has run Bahrain for over two centuries.

"Our focus turns in a laser-like fashion to F1. Its drivers have been an enormous disappointment. We’ve analogized them to sheep, calmly following the herd and refusing to step out of line and express what everyone who has opposed this race has felt – that human rights DO MATTER, and that the world system which enriches the F1 circus does not operate in a vacuum. People were killed, jailed, tortured, sacked from their job, expelled from university, and subjected to night after night of teargas, stun grenades, sound bombs, and the uncertainty if the sanctity of one’s one home would be violated and a loved one spirited away in the middle of the night, so that this race could be run. We are OUTRAGED by that knowledge, and we aim to make sure that F1 learns from this egregious mistake, and we never see it repeated.

"The governments of nations where human rights are thought to be valued have been disappointingly silent on events in Bahrain, for reasons well-known to most people who follow events there, none of which are good reasons. They are complicit in the sell-out of Bahrain’s democracy protesters, and we denounce the facilitating role they played in the staging of the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix.

"The teams, the sponsors, the suppliers, and the FIA, have all bitterly disappointed, and we aim to continue to express our disapproval, especially with sponsors, who were in a unique position to prevent this terrible error of a race from happening, but chose to hide behind “contractual obligations” and leave the decision to race up to the incestuously self-interested Jean Todt, who is connected by business arrangements with his son Nicolas to the despotic Bahrain government. 

"But we are especially disappointed by Bernie Ecclestone, the enigmatic octogenarian who so brilliantly and methodically built the F1 series into the global marketing mammoth that it is today, but who has been breathtakingly blind to real events in Bahrain, has puzzingly employed a double-standard when comparing South Africa to Bahrain, and has in the process said, let’s be clear, things that are either chilling in their flippancy or the signs of a man who has started down the road of losing his mental faculties. His performance in running the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix is cause for alarm for every man, woman and child who has even the most casual, passing interest in F1 and its future. Many of us who love the sport dearly have come to realize it won’t be the same after this weekend, and it had damn well better change, for a repeat of this enormous tragedy could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, transforming our sport from the beautiful contest of design, engineering, construction, strategizing, maintenance, and of course driving ability, into a mere plaything to be used by ruthless dictators, unfazed by the killing of even 14-year-old young men (like Ali Jawad Ahmad al-Shaikh, pictured) en route to another enormous payday. 

"In the final analysis, the sport belongs to its fans. Without us, people like Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa would have to look elsewhere for financing to buy teargas and pay torturers, public relations firms and police “reformers” to keep his family in power in coming years. As the clock starts counting down to the day of the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix, we commit to working to save the sport we love from all those responsible for the 2012 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. Please join us, as there is plenty of work yet to be done. --- Tom Rizzo (for the Cancel Bahrain F1 Grand Prix 2011 group)"

I wonder how much coverage Bahrain will receive in the news from now on. I wonder whether we'll ever hear about the "enquiry" into the death of Salah Abbas Habib, the 39-year old democracy campaigner, shot on Friday night by the Bahraini security forces.

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