Why is Bahrain outsourcing extremism? Foreign Policy wrote a story on this concept, and it is a very important read. Bahrain has continued problem with radicalizing Salafis. As the state cracks down on the non-violent, pro-democracy opposition, extremism seems to be rising. A graphic film floating around has been viewed 100,000 times and the regime has kept quiet. Maybe they have been quiet because at least 100 Bahrainis are known to have joined ISIS and have been killed in combat. The number might seem small, but it is definitely significant. There is a link between ISIS and Bahrain’s security services (at least as the video suggests), however, and that is significant.
Bahrain says it is against the group, but it is doing very little about it at home. It paints itself as a the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leader against ISIS. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa even made appearances in Western media (CNN and BBC) to announce Bahrain’s membership in the US military coalition. He even called ISIS a “deviated cult.” However, many prominent figures in Bahrain have come out sympathetically for the group, calling their actions a revolution against the injustice and oppression that reigned in Iraq.
The fact of the matter is that Bahrain isn’t treating the threat of internal ISIS recruitment with quite the same passion as they do the threat of pro-democracy “traitors” who have been protesting since 2011. Also, only one Bahraini has been identified in the ISIS video. Mohammed Isa al-Binali was a former lieutenant in the Bahraini police force. Foreign Policy makes a good point. In a country with a native population of under 600,000, discovering the identities of the other three men shouldn’t be too difficult. Bahrain treats radicalized youth as misguided but there are books printed and distributed out by the Bahraini Army which promote the fundamental ideas that underpin ISIS and Islamic extremism in general. For instance, FP points out that a former colonel in the state security, accused of torture and sectarian hate speech, has been recently arrested for financial irregularities.
No one has been tried for documented charges of ISIS-related activity, while comments on Bahraini websites reveal ISIS supporters enjoying freedom in the kingdom. This feels controversial only because the government has violently suppressed the peaceful, non-sectarian movement which fights for equality, freedom and human rights. The Bahraini regime has destroyed Shiite mosques, carried out sectarian profiling and has even arrested about 15,000 people with 3,000 of them still in prison in the last three years. This Bahraini Sunni sectarian narrative follows the same narrative which has been used to strike the pro-democracy uprising. Shiites have been excluded for years.
The point is that Bahrain has funded ISIS and has even contributed fighters. But what is even more significant, at least symbolically, is the ideological and moral support that it has offered. Sermons from Bahraini cleric Turki al-Binali, a Mosul-based spiritual ideologue of ISIS, can be found all over YouTube. He was free to travel and preach up until last year. In fact, the above photo shows him leading a terrorism class in mosul. He had been expanding his influence in Bahrain and recruiting with no interference from authorities. ISIS, on the other hand, has denounced the heretical monarchies of the Gulf.
Read more about how Bahrain desperately needs both its Western allies and national unity at Foreign Policy.