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Bahrain Opinion: An Appeal for Abdulhadi Alkhawaja

UPDATE 1445 GMT: An open letter to King Hamad of Bahrain is currently collecting signatures. It will be delivered to the Bahrain Embassy in London by close of business Tuesday. The letter can be read and signed via an entry in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian.

This is Abdulhadi AlKhawaja. He is a leading Bahrain human rights activist currently serving a life sentence. He has just begun the 61st day of a hunger strike.

By the time you read this, he might be dead.

If Mr AlKhawaja dies, it will be a monumental tragedy for Bahrain, from which the country may not recover. But more than that. If Mr AlKhawaja dies, terms like "international community" and "universal human rights" will be revealed to be little more than self-serving niceties: public relations terms for sustaining the fading "Western" notions of power.

Of course, this is not a new story --- the globe is littered with the bitter remnants of "Western" double standards. But Mr AlKhawaja is dying now. Today.

As you read these words, he is suffering. On Saturday, when he called his family, his daughter Zainab said that "he can hardly speak and he can hardly breathe". That suffering could --- no, must --- be stopped instantly.

King Hamad must grant Abdulhadi Alkhawaja an immediate and unconditional release.

Some may say, wrongly, that Mr AlKhawaja could stop the suffering by stopping the hunger strike. This is to misunderstand why he began his protest for "freedom or death".

Mr AlKhawaja's suffering is not the unthinkable agony of his physical condition, as his body mines organs and muscles for sustenance. It is the suffering of his being violently seized in his home 12 months ago, his subjection to beatings, torture, and sexual assault. It is the suffering of his life sentence from a military tribunal for simply speaking of the need for "universal human rights" in the face of the Bahrain regime. It is the suffering of watching every leading organisation --- the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch --- condemn Mr AlKhawaja's treatment and trial only to have that ignored by the regime. It is the suffering of seeing the commission that King Hamad commissioned support the findings of these organisation and then watching the ignorance of these recommendations by the monarchy.

The agent of Mr AlKhawaja's suffering is the Bahraini regime. But the structures that sustain his suffering extend far beyond Bahrain's borders. The heart of this apparatus is surely the AlKhalifa ruling family, but they are only the centre of a complex web of international financial, military, and commercial concerns.

Alkhawaja is resisting those structures. He is resisting prison walls, military tribunals, unfair detentions, the suppression of free speech, unjust regimes, financial harbours, military bases, and the realpolitik of "Western" governments.

How is he doing this? Through pacifism, compassion, kindness and peace. Through standards of "universal human rights" which the "international community" claims to hold so dear. Mr AlKhawaja's hunger strike --- permitting his body to be a beacon for values over interests --- carries the torch for peaceful resistance against structures of oppression.

This --- precisely this --- is why his death would be a catastrophe, not just for Bahrain but the world. There is a palpable and righteous anger right now across the island, which speaks straight to the complacency and complicity of the world in allowing Mr AlKhawaja to die. "Why?"

"Why," this video asks, "does everyone not see the crimes?"

A simple question, but the full answer would weave complex social, political, economic, religious, national, and geo-political threads. So the concise answer: because the world chooses interests over values when it comes to Bahrain. This is why Mr AlKhawaja's passionate advocacy for values over interests is a challenge to the regime and those beyond it --- values shines a light on interests which many, especially those in the "West", would rather not see.

Several US officials explained the major impediment to values to me. The Pentagon holds overwhelming power over American policy in Bahrain because of the US Fifth Fleet's military base. If the US ever launches a strike on Iran, that base will be essential.

The revolution begun in Bahrain on 14th February 2011 was, by mid-March, beginning to flourish. That was a problem not only for King Hamad but for the Pentagon. So outside troops, notably from Saudi Arabia, were "invited" --- with a green light from the US --- to help the Bahraini regime quash any dissent.

The protests were suppressed but they were never cancelled. Bahrainis continued to march every single day, sometimes several times a day, across the country. Whilst they did, the Bahrain regime added to the wealth of many international arms companies --- from the US, UK, France, Brazil, Turkey, and beyond --- by stockpiling more weaponss. The regime also added many millions to the pockets of public relations firms paid to keep the actions of the security forces from scrutiny, at home and abroad.

Bahrain has long been a the stone in the shoe of the "West". A long-standing victim of colonialism --- some would say this is still the case --- its citizens have routinely struggled for self-determination. Today's difference, I hear from so many in the opposition, is that this time there is no going back. The opposition are striving to salvage freedom, if not for themselves, then for their children, reaching out to the international community through the standards of "universal human rights" to demonstrate their oppression and subjugation.

Today, as you read this, Mr AlKhawaja is dying to keep the flame of these beliefs burning. He is doing to question the silence from a world which would rather sustain the status quo than face the unsettling question of complicity in his suffering.

The flame tendered by Mr AlKhawaja could be extinguished any minute by his death. If it is, Bahrain is plunged into an unknown darkness. Bahrainis at breaking point are unlikely to forget the inaction of the West --- not least the US Government --- should Mr AlKhawaja die on hunger strike without any strong public appeals for his release.

There is time --- just --- to avoid this.

Maybe it is better not to know the extent of Mr Alkhawaja's abuse, or the history of people like a British citizen who allegedly has spent decades in Bahrain overseeing such abuses and remains there as a free man. Maybe it is better not to watch the videos of children choking on tear gas, thrown again by police into their home, because perhaps the gas came from our own country. Maybe it is better not to question the ethics of making multi-million commercial deals with the Kingdom, because it serves "our" national interests. Maybe it is better not to challenge sectarian propaganda targeting Shi'a of Bahrain, because perhaps it was produced by US and British public-relations firms far away. Maybe it is better to just cover our eyes, ears, and mouths, and allow the fantasies of benevolence and reform perpetuated by the Al Khalifa ruling family to turn dreams into nightmares of Iranian agents and necessary protection, ensuring that "Western" interests dominate over values.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Others, are calling loudly and strongly for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi AlKhawaja. Please join us.

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