Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahrain and the Information Age

There's an old-fashioned way to deal with unruly subjects: kill them. A more contemporary wrinkle is to 're-educate' folks who don't approve of a country's leadership, or tuck the troublemakers in some cell where they'll be out of sight.

There was a time when communications between countries was a matter of diplomatic pouches, traveler's tales, and the occasional monograph by an aristocrat with a taste for travel.

In those days, killing commoners who made a fuss may have been an effective way of maintaining the status quo.

These days, not so much.

Between video cameras on cell phones and a rapidly-evolving set of online communities, what happens in some remote corner of the world - isn't all that remote. Think Iran's Neda Agha Soltan. (June 23, 2009)

Bahrain's Bosses and an Oppressed Majority

I haven't heard "oppressed minority" all that often lately, but another presidential election is coming up, and it may be run up the flagpole again. Which is another topic.

Sometimes minority groups in a country really are oppressed. That's not, in my view, a good idea. In the short term it's hard on the folks who aren't with the majority. In the long term, I think treating underlings unfairly is really bad for the folks in charge.

Then there are situations where you've got an oppressed majority. Again in my opinion, that's bad in the long run.

From the looks of it, the folks who conquered Bahrain a few centuries back are on a voyage of discovery, in which they'll discover that it isn't the 18th century any more.1 From the looks of things, it won't be an easy lesson.

Bahrain is a few islands off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. The biggest one is about 10 miles across by 30 long. ("Bahrain," CIA World Factbook (last updated February 11, 2011)) They've started running out of petroleum, but the king - or somebody with influence - has been smart, and got into petroleum refining and banking. Economically, the place isn't doing too badly.

Or, rather, it looks like the king and his family aren't doing too badly: along with folks who see things the king's way.

America's Involved: No Surprise There

The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet has a major support facility on Bahrain. In some circles, that's 'proof' that capitalist warmonger Yankee oppressors are grinding Bahrain's proletariat - - - and so on.

I see the American presence in Bahrain as no great surprise. Until Bahrain followed Tunisia and Egypt in this year's meltdown, the place was:
  1. In a strategically important part of the world
  2. Moderately stable
Some of Ameirca's more earnest intellectuals notwithstanding, this country isn't in the habit of knocking over governments and trying to set up clones of our government - or warmonger oppressors. America's government has blundered now and again - and I've discussed that before. (February 10, 2011)

Bahrain: "Kick the Bum Out," Not "Yankee Go Home"

Times, as I've said before, change. A few decades back, protests in another country often used 'Yankee go home' as a theme. In today's Bahrain, the protesters apparently think the king can stay - but want the king's uncle fired. The uncle's name is Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa (or Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa). He's been prime minister since 1971 (Factbook, CIA). That's 39 years in the same top job.

Which is a case-in-point for why I think term limits are a good idea - and that's almost another topic.

There may have been epochs when one century was pretty much like another - and someone could lock himself in an executive office for several decades without losing track of what was going on outside.

This isn't one of those epochs.

At all

Today's World: Blink, and You'll Miss Something

I'm not a technological determinist. I don't think that devices we use 'make' us do things. On the other hand, I do think that our technology makes a huge difference in what we can do - once we've made up our minds.

And it's more complicated than that. Things usually are. Yet another topic.
Bahranian Brouhaha: Not Just Tech
I'm about as sure as I can be, that the Bahrainian trouble isn't entirely due to communications and information technology that's popped up since since the king's uncle started being prime minister.

Folks don't, I think, face bullets because some brass hat can't make a phone call without help.

Still, I think Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa and the rest of Bahrain's ruling family may not quite understand what's happened in the last four decades.

Folks who aren't in the upper crust aren't as isolated from each other as we were. The phrase "global village" may have political connotations: but I see it as also being a fairly good way of describing what's happening.

Provided that two people understand the same language, and have access to the Internet, it doesn't matter where each of them is: they can communicate.

Sharing Bad Jokes, Taking Down Autocrats

Most of the communication is trivial, at best: but that's human nature, I think. Most of us don't sit around thinking great thoughts and discussing the existential implication of banana peels.

Once in a while, some of us have something really important to say - or a vital picture to share. Since we're already sharing bad jokes, sports trivia, or what browser is best with our friends, we'll share the important bit of information.

Nothing unusual there. Folks have been doing the same sort of thing for thousands of years.

What's different today is that some of those little communities are spread over several continents. And some folks are involved in more than one community - so if something's really important, the news can travel fast. Very fast.

That's not an original observation - but I think it's an important part of life in the Information Age. I also think it's an important part of what happened in Tunisia, Egypt: and what's happening now in Bahrain and quite a number of other places.

This isn't a good time, in my opinion, for someone in an old-school regime to assume that killing a few commoners will solve a public relations problem. Word gets around faster now: and folks in 'the masses' can get their version of a story out. Maybe just as important: folks dealing with an unyielding, unreasonable regime can learn that they're not alone.

VCR to Twitter: Quite a Ride

I like technology, in general, and don't mind learning new ways of handling information. Which is a good thing for me, considering what I've learned to deal with since 1971. That was the year that the VCR videocassette was invented. Next came word processors and Pong (the first video game), followed by online bulletin boards, the World Wide Web, and Twitter.2
It's been quite a ride.

Somewhat-related posts:
News and views:
I've excerpted material from these sources and opined a bit in another post:
"Bahrain "...In 1783, the al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. King HAMAD bin Isa al-Khalifa, after coming to power in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms to improve relations with the Shia community. Shia political societies participated in 2010 parliamentary and municipal elections. Al Wifaq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shia discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence...." ("Bahrain," CIA World Factbook (last updated February 11, 2011))

2 A short list of new communications and information technology:
  • 1971
    • VCR / videocassette)
  • 1972
    • Word processor
    • Pong (first video game)
  • 1973
    • Community Memory
      • Precursor to online bulletin boards
    • Ethernet
  • 1979
    • Cell phones
  • 1981
    • MS-DOS
    • IBM-PC
  • 1984
    • CD-ROM
    • Apple Macintosh
  • 1985
    • Windows GUI
  • 1988
    • Digital cell phones
  • 1989
    • High-definition television
  • 1990
    • World Wide Web
      • Internet protocol (HTTP)
      • WWW language (HTML)
  • 1991
    • Digital answering machine
  • 1996
    • Web TV
  • 2000
    • Solid-state drive (SSD) / Flash drive
  • 2001
    • iPod
  • 2005
    • YouTube
  • 2004
    • Facebook
    • And a webfull of other online communities
    ("20th Century - the technology, science, and inventions," "Modern Inventions,"; "Timeline of Historic Inventions," "Facebook," "Bulletin boardsystem," Wikipedia)

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.