Sunset for Pearls: The Pearl Roundabout Monument in one of its last days in late February. Bahrain's army tore it down today. (John Moore/Getty Images)
It stood 300 feet high, the most recognizable monument at the heart of Manama, Bahrain's capital city, its six sail-like arms curving up toward the sky, and joining at the top to hold a pearl, symbol of the country's pearl-diving heritage. The six sails symbolized Bahrain's participation in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Saudi Arabia. It was not the most beautiful monument ever devised for a roundabout. Rather, it mirrored the roundabout's official, entirely unpoetic name: Gulf Cooperation Council Roundabout. No wonder the people of Bahrain renamed it Pearl Roundabout.
Like the castle at Disney's Magic Kingdom, the monument was the focal point of Manama, and became the focal and physical point of departure and arrival for the democracy protesters who took to the street after Egypt's revolution. They camped out there, they chanted, they demonstrated, they sang, and the celebrated what they felt, for a while, was going to be the democracy's third victory in the Middle East after Tunisia and Egypt. The protesters were attacked and many of them murdered there by police and Bahrain's military. But the goons pulled back, the protesters took back the square, and demonstrations grew.
On Friday, after Saudi Arabia sent in a small invading force into Bahrain, the Bahrain military demolished the monument and killed a half dozen protesters. Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, said the monument was demolished because "it was a bad memory," and because the authorities were "restoring law and order." Goons don't usually have logic, reason or justice on their side, so they resort to pronouncements as dumb, as inexcusable as their actions. Khalifa and his tyrannical family believe that by tearing down the monument, they'll tear down the majority Shiite grievances against the minority Sunni--and unelected, therefore illegitimate--regime. They think they can create a rug and sweep their madness under it, Saudis helping. They think wrong. The Khalifa family has now joined the Taliban in its disregard not only for human life but for a nation's symbols.
The tearing down reminded me of the Taliban's infamous bombardment, with tanks, of the two Buddha statues of Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley in February 2001. The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, declared at the time that "these idols have been gods of the infidels," and ordered them demolished. Ironically, the Bamiyan Valley is Hazara country in Afghanistan. The Hazara are Afghanistan's Shiites. They, like their Bahraini cousins, have suffered immensely at the hands of the Taliban. Demolishing the statues was also, in part, demolishing symbols the Hazara took pride in, at least with regard to their region's cultural heritage.
Nor is it a coincidence that the crushing of the monument in Pearl Square took place on the heels of the Saudi invasion (and lease: let's not call it anything else, unless you'd rather the invasion was more precisely defined as American-enabled, if not American-backed: every square inch of armor, every bullet, every tank, every soldier's weaponry is American-made, just like the smoke grenades and rubber bullets firing at protesters in Bahrain). Remember this from the UK's Independent, six years ago:
Historic Mecca, the cradle of Islam, is being buried in an unprecedented onslaught by religious zealots.Bahrain's participation in the Gulf Cooperation Council is not just economic. It's religious, too: a submission to the more barbaric tenets of a religion hijacked by Saudi Arabia's zealots, to whom repression is all of one piece: political, religious, social, economic. And the United States keeps looking the other way. All the way to more conveniently bombable Libya.
Almost all of the rich and multi-layered history of the holy city is gone. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.
Now the actual birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed is facing the bulldozers, with the connivance of Saudi religious authorities whose hardline interpretation of Islam is compelling them to wipe out their own heritage.
It is the same oil-rich orthodoxy that pumped money into the Taliban as they prepared to detonate the Bamiyan buddhas in 2000. And the same doctrine - violently opposed to all forms of idolatry - that this week decreed that the Saudis' own king be buried in an unmarked desert grave.