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September 14, 2023 : Wondercab Mini (50A)
Two items this week.
To begin with, and most urgently, please do hold a place in your thoughts across the week ahead for Maryam al-Khawaja, scion of one the most remarkable Middle Eastern oppositionist families (the entirety of which was a near finalist, as such, for the Nobel Peace Prize several years back) and herself one of the world’s greatest tribunes of human rights, who will be risking her freedom and perhaps even her life by returning to Bahrain later this week in an effort to call attention to the situation of hundreds of political prisoners, including her own father (who has been incarcerated for 12 years now), all of whom are deep into a hunger strike against the dictatorial regime of the American-supported Bahraini royal family.
In the words of a lead editorial in the Washington Post from earlier this week:
Democracy Dies in Darkness
Washington Post, Sept 10, 2023
As Bahrain’s crown prince visits D.C., the country’s prisoners need Biden’s help
By the Editorial Board
As Bahrain’s crown prince prepares to visit Washington this week, activists say more than 800 political prisoners remain on a month-long hunger strike over their mistreatment in the notorious Jaw Rehabilitation and Reform Center. The Biden administration should not forget about them.
The highest-profile is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 62, who has been locked up since April 2011 for leading peaceful protests during the Arab Spring on the island kingdom of 1.5 million people. A military court sentenced him to life in prison for trying to “topple the royal regime and change the constitution.” A coalition of groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, says he has been “subjected to severe physical, sexual, and psychological torture.”
Mr. al-Khawaja’s family says he stopped eating on Aug. 9 and two days later, because of serious cardiac problems, was rushed to the intensive care unit, where he was placed on an IV. On Aug. 29, he was again taken to the hospital and spent 5½ hours being stabilized in an emergency room. His daughter Maryam al-Khawaja plans to fly home this week to draw attention to his plight, even though she’s risking arrest and life imprisonment by doing so. She was arrested on her last visit in 2014 but released a month later under international pressure.
Like her father, she holds dual citizenship in Bahrain and Denmark. With Mr. al-Khawaja’s health deteriorating, Bahrain’s government could offer him compassionate release to Copenhagen so that he can get the care he needs. Bahraini authorities could also give local United Nations representatives and independent doctors access to the prison, to see for themselves the state of its inmates.
Government officials claim that there are no political prisoners in the country, that they follow international rules and that all prisoners get the same health care as members of the public. The General Directorate of Reform and Rehabilitation insists that Mr. al-Khawaja’s “health is stable with no serious concerns” and that he stopped participating in the hunger strike on Aug. 16. His daughter says he’s drinking juice and coffee with milk only when he feels faint. But human rights groups say some of the prisoners who stopped eating have been isolated, refused care and beaten by guards.
Bahrain has shown some signs of progress. In May, its parliament repealed a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims. Yet the kingdom brutally stamped out a mass uprising during the Arab Spring, with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were rounded up. Hundreds had their citizenship taken away. Independent media and opposition political parties were outlawed.
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa’s visit to Washington is designed to demonstrate U.S. staying power in the Persian Gulf and underscore the value of the strategic partnership. Bahrain is officially a major non-NATO ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. This gives Washington leverage.
The Biden administration should use it to aid Mr. al-Khawaja and other prisoners. The crown prince, who was once seen as a moderate influence inside the royal family, replaced his great-uncle as prime minister in November 2020. The hunger strike offers him an opportunity to show statesmanship. Authorities should not arrest Ms. al-Khawaja when she comes to see her father. They should send him to Denmark in her care.
Maryam is incredibly charismatic, articulate, and dear. I was honored, ten years ago, to be able to feature her at an symposium we convened at the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU (which I was directing at the time).
As it happens, we managed to videotape the event, and I urge you to watch at least the first forty minutes here (beginning with an overview of the generally grim situation of Bahrain but then culminating, starting around 23:30 with Maryam’s truly harrowing account of the systematic persecution and yet more resolute ongoing resistance of her own family)—and if you are as moved as we were, then do write your congresspeople and ask them, “What the hell is going on in Bahrain, and when the hell are we going to stop supporting its dictatorial regime?”
Update as we go to press: Maryam was interviewed this morning on NPR (here), where she noted that the over 800 prisoners, including her father, who had been on that weeks-long hunger strike provisionally suspended their action yesterday when the regime (on the eve of the Crown Prince’s meeting with President Biden in Washington) seemed to accede to their demands for better prison conditions. But when the regime thereupon immediately broke their promise to Maryam’s father that he would be allowed to see his doctor, he responded by resuming his own hunger strike. Maryam, for her part, announced that she will be accompanied by the secretary general of Amnesty International when she sets off for Bahrain this coming weekend. So we shall see…
And then, just letting those of you who are either in or coming to New York know that the National Museum of Mathematics is hosting a show, through October 31st, curated by me, of work by Hans Noë, the Holocaust-survivor hidden-master architect-sculptor whose life story we featured back in issues 37, 38 and 39A of this Cabinet.
On the occasion of his 95th birthday
September 7 - October 31, 2023
curated by Lawrence Weschler
sponsored by David de Weese
at the National Museum of Mathematics
11 East 26th Street, New York City
(on the northern rim of Madison Square Park)
Noë in conversation with Lawrence Weschler,
Chaim Goodman Strauss, Alva Noë and others
Tuesday, October 17, 2023, 6 pm
Do try to catch it if you can. We’re very proud of how it came out. Access to the show is included with the admission fee to the Museum, though there will be two occasions in the days ahead when entry to the entire museum will be free—Thursday, September 21, from 3-6 pm; and Sunday, September 24, from 10 am to 1 pm—during both of which Weschler will be present and offering private tours. (We will presently be announcing other free dates for October as well.)
See you (both there at the museum and here in these pages) next week!
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