There are reports that Ms. Ghada Jamsheer, President of the Women's Petition Committee, a Bahrain based organization that advocates for women in sharia law courts, is one of the more recent victims of a vicious, sustained, state-sponsored harassment campaign. The reports state that, while she was attending a women's conference in South Africa in November, her home was broken into and photographed in infinite detail by a state security operative. Her landline and mobile telephones and her e-mail account are being monitored. Plainclothes security officers have been sent to her home to shout at and verbally torment her. She and her family have been the recipients of threats, harassed with numerous bullying text messages, and the subjects of outrageous falsehoods and slander. She has been prohibited from accessing the media. Those who care about her are deeply concerned about the physical and psychological well being of this advocate and her family.
I have never met Ms. Jamsheer. Though the accounts of her plight are couched in hedged terms such as "allegedly" and "reportedly," let there be little doubt that these are typical modus operandi in campaigns against human rights advocates. It is dangerous work. I should know, for I have been a victim of a similar harassment campaign for over three years. There are people who benefit from the status quo. They will do and say anything to undermine progress and protect their interests, whether those interests are staying in power, spinning what they perceive to be their image (which is overly valued vis-a-vis substance in honor/shame cultures such as those in the Middle East), or childishly claiming issues of collective interest as though they are somehow theirs and theirs alone.
Most of us know that the Arab regimes in the Middle East are oppressive dictatorships, surrounded by goons, hangers on, sycophants, and thugs only too willing to do regime dirty work in exchange for government contracts, kickbacks, jobs, palace invitations, medical care and scholarships for their family members, and other forms of corruption and favoritism. Co-optation is one of their more oft-utilized tools. So the cowardly, underhanded tactics of the desperate, insecure, weak regimes should come as no great surprise.
Some in the West have this notion that it is primarily the men in the region who hold back progress for women, but, in my experience, it is not as simple as that. Women are too often complicit in their own undoings. (And, yes, it practically kills me to write that, but it is a truth I have discovered--to my great dismay--to be self evident.) I refer here not to the victims of dishonor killings, for nothing they do or fail to do warrants their murders. But the women surrounding them. The gossipy old biddy of a neighbor who knowingly spreads outright lies. The mother who shares her daughter's confidences with her father, fully cognizant of the consequences. The aunties and female cousins who collude in the cover up of these crimes. The women supposedly representing them in government who are in a position to initiate legal reform, secure funding for shelters, and ensure there is sensitivity training for first responders. . .but don't. The activists who are motivated more by careerism than sincere interest in helping their own. And those who set out to undermine the work of others, lay claim to it as their own, and/or otherwise fail to behave with professionalism, age-appropriate emotional intelligence, common sense, and concern for that which is best for the collective good.
Ms. Jamsheer has company, but hers is not a situation in which misery loves company. I believe her, and may justice prevail. Soon. In the end, truth always wins out.
(For more information about Ms. Jamsheer's case, see http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1772. If you'd like to take action on her behalf, see http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1772/action.)
Causes Ellen Sheeley Supports
For All Women Foundation