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When Journalism Isn't Quite Enough

Zainab Al Khawaja is once again in prison. This photograph taken by Rebellious Feb14 is of a protest in Budaiya, Bahrain,  on 18th May 2012 calling for her release. Copyright: Demotix

Zainab Al Khawaja is once again in prison. This photograph taken by Rebellious Feb14 is of a protest in Budaiya, Bahrain, on 18th May 2012 calling for her release. Copyright: Demotix

This headline must be one of the worst things a journalist could write, and this topic must be one of the least written-about, but for the subject I'm writing about I felt it necessary to abandon everything I've been taught and write primitively.

This article was going to be about the arrest of Zainab Alkhawaja, a prominent activist in Bahrain. I was going to start with the background, which is that she was arrested for a speech tweeted by her sister Maryam:

I would then have shared some of the reactions Maryam inspired, like how many started doing the same to the picture of the king, in solidarity with her:

Or this YouTube video that shows how Hitler would have reacted to such an act:

But that is not what I think this should be about. I think that in this article I should have to face my demons and confess that despite of how comfortable that style of writing is for someone who tries to avoid trolling and PR hit-men, it is also a flawed way to draw the scene. I use the word “draw” because I think that a good journalist is like an artist: though a painter might draw a perfect likeness of a lady, it's still the painter's own reflection of her aura, her character and her smile, and that tells us more and drives us to think.

We journalists are not encouraged to write about our own feelings, but to report what the subjects of the actions do and say. But what Zainab Alkhawaja did wasn't an act meant to make headlines—the target was each of us, in any place on earth and in any job. It was to remind us that defiance is not only a means of survival, but the very reason we are human. It's the original sin that we will always inherit. Defiance, for Zainab, was not a tool to attract attention: all the attention in the world will not help you in prison, and those who want attention will only make use of it it when they leave prison. Zainab was not posing on podiums, she didn't travel to stand in front of mics and take pictures with the elites among the politicians. For her, defiance was a lifestyle.

I find no words better to express what I'm trying to say than this poem by Amal Dunqul:

يا اخوتي الذين يعبرون في الميدان مطرقين

منحدرين في نهاية المساء

في شارع الاسكندر الأكبر :

لا تخجلوا ..و لترفعوا عيونكم إليّ

لأنّكم معلقون جانبي .. على مشانق القيصر

فلترفعوا عيونكم إليّ

لربّما .. إذا التقت عيونكم بالموت في عينيّ

يبتسم الفناء داخلي .. لأنّكم رفعتم رأسكم .. مرّه !

” سيزيف ” لم تعد على أكتافه الصّخره

يحملها الذين يولدون في مخادع الرّقيق

و البحر .. كالصحراء .. لا يروى العطش

لأنّ من يقول ” لا ” لا يرتوي إلاّ من الدموع !

.. فلترفعوا عيونكم للثائر المشنوق

فسوف تنتهون مثله .. غدا

و قبّلوا زوجاتكم .. هنا .. على قارعة الطريق

فسوف تنتهون ها هنا .. غدا

فالانحناء مرّ ..

و العنكبوت فوق أعناق الرجال ينسج الردى

فقبّلوا زوجاتكم .. إنّي تركت زوجتي بلا وداع

و إن رأيتم طفلي الذي تركته على ذراعها بلا ذراع

فعلّموه الانحناء !

علّموه الانحناء !

Oh brothers crossing the square while looking down
Defeated by the end of day
Be not ashamed and look up at me
Because you are hanged by my side on the gallows of the cesar
Raise your eyes and look at me, for if your eyes met the death in mine
The desolation in you will smile for you have raised your head for once in your life
Atlas has thrown his burdens
now it's on those born in slavery
The sea is just like the desert, fills no thirst
Because the thirst of the rebels is only filled with tears
Behold the hanged rebel
Tomorrow you will end up like him
And kiss your wives here in the mid of the road
because here is where you will end
for kneeling is bitter
and the spider spinning a curse over the shoulder of men
Kiss your wives .. I left my wife without a kiss
And if you see my kid who I left on her arm missing an arm
Teach him how to kneel
God didn't forgive Satan when he said no
The meek
They inherit the earth
Because they don't get hanged
So teach him how to kneel

I would continue writing my clearly biased/inspired/unorthodox article, but the list of dead people and dead dreams, killed because they declared defiance, doesn't fit within the 1,000-word limit. For now I leave you with one name: the unborn Abdulhadi, who will be born free, whether in prison or out.

Join us on October 21, Tuesday, for a conversation with Zainab's sister Maryam Al Khawaja about the arrest and the state of activism and protest in Bahrain, on our Hangout series GV Face.

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