Tim Black writes about the real reasons for protests against the Formula One race in Bahrain:
The way some politicians and commentators are talking, you would think that the fate of Bahrain hinged on whether or not this weekend’s Formula One (F1) grand prix goes ahead. Cancel it, and Bahrain’s repressive monarchs, the Al Khalifa family, will have to face up to the failings of their autocratic reign. But proceed with it and F1 might as well have crushed the Bahraini people’s democratic aspiration itself.
[. . .]
Ecclestone’s assessment of the state of Bahrain is certainly questionable. While life does go on for the 600,000 people of this tiny gulf state, there is little calm beneath the surface. Instead, the conflict between a politically and economically disenfranchised Shia majority and the ruling Sunni monarchy continues to simmer. Saudi troops may have helped Bahrain’s own security forces to quell the most explosive manifestation of this conflict last spring, but the arrests, torture and sometimes killing has continued. In the past fortnight alone, three teenagers were shot dead.
Yet as Panglossian as Ecclestone’s view of Bahraini society is, his larger point still stands: ‘it is not [F1’s] business running the country.’ And that’s the problem: too many commentators and politicians are so ‘wrapped up in their own bubble’, to quote Webber, that they believe that the question of whether or not a car race is staged in Bahrain is incredibly important; it is their business running the country. The grand prix is no longer just a car race: it has become a vehicle for exhibiting one’s moral credentials.
[. . .]
This seems to be the prevailing rationale behind the calls to cancel the grand prix: it is all about showing disapproval, striking a moral pose. Bahrain, a country increasingly seen, thanks to the press offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as a photo-essay in state brutality, is little more than a convenient background against which to act righteous. Of course, the calls for F1 to boycott the Bahrain grand prix are not recognised for their essential vainglory; they are presented as compassionate. For the advocates of a Bahrain boycott, those willing for the grand prix to go ahead are the callous, self-interested ones. By staging the grand prix, they are tacitly approving of, and legitimating, the rule of the Al Khalifa family.
But who does this disapproval benefit? Who is this display of moral opprobrium for? It’s certainly not those in whose name the grand prix could be cancelled: the disenfranchised majority in Bahrain. After all, if the grand prix does go ahead, it won’t legitimate or validate the regime in their eyes. For those indulging in running-street battles, for those with no political freedom, for those who experience life under the al-Khalifa autocracy on a daily basis, the presence or absence of F1 will make little or no difference. Their lives will still be marked by a ruthlessly enforced unfreedom.