Regarding my recent piece “The Rape of Bahrain Polytechnic”, two interesting responses were posted by “Nick A. Harr” and “Virtual Hub”. As a proponent of openness, I do not usually respond in-depth to individuals who use pseudonyms rather than give their real names when they are in no apparent danger. However, since these two responses raise pertinent questions about higher education in Bahrain, I will respond in detail in this instance.
Firstly, I shall summarize the arguments of “Nick” and “Virtual”. The full texts of their replies are on the original “Rape of Bahrain Polytechnic” thread.
“Nick” says it is “a bit simplistic to think that what happened to the senior staff has a direct relation to their involvement with the unrest last year”, and mentions the role of Ernest and Young, the finance arm of the polytechnic, and so did the audit court of Bahrain in unearthing “very clear cases of financial embezzlement done by these senior staff”, and goes on to offer details of alleged embezzlements by John Scott and others. Nick states that BP “was a huge flop”, saying it is “sadistic to blame the [Bahrain] goverment on all [BP’s] ills. He concludes that my “blaming the government in this case in particular sounds more like you approve what was going on on managerial level.”
“Virtual” takes me to task for sensationalism, and for the title of my post — “I love it when a man uses rape as an analogy. It shows how deluded and out of touch he is” — before moving on to her main argument that “the polytechnic was pillaged by the kiwis”. According to Virtual, “the [Bahrain] ministry [of Education] are only trying to regain some control from the excesses of John Scott” who “was like a used car salesman or a cult leader”. Virtual offers some further examples of alleged abuses at BP, and concludes, “I have no idea what the ministry will do but i hope they use the talented staff members and get rid of the hangers on feathering their nests. . .I will give the ministry the benefit of the doubt the kiwi mafia have left me disgusted and ashamed.”
Nick and Virtual, I have NEVER worked for Bahrain Polytechnic, but was a faculty member at the University of Bahrain 2007-8, then at Bahrain Teachers College 2009-2011, where I was Academic Head of Continuing Professional Development 2009-2010. I do not know John Scott personally, nor any other former or current senior employee of BP, I’m British, not a Kiwi, and have no interest in defending Scott or anyone else against alleged improprieties.
My concern is entirely with the quality and future of higher education in Bahrain. The University of Bahrain has in the generation since it was founded failed abysmally to respond to the higher education needs of both individual Bahraini students and the social and economic needs of Bahrain as a country. Rather, it has behaved since its foundation like an arm of state power rather than a genuine higher education institution.
This was tolerable so long as the possibility of reform at the university remained. However, the role played by the senior administration of the University of Bahrain on 13th March 2011, and its complicity in the subsequent abuses of the human rights and academic freedoms of students and faculty have meant that the UoB is no longer merely an arm of state power, but an instrument of state repression. The complicity of both the UoB, and the Ministry of Education in the violation of human rights and academic freedom has been described by the BICI, Amnesty International, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, and numerous academic professional associations, for example the Middle East Studies Association:
Set side by side with the vile abuses enabled by leading figures at the UoB and MoE, the alleged corruptions of John Scott et al are in an altogether lesser league.
It is of course right that any financial mismanagement at BP or anywhere else in Bahrain is wrong and perpetrators should be fired and/or prosecuted. But what disturbs me and what made me use the word “rape” in connection with BP is the idea that institutions that are guilty of human rights abuses and an absolute violation of academic freedom should be brought in to “reform” BP.
My use of the word “rape” is to reflect the Arabic phrasal verb /ya3tady 3ala/ which has the twin meanings of “rape” in the sexual sense, and “gross violation” of rights, ethics, morals and laws. This is EXACTLY what’s happened to Bahrain higher education over the past year. It’s not even as if the UoB and the MoE are themselves innocent of the kinds of corruption of which Scott et al are being accused.
This regime’s use of sexual abuse as a form of terror is all too well documented; so long as this remains the case I reserve the right to use the word “rape” metaphorically to describe its actions elsewhere.
16 year-old Ali Al Singace last week
I never claimed that “what happened to the senior staff has a direct relation to their involvement with the unrest last year”. The “unrest” is not “last year” but on-going, and in what sense were Scott et al “involved” in unrest? Is this Nick’s line? Virtual’s? The MoE’s? It certainly isn’t mine.
What I am saying is that there is a struggle going on for the heart and soul of higher education in Bahrain. On the one side there are the hardliners from within the Bahrain regime who see higher education as a process where facts and procedures are communicated from authoritarian instructors to passive students who are expected to regurgitate these in exams. This seems higher education as a means of turning out technically competent automatons, and as a means of reproducing the social passivity of “disciplined subjects” beloved by dictatorships the world over.
On the other side there are those in Bahrain society, and the currently marginalized reforming wing of the regime itself who see higher education differently, who realize that the old model doesn’t really educate, and doesn’t meet the needs of individual Bahrainis or of Bahrain as a country. For these reformers, the young people of Bahrain are being cheated by organizations like the UoB and the MoE who pretend to be providing an education while in reality they are shoring up a dictatorial, repressive state.
Such reformers see higher education as something that should involve students in active, responsible, relevant learning, that enables students to graduate as “empowered citizens” rather than “disciplined subjects”, not merely technically competent, but able to solve problems thinking on their feet responding to new and evolving situations critically and creatively as they develop.
This is the sort of higher education that young people need in Bahrain, the GCC, the MENA region, indeed the world over if they are to rise to the challenges of the C21st. But it is a kind of higher education which is loathed by dictatorships.
BP and BTC were an attempt to establish this approach to higher education in Bahrain. I know all too well from my experience at BTC that this was implemented in a hurried, and in some ways botched manner which provided an open door for all manner of used car and snake oil salespeople, and “men of vision” who wouldn’t be out of place in a New Religious Movement.
Implementation of the reform vision of higher education was hurried and botched firstly because the “government” of Bahrain, indeed the royal family, was fatally divided within itself between those who really wanted reform, those who pretended to want it, and those who were resolutely opposed to it from the outset. Thus reformers were forever fighting a rearguard action to protect reform, and this impacted severely on the effectiveness of reform.
Secondly, “the power of the arbitrary” is an important aspect of rule under conditions of dictatorship or semi-dictatorship. A culture is developed in which “blind eyes” are turned to abuses and nest-feathering. In some cases these are actively encouraged. The nest-feathers gain financially, the regime benefits by being able to “have one over” on the individuals concerned. Favours (such as “blind eyes”) can be called in, under the threat of the sudden and quite hypocritical “exposure of irregularities”. Even the reforming wing of the regime was never quite able to put an end to these kinds of practices, and we are seeing the consequences of this today at BP.
Lastly, the reforming wing of the regime itself was too comfortable with rule by diktat or “amiri decree”, reforms were always imposed top-down, with little or no public consultation, fundamental research, or attempt to communicate the rationale for the reforms and to get commitment to them. The neglect of these very basic principles of project management is a serious indictment of competence of the reforming wing of the regime.
Part of this was offering inordinate sums of money to provide “off the peg” education solutions from English-speaking countries with little or no attempt to adapt these to the prevailing socio-cultural realities in Bahrain. This fetishization of “the West” (a geographically incoherent term) on the part of Bahraini reformers opened the doors to foreigners who could be pushy, arrogant, and ignorant of the lives and cultures of Bahrain to the point that they could appear to be racist.
This neglect on the part of reformers needlessly created resistance to reform, while undermining the effectiveness of reform, and strengthened the hand of reactionary and hardline elements within the regime. Yet my criticism is not of the reforms as reforms but of their implementation.
What we are seeing at Bahrain Polytechnic is the end-game where a once brave and principled attempt at reforming Bahrain’s sclerotic higher education system is finally absorbed into the apparatus of a repressive state. The failings, the very real failings, of a few people at the top of BP (conveniently most of them foreigners) are being used to deliver the final death-blow to BP as an independent higher education institution. This is indeed a rape of higher education in Bahrain.