Bahrain's Sunni rulers target Shiite mosques
The Bahraini regime has bulldozed dozens of Shiite mosques or other religious structures in the crackdown on a mainly Shiite opposition movement.
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That claim, however, is easily challenged. In Aali, for example, the government rerouted a planned highway some years back so as to preserve the Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque, residents say.Skip to next paragraph
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McClatchy visited three other sites where "before" photos of the destroyed mosques showed they were well maintained, decades-old structures.
Some sites had a wistful air. At the Sheikh Aabed Mosque in the village of Sitra, once a ramshackle building that residents said was more than a century old, prayer rugs and other religious paraphernalia covered the ground.
US official: Bahrain's Sunni leadership is 'vindictive'
The State Department told McClatchy that it's "concerned by the destruction of religious sites." The statement noted that the Bahraini government had international obligations to preserve the common cultural heritage.
In private, U.S. officials are harsher. One, who's not in Bahrain, said that by bulldozing Shiite mosques and persecuting the political opposition, the government was treating its people like a "captive population."
Another U.S. official visiting the area described the Sunni leadership as "vindictive" and indicated the Obama administration was deeply worried about Bahrain's rapid downward spiral. Both officials asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Shiites have long complained of bias and discrimination here, despite massively outnumbering the entrenched Khalifa dynasty, whose prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al Khalifa has held the office for the past 40 years.
In mid-March, the government, after a month of protests, abandoned dialogue with moderate Shiites and Sunnis and invited Saudi Arabia to dispatch some 1,500 troops to help quell the unrest. The government imposed a state of emergency and began a crackdown on dissent. Among the first government acts after Saudi troops arrived was the destruction of the iconic Pearl Square, the traffic circle where demonstrators had camped out for weeks.
The government even recalled the half-dinar coins that featured the roundabout.
Most ominous is that hate speech of the sort that preceded the 1994 Rwandan genocide is now allowed in public. The pro-government English language Gulf Daily News recently gave prominence to a reader's letter that compared Shiites to "termites" that should be exterminated.
"The moral is: to get rid of the white ants so they don't come back . . . " said the letter, signed only, "Sana P S."
Bahrain television has carried the canard that the Shiite sect allows its followers to lie, implying that what they say can't be trusted.
How the conflict could become international
The crackdown also threatens to turn what had been an internal conflict into an international one.
Shiite-led Iran, which lies across the Gulf, is actively vying for influence in this predominantly Shiite state and has condemned the organized destruction of Shiite culture. The upheaval also has stirred passions in Shiite-ruled Iraq.