“Completing his game, Belgrave [Advisor to the government of Bahrain] sent me a letter, saying: The ruler of Bahrain ordered the withdrawal of your citizenship…So I sent him a letter to protest against the revocation of my nationality, insisting that I will not give up my Bahraini citizenship and will stay in Bahrain”.
Abdulrahman Al-Baker Memoirs, From Bahrain to Exile, St. Helena, 1965 edition, p.73.
During the first week of my ordeal of leaving Bahrain, on April 11th 2011, I was in a local café enjoying my time reading the recently published novel entitled, (Tell Me About the Vision), by the critic, Abdelfattah Kilito, who is well-known for his interest in the pleasure of literature and narrations.
At the beginning of his book, Kilito wrote: “This is what someone looks like when reading: like no one,” quoting German novelist and critic Botho Strauss. These words caught my attention.
This quote speaks of the passion and pleasure of reading. For when you’re engrossed by a book, you lose yourself to a state of utter lust and total absence. You will lose contact with others. You will no longer hear their voices or take notice of their movements. You will lose yourself (the fact of being someone) yet you will not lose who you really are. It is a state of bonding with something beautiful.
This quote became like an inside joke to my family, often used when one of us is so caught up in something that he/she stop answering anyone calling them. My son, Basel, always used to find interesting ways to use it against me. So before I even pick up a book to read, he says: “The state of “no one” shall begin.”
Whereas, my daughter, Amaceel, complains whenever I’m busy following up my work via social media outlets by saying: “When is this state of “no one” going to end?” We used to laugh every time we used this meaningful quote. We; however, did not know that one day it will reflect a political situation in 2015. I texted Basel, asking him if he remembered the quote about the state of being “no one”. He said that he had it on his phone but lost it recently and then added: “Don’t worry, I will never feel like I am no one’s son.”
Stripping me of my nationality exactly mirrors the state of “no one”. In this case; however, you will not be captivated by a delightful state of mind and you will not lose contact with others because you’re too busy using all your senses to enjoy this pleasure. You will be considered: unrecognized.
Being engrossed in a cultural state of mind like reading a book will cut off your contact with the outside world temporarily but it will not strip you of your identity. If anything, it will enhance your identity by offering you more knowledge, making you more aware and a more capable person.
In Bahrain, if you are against the dictatorship, then it means that you are “no one” in the eyes of the ruling family. You have no voice, no representation. If you don’t shut your mouth completely, you will not have a nationality nor a life, which means that you will be condemned to death literally or as a citizen of Bahrain.
In Bahrain, if you are a well-educated person, having a nationality depends on your submission to the ruling family and your loyalty to the throne. It wants you to be one of its subjects before recognizing you.
I used to find it difficult to answer a question I was frequently asked: You have a PhD, why aren’t you a professor at one of Bahrain’s universities?”
It is because I am no one according to the ruling family’s point of view. Now the answer is easy. Before I had my nationality revoked, it was hard for me to explain the meaning of “being no one” and that I, according to the regime, am not worthy of being recognized by its legal, academic, cultural and administrative institutions. For these institutions are limited to the regime’s restrictions. They are not fitting for a country that respects citizenship based on diversity, difference, opposition and observation.
There is a difference between the state of being “no one” on a cultural level and on a political one. The former is a beautiful educational experience while the latter is an experience of exile and unrecognition. The second state; however, will not affect your existence because you already existed before it happened, that is if you were a mirror reflecting this world and everyone in it. That’s what I witnessed in my friend’s mirrors.
The inauguration of my book entitled, (My Grandmother Salama Salloum), which took place in my home back in Bahrain on February 9th 2015, days after the announcement of the royal decree ordering the withdrawal of my nationality, made a clear statement, proving that I am someone. I am someone from this land, someone who cannot be removed nor replaced. “Your presence was dominant here,” was one of the comments that my friends wrote on the walls of my house. It was a very meaningful and emotional moment.
One of my friends said to me: “I compared the time when I was at your house in 2010 celebrating World Philosophy Day and today as we celebrated your presence amongst us in this historic moment. In 2010, we were only talking but today we are doing something. We are witnessing a real situation, a real citizenship based on flesh, blood, and a soul, family, history and home. At that time, we were talking about Monk Hepa yet today in 2015 we are celebrating Hepa’s experience among us. In 2010, we wanted friends with whom we could discuss theories and thoughts. Yet today we are living amongst people who are taking a humane, political and patriotic stand. They are recognizing Hepa’s citizenship which the authorities revoked.
I will not give up my Bahraini nationality, as the unyielding Sunni activist, Abdulrahman Al-Baker, kept his Bahraini citizenship despite everything.