In an effort to strengthen national unity and counter religious extremism, Bahrain recently announced the creation of the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse, which aims to help bridge sectarian differences and encourage a peaceful dialogue, according to its founding member and president, Suhail Ghazi al-Qusaibi.
During an interview with Al-Shorfa in Manama, al-Qusaibi said the foundation, launched June 12th, will emphasise values such as forgiveness and a free exchange of ideas with the goal of reconciliation, promoting civil discourse and increasing social harmony.
Al-Qusaibi said the organisation will include members from both Sunni and Shia sects who denounce sectarianism and place national interests and civil reconciliation above all.
Al-Shorfa: How did the idea to launch the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse come about?
Suhail al-Qusaibi: Bahrain is genuinely suffering from a huge social problem, which is sectarian extremism that has emerged since the political crisis began in early 2011. The foundation's goal as a private non-profit institute is to bridge the social gap and mend the sectarian divide through civil discourse while staying away from politics.
Al-Shorfa: What are the foundation's guiding values and principles?
Al-Qusaibi: We believe in forgiveness, understanding and mutual respect among all people living in Bahrain. We believe that everyone has the right, regardless of their race, age, gender or sect, to express their opinion about any topic and that their opinion be heard. We appreciate differing opinions without any bias or intolerance. We believe in the principle of equality among everyone, and we only judge people by their actions.
Al-Shorfa: Now that the foundation is up and running, what is next on the agenda?
Al-Qusaibi: The [next] step will be to announce the board that will consist of five to six members each from the Sunni and Shia sects who detest all forms of sectarianism and support the slogan 'Bahrain First'.
The new board will not be introduced for several weeks until after we receive approval from the Ministry of Social Development. Then members will be chosen according to specific criteria, and the door will be open for all those interested in bridging the sectarian gap to join us and work together for the sake of our nation and its citizens.
Al-Shorfa: How will this foundation differ from the other reconciliation initiatives?
Al-Qusaibi: We will not impose our opinions on anyone and will not consider ourselves better than others because we are all working to strengthen national unity. The more national initiatives that exist, the greater the benefit is for the public. With time and with our promising programmes, we will prove to everyone that we are capable of strengthening the social fabric and restoring Bahrain to its original state before the (political) incidents and even better than before.
Al-Shorfa: What is unique about your future action plan?
Al-Qusaibi: During the next stage, we would like to focus on Bahraini youth who are the backbone of our future. If they are raised to love their country, we will have a generation whose priority is loyalty and a sense of belonging to the land where they live. If the next generation is raised to hate, this will create a huge societal problem in the future.
Al-Shorfa: What kinds of activities are being prepared?
Al-Qusaibi: There are several activities scheduled for the near future such as conferences and public events that are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and values among different segments of society. These exchanges will address race, religion, citizenship and economic and social conditions.
We will invite experts in social conflict resolution to speak at workshops organised for young Bahrainis. This is similar to the first event we recently organised when an Irish expert was invited to talk about the political and sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland to provide lessons learned and offer a comparison for our local problems.
We will also reinforce national unity and social cohesion through social media, and play the role of mediator that will facilitate a serious discourse to avoid conflict, not to mention encouraging research and studies devoted to reconciliation, reform and civil discourse.
Al-Shorfa: There has been a lot of discussion about the features of a new national dialogue that is being crafted in political circles. What is the foundation's take on these developments?
Al-Qusaibi: If there is a new national discourse, then that is a great thing. As a foundation, we are not interested in politics. Our mission is to initiate a civil discourse at the popular level rather than the political level.