When your government takes away your identity

Bahrain has been stripping people of their citizenship for, well, practicing the wrong kind of Islam, apparently:

The Bahraini government began revoking citizenship shortly after the Arab Spring engulfed large sections of the Middle East, Bahrain included, in 2011. On Feb. 14 of that year, both Shiite and Sunni Bahrainis took to the streets to demand the same rights and political freedoms for the majority Shiite population as for their Sunni compatriots. The regime of the ruling Al-Khalifa family, who are Sunnis, sent in troops to put down the movement. But four years later, demonstrators still protest every night on the streets of the country’s Shiite villages.

“The regime is running out of options. It has tortured people, starved thousands to death, openly killed hundreds of people in the street, and yet Bahrainis are still adamant on achieving change,” says doctor and activist Saeed Al-Shehabi, who was made stateless in 2012. “Revoking citizenship is just yet another tool to scare people and deter them from asking for their rights.”

Most people made stateless in Bahrain are from the Shia majority, whose members often find themselves protesting systematic discrimination at the hands of the government. Despite making up two-thirds of the population, the Shiite occupy virtually no jobs in the army, the government, the judiciary, or other top positions. Because the Sunni regime is fearful that the Shiites will one day overthrow it, it continues to search for ways to suppress them. Revoking citizenship is one such tactic. (The Bahraini government declined to comment on the policy despite requests addressed to the Bahraini Interior Ministry and other official offices.)

Many of those having their citizenship stripped have some distant Iranian heritage, but they’re not Iranian citizens and now aren’t citizens of anywhere. Part of this effort is meant to intimidate Bahraini Shiʿa from speaking out against the mistreatment to which they are routinely subjected by their own government, but part of it is the flip side of an ongoing effort by the Khalifa monarchy to manipulate Bahrain’s demographics by brute force:

Ibrahim Sharif, a parliamentarian and a human rights campaigner (and a Sunni, though he prefers not to be reduced to a sectarian identity) estimates that over the past decade, some 60,000 foreign Sunnis have been offered citizenship. An economist and statistician by training, Sharif came up with that number by examining natural growth rates and population increases. “If you look at census statistics over past twenty years the Shia population has a faster growth rate. But the make up of the population has not changed significantly,” says a Bahrain-based diplomat. “So it’s not like they are trying to bring in enough Sunnis to dominate, but they are trying to naturalize enough numbers to maintain the status quo.”

Statelessness is a basic human rights issue. A stateless person’s rights and freedoms are considerably curtailed, and opportunities to get an education or health care, or to make a decent living, are often heavily restricted. You’re at constant risk of deportation but have no place to which you can be deported, since you literally belong to no country at all. Look at the Rohingya in Myanmar, whose statelessness is a significant contributor to the grotesque repression they suffer. International law is clear that sovereign nations have the right to define citizenship for themselves, but agreements like the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (which, admittedly, Bahrain hasn’t signed) also make it clear that crimes of disloyalty to the state ought to be the only justification for a nation revoking citizenship and rendering people stateless. “Being Shiʿa” is not a crime against the state of Bahrain, nor is protesting government mistreatment, not by any reasonable standard.

What Bahrain is doing to these people is dehumanizing and unjustifiably cruel. The decision to render someone stateSo when you hear Republican presidential candidates proposing to do basically the same thing to children born here in the US, keep in mind what kind of model they’re advocating that the US follow.

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