The Peace Tree
On Valentine’s Day, 2011, the Shia majority took to the streets and thousands of people occupied the Pearl Roundabout for weeks of protest and demonstrations. The country was in turmoil, with burning tyres and tear gas, and looting and vandalism of both Sunni and Shia businesses and schools. Universities closed. Many expats were immediately evacuated. I won’t comment on Bahraini politics here, but I wanted to bear witness to what was happening, (and after this experience, I will never trust most of the western press to report with any insight, depth or care about anything.)At the Pearl Roundabout, the demonstrations were peaceful and positive.
I spent 2 days drawing there, was the only non-Bahraini in sight and was welcomed by both friends who were camped out there, and by many exuberant and committed protesters. Some of these drawings were used anonymously in a French publication by Francine Burlet, but none, of course, was ever published in Bahrain.
“No Sunni, No Shia, just Bahraini” captures the spirit of the moment.
In the aftermath of the protests, there was a country-wide desire for peace and reconciliation.
A group of young artists, “#Unite Bahrain” asked me to join them and create a piece about peace.
I wanted to do a project that would unite and involve as many different people as possible, regardless of political affiliation or anything else.
I asked everyone to simply finish the sentence, “Peace is…” and write it on a paper leaf. Friends from around the world responded. My friend, Karine Torr, a South African Bahai gave me the Bahai teaching, “Peace is realising that as mankind, we are the leaves of one tree, the cells of one body.” It was exactly what I was trying to express. The mural was in a popular shopping mall, with many leaves written, but many leaves left blank for anyone who wanted to add their thoughts on peace. And hundreds of people did, including government ministers and TV presenters.
Many people said they were moved by it. It was, of course, very naive of me to think it would make any difference, but at least, for a few moments, each person thought about peace and held Bahrain in the light.