Since the decline from the late 1960s of pan-Arab nationalism led from Egypt and the ensuing rise of wide Sunni and Sh'ite Muslim revivalisms, the Arab states of the Gulf and Sa'udi Arabia have seen the rapid articulation by intellectuals of views of history that center around the state-units that govern them (most of them small in their territorial extent).
While patronage and funds from the governments of those state-units helped start and sustain them, the new particularist Gulf discourses have some attractive and rich elements with their own growth dynamic. This study focuses on the writings of 'Alawi al-Hashimi (b. 1946) and upon al-Wathiqah, the biannual learned journal of Bahrayn's Center of Historical Documents, as a vehicle for a construction of an indigenous particularist-territorial history, one admittedly sustained by the post-1973 influx of petro-dollars, that is highly educated and acculturated, and both directs and caters to the evolving world view of the burgeoning Bahrayni middle classes. The new Bahrayn-centered view of the self and the past is stimulated at one and the same time by (a) Anglo-Saxon intellectualism, (b) Egyptian and Fertile Crescentic pan-Arab and particularist ideologies and (c) real classical Arabo-Islamic writings, linguistically accessible to all literate in Arabic. (We define the classical period of Arab-Islamic history as extending from around 570 AD up until the Mongols sacked Baghdad and murdered the last "Arab" 'Abbasid Caliph al-Musta'sim in 1258).
Subsequent installments of this study will assess the connections of Bahraynis out to the wider Arab and Muslim worlds in classical and modern times, the degree to which the new intellectual elite has been drawn towards pan-Arab and pan-Muslim views of history vis-à-vis the West, and the elite's data on interaction of Arabians with Hindus/Indians and animist Africans in history.
Bahrayni Intellectuals and the Recreation of a Gulf-Centered National Past and History
Bahrayn: the Country and the State
The State of Bahrayn (Dawlat al-Bahrayn) is made up of an archipelago consisting of Bahrayn Island and about 30 smaller islands. It lies along the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf and some 190 km southwest of Iran, whose Shi'ite Islam the majority of Bahraynis, though Arab, share. The capital, which has the main concentration of population, is al-Manamah. The total area of Bahrayn is 692 square km and its total population more than 800,000. The birth rate is high and, given that free welfare-state medical and hospital treatment is provided to everyone, the death rate low. About one-third of the country's residents are less than 15 years of age: thus, the population will continue to grow rapidly. More than four-fifths of the population is urban, concentrated in al-Manamah.
Bahrayn may have been under mainland Arab domination when Shapur II annexed it, together with eastern Arabia, into the Persian Sasanian empire in the 4th century AD. By the time of the Muslim conquest, in the 7th century, it was being governed for Persia by a Christian Arab. The 'Abbasids, who based their Arabic-medium empire from Baghdad, took Bahrayn in the 8th century, and it remained under Arab control until 1521, when Portugal seized it. In 1602, after 80 years of unrest, the Persians seized Bahrayn. In 1783 Ahmad Ibn Al Khalifah ousted them, and his family has led Bahrayn ever since.
During the 19th century, Britain through naval duress imposed a series of treaties on the Bahraynis that gave her extensive control over their country. Following Britain's decision in 1968 to withdraw all forces from the Persian Gulf, Shaykh 'Isa Ibn Al Khalifah proclaimed Bahrayn's independence in August 1971.
The Post-1971 Political System
Bahrayn is a constitutional monarchy governed by the Khalifah family, who happen to be Sunnis. The 1973 constitution empowered the Amir 'Isa Bin Salman to make many broad-gauge decisions of the government, but with the Council of Ministers to conduct the state's day-to-day administration. The traditional Arab and Islamic system of a majlis (regular audience), through which citizens can present petitions to the Amir, has kept the Al Khalifah leadership attuned to the concerns of Bahraynis. Since the death of Shaykh Isa in 1999, the state has been headed by the liberal reformist King Hamad Bin 'Isa. He shares governance, though, with the seasoned PM Shaykh Khalifah Bin Salman and with the young crown prince al-Shaykh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifah whose no-nonsense calls to push Bahrayn into a full modernity patterned after America's freeze the blood of a few fundamentalists from time to time. The royal trio restored parliamentarism, released all political prisoners, and look favorable to the emergence of full-fledged political parties soon.
Financed by oil and gas revenues, Bahrayn has been developing a mixed state- and private-enterprise economy. The per capita GNP is comparable to those of the world's developed countries, but is not growing as fast as the population. The Bahrayni government owns all petroleum, natural-gas and heavy industries, but leaves light industry, construction, trade and finance to the private sector. The government has been trying to diversify manufacturing as a response to dwindling petroleum reserves; together with utilities, manufacturing employs about one-tenth of the labor force.
The Expanding Bourgeoisie
After independence in 1971, Bahrayn evolved into a welfare state that has offered free universal education and benefits for the old and the disabled, although it has yet to eliminate the unemployment some educated youth suffer. An indigenous statal bourgeoisie has grown since 1971 to administer the welfare state and the government-directed petroleum, gas and heavy industries. The growth of the modern private sector has further expanded and diversified the Bahrayni professional bourgeoisie. A stock exchange was opened in 1989. With excellent telecommunications facilities and a computer services company, Bahrayn has become the Gulf's preeminent financial centre. Graduates from Bahrayn's excellent primary and secondary government schools can attend the University of Bahrayn or the Arabian Gulf University at al-Manamah, or other universities in the Gulf, Sa'udi Arabia, Egypt, Bayrut, or in the Anglo-Saxon West.
A non-Arab government tried in vain to fan communal divisions in Bahrayn. The increasingly well-educated indigenous bourgeoisie, highly literate in both standard Arabic and more passively English, has become a crucial element in social and intellectual life, and in determining long-term political power in Bahrayn, regardless of the prohibition of political parties at present. The political leadership and establishment that has the Khalifah family at its apex has an interest in promoting articulations of high Arabic culture and views of the past that legitimize Bahrayn as a discrete state separate, for instance, from Iran, but also distinguished from the wide general Arab World and pan-Arabism.
Bahrayni and Gulf Identity
The varied cultural sources and viewpoints going into the new Bahrayni-Gulf historiography were clear in 1993 suggestions by Shaykh 'Abdallah Bin Khalid Al Khalifah for a general encyclopedia of the Gulf region.
Khalifah wanted the encyclopedia to be the joint effort of the more and more productive centers of documents and historiography which had mushroomed all over the Gulf and Sa'udi Arabia in the post-independence period. He however wanted the effort to be guided and financed by the Gulf Co-operation Council, whose General Secretariat should set up the necessary Co-ordinating Council.
The archeology of the West, and the particularist Arab World nationalisms that that had stimulated, particularly the Egyptian and 'Iraqi varieties, significantly supplemented and secularized 'Abdallah Al Khalifah's concept of the indigenous community or identity. He wanted the general frame of the encyclopedia to start from Sumerian civilization because that, he reflected, is the starting point most historians of civilizations adopt when writing about the ancient world - Khalifah, here, was alert enough to English-language international scholarship on Mesopotamian antiquity. Thus, the first part of the encyclopedia would cover the history of the Gulf to the appearance of Islam - a sense of the nation-community as first defined in pagan antiquity that Egyptian Islamists had long protested in their country. The encyclopedia's second part would survey "the history of the Gulf during the Islamic state beginning with the period of the prophet Muhammad up to the elimination (tasfiyyat) of the Ottoman caliphate." The third part was to be allocated to the history of the Gulf in modern times beginning with the formation of political units and the emergence of states (al-duwal) in the Gulf. This had to entail [inevitably somewhat critical and anti-imperialist] treatment of "outside attacks beginning with that of the Portuguese and the struggles of the foreign states" to possess the Gulf. The fourth part of the encyclopedia, the most fluid sector and the one that would be hardest to bring to a conclusion, was to review the history - with celebration of "the modern renaissance" - of the states of the Gulf following independence. ['Abdallah Bin Khalid Al Khalifah (1993) 8-10].
Al-Shaykh 'Abdallah's prototype design for a Gulf encyclopedia posed some problematics that voiced the compound concerns among Bahrayni and Gulf historians in general. It might not turn out an easy enterprise to interweave and blend his sense of immemorial place as defining a Bahrayni/Gulf identity from antiquity with his linking of identity with wide Arab and Islamic states whose rule and official languages spanned many regions and territorial homelands across two or more continents. Indeed, such Arab-led past classical Islamic empires as the 'Abbasid had extended far beyond the sphere of native Arabic speech, including Iran within their realms, but not important Arabic-speaking lands in North Africa and Spain.
Dr 'Alawi Al-Hashimi:
This section reviews a formulation of Bahrayni identity that is overwhelmingly territorialist (although recognizing a special link to 'Iraq): it thus lacks the wider Arabo-Islamic dualities that are latent in 'Abdallah Bin Khalid Al Khalifah's design for a Gulf -centric indigenous historiography. The writings of Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi (b. 1946) have projected a full-blown neo-pagan particularism that ascribes to the Bahrayn or Gulf territorial homeland a deterministic or definitive might that on occasion can award it an almost religious aura or function. Having taken his BA, MA and PhD from Lebanese, Egyptian and Tunisian universities respectively, al-Hashimi had a strong formation in far-extending Arabic culture: currently Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Bahrayn, he has become a noted critic and historian of Bahrayni and 'Iraqi high literatures. Al-Hashimi is the author of a diverse body of poetry in classical Arabic that includes some good youthful odes in praise of the Prophet Muhammad.
In his 1993 al-Wathiqah article "Civilizational Thought in Bahrayn in the Light of the Problematic of the Relation between the Ideal and the Reality", Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi considered that duality to be "a basic problematic in the experience of Arab man and of Eastern man in general. It is from this duality that people in our Gulf region derive their view of existence" and a never-ending variety of subsidiary problematics. Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi was post-modernist in his tendency to document his analysis from sometimes only fortuitous configurations of differing vocabulary items developed from single Arabic roots. Also tinged by the West's post-modernism was his sense of an immense stretch of continuous historical time, all ages of which are equally vivid and are legitimized from a distance, so that the Arabo-Islamic period can no longer impose a single or self-contained ideological or aesthetic system. Al-Hashimi's mustering of such pairings as "geography and history or place and time" evoke a partial deterministic relation between (a) places and (b) varied successive human ideals or cultural products that could relativize the current human Islam being articulated as an authoritative and comprehensive ideology by Islamist revivalists. In regard to a sense of time that is not always centered in Islam and the eternal life it offers, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi almost at the start of his article praised the epic of Gilgamesh as a surpassing expression of the "idea of immortality" for which the linked ancient civilizations of ancient Bahrayn and Mesopotamia stood. For him, a given group's subjective ideal - a composite of relatively stable ideals, and psychological, intellectual/conceptual and aesthetic characteristics - was not separable from "the structure of reality" in which geography was so crucial. As the circle of the structure of reality grows outwards, the ideal functions as a central point of gravity that when the circuit is completed presents the cultural structure that tree-like produces the fruit of art as a final living representation of the completion of the circle. The fantasy evolves as the inherent completion or fulfilment of the action that creates it. The practice it enriches corrects the expectations of the fantasy, making it possible to reach a new level of achievement [al-Hashimi, "al-Tafkir al-Hadari…-- 2" (July 1993) 15-16]. Al-Hashimi thus gives a role and functions to the Bahrayni and other Arab homelands in the formation or selection of ideals and culture that could clash with the insistence of the radical pan-Arabs and some harder-line salafite-Ikhwanite Islamists that the Arabic language or Islam revolutionized, or should, the cultures of populations over which they sweep.
Arab Gulf Unity
Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi here voiced little of the pan-Arabs' sense of the potential of a high language originally brought from outside the homeland to transform a territorial population, and to permanently define its identity and pervade its life. In his particularist ideological structure, the Bahrayni or Gulf people were permanently defined long before Arabic and Islam came, mainly by geography: history is "really moving liquid geography, while geography is conversely coagulated, still history." Al-Hashimi's territorialist founding of identity on geography does not visualize a far-flung defining region that would bracket the whole Arab-speaking world. He identifies two overlapping regions that define an intimate circle of identity: Bahrayn and the Gulf. The geographical structure that distinguishes the islands of Bahrayn has sharp distinctness, but needs to be positioned within the overall frame of the Arab Gulf conceived as a single geographical unit, the "comprehensive vision" within which Bahrayn has to be set. Bahrayn has formed a node that is dualistic in its functions in relation to the overall Arab Gulf region since the dawn of its history. Al-Hashimi endorses 'Abd al-Latif Nasir al-Hamidan that "the Arab Gulf region" is not a solely geographical term that just denotes a limited area on the surface of the earth: the term also refers to a special way of life. Although subject to foreign social, economic and political influences down the ages, the Gulf region has functioned as an effective melting pot that has time and again fused all those diverse influences together, triumphantly maintaining its internal unity and structure [al-Hashimi, (July 1993) 19-20].
Only about 3 per cent of Bahrayn's land area is arable, most of it near the springs of northern Bahrayn Island. Agriculture is not important in the statelet's current economy, producing only a portion of its food requirements, mainly in dates and tropical fruits. Only a tenth of Bahrayn's land is in pasture, sustaining a few thousand goats, cattle and sheep. Yet the agriculturalist and herding - rather than nomadic - background of the families of many members of the new Bahrayn bourgeoisie offers memories that significantly distinguish (a) the particularist Bahrayni nation our sampling of intellectuals is reinventing from (b) mainland Gulf or peninsular Arab populations in West Asia who were defined more by arid conditions that fostered nomadism as well as commerce. While so aware of the interactions and links of joint Arab culture that drew and draw the two Gulf groups together, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi focuses particularities in the geographical reality of Bahrayn that also distinguish it against the wider region of the Arab Gulf. Here, though, he again cautions that plural geography-determined sub-units can only be articulated so far in the face of the interwoven nature of the overall Gulf region's general history, its current "reality" and its already small size. These and other considerations have to limit examination of the Gulf's parts as discrete territorial entities, but the particularities of the reality of Bahrayn can be assimilated as a dualistic problematic in its interaction with the main section of the Gulf in West Asia and its Arabs. Bahrayn recurrently derives founding raw elements from the Gulf region in general, which it then re-exports back to it after having refined and distilled them. For Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi, it is this basis in interaction that gives this archipelago of isolated islands that are girt by sea from all sides its special roles: its functioning is inherently an extension of the "womb of the mother Arabian peninsula." Without any wish for any kind of competition, Bahrayn pursues this qualified relationship that helps it compensate for a deprived history, and enables it to reverse the natural law of isolation and geographical encirclement as it affirms its historical affiliation to the mother womb. Bahrayn is a group of small islands that has only agriculture and the sea as the basis of its natural environment in contrast to the mainland Gulf entities that additionally have "the desert manifestation" the islands of Bahrayn lack [al-Hashimi (July 1993) 20-21].
This "problematic of problematics" is "the root from which the whole tree of life branched out and became crowned with the fruits of knowledge and imagination." The desertic aspect and the sea aspect in the Gulf's natural environment represent the two extremes of the duality of that environment which through their interactive struggle ever seek a third outcome that will award that struggle its full and temporarily stable form. The desert and the sea, the two basic sides of the fluid triangle, seek unceasingly the third side that is generated from the movement and quest, namely agriculture so that they can reach a relative peace in which the triangle for a time can find its stable form. While for al-Hashimi this pattern distinguishes his islands, so agricultural, from some sectors and groups in the mainland Gulf, he in one spasm notes "some oases" there that also achieved the agricultural environment, and he here recycles a late classical Arab terminology that conflates the islands of his twentieth-century state with that agriculture-practising coastal strip in West Asia as all "having from ancient times been called the land of Bahrayn, which encompassed at one time all the states of the East Arabian peninsula beginning with Kuwait and ending with Northern 'Uman" [al-Hashimi (July 1993) 23].
Nomad and Sedentary Arabs Interact
Despite his sense of difference as a Bahrayni from the nomadic Arabs of the deeper mainland, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi offered a nuanced vision of their contributions and roles in the evolution of the identity of the Gulf region. Desert environments are barren and unable to meet the needs of their populations, especially when their numbers increase and there are no longer enough grazing grounds for the tribes. The droughts and famines of the hinterland desert environment drive its nomads out to the much richer littoral lands where both agriculture and the sea offer a better range of livelihoods. The pressure and infiltration from the inhabitants of the desert increases whenever they sense that political authority has weakened or is weakening in the thin eastern agricultural strip of the Arabian peninsula. Yet Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi offers a much more shaded and diverse portrayal of Arabian nomads who surge into sedentary environments than had the indictments from the Egyptian particularist ideologues of the 1920s. A proportion of the nomad interlopers is, he observes, quick to settle down. Writing of a past that had for the most part faded away several decades earlier in the Arab Gulf, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi writes of the ease with which such incursions can be organized from the inexhaustible reserve of clans and tribes, which could easily escape back into the desert in the event of failure or after successfully meeting their needs. His interest, though, is that category among nomad intruders that readily settled down in the fertile and largely sedentary eastern margin of the Gulf, including the islands of Bahrayn.
Al-Hashimi sees such nomads as having been driven from the outset by a duality of poverty and relative riches. Those nomads liable to settle down are those who either already have more wealth than the general run of desert Arabs or are the very poorest among them. Touched, however intermittently, by classical Marxist thought, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi sees class dynamics, not just latent but some of them also consciously considered, at work in the movement of those nomadic tribes out of their expulsive desert environment to the more fertile littoral strip. Even more conscious and skilled was the movement of desert Arabs across the water barrier between the Arabian peninsula and the archipelago of Bahrayn. To pass over the sea is a testing venture that needs more varied and considered motives and means than poverty and the satisfaction of some elementary needs. It requires offensive instruments broader in effect than the sword, the spear and the dagger. Thus, nomadic tribes that wanted to invade the islands of Bahrayn with reasonable prospects of success had to shuffle off their primitive nomadism in advance and draw up not just plans but considered long-term strategies. Since this process of organized conquest by sedentarizing but still tribal Arabs from West Asia had founded states in Bahrayn - did he include Bahrayn's current Khalifah dynasty? - Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi regarded the Desert, however unlike the natural environment found in Bahrayn, as from the dawn of history one basic determinant of its society and culture ["al-Tafkir... -- 2" 25].
The Sea: Antiquity, Wide Encounters, Cosmopolitanism
Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi stresses that the name Bahrayn is derived from the Arabic root for sea. For him this indicates the central role of the sea as a provider of livelihoods and connections that have shaped the nature of the islands and their people. A range of pre-1952 particularist and pan-Arab ideologues of Egypt and the Fertile Crescent continued to influence Gulf thought in the 1980s and 1990s: Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi drew motifs about the commercially and militarily strategic position of Bahrayn as a sea-bounded entity from the Lebanese post-Christian Arabist Amin al-Rayhani, who had visited the islands early in the twentieth century ["al-Tafkir... -- 2" 30-31]. While Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi is aware that all entities abutting on the Gulf have had and have sea-borne interactions, exchanges and trade with overseas states throughout history, he believes that the much more pervasive influence of the sea on Bahraynis and their lucrative development of pearl-diving since antiquity gave them special traits and affluence in comparison to other Gulf Arabs. Still, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi sites the Bahrayni particularity he argues always within the wider coherent particularity of the Gulf Arab community as a whole in differentiation from the general Arab world. The hints in the extracts from al-Rayhani about the designs of imperial powers on idyllic Bahrayn and the Gulf dovetail into Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's own sense of the seas as the source of mixed blessings for the Bahraynis and the Gulf Arabs: the oceans bring trade, resources, culture and the transformation into modernity, but also Powers that threaten the resources and sovereignty of these vulnerable statelets with their small populations.
Definitive Pagan Golden Age
Burial mounds in the north of Bahrayn Island indicate a period of influence from Sumeria in the 3rd millennium. Written records of the archipelago exist in Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Syriac sources, and the institutional scholars in Bahrayn have spared no effort or expense to produce and publish translations of writings by Western scholars and original articles of their own that have got a flood of data from this reexcavated - until recently, lost -antique pre-Muslim heritage across to the literate bourgeois readers. The island was termed Dilmun in its most ancient period.
As with Lebanese neo-pagan particularism after 1930, the danger would be delusions of grandeur that could debauch and deform a small people's apprehension of the world precisely as the era of independence opens up unprecedented opportunities to understand it.
The territorial nationalist drive that Dilmun focuses among elite Bahraynis has led the State to fund not just excavations by foreign archeologists but also the growth of indigenous Bahrayni scholarship on the period. Khalid Muhammed al-Sindi of the Bahrayn National Museum published in 1999 in Arabic and English a descriptive overview of ancient Dilmun's circular cuspidate seals. His sharp lens in the book restores many vivid details of the life of an ancient society evoked as a prototype of a discrete modern Bahrayni nation by governmental and private discourses. Khalid's book, though, is professional archeology that does not go beyond the visual evidence of the specific seals. The seals, because of their use to stamp commercial transactions, also elucidate Dilmun's relations as an entrepot nation that traded with Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley in the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. The seals depicted drinking assemblies and symbols of gods and temples (= incompatibility with Islam). Khalid left his readers in no doubt of how hard the lack of many decipherable inscriptions from ancient Dilmun made his cautious efforts to interpret the ethos and meanings that the seals once expressed. A gazelle carried by two men in a boat he speculated to have been offerings meant for temples. His book's plates of seals in which two figures drink from two long tubes from a shared jar are vivid and tantalizing. The crowded seals depicting animals and the humans hunting or protecting or separating them do convey movement, conflict and interaction between living beings [Khalid al-Sindi, Dilmun Seals, tsd Dr Mohammed al-Khozai (Bahrain: Directorate of Archeology and Heritage 1999) pp. 58-69, 79-108].
The Dilmun seals that Khalid al-Sindi analyzed did not have the beauty of some from the Indus civilization with which ancient Bahrayn traded. Yet al-Sindi sharply reconstructed from their aggregate the teeming social and economic life, and the religious tenets and rites, of a long-forgotten people of his island. Bahrayn's methodical governmental schools today convince the children and adolescents of the greatness of a precursor-people of antiquity who had no connection to Islam. The Bahrayni governmental banknotes carry images of the current royal triumvirate plus of seals of ancient Dilmunic Bahraynis sucking up liquor together through their straws from the convivial jars. Today, too, the elite and middle class Sunnis and Shi'ites quite often clink the unifying glasses together like their forebears in Dilmun and the 'Abbasid Empire.
The construction of a Bahrayni and Gulf identity that is particularist or quasi-national by a scholar like 'Alawi al-Hashimi could open up into universalist affirmations for the continuous homeland-people like the claims of world spiritual leadership that the playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim (1899-1987) had made for an eternally Pharaonic Egypt in the 1930s. As such Egyptian neo-Pharaonist precursors had done, this Bahrayn scholar refers back to pagan myths and epics in antiquity much earlier than Greece and Rome not to say the prophet Muhammad, that would, if successfully implanted in the cultural consciousness of ordinary Bahraynis, politically distinguish the islands much more from the general Arab world - although, as we shall see, perhaps not so much from Iraq. Recent Western archeology has identified Bahrayn island with the ancient Dilmun (Telmun) of about 2000 BC, a prosperous trading center that linked Sumeria with the Indus Valley: its findings and the Sumerian and Assyrian texts that Western specialists translate feed Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's discourse. Despite Bahrayn's lighter weight than Egypt in the respective populations and in universal history, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi exalted his homeland Bahrayn/the Gulf region as the many-faceted environment that stimulated "the first man to separate from organic nature and begin the first intellectual adventure -the conceiving of myths to explicate creation, genesis, death and immortality as these were articulated in the epic of Gilgamesh, humanity's earliest known literary work of art, and the most impressive in its blending of imaginative and realistic treatment" ["al-Tafkir... -- 2" 21-22]. Bahrayn's quasi-particularist thinkers quickly appropriate the findings of Western excavations. This specific article of Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi refers to an ancient stone recently discovered in one of the Bahrayn islands' mosques: its inscriptions, deciphered by a Britisher, were directed to the god of the fishes who came from beyond a sea neighboring on the borders of Babylon, and then taught the inhabitants of Mesopotamia sciences and arts of every kind at the dawn of civilization. This god, hailed as "the Lord of the Kingdom of Water", "the creator of mankind" and "the Lord of Knowledge", was based in Bahrayn ["al-Tafkir... -- 2" 27].
Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's earliest poetry, written in the 1960s, was Islamic religious odes that he used to recite to hosts of worshippers on Islamic religious occasions. His profound Islamic formation has to be borne in mind when we assess more unconventional aspects of his later post-modernist poetry and of his neo-particularist prose studies which evoke the nation's origins in an antiquity that was pagan. Al-Hashimi's writings do sometimes present odd motifs from Bahrayn and Gulf antiquity that could be applied to tend to dilute, relativize and limit at least some recent human extensions of Islam by ideologists, and perhaps limit even Arabness, as texts and elements that came much later after geography and the paganism that was its reflection defined the particularist nation. The loose end in al-Hashimi's discourse that still leaves a problem for the definition of a discrete Gulf national community is the close links with 'Iraq from mankind's earliest antiquity highlighted by Bahrayn particularist scholars and litterateurs of his type.
While Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's antiquity-citing Bahraynist particularism was highly accomplished in its blend of a diverse intellectualism and a nationalist poetical exaltation of the homeland matrix, it was not something he had created on his own, but his distinguished contribution to a joint enterprise by Bahrayn's established historians and geographers. He cited 'Abdallah Bin Khalid Al Khalifah and 'Abd al-Malik al-Hamar who as early as the 1970s had in their general history Al-Bahrayn 'abr al-Ta'rikh (1972) referred to Danish excavations and the myths, feeding his sense of Bahrayn as "a holy land with a civilization independent in its constituents, characteristics and [literary and art] products/monuments (athar)" ["al-Tafkir... -- 2" 39].
Egypt: Particularist Ancient Histories and Pan-Arabism
In a thrust at the pan-Arab idealists who remain so strongly installed in the institutions of the Gulf and the Arabian peninsula, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi derided "that flimsy ideological concept, to which so many hierarchical intellectuals still cling fast, that the Arab homeland or the Gulf region have to be studied as a comprehensive integrated unit, charging that any other approach amounts to provincialism, racism and chauvinism. This though it is impossible for there to be any true - as against imaginary or delusory or hierarchically-imposed -unity other than through a study of its material elements that are based on the particularity every part has and the richness and strength that each part can contribute to that united whole." This nuanced approach seeks discrete features within the regional or homeland unit as well as within the wide Arab homeland argued or implied by Arabist intellectuals in the Gulf. Overall, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's ostensibly liberal alertness to "diversity, pluralism and abundance of characteristics" as elements that paradoxically integrate a wider Gulf or pan-Arab unity would rather go with a Gulf regionalist-particularist enterprise more ["al-Tafkir... 2" 48].
As the largest (if a comparatively poor) Arab country, the cultural products of Egypt give it a large presence in the minds of Gulf Arabs. Egypt under Nasser was the center of messianic pan-Arabism in the 1950s and 1960s. The Bahrayni particularists have tried to assert for their island the status of originating cradle of civilization that Egyptian particularists have asserted for Pharaonic Egypt since the early 1920s. Relatively Bahraynist intellectuals like Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi both assert status over ancient 'Iraq and maintain semi-intimate connection to it in arguing that the history of ancient Dilmun preceded even the Epic of Gilgamesh and that the mythological epic was transmitted from Dilmun to Mesopotamia. But al-Hashimi also tangentially took up the findings and speculations of Western writers to argue a Gulf provenance for the ancient Pharaonic Egyptians. Given the prominence of sea navigation in the ancient Gulf, elements of its populations would not have had to reach Egypt across the Arabian desert: they could have come by sea from, or through, some settlement in the Gulf such as in the islands of Bahrayn. Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi also argued that the ancient Phoenicians, the population definitive of the subsequent Lebanese nation in post-1930 Lebanonist particularist nationalism, came from or via Bahrayn ["al-Tafkir... - 2" 47: here, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi is seizing speculations by a Michael Rice]. Motifs of a Gulf or Bahrayn provenance for ancient Egyptians or Lebanese may seem double-edged and unpredictable in their effects for Bahraynist or Gulf particularist discourse: they may either or both (a) strengthen Gulf self-pride vis-a-vis Egyptian and Lebanese Arabs, or the themes may (b) over the long term function as an archetype image further validating some Arab community really determined by shared literary Arabic. Past use of the motif in Middle Eastern nationalist discourses points to possibility (b). The supposed Gulf origin of the ancient Phoenicians was cited by early Egyptian pan-Arabs in the 1920s to checkmate tendencies among Catholics centered in Bayrut to evolve a discrete Lebanese particularist nationalism that cited the Phoenician precursors [See the article published in the Cairo al-Muqattam of 13, 16 October 1929 by the pioneer Egyptian pan-Arabist Ahmad Zaki Pasha: Anwar al-Jundi, Ahmad Zaki Basha al-Mulaqqab bi-Shaykh al-'Urubah (Cairo: Mitba'at Misr - 1964?) pp. 137-140]. In Egypt, too, such motifs were to similarly sap the rearticulation of an Egyptian particularism that would cite a Pharaonic formative age, in the wake of Israel's defeat of the Arab states in 1967. The Egyptian geographer Dr Jamal Hamdan in his 1970 work The Personality of Egypt discussed a continuous Egyptian history and personality that began in the Pharaonic period. But in a final section on Egyptian and Arab nationalism, Hamdan argued that related groups of hunters traversed the Middle East and North Africa in the Paleolithic era, and intermingled. Thus, the arrival of the Arabs and Islam, and Nasser's pan-Arabism, paradoxically restored the original pan-Arab relatedness that had preceded the Pharaonic era. Here, some motifs from remotest pagan antiquity are employed to stop Egypt withdrawing from the Arabs and the struggle against Zionism and Israel [Smith (1983) 194-195].
In the formulations examined, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi thrust towards a final closure of meaning that would apply ancient pagan atoms and geographical motifs to make the Arab Gulf a separate entity from all other Arabs and Muslims. The supplements about connections between the Gulf and ancient Egypt, like other Arabism-promoting motifs in his writings, may be mostly just throw-away footnotes etc. The importance that post-modernist analysis gives to such "marginal" forms in ideological discourses may, though, one day prove justified for these loose ends that don't fit in al-Hashimi's longstanding particularist celebration of Bahrayn and the Gulf.
Materialist and Leftist Influences in Bahrayni Particularist Intellectualism
'Alawi al-Hashimi's references from Engels and other classical Marxist literature, as well as from archaeology and antiquity, tend towards post-modernist eclecticism that weaves them together with other elements taken from - for instance - Islam and the high intellectualism of the classical Arabs. In his discourse, the Marxist flotsam helps cast a legitimizing liberal glow over Bahrayn's monarchy and establishment. True, there was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when the communists and certain types of particularist nationalists in Arabic-speaking West Asia, and indeed a number of shaky conservative regimes there, were implicitly in league to block the advance of Nasserite and Ba'thist unitary Arab nationalism. The reinvention of Bahrayn's history and identity from al-Wathiqah can weave atoms from Marxist philosophy into all the other heterogeneous materials that serve the purpose of shoring up loyalty to the Gulf Arab particularist states and statelets, each of which has its conservative establishment. Whatever his various preferences, Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's "interest in the theses of Engels is their philosophical dimension that helps us interpret matter and its laws, not the ideological Marxist dimension." Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi adapted to his own nationalist ideology and agenda a sense in Engel's Dialectic of Nature of matter as "a never-ceasing flux and movement that is constantly transforming itself into new aspects of matter and movement." Engels had called for modern physics to adopt from recent philosophy the impossibility of any cessation of movement ["al-Tafkir... - 2" 45].
Among the Western materialistic doctrines that al-Hashimi mentioned was Darwinism, which some Westerners have glossed as a basically atheistical explication of the origins of organic life that bypasses any need for the interventionist God the Bible and Islam underscore. A nationalist, al-Hashimi was very far indeed from having Darwin's wide, global focus on the macro-history of the species and of humans. Yet, from his separate world-view, al-Hashimi liked Darwin's sense of the capacity of geographical environments to mould the development of the creatures living in them. The context of the reference to Darwin was al-Hashimi's characterization of the Bahrayn Homeland as a synthesis of the Sea and the Land (agriculture). Darwin's huge time-frame helped expand al-Hashimi's sense of the continuous history of the homeland community back to earliest human pre-history. "The agricultural environment... is to be understood by referring back to the earliest roots we can trace for its formation, and for the emergence of its society as a human species that has been maintaining its make-up for thousands of years." Most modern sciences, biology in particular, had "since Darwin and his theory of evolution" encouraged that extent of historical review ["al-Tafkir... - 2" 35].
It is true that al-Hashimi further legitimized such Western theories by claiming Ibn Khaldun as their indigenous forerunner. He described Ibn Khaldun as the first to attempt a comprehensive study of the effect that natural environment with its water, air, fertility, mountains, sea and rivers had upon human conditions, pigmentations and ethics ["al-Tafkir... - 2" 48]. In one wild or cynical thrust to indigenization, al-Hashimi even tried to equate (a) Engels' ill-defined cliches about the material life-force of albumen (eiweiss) or protein, hinted to perhaps still be ahead of 1993 experimental science, with (b) the religions' sense of "spirit" emanating from the Creator as the source of life in creatures and humans ["al-Tafkir... - 2" p. 33]. The equation is confused, or a ploy, or the consequence of a recurring disregard for the comprehensive structure of these Western thought-systems by a high intellectual nationalism that rips atoms out of them to install to adorn its own Arab (and sometimes residually Islamic) structure. Al-Hashimi's linking of Marxist "moving matter" to an animating spirit from God would certainly have irritated Engels, who was nonetheless resigned that there was no way he could disprove religious explications of the regularities in natural phenomena and evolution. [Al-Hashimi said he was following an extract from Engels' introduction to Dialectics published in an Arabic anthology of Engels' and Marx' writings Mukhtarat Marx Engels, tsd Ilyas Shahin (Moscow: Progress Publishers nd). Cf observations on Nature as flux in Engels, Dialectics of Nature, tsd Clemens Dutt (London: Lawrence and Wishart 1940) p. 13. Al-Hashimi's sense of the fluid interconnectedness of all aspects of the natural world of the homeland with each other and with the life-patterns and concepts of that homeland's people could also draw from observations by Engels on interconnection and motion in Nature: Engels, Dialectics, p. 170. Like al-Hashimi, Engels admired Darwin: ibid, pp. 208-209].
The main function of motifs from Darwinian evolutionism and classical Marxists in Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi's particularist nationalist discourse is to establish a flexible, dynamic and eternal image of the homeland's natural environment as the continuity that frames and structures a permanent community down through all the ages of the nation.
Usually, the motifs from Engels and Marx in al-Hashimi's essay function as flotsam from a Western ideology that his writing atomizes and turns to his territorialist national purposes: the motifs now highlight territorial homeland and its nation. Yet Marxist slivers can also suggest plural class categories within that nation to him. Al-Hashimi presented a coherent and comprehensive break-up of the elements that in his nationalist world-view function in concert as the "single organic movement" of the "reality" of the geometrical Bahrayni society. It is a full and academically impressive listing of the constituents that have formed today's Bahrayn: "The Political System: Imperialism, missionary activity, the national (watani = homeland-framed) movements; The Class Set-up: the notables bourgeoisie, the petite bourgeoisie, the toiling classes, the problematic of class pluralism". Nor does this vision by al-Hashimi of the categories of interests and forces in Bahrayni society flinch from the forms and sects of an Islam that is itself at least plural, if not pluralist, in his country: Religion: the religions and beliefs before Islam, conversion to the Islamic religion, the religious sects/disparate schools, doctrines (al-madhahib al-diniyyah), the problematic of community solidarity between religion and nationalism." ["al-Tafkir... - 2" 16-17]
In many ways, al-Hashimi's looks an ideology that dilutes or contains some texts and manifestations of Islam in at least the recent interpretations of categories of its adherents. Not always of equal substance, his discourse in places can sometimes become little more than purple passages and rhetorical froth and bubble in the self-exultation of neo-bourgeois middle Bahrayn. Yet it also has in it a drive to face the reality of divisions and categories of interests that might make serious exploration - rather than politico-ideological celebration - of Bahrayn's history and past become possible one day. Indeed, just such a serious professional historiography by an indigenous intelligentsia is now entering the public domain in the pages of al-Wathiqah.
Al-Hashimi's eye for macro-history and for classes in Bahrayn's modern society has lent clarity and perspective to his literary criticism of Bahrayni poetry and fiction in the twentieth century. He divided the evolution of modern Bahrayni poetry into three periods: (a) Neo-classical poets: from the early 1920s they moved from affected late-traditional ornamentation to a reinvention of early Arabic poetical styles that now called for a patriotic awakening of the particular homeland, which now had to seek education as well as inherited virtues; (b) Bourgeois romantic poets of the national reawakening: from the 1950s, these self-divided poets swung between past and present, between personal concerns and politics/the general Arab cause; and, finally (c) Realist new poets: from the mid-60s, these claimed to be mobilizing the Bahrayni masses, subordinate ally of the bourgeois politicians and writers in the previous period, with a new idiom combining "commitment" with "obscure [neo-pagan, nationalist] mythologies" [al-Hashimi, "Ishkaliyyat…" (1994-1995) 1: 47]. The nominal populism of the pink-realist "New Literature" in Bahrayn might not be enough to make it an idiom intelligible to the masses: it does, though, underscore the relationship of the country and specifically of its cultural elite with 'Iraq. It draws heavily on the idioms of 'Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-1964): 'Alawi al-Hashimi wrote a distinguished paper on al-Sayyab's development of motifs from the Ashtar and Tammuz myths to depict the land of 'Iraq, and the political struggle against the Nuri al-Sa'id regime [al-Hashimi, "Usturata" (1991) 35-60].
Indigenous Arabic-speakers in Bahrayn are overwhelmingly Muslim, but this religious-ethnic identity is a problematical basis for community within a Bahrayn state-unit in that there are tens of millions of other Arab and Iranian Muslims beyond Bahrayn, while some details of the interpretation of Islam vary between Sunni and Shi'ite groups in the region and in Bahrayn itself. Here, the geographical-territorial focus of Dr 'Alawi al-Hashimi and the reconnection with a definitive ancient non-Islamic ethos that he imaged from slivers from Sumerian and Assyrian texts, offered an integrative non-religious basis for a distinct Bahrayni indigenous identity. Pan-Islam and pan-Arabism, though, might be raised by the more recent impact of Portuguese and British imperialism on Bahrayn, in which wide Christian and Arabo-Muslim empires and blocs were polarized in conflict.
High Literature and Identity
'Alawi al-Hashimi's engagement as a critic with the modern literature of his island, too, had in it a nationalist thrust clear in his 1994 What the Palm Tree Said to the Sea: A Study of Modern Poetry in Bahrayn 1929-1975 (Ma Qalat al-Nakhlah lil-Bahr: Dirasat lil-Shi'r al-Hadith fil-Bahrayn 1929-1975), his first, and perhaps most coherent, attempt to come to terms with Bahrayni high culture.
This study of a literature opens with a note of local loyalty or competition. The discovery and development of oil in the Gulf from the 1930s over-shadowed the declining pearl-fishing industry that had brought Bahrayn a world-wide reputation before. Bahrayn had little of the oil in comparison to other "sisters of Bahrayn that had not in the past been mentioned much" - a clear barb at Kuwayt and the United Arab Emirates which the Bahraynis had preceded in their drive for modern education from the turn of the 20th century. For al-Hashimi, the decline by the early 1970s of Bahrayn's old pearl-trade and her limited oil only motivated the Bahraynis to carry forward a reorientation to the contemporary for which they had been preparing for decades: that they had already been due to achieve "maturity" spared them many of the "ill-effects of the social and economic leap forward that the other societies of the Arabian Gulf underwent." Of course, Bahrayni society had been "civilized/sedentary" (mutahaddir) "since the most ancient of eras" [al-Nakhlah, 7].
Like his geographical writings, then, much of al-Hashimi's criticism of modern Bahrayni poetry too is clear nationalism of an integral kind that integrates the ancient and modern eras and cultures of the Bahraynis as all one national experience defined by continuous space. But if he has helped diffuse the motif of a national origin in ancient Dilmun, he in this also has carried forward the motif from earlier Bahrayni nationalist writers and poets. A dreamy mystic passage by him that reminds one of Tawfiq al-Hakim's reflections on ancient Pharaonic Egypt in the 1930s drew out-of-time Sumerian images of a primordial Dilmun and the gods that begot life in it from a 1972 work by Shaykh Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Khalifah and Abd al-Malik Yusuf al-Hamar Bahrayn Down through History (al-Bahrayn 'Abr al-Ta'rikh) - a thinly-veiled neo-pagan ascription, but half-jesting and not quite serious, of "eternity" to the homeland and to the nation that could relativize the authority of revealed scriptures about creation. It was from a 1973 thrust for identity in Arabic by Bahrayni creative writers that al-Hashimi accessed and recycled twenty years later an interesting passage of Sumerian poetry characterizing Dilmun as "the island of immortality in which no lion roars and no one grows old" - "a harbor for the whole world" [al-Nakhlah, 16]. Al-Hashimi's recreation of a definitive antiquity in itself could block and contain some standard Islamist discourses that were rising after 1967. His development of the Dilmun myth and geography's determining of the continuous nation down the ages has been distinguished, but many poets he engages with had been groping towards the same general idea. In tracing the applications of images of palms trees, water and infancy by Bahrayni poets, he sees the latter as in a line of cultural descent from the myth of Dilmun and the god of the water, intellect and wisdom Enki. He takes up a reflection of Ya'qub al-Muharraqi that that dimension of mythology feeds the (rather post-modern) sense among modern Bahrayni poets of time and memory and the connection of past to present [al-Nakhlah, 20]. The intellectualization of this particularism by al-Hashimi thus to some extent came on cue to a demand from a small constituency of Bahrayni poets and fiction-writers.
For many of the poets in al-Hashimi's literary criticism, images not just of palm trees and the natural environment, but those of woman also can blur out into political nationalism.
It is not easy to say how far al-Hashimi's broad-gauge study follows the structure of the Bahrayni poetry he describes, and to what extent he selected and reinvents that verse out of his own personality. What he selects was mostly written from a palette of rich local color and thus is nationalist in effect regardless of exact intentions in the resultant sense of vivid place. However, his contact in youth with socialist and even Marxist ideas helps him critique the grasp of that reality by the early generation of nationalist reformers who used poetry as a means to build a new undivided community in the 1950s and 1960s. Al-Hashimi faults most pre-1960s poets for a romantic alienation that left such aesthetes unable to understand the peasantry deeply enough to unite with them. True, he cites some 1946 verses by Ibrahim al-'Urayd that vividly caught a seaside village of Bahrayn wrapped in isolation, darkness and quiescence, and peasants in it who obey the severe landlord who lives in its large house that reminds them of the capital. al-Urayd voiced an angry sense of landed proprietors as inheriting not just the fields they own but the peasants who till them from generation to generation. But al-Hashimi sees al-'Urayd as distracted from a social focus by his sense of the Bahrayni countryside as a sanctuary from urban cares and modern rejection that he is over-ready to aestheticize [al-Nakhlah, 412-415]. In much the same way, al-Hashimi sees earlier romanticizing poets as having been unable to sustain their attempts to come to grips with the experience of Bahrayn's bygone pearl divers who were their contemporaries. They could not see the class conflict between the merchants and the divers and other forms of dangers and suffering the latter faced [al-Nakhlah, 415- 419].
The images pre-realist Bahrayni poets offer deepened the sense of Bahrayn as a place among educated people; some images, though, could foster pan-Arab nationalism. al-Hashimi felt at least one spasm of Bahraynist distaste for images of [Arab] shepherds, pastoralism, as "an alien model remote from Bahrayn's contemporary life" [al-Nakhlah, 415], an escape from the tension between the poet and his society. Yet al-Hashimi found himself responding to the over-optimistic figure of the herder of animals as a reborn giant who quickly exacts "the vengeance of the Arabs" for the expulsion of an Arab people in 1947-1949. The militant shepherd was the figure around whom the Bahrayni poet Ibrahim al-'Urayd wove not just a few poems about the Catastrophe of Palestine but an epic in 1000 verses. Al-Hashimi noted the vitality, unique in Bahrayni poetry, with which al-'Urayd transformed the shepherd from the usual plaintive figure of "all the poets of the Arabs" to futuristic victory over the Zionists if the Arabs muster the needed total commitment in "the ordeal". The shepherd now becomes the right symbol for the simplicity, closeness to nature and tenacious commitment to " the land" for al-Hashimi in his less Bahrayn-centered mode here [_al-Nakhlah_ 404- 405]. Yet this is an aberrant lapse from the focus on Bahrayn of al-Hashimi's writings.
'Alawi al-Hashimi structures his characterizations of not just Bahrayn's antiquity but its Arabo-Islamic period itself in ways that deny any single definitive Islamic ideology for the island, whether Sunni, Shi'ite or heretical-radical (Batini: the Qaramitah insurgents analysed by historian al-Shaykhah Mayy Al Khalifah). Al-Hashimi leaves over the pagan formation in earliest pagan antiquity, homeland and its territorial nation (but also economic classes?), as the determinants of political community. Al-Hashimi has to rate as a nationalist writer insofar as issues of national collective community at least tint all sectors of experience as it is felt and articulated by him. But while collective national community does recur in his powerful overview of Bahrayni poetry, it was one key concern felt by a large number of the Bahrayni poets he has to analyse. Al-Hashimi's sessions of Bahrayn-centrism had both a high literary constituency but also that of the island's governing elite likely to patronize a thinker whose writings validated their polity and took people's minds off alternative concepts from local pan-Arabs and Islamists. His remaining pink social ideas mattered less in that context.
1. Al-Shaykh 'Abdallah Bin Khalid Al Khalifah, "Nahwa Mawsu'ah Kabirah li-Ta'rikh al-Khalij" (Towards a Great Encyclopedia of the History of the Gulf ), al-Wathiqah, 11:23 July 1993 pp. 8-10.
2. Al-Hashimi, Dr 'Alawi. "al-Tafkir al-Hadari fil-Bahrayn fi Daw' Ishkaliyyat al-'Alaqah bayn al-Mithal wal-Waqi': - 2" (Civilizational Thought in Bahrayn in the Light of the Problematic of the Relation Between the Ideal and the Reality: - 2), al-Wathiqah, 11:23 July 1993 pp. 12-50.
3. Al-Hashimi, Ma Qalat al-Nakhlah lil-Bahr: Dirasah lil-Shi'r al-Hadith fil-Bahrayn 1925-1975, (Bayrut: al-Mu'assat al-'Arabiyyah lil-Dirasat wal-Nashr, 2nd ed 1994).
4. Al-Hashimi, "Ishkaliyyat al-Harakat al-Shi'riyyat al-Mu'asirah fil-Bahrayn" (Problematics of the Contemporary Poetical Movement in Bahrayn), Annals of Faculty of Arts 'Ayn Shams University 23: 1994-1995.
5. Al-Hashimi. "Usturata 'Ashtar-Tammuz fi Shi'r Badr Shakir al-Sayyab" (The Two Myths of Ashtar and Tammuz in the Poetry of Badr Shakir al-Sayyab), Dirasat, publication of Arabic department of University of Bahrayn, 2:3 1991.
6. Al-Sindi, Khalid. Dilmun Seals, tsd Dr Mohammed al-Khozai (Bahrain: Directorate of Archeology and Heritage 1999).
7. Smith, Charles D. Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal,(Albany: SUNY 1983).