January 1999

By Adel Darwish

Victory sign-handed with flames roaring from her back 15 Year old Kurdish pupil Nejla Kanteper thrusted her horrifying dance into our thoughts as many wondered what passion drives a young woman into the road of suicidal martyrdom for a cause that seemed so far away from her teenage world? But for those familiar with the harsh realities of Middle East politics- to which Ms Kanteper family belonged before settling in Britain- the only surprise was that young women are now playing with fire - literally- which was exclusively for use by men only.

A few weeks ago I came face to face with two young women awaiting trial for planting incendiary devices in a fashion store, following a spat of arson attacks on businesses in Bahrain
Arson attacks by angry youth - often exploited by Shia clerics stirring up trouble for the pro-western government hosting the American Fleet in the Gulf- has become common. But this was the first time ever; Shia Muslim women take part in terror attacks. 
Hannan Ahmad and her cousin Sabah Hassan came from a conservative Shia village were women are protected and kept away from main stream life by their men. 
The Shia clergy are opposed to the values and practices of women in Manama, mainly Sunni and minority of educated Shia who drive cars and go out to work. The Iran educated clergy loath the liberal and open society which flourished in the island, long before oil was found in 1932, and became a source of strength as Bahrain turned into the banking centre of the Persian Gulf when oil wells dried out.

The current trouble date back to 1995 when Shia youth stoned female athletes taking part in an intentional marathon because '' they bared their legs.'' 

Miss Ahmad and Miss Hassan were totally covered, apart from the face, in the traditional black Shia cloak ' Shadoor'.

The 18 year old Miss Ahmad, is first year Social studies student at university of Manama. Her 'Shadoor', failed to hide her attractive face, intelligent eyes and the cheeky smile of a kid who still remembers to have fun but stands to lose an academic year and possibly more. 

The two women were persuaded by a 21-year-old nephew of Miss Ahmad, to plant the devices. '' He used to drive us and we would be dropped at a pre-selected a fashion store, he sets the timer and we would go in to place it [the device],'' Miss Ahmad said. She was thrilled by trying different garments, haggling, and not buying a thing. '' No one really knew why we were trying all those cloths. We had a good laugh on the way home or when we watched the flames of stores on the evening news bulletin.''

What cause was so important to make a university student risk her future? 

'' Because we are women, much easier to go into women's' stores, no one would challenge us,'' cane the naive reply. 
There was non-of the rhetoric I heard over 20 years from terrorists- Nationalists, Palestinian guerrilla, and lately Islamists - justifying their action.

Miss Hassan's Dickensian face, unfocused eyes and her scattered phrases indicated deeper problems. Never been married at the age of 31, in a culture where a 'girl', turns into a 'useless spinster' if she has not married by the age of 20, she was consumed by guilt after her father's death last May, believing her work interfered with her ''duty to look after the dying man.'' 
She gave up her job at local store- perhaps protesting at her own failure- thus becoming a liability for the family as an unmarried woman. 

Her first day out since her father's death was with her cousin on an arson mission, but also had the fun of haggling, trying cloths and a good giggle about fooling shop keepers. A change from the bleak house where she lost her father, the only man she felt to be her own - and compare her caring skills with those of her married sisters.

''Thinking about it now, I know what I did was wrong,'' said Miss Ahmad - and for the first time she moved a few inches away from her cousin,'' but last year I was angry, so angry, I felt cheated.'' She was denied admission to university. '' Students who got less marks than me were admitted [to university in September 1997], I lost a year.'' 
When she complained, some one told her to get a letter from the Emir's Diwan(Court).  It is true that the Emir holds an open Majlis fortnightly where people line up with petitions and speak to him personally, so does the Prime Minister and other officials, but she didn't try.
''I don't know any body there.'' 

She said now she understands that her anger beckoned her nephew Mr Mahdi, three years her senior, to recruit her as his delivery boy. 
'' We are starting a movement,'' he told her. '' I didn't even bother to ask what the movement was really about, or who else was in,'' she said. 
Mr Mahdi was charged two days later, with a friend and a Lebanese national with links to Hizbullah.

Ironically she was admitted to Department of Social studies at University last September. By late November She was caught during a mission, promised by Mahdi to be the last. .

Although anxious to go back to university, She didn't request her books to be brought in. '' They might not let me!''
Did you ask? 
''No'' came a shy whisper that grew into a short laugh after looking me in the eyes; she has been caught ' silly'
But Ms Hassan was quickly to remind her young cousin: '' they brought the book we requested within hours,'' it was a copy of Quran - the holy book Muslims believe to be the word of god. 

Only minutes away from the police centre in the shopping mall girls of Miss Ahmad's age were window-shopping giggling loudly, or pushing each other on roller-blades. Some in records shops trying CD's or cassettes on their personal stereos moving their body to the rhythm penetrating through their headphones. 

Miss Ahmad didn't request her walkman, magazines, novels or material her teenage peers would normally request in a similar situation. She asked for a copy of al-Quarn where fire is the image of hell for the sinner and paradise is for the martyrs. 
Non of the two women, in replies to my questions, admitted to be over religious before their arrest.

A longer more deatiled verison of this articles appears on Winmagazine April 99 Issue>
Also See:  Obituary of Sheikh Isa 
Change of the Guard in Bahrain
 Arson attacks in Bahrian  


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