F1 Race Cars Aren’t the Worst Western Export to Bahrain

Since its start, the democracy movement in Bahrain has been the most inconvenient uprising in the Arab World for the United States. The United States saturates its political discourse with idealism and notions of American exceptionalism, yet when confronted with the island Kingdom of Bahrain, the United States is reduced to a mere cynical world actor that readily accommodates a monarchy over the many of tens of thousands of Bahrainis who are demanding the democracy the U.S. allegedly exports.

The United States can claim the distinction as the superpower that not only arms the brutal regime in Bahrain, but which also arms neighboring Gulf states which invaded Bahrain in order to participate in the crackdown. These are very inconvenient facts we must bring up as Bahrain continues to be normalized by the U.S. and the international community, a normalization that is illustrated by the Formula 1 event underway in the country.

The regime in Bahrain has vocally defended the Formula 1 race as a sporting event entirely unrelated to the political turmoil affecting the country. This comes as no surprise. No one counted on the regime to pass up a racing spectacle to distract itself from the bloodshed caused by its security forces in the poor and neglected villages on the outskirts of the capital. The difficulty with the Formula 1 race rests in the inability of the West to address its role in the ongoing repression in Bahrain.

The tear gas powering this weekend’s Formula 1 event was fired last week as it will surely be fired a week from now. The international film crews may disperse alongside the race car drivers but the diplomatic and military support offered by the West to Bahrain is a permanent fixture on the calender. The West simply can’t confuse itself as a neutral actor merely trying to decide if the race is in bad taste. Having intervened on behalf of the regime and at the expense of the Bahraini people, the West has no standing to condemn the Khalifa ruling family.

The protests by Bahrainis against F1 will rightly turn myself and many others away from the television broadcast, but will we be stirred next week when the protests dwell less on our sporting event and more on our teargas shipments? It’s a much easier task to question Bahraini and F1 officials about the appropriateness of the event, it’s far more difficult to question the appropriateness of our own conduct. The race is a travesty but F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone can’t drown out Bahrain’s cries for democracy with his race cars, nor can he be scapegoated for all the accumulated sins of Western powers.

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