An editorial printed in today’s Daily Tribune, Bahrain’s official government-run newspaper, pleaded with its youth to remain independent, and to snub those “who are following directions from outside, whose aim is to compromise the very security, national identity and sovereignty, of Bahrain.”

In doing so, the editors of the Daily Tribune clearly reject the notion that the internal strife that plagued this island for much of 2011 has anything to do with the so-called “Arab Spring.” Fear of outside influences upon internal politics is warranted in Bahrain’s case; where the waitress is from the Philippines, the receptionist is from Jakarta, the cab driver is from Mumbai, and the concessionaire is from Jordan.

Situated off of the mainland of the Arab peninsula, Bahrain is not restricted by the ancient calls of Islam which asked that Arabia be always cleared of the “infidels” and only be the home of the faithful. Bahrain, therefore, is a study of a large multi-ethnic society residing within an Arab state. Many of Bahrain’s workers are here on temporary visas sponsored by corporations rather than individuals or educational institutions. Because of this, as you can imagine, there are great disparities of wealth in Bahrain.

But the conflict here in Bahrain, though influenced by this affluence gap, is also part religion: Muslim on Muslim fighting represented by the centuries-long feud of Shia versus Sunni. Seventy percent of Bahrain’s population connects their identity to the Shia factions of Islam. It is the remaining thirty-percent, however, that run the country; from the king down through its diplomatic corps, banking insiders, and other posts of perceived importance.

But just akin to the affluence gap, the Shia and Sunni dichotomy does not wholly satisfy those looking for an explanation into the tumults of 2011. After all, factions within this country have lived together in relative harmony for decades; so why now the strife?

The government may be correct in asserting that Iran is to blame. Just across the Persian Gulf, Iran has been charged by many as the source of violence in Iraq, and possibly Syria.

But I think we must be careful not to make Persia the boogey man of the Arab world. There is historical precedence that places the Bahrain government’s position on tenuous footing. Yes, it is true; nearly ninety percent of the Muslims in Iran consider themselves Shia, thus bolstering the claim from Bahrain that Iran is the core of their unrest.

But Dr. Bernard Lewis of Princeton, author of The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2004), reminds us that nationalism and Islam never really did mix. Whereas Western nations managed to separate church and state, Islam from the very beginning merged religion and politics and the two have been forever entwined. Only recently, with European powers exerting themselves upon the Arab lands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; have borders, constitutions, and treaties forced this foreign concept upon a people who barely acknowledge it, even as nationalism devoured Europe and plunged the Ottoman Empire into a very costly war (1914-1918).

Thus the Bahraini government’s claim that outside agitators are compromising “national identity” seems a bit disingenuous. Coupled with the reality that most of the population was born somewhere else other than Bahrain, there is little proof that “national identity” was ever a source of unity in this Persian Gulf country.

Perhaps this is the crux of the matter: that conservative Iran (Shia) is doing battle with conservative Saudi’s (Sunni) for the heart and soul of Islam. Bahrain’s government, then, has a right to call out the destabilizing influences of Iran. At the same time, the Sunni conservatives not only have to fight Shia influences from without, but they have to deal with the honest and true Arab Spring uprising emanating from within.

As with all histories… I guess it’s complicated.

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