In Bahrain, Pakistani Immigrants Targeted In Shiite-Sunni Clash

As Shiite-led protests against the Sunni royal family are met with a violent crackdown, some in the Shiite majority have started to lash out at Pakistani immigrants, who are Sunni.

Shiite worshipers in Manama's Pearl Square last month before the government crackdown}
Shiite worshipers in Manama's Pearl Square last month before the government crackdown}
Laure Stephan

MANAMA - His blue pickup truck is piled up with mattresses, suitcases and a refrigerator. Mohammad returned to the Momin Mosque neighborhood, in the heart of Bahrain's cosmopolitan capital Manama, only to collect his belongings. Of Pakistani origin, Mohammad fled the neighborhood a week earlier. He now starts the car, which he will drive to Al-Muharraq, a town in the northern part of the capital that he considers more secure.

Just a few steps from his former home, traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez (baggy trousers and long shirts) are still hanging along the walls of a house that must have been hurriedly abandoned. All the doors of the nearby houses are tightly locked. Momin Mosque is slowly losing all its Pakistani residents.

In this neighborhood where mostly Sunni immigrants tend to rub elbows with the majority Shiite Bahrainis, witnesses say that beginning on the evening of March 14, the homes of Pakistani workers have repeatedly been ransacked by masked men armed with iron bars and wooden sticks.

"The men were shouting ‘Go away, Pakistanis!"" says Ihlaq Ahmad, a receptionist. The 21-year-old, who comes from Punjab, cut his right foot on broken pieces of his bedroom's smashed window.

Attacks against Pakistani workers have exacerbated the already growing fear within the sizeable immigrant community. Overall, foreigners -- who mostly come from South Asia to do manual labor in this wealthy, oil-producing nation -- represent 54 percent of the Bahraini population of some 1.2 million.

Dozens of injuries, and at least one death, have been reported in this and other districts where Shiite families and foreign immigrants have lived peacefully together for years. But who would want to do harm to these workers? And why?

Migrants blame their neighbors, Shiite supporters of the protests against the royal family, which started on February 14 and prompted a deadly crackdown over the past two weeks. Muhammad Bakar, a 20-year-old Pakistani painter, was burned on his left arm and his face, which he tries to hide under a scarf to hide the lesions. "Shiites do not like us because there are many Pakistanis among the security forces," Bakar says. "So they are now attacking us. But we have nothing to do with that!"

Among the Shiite residents, very few are comfortable speaking about the subject. But one young man, Adnan Abdallah, 20, defends the actions as self-defense. "Armed men suddenly came into the neighborhood. So we went into the streets to defend ourselves."

Clashes opposing baltagis (thugs paid by the regime) and residents have indeed taken place on several occasions in the narrow streets of Momin Mosque. But what about the houses of Pakistani workers? The young man repeats the story told by other residents, that the houses were attacked by the same baltagis, and it was all a "set up" put in place by the authorities.

There are reasons to doubt this version of events. If the violence certainly serves the government's anti-protesters rhetoric, hostility towards Pakistani immigrants is quite palpable among Shiites, the main force behind the demonstrations in Bahrain. Seen as actors of the repression, migrants are also considered ultra-loyal to the royal family. There is indeed no doubt that Pakistanis living in Bahrain tend to agree with the regime's official discourse, which depicts protesters as "terrorists' and "pro-Iranian."

A member of the Shiite opposition refuses to confirm the events in Momia Mosque, or mention any collective animosity. He prefers to speak about "a sense of confusion among the young people, angered by the death of demonstrators' during the crackdown.

Tension also arises from the fact that Shiites believe that authorities have been secretly naturalizing foreigners such as Pakistanis, who are Sunni, as the regime allegedly tries to reverse the population balance in its favor (according to a 1981 census, 30 percent of Bahrainis are Sunni, 70 percent Shiite).

In the courtyard of the Pakistan Club, a game of cricket is about to start. For the players who have left their homes in Momin Mosque, friendly games such as this have become a refuge. In an auditorium-turned-dormitory, a man makes a list of the people present. The list is to be sent to the Pakistani Embassy in order to facilitate the return to Islamabad of those who wish to leave. "Just until things calm down," says Qamar Zaman, a driver living in Bahrain for the past 11 years.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Al Jazeera

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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