Obscure in Prague

Editor's Desk

Mitchell A. Belfer

Obscure in Prague

Looking out the window of my Prague 10 office, it is easy to feel obscure. Block after block of communist era flats, parks and greenery flank the deserted streets with only the faint sound of the district's traffic to pierce the silence of the day. Obscure! That is if one were to ignore the onslaught of the daily grind; administrative decisions to take, lectures to prepare and deliver and, of course, the student body to address with their seemingly endless issues and concerns. Yes, I am located in an obscure part of Prague, but certainly 'obscure' is not really an appropriate adjective. Or is it?

For each article I pen on Bahrain and its chapter in the now defunct 'Arab Spring,' that is precisely the adjective applied to my name. I am routinely referred to as 'an obscure academic from Prague' who 'writes for the government' [I assume they mean the Bahraini government]. Even more interesting is when I am called an 'obscure government troll,' deploying the oh-so advanced lingo of twitter and Facebook. But my favourite, so far, has got to be Justin G's (you know who you are, I wouldn't want to help bring you out of your own obscurity) use of 'pseudo-academic' as a response to my Demographic Warfare article. Ah, the pangs of angst I felt at being referred to as an obscure, government troll, pseudo-academic by people whose fame is reducible to the legions of anonymous tweeters who happen upon their twitter pages, or those who have perfected the art of bloggary as a short-cut to being important.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to address my perceived obscurity as it relates to my research on Bahrain because it seems to be the only subject I write on that elicits such obscurity. When I write on Israel and Palestine, Hamas or Egypt the EU or the Czech Republic I seem to be less obscure, or maybe so obscure that no one reads those articles at all? It is hard to tell.

If the use of 'obscure' is intended to suggest that I am not a famous name in Bahrain, or the world of international politics, then those that use the term to describe me are correct; mine is not a famous name. How can I be famous? I am still at the relative beginning of my career; holding my academic post for a mere eight years. On the other hand, the opposite of fame is not - in academic terms - obscurity, since scholars tend not to be famous and seldom do they make the front pages or the evening news. And if that was the requirement for leaving obscurity and entering fame then my publications record and appearances on local and international television should mean I am famous and not obscure.

Perhaps it is important to ask: when does a person cease being obscure? While I am certainly not famous, I should like to know how those that call me obscure came to read my articles? If a critical mass finds and reads my work, do I cease being obscure? If that is the case, then the persistent use of the adjective after people read my work is fundamentally erroneous. They should write 'the previously obscure academic from Prague.'

But there is an alternative argument regarding my obscurity as it pertains to my work on Bahrain; I am obscure so long as I don't agree with main opposition narratives on the situation there. If I were to tow the opposition's line I would be heralded. Since I present a different account, one which sees a different side to al Wefaq and Iran's role in producing instability in Bahrain, so I am relegated to being obscure. In short, support the opposition and you are not obscure, write an alternative view - whether closer to the government line or not - and you are obscure. Well at least that is how it has worked with me.

Of course, such name calling is meant to delegitimise me rather to engage me in meaningful argument. My detractors prefer to discredit rather than debate. They prefer to say I work for Bahrain's government - which I do not - rather than address the issues raised in my works, issues based on free observation, discussion and research. Not the kind of research bloggers have gotten comfortable conducting, from behind their screens. But real research in the actual country I am writing about.

Am I obscure? Probably a little, but that is changing quickly by all those people who keep writing about my obscurity, so thank you! Whatever the case may be the only thing truly and consistently obscure about me are those unscholarly bloggers who try to prop themselves up by knocking others down, not by the strength of argument but by the worn and tired rhetoric of obscurity.

2020 - Volume 14 Issue 2