This time, it was a map of the country, which looked weirdly like a heart ripped from the chest of some sacrificial victim. It was made of aluminum, plastic and fiberglass — easier to demolish than the concrete and metal structure of the old Pearl, and a smart move in case it too began to take on unwanted meaning.
Most people here who were willing to talk about the statue saw its destruction as yet more blind and self-destructive rage from the government. One Shiite village had already created a mini-Pearl statue, a kind of martyr image of the icon. And the Pearl was not budging from the Web, where much of the political hostility was still playing out — Sunnis were actively poring over Facebook images to denounce Shiites who had gone to the Pearl Roundabout — long after the physical protests had been squashed.
Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital. Demonstrators say at least two people were killed. (March 16)
The physical destruction of the statue seemed at first wildly old-fashioned. But that may be the point. It was the physicality of the statue that mattered. In a virtual age, the real has become newly precious, and by embracing the Pearl Statue, the democracy movement gave genuine substance to something that was never meant to be anything more than a hollow placeholder for meaning. Activists can use the Internet as a tool to build communities and plan protests. But it is the physical “being there” — in large numbers, unafraid of bullets and tear gas — that makes governments change their ways.
The Bahraini government can never obliterate the memory of the Pearl Statue, but it can remove the statue itself, just as it can change the physical shape of the island that is home to this country’s fractious society. Real power, it turns out, is very old fashioned. Movements may gestate in cyberspace, but it is Revolution 1.0 that will change the world.
The statue itself, it seems, has been given a burial at sea. Several locals report that its remains were removed, to become landfill for yet more coastal reclamation. It was impossible to confirm this, however, because no one who knows for sure is talking about the Pearl.