While my politics no longer belong to any one party or movement, I would have said that some of my political ideals – such as the desirability of a representative democracy – were unshakeable.
Having spent the past week in Bahrain to cover the 2012 Formula One Grand Prix, I can no longer say that is the case.
After the publication of the damning Bassiouni Report last November, which included documented cases of illegal imprisonment, torture, and a host of other human rights abuses, it was clear to me that Bahrain had a long way to go before it would be ready to host another grand prix.
Political progress, starting with the accountability of all those involved in human rights abuses and ending with a representative government elected by the people, was far more important than a motor race, and Formula One had no business in a country with far more important tasks at hand.
And while it is still true that Bahrain has a long and difficult road to any form of internal unity, my experiences in the island country made me think that maybe Formula One’s presence wasn’t as negative as I’d first thought.
Space on the international news pages is limited, and Bahrain had been something of a non-story for months. Events in Syria were more serious, more immediate, and it was only when Formula One was linked to Bahrain that the protest movement in the small Gulf nation returned to our front pages. If nothing else, F1 helped shine a media spotlight on a previously-ignored situation.
But that’s the easy argument to make.
My time in Bahrain was shaped by two linked disconnects with the world as I was experiencing it and the world as was being projected externally.
Having seen news footage of violent altercations between protesters and police in the run-up to the Bahrain Grand Prix, I expected to land in a country torn asunder. Instead, I found myself driving through a city identical in atmosphere to the one I had left in 2010, streets and restaurants buzzing with people.
That was the first disconnect.
For the privileged, life in Bahrain went on as normal. It was in the Shi’a villages surrounding the capitals that pitched battles with the security forces were going ahead, and it was in those villages that a number of my colleagues saw first-hand the violent Bahrain that was being shown on the news.
But even those present at the marches and protests spoke of how much smaller they were than they appeared on TV, between tales of dodging teargas and stun grenades. One colleague, who shall remain nameless, spoke of protesters building roadblocks to hold the police before opening fire with Molotov cocktails. The returning volley of teargas was filmed and uploaded to YouTube as an unprovoked attack.
We had all expected to find a country up in arms against its monarchy, a capital city on the eve of a revolution much like Paris in 1789.
Instead, one of the unexpected experiences of the weekend for the Formula One press corps was the amount of emails and messages we received from Bahrainis keen to express their support for the race, and for the government as it stood. Calling themselves the silent majority, these Bahrainis accepted the imperfections of the status quo but found them preferable to the ongoing acts of violence from protesters and police alike.
As one of the few female journalists in the sport, I was contacted by a number of women, both Sunni and Shi’a, who spoke of their concerns that a more representative democracy – as called for by the protesters – would see an end to women’s rights and a return to Sharia law.
And so I experienced the second disconnect – between my pro-representative democracy ideals, and my belief in women’s rights.
“The opposition does not have my support and I am Shi’a,” one woman told me. “This religious wave that is sweeping through the Arab world is frightening to any moderates.
“With the current regime I have the freedom to live my life as I choose and I don't think that would be the case if the opposition were in power. They have no regards for women's rights; they should start practicing democracy in their own homes before preaching about it. The Government is not perfect, we all recognize that change is required, but that does not mean that we support or agree with the opposition.”
The balance of power under a truly representative democracy is one of real concern among some Bahraini women.
“In the traditional sense of democracy the one who rules in the end is the one who represents the majority vote,” a Sunni woman told me in a discussion about local politics. “This scares a large number of moderate Bahrainis as we are out-numbered by a very religious Sunni as well as Shi’a majority with the Shi’a majority being the majority overall.
“Is it wrong for us to refuse democracy on these grounds? It certainly goes against the whole principle of democracy but we don't feel that the traditional democracy of the Western world would work so well here.
“Look at what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why sometimes we get so frustrated hearing the media bang on about it because we laugh and think ‘would you want to live under these stringent, backward, and very religious principles that only represent one segment of society?’ For us we believe there is much that could be improved but there has to be a halfway point.”
Joining in the discussion, another Bahraini woman spoke of her fears about a return to conservatism should the majority get the representation they seek.
“People need to understand the opposition is made up of a large number of very religious and uneducated members whose views on women, religion, and personal freedoms would send us back into the dark ages,” she said. “That terrifies us.
“Do people realise these same people are told that music is the devil's work; that girls as young as nine are considered sexual objects and must be forced to cover to avert the wondering eyes of men? Do people know these same people believe mannequins in shop windows are overtly sexual and want them banned? Do they know these members want the segregation of schools, universities and workplace so that men are not distracted by the sexual mores of their female population?
“It would be wrong and ignorant to say all those in the opposition movement share those views, but take a walk inside a village and u tell me how many little girls you find covered up in hijabs, how many women will you actually find who aren't covered up?
“That glass of wine you ordered last night with your room service? They've been campaigning for years to have alcohol banned in Bahrain. These same people in the villages have attacked neighbouring restaurants for selling alcohol, stormed concerts where they deem the singer to be overtly sexual.
“People are terrified of losing their open ‘live and let live’ lifestyle here if the opposition succeed in overthrowing the rulers. They say they want freedom but it increasingly appears that they just want to replace it with their version of freedom.
“Again, it would be wrong to tar them all with the same brush. I think those among them who sought genuine reform for all have been tuned out by religious leaders and armchair activists who seek to further their own personal agenda.”
How does one go about forming an ethical position on the universal right to fair and equal political representation for all, when in the current case ‘all’ is an oppressed majority who themselves want to oppress half of the population?
It is not an question I have been able to answer with any moral satisfaction since returning from Bahrain.
Kate Walker is F1 Editor of girlracer and Assistant Editor of GP Week. Follow her on Twitter @F1Kate, or read more of her writing at www.f1katewalker.com.