We are a couple of days away from 2022. And as we plan gatherings and make resolutions, we tend to forget that it is not a happy new year for many people. If each of us in our individual communities focused on resolutions which would transform our respective societies, then happiness would no longer be a pipe dream. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which people with lofty ideals face red tape, bureaucracy, and in the case of Kuwait, an antiquated patriarchy that seems unwilling to relinquish its control.
Still, even in our country, there are diamonds in a mine. And such an honorific title goes to the ladies of Abolish Article 153. For almost seven years, they have been pushing against a system which treats honor killings as a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum imprisonment of three years and/or a fine of 3000 rupees (the equivalent in today's Kuwait dinar is debatable). It is not just the lenient jail term or embarrassingly paltry fine which is disturbing, but the fact that there is an "or" in the article. In short, it is not a crime (but a mere misdemeanor) for a man to kill a woman caught in a sexual act. And if her lover is killed as well, it is still a mere misdemeanor. With a sentence of three years and/or a fine.
At the time the initiative surfaced in November of 2014, nobody knew about this article apart from legal experts and parliamentarians. But these ladies changed that. As soon as they launched their campaign, their efforts were lauded. And this praise culminated in the receipt of the 2016 Chaillot Prize for Human Rights in the GCC.
By 2017, the Abolish 153 team even managed to persuade five MPs to sign a bill. Since then, there are two bills in place waiting to be passed. Sadly, nothing has come out of either of them (yet). Article 153 remains stubbornly in place—an indication that there are men in power who still believe that women are their property and deserve to be killed, intimidated, abused, or harassed.
Many people have wondered aloud why a man's honor is tied to the activities of the women in their family. Wouldn't it be more conducive to our society if people focused on the only honor that matters: one's own honor? And maybe we should redefine honor as being kind and respectful to one another.
For now, let us remind everyone that the phrase "honor killing" is a misnomer. And in 2022, let's hope that the lovely ladies of Abolish Article 153 finally achieve their goal. Then, it will be a happy new year for women in our country.
But the work won't be over, as there are many other initiatives which warrant our attention. Stay tuned!
Let's Interheart, Kuwait!
(This blogpost appeared in the Kuwait Times. There is controversy as to whether 3000 rupees is equivalent to KD 14 as mentioned in the newspaper. The blog was updated to take this debate into account, along with a few other minor edits; however, the article, as it appears in Kuwait Times, is the original version prior to necessary updates/edits incorporated in this blogpost).
Once upon time there was a planet in which the inhabitants were either blue or white. Blues were either inclined toward whites or blues. And whites were inclined toward whites or blues. And then there were the blues who liked both blues and whites and the whites who liked both whites and blues.
As time elapsed, the controllers realized that the economy boomed when blues and whites combined into what was known as a unit. These blues and whites, together, gave life to mini-blues and mini-whites, who were, in turn, encouraged to recreate the same unit over and over ad infinitum. Eventually, as the unit became mainstream, the blue inhabitants who were inclined toward blues (let's call them blues on blues for now) and the whites who were inclined toward whites (let's refer to them as whites on whites for now) were ostracized because they were not contributing to the dynamic. They were a threat because they could not bring more blues and whites to the planet; and because they were ruining the ideal template created in the minds of the controllers. They were also not beneficial to tribes and societies who were trying to expand into an empire. After all, power is in numbers. So, it was planted in the mindset of all that blues on blues and whites on whites are evil.
In case you decide to believe the above narrative, please note that it is a fictional narrative. All our stories should come with this warning, so that we don't believe we are doing the world a favor by adopting an ideology that creates division. Whether one believes this narrative or that narrative about what is so obviously a reference to the LGBTQ+ community, the truth of the matter is that many versions of this tale have permeated our psyche. The result? Hate, torture, murder, emotional trauma, and the dissolution of the family unit—the very unit that is beneficial to global community.
What makes us so afraid of the LGBTQ+ community? An idea. That's it. When the idea dissolves, our mind, if noble enough, will scurry to fill the vacuum with an idea that serves the world better. Instead, we fill it with even more narratives. The latest narrative tells a tale about agendas: Why is there a gay character in every cartoon? Why is there a gay character in every movie today? Why are they teaching kids about gay people at school? The mind loves to latch on to conspiracy theories and fear. But, regardless of what our minds tell us, the appearance of LGBTQ+ characters is not because the director or the teacher wants to make your child gay. You can't make someone gay. In fact, many a gay person today would tell you they wouldn't wish being gay on anyone because of the amount of bullying and fear they have been exposed to. The reason that the LGBTQ+ is highlighted is because a new narrative is permeating the collective: one that speaks of embracing diversity and waltzing with nonresistance. This new narrative reminds us that being gay is as natural as being "straight." And the narrative is not fictional. It is our reality. Look around. You who reads this most definitely knows someone who is gay or are gay yourself. Are you part of an agenda? And if you are, then hats off to you for being part of an agenda to teach people about acceptance.
For too long, the gay community has been ostracized and made to feel dirty, unwelcome, a life source worthy of punishment. In this patriarchy, it's okay to be a "straight" man and sow your wild oats, but it's unacceptable if you are a gay person who loves one person who happens to share your anatomy. All in all, promiscuity has nothing to do with one's inclination. It has to do with a person's tendencies and can even be attributed to biological properties. Enough. Haven't we had enough?
I want you to think about that gay relative or friend who you haven't spoken to in years. And I want to ask you: What is the crime? Let me give you a hint. The crime has nothing to do with who that person loves but with arrogance. Anyone who can let go of another human being because of who s/he loves is the one who requires therapy or a boot camp (not the other way round).
And now, let's address the "T" of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In our community, transgenders are taunted for "impersonating the other sex." This was criminalized in Kuwait as recently as 2007. Not that it should matter one bit whether a transgender person is gay or not, but there is a misconception here that all transgender people are gay. This is false. Being transgender may or may not have something to do with one's inclination. Yet not necessarily. Whatever the case, the question is: When did clothing become an indication of one's inclination in the first place? International women fashion magazines regularly present female models in men's shoes and androgynous clothing. Should they be arrested here? Men in Arabia used to have long hair and wear eyeliner. There are still conservative men who have long hair. Should they be arrested today? And if so, what would the interrogation process look like? "Are you gay?" "No sir, I just like wearing women’s clothing." "Are you sure?" "Yes." "Okay, we will release you with a warning, but we don't want to see you in here again." In extreme cases, the man will be sexually harassed by the interrogators—the same men who are against man-on-man contact.
We have a lot of issues in Kuwait that warrant our attention: corruption, the environment, the treatment of expatriates, the growing intolerance toward those of other faiths, the rights of domestic workers and women, and so much more. These are what makes a society move forward. Instead, we are bombarded by one divisive idea after another that only serve to create more emotional and physical trauma for all of us involved.
Today, in some parts of the world, the narrative is changing because supporting the gay community has become become trendy or brings votes to politicians. These are not reasons, however, to support the LGBTQ+ community, but at least they are a beginning: a first step to remembering that the world can become less of a nightmare when we unite and address our conditioning. And if it's now trendy, then that's a good sign. It means we know, on a deep level, that bigotry is uncool, passé. In time, our shallow intentions will be replaced with a genuine acceptance of everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum without any ulterior motive on our part. And, in time we will add H to the spectrum for heterosexual, to show that it's just another way of expressing our inclination and there is no separation. We are all colors of the rainbow. Finally, in time, we won't have any spectrum, and there will be no need for protests or rights because we will get it. We will get that there was nothing frightening about anyone's inclinations in the first place. And we will get that all this came about because of an idea, a divisive idea that told us who to hate.
That is when we know we have evolved.
For now, it's high time we change the narrative, to change any narrative in which a person is killed, thrown off a balcony, arrested, taunted, interrogated, warned, or thrown out of the family home because of who s/he loves.
Let's Interheart, Kuwait!
There was talk of a Christmas tree that was removed from a shop at Avenues Mall because of sharia law; but then it was reported (fortunately enough) that the removal had absolutely nothing to do with religious reasons but was a result of a violation of regulations. Someone even stated that the tree was removed to another part of the same mall. Whatever the actual reason was, and whatever the truth is, the rumor opened a can of worms. Locals were interviewed about the incident, and there were a few people who stated that having a Christmas tree in public goes against Islamic principles. Thankfully, other locals did not see it as a threat at all, and some locals even liked the idea of a Christmas tree. To even think that this should be a question that is posed, or a matter of debate, in the first place is offensive since it exposes our prejudices. (One local who was interviewed stated clearly that we only have two holidays in this country—a reference, perhaps to the two Eids in the Islamic calendar). Fair enough, one might argue. But the question is, why is it when a non-Muslim country dissuades Islamic customs, it is considered Islamophobia, but in this region (or country, for that matter), there is no mention of phobia of other countries (or at least a blatant denial of it)?
This is 2021. In less than two weeks, it will be 2022. Today, to identify a country based on its religion is inaccurate since we are in an era of globalization and we can see how an us vs. them mentality has affected the globe. In addition, this model does not work unless we revel in discrimination. Yes, it is a predominantly Muslim country, just as there are predominately Christian countries, Hindu countries. We even have a Jewish nation in this world. But all these countries allow temples and festivals of other religions. What about us, Kuwait? Why are we so hell-bent (pardon the pun) on remaining stuck in the realm of us vs. them? Are most other Muslim countries (including most of our neighbors) "less Muslim" than us? And, if they are, what message are we sending: that Muslim countries should pride themselves on exclusivity?
We argue about Islamophobia, but we have Christo-phobia, Judeo-phobia, Hindu-phobia, Sikh-phobia, Buddhist-phobia, agnostic-phobia, atheist-phobia, stateless-phobia, expat-phobia, homophobia and on and on ad infinitum. Aren't we tired of fear?
In case we didn't get the memo, divisiveness is no longer du jour. The new earth is all about inclusivity. And if we are not ready for that, let's try tolerance (a euphemism for "We don't like you but okay, we'll coexist with you"). Even a dash of tolerance would do here. Even a dash.
Let's Interheart, Kuwait!
(This blogpost appeared in the Kuwait Times. Due to censorship, parts were edited/deleted by the newspaper).
A little over a week ago, there was quite the controversy when the US Embassy wished Jews in Kuwait a Happy Hanukkah on Instagram. The Ambassador was trolled by some commentators, and anyone who responded to the message in a spirit of love was verbally abused. Some argued that there are not many Jews in Kuwait, so why would the US Embassy post such a message? The commentators used the message not only to accuse the ambassador of having an agenda, but to attack Jews as a whole.
What is this cringe-worthy fear we have toward Jews? We cannot use the excuse that we don't celebrate the festivities of other religions, because many Kuwaitis love to celebrate Christmas, and a few celebrate Diwali with Hindus. We cannot say we are protecting Islamic principles, because Kuwait is filled with people of all faiths and no faiths. As such, in a country whose heritage prides itself on coexistence, is this who we have become? What a pity. What a loss for us. How heartbreaking for our forefathers, a few of whom were Jews who lived here alongside us.
For those of us who are fortunate to have Jewish friends and acquaintances, most of the Jews we know live abroad. This is because Jews who live here do not announce their religion for fear of being ostracized or offending the "sensitivities" of their cousins in religion. Or because they are such a rarity that, as a local Jew once stated, they don't even know about each other. We could be sitting next to a Jew in a café and never know it.
How did we get here? And more tellingly, why are we not ashamed?
If we do not want to partake in the religious holidays of Jews, because some of us are, sadly, not ready or have been conditioned to harbor resentment toward them, what is our excuse for the absence of synagogues in our country? Again, if the argument is a religious one, aren't Jews mentioned throughout the Koran as People of the Book? Don't many of the narratives in the Koran stem from the Old Testament and even the Talmud? Don't we share most of the same prophets? If this country claims to follow the Islamic principles, what justifies this blatant discrimination? Isn't the Torah mentioned as a sacred book? In case we have forgotten, here are a couple of examples from the Koran to ponder:
"We have revealed the Torah, in which there is guidance and light” (5:44).
"We [sent] Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, [confirming] what had been revealed before him in the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, which contained guidance and light...” (5:46).
Also, didn't the Koran say that we were created as races and tribes so that we may know each other? (49:13). After reading the comments on the account, is it possible that the majority of religious people here blatantly ignore (nay, rebel against) this verse? And if people can objectively (or subjectively) find aspects of the faith which do, in fact, discriminate, then why are we not focusing on the parts that do not? We tried the former. It resulted in wars, hatred, and divisiveness. Why can't we focus on what brings us toward coexistence? Isn't it overdue? Way overdue?
What if Moses, who Muslims consider as a prophet, lived in our country today? Would we permit him to teach the principles of the Torah? Would we allow him to speak of his religion publicly or announce his beliefs? Most of us would say of course we would, because we hold him in high esteem. Then why are we not respecting his followers or the descendants of Abraham, for that matter?
And now, let's take religion aside. There are many here who do not even practice religion, but still hold a caustic hatred for Jews. What is their excuse? Is it politics? If that is the way we think, then why are we judging others for being afraid of us? There are Muslims who have used religion to justify and perpetrate attacks on innocent civilians. Did the world ban mosques? Of course not. In this part of the world, we know what Islamophobia feels like. We know the pain of being punished by people who discriminate against us because of fear. And we have learned, slowly but surely, that a person does not define religion (nor does religion define a person, for that matter). So why do we inflict our pain on others? More importantly: Why can't we rise above discrimination and admit that we, too, are afraid of other religions?
All in all, the time has come to set aside fear. One can continue to support Palestine without fearing Jews. Many Palestinians themselves coexist with Jews. And many Jews support Palestine. One can embrace Jews without having a political agenda. This can arise when we are no longer proud of wearing hatred as a badge of honor.
Where has hatred gotten us besides beneath rubbles left behind by bombs, violence and antagonism? Let this desire to be a more open and welcoming society not be a pipe dream. It is our responsibility, each one of us, to become ambassadors of humanity, beyond our belief systems, beyond our political inclinations.
In short, there is no justified reason for the prejudice against Jews. And there is no other time but now to wake up from this stupor of separation.
Now. Let's take the wait out of Kuwait.