Three Kuwaitis Arrested

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The following stated is information gathered from social media sources, through accounts of Kuwaiti activists and citizens present at the Sharq police station gathering. The validity of certain details is yet to be confirmed. The goal is to provide background information on the current status of the three detainees.

Mohammed Al Ajeel, Abdulaziz Al Mutar, and Yousif Kalendar were arrested and detained since Wednesday at dawn. The three young Kuwaiti men had hung orange flags at different parts of Kuwait, including Hamra Tower, a “landmark” of Kuwait. Below are some videos showing the streets where the flags had been hung, and posters demanding the release of other detainees who have been imprisoned for similar political views for months now. On Thursday night they were transferred to Sharq police station around 11 PM, and the investigation did not commence until 2:30 AM. They were charged with the following:

١. دخول عقار دون موافقة المالك

٢. اتلاف

the first being “trespassing without the owner’s permission”, the second being “vandalism”. It should be noted that AlHamra Tower is a public mall, and that visitors naturally do not ask the owner for permission to enter. As for the second charge, you can watch the videos and judge for yourself whether hanging flags count as an act of vandalism.

Since their transfer to Sharq police station, almost a hundred citizens gathered outside the station in solidarity with the three young men, demanding to know their charge. Among them were lawyers, who were denied entry by until past midnight, when they were finally allowed to enter during the investigation. Military personnel had prohibited the entrance of everyone who was standing outside. At 4 AM, it was decided that the three accused would be held overnight; there was news of them to be released the following day (today) but it is yet to be confirmed. It seems that the three Kuwaitis will have their names added to the list of detainees whose release they were advocating for.

Orange is the symbolic color taken up by the Kuwaiti opposition of 2012-2013 who boycotted the last parliamentary elections in protest of the new Amiri electoral decree, which minimized the votes of citizens from four votes per person to only one vote. The boycott campaign had succeeded, as elections had barely elicited 39% of the citizens’ votes.

The opposition boycotted the elections due to the belief that the new electoral law is unconstitutional; it has since been appealed to the Constitutional Court of Kuwait, and the ruling is meant to be announced on June 16th, 2013.

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World in Conversation

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This is AWARE (Advocate for Westerners-Arab Relations) Center’s promotional video of their latest project, “World in Conversation”.

They have weekly conversations to encourage dialogue between people of different beliefs and cultures, to help achieve a better understanding amongst each other by discussing a variety of cultural and social issues using the Socratic method. I love the video, and I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to see this personally. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who feels left out in Kuwait’s society – and let’s face it, how many of us have never felt that way? I think this might be a great place to see that others feel the same way too.

Kuwait National Assembly

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I write this with a disturbingly vivid recollection of approximately 250 pairs of eyes bordered with bushy eyebrows fixed on me in a peculiar mix of fascination and loathing. In a room of almost 250-300 men, roughly 15 of the people in this hall were women, at most, all from my private American school, all uncovered, one blond. The queasiness that came over me quickly disappeared in mere moments when I reminded myself that I, along with the female classmates and teachers with me, had as much of a right to be in that hall as they did. Even if the security expressed their displeasure at our presence by asking girls to “uncross [their] legs when [they] sit”, they couldn’t exactly ask us to leave. I then remembered a scene from Meryl Streep’s new film The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher’s life, where she is first elected into Parliament and she is the only woman there. She’s momentarily overwhelmed by the amount of men in suits, ties, pants, polished black shoes – and she feels so feminine standing amongst them, in her baby-blue skirt and blouse, in her flowery hat, in her high heels, with her blond hair. Still, this is the Iron Lady we’re talking about. She holds her head up and takes firm steps as confidently as their own, for she knows that she had earned that position and worked hard for it. She was not about to give it up because of a few condescending, misogynistic/intimidated eyes.

The Main Hall of the Kuwait National Assembly was insanely packed with men, and even though I had decided against wearing a skirt because I had expected this, I felt ‘uncomfortably’ feminine nonetheless. I wore the lowest heels I could find, long pants, and a formal blouse. I do have to point out that I even if I got looks for being a girl, I didn’t get comments of ridicule for the way I was dressed like my classmates who showed up in skirts and dresses did – for that I’m strangely grateful. Put politely, they were considered to be dressed ‘unconservatively’ and were ‘perfect examples of why there needs to be a law that requires women to cover up’. I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that it made sense, when you have a male-dominated Parliament, it’s only natural that you’ll have a male-dominated society. Or is it the other way around? Does it matter which way it is?

As you may have heard, today’s jalsa was cancelled due to black flags being raised in protest of the title of الاربعاء الاسود. We were dismissed from the hall 10 minutes into the session, but that was all it took to absorb in the patriarchy-saturated atmosphere that soaked the hall. I’m happy to say that although we received critical looks and comments, the ‘tour’ made up for it. Waleed Al Dhefiri  kind enough to show us around and tell us the history of the Parliament both from the architectural aspect and the political one. A very down-to-earth and critical-thinking man, he gave us the opportunity to ask about anything that we were wondering about. Speaking for myself, I was very reassured with his answers that, mainly, this Parliament won’t be able to impose all the things that they want to impose on the citizens. I also voiced my concerns to him as a female, and he gave me a great piece of advice that I’ve vowed to always carry with me: “Sheikh Jaber الله يرحمه has given you a right that no one can take away without your permission.” Those words alone revitalized the determination and the hope that I have for a better future, and for being a part of that process of betterment – not despite being a woman, but because of being a woman.

Visible Children?

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Stop Kony has dominated my Twitter timeline for the past two days. The Kony 2012 documentary has apparently gone absolutely viral, taking over my Facebook homepage too and almost every other blog and social networking site. I thought it was great. I even heard two 8th grade boys talking about why Joseph Kony should be stopped! Couldn’t have been over 13 years old, and they were discussing justice and humanity and helping people in need.

So I was quite surprised when one of my favorite writers, Paulo Coelho, expressed a very different perspective on Joseph Kony. Heck, he wouldn’t even write out his whole name, merely referring to him as “Joseph K.” because he “didn’t want to promote him”. It didn’t make sense to me because he also said that he had watched the documentary, so surely he understood the motive behind making Kony famous!

So I read a few articles that discussed the ‘behind the scenes’ side of the documentary. It apparently isn’t a coincidence nor is it a result of the Invisible Children’s hard work that Obama finally sent in his troops to Uganda; oil was recently discovered in Kony’s backyard, so the possibility stands that politically speaking, Obama’s move was only a matter of international interests. A very good source that I came across pointed out that Kony is undoubtedly a criminal, but simply making the Ugandan economy rely on foreign aid because they need ‘saving’ is hardly helping them on the long run – especially when the documentary has ‘white man’s burden’ written all over it.

A second year Political Science student in Nova Scotia dedicated a Tumblr account to denouncing the Invisible Children organization, while at the same time emphasizing that he does agree that Joseph Kony is fundamentally evil, and that the volunteers’ intentions are fundamentally good. He also backed up his argument by referring to credible professors who also expressed strong opposition to the campaign. I found it very interesting to learn on a Telegraph article that Kony and his troops had fled Uganda almost six years ago, and have instead dispersed all over neighboring countries, so Ugandan representatives have voiced their concerns that this viral video may end up causing more unnecessary harm than good to their country, seeing as the LRA apparently no longer exists within Uganda. Certain activists have pointed out that the documentary was campaigning for Western paternalism, that by participating in it, people are advocating the arrogant “let’s save Africa” agenda. I can’t help but wonder whether it matters if the man doing the activism is from the U.S., and that the region he’s focusing on is Africa. If people take the time to inform themselves on an issue, is it naive to think that good people might band together to help others around the world?

Sins on Canvas

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As the #PaintToFreedom online movement grows and sparks more controversy and discussion and encourages people to speak up, many are wondering what the story is – who Shurooq Amin is. I thought that posting my old article “Sins on Canvas” from the LoYACY magazine in the November issue would help people get a good image of this great artist. I would also like to say that the Paint to Freedom movement is not just about Shurooq’s particular gallery being shut down, nor is it restricted to painters. It includes artists, poets, writers, film-makers, dancers, musicians, designers. It’s one that seeks to protect our right to freedom of expression and appreciation of art, literature, poetry, and beauty in all its forms. No one has the right to control what another person paints, writes, thinks, or believes. Paint to Freedom seeks to abolish the false assumption that the intellectuals will simply hand over the power to people who are blind to such beauty. Art, cinema, poetry, and literature are all tools to enlightenment and liberation – which is the exact reason that these groups are attempting to kill them, and also the reason that in turn, the intellectuals must retaliate by practicing these acts of rebellion from now on more passionately than ever.

Paint on the floor. Poetry in the air. Smiles in the hallway. Children here and there. The home of a woman whose fingers have formed a long-lasting friendship with her paintbrush since her early childhood: Shurooq Amin’s home. I was privileged enough to be invited to visit Shurooq’s studio in her humble home, where I felt more than welcome, and was greeted with warm hellos. After meeting her children, Shurooq and I went up to her studio. Within those four simple walls, I saw some of the most thought-provoking paintings I had ever laid eyes on. Pure taboo: everything that is forbidden, everything deemed unspeakable – painted on canvas, speaking thousands of words that would never do her paintings justice.
Shurooq Amin is an artist, a poet, a member of the Kuwait Arts Association, and a professor at Kuwait University, to name only a few of the high-status positions she holds. She is the first and only Kuwaiti artist to feature a nude painting in international art galleries. She is also a mother of four children: Nujood, Lujain, Khaled, and Abdulla. Just by hearing this, most people would say: there is no way she is managing all of those things at once. Quite the contrary, Shurooq says balancing every factor in her life has not been difficult – it was all a matter of time management.
She considers her job at KU to be a day job which she has maintained simply because it is her source of income, and that it is “not something [I] love anymore because of the education system”. I personally thought this was an interesting point, so I asked Shurooq to elaborate. She discussed how the university used to be an academic environment, but is now politically charged, where “everybody wants to be a politician, but nobody wants to do the work”. She expressed frustration at how the KU Student Union now “has more power than the faculty”. Naturally, her frustration is reasonable; one cannot help but question whether or not all of the KU faculty members feel the same way. As a result, Shurooq no longer feels passionately about her day-career – her students are only growing less and less enthusiastic about their major with each passing year, making it difficult for Shurooq to teach with passion.
Instead, Shurooq focuses on her conceptual, controversial art works and her children. She feels most strongly about those two things: her artwork, and her children, and puts all of her energy into them. I personally have spent my life around adults who said they were too busy with their career to give their all to their children, but Shurooq said that such talk was “merely an excuse”. She considers her children to be gifts, to be future citizens actively taking part in the development of their society.
The sensational artist has paint coursing through her veins. She grew up painting, and had the constant support of her father. Her father took her to art galleries and museums, and at the time, she didn’t realize how exceptional such opportunities were. She assumed all girls her age saw what she saw. At the young age of 11, her father passed away in her arms, and after that point, nothing scared her anymore. At the age of 11, she witnessed the death of one of the dearest people to her heart. Death, Shurooq said, is the most common fear. Since she faced that at an early age, there was nothing left to fear anymore. From that point onwards, all of the endless obstacles she faced didn’t seem so difficult to tackle anymore.
Death threats have surprisingly been amongst those obstacles. But Shurooq says she didn’t care. “They can’t judge me — we’re all souls, only God can judge me, or an art critic, which doesn’t exist in Kuwait. I won’t listen to regular people judging me just because I’m painting the truth. We have people preaching Haram and Halal when they are hypocrites, telling girls not to talk to boys and in the weekend he’s with his mistress.” Because Shurooq addresses taboo subjects in her paintings, she is met with violent opposition. She addresses religion, politics, morality, sex, socio politics.
Shurooq was kind enough to show me her upcoming series, “It’s a Man’s World”, consisting of a total of 18 paintings which depict the secret lives of Arab men, including factors such as homosexuality, polygamy, double-lives, hypocrisy, alcoholism, adultery, the demeaning of women by turning them into non-human objects of sexual gratification, all the while preaching against the very acts they participate in on a nightly basis. The one that most caught my attention was “My Harem in Heaven”, a painting that portrayed a Kuwaiti man laying on a couch, barefoot in his dishdasha. He is smoking shisha, has a glass of whiskey on the table in front of him, an ashtray next to it. The ashtray and the glass of whiskey are placed on a glass table, and underneath the table, you see his bottle of Red Label – the most common choice of alcohol in Kuwait. A key element painted that would be noted is that the table was made of glass, so everyone can see the Red Label. Regardless of how hard he tries to hide it, everyone in the society knows this man is an alcoholic. Furthermore, there are women all around him. Tiny, Tinkerbell-like women, representing the alleged 70 virgins in Heaven–sitting on his shoulder, grabbing his feet, swimming in his glass of whiskey, all posing very promiscuously. He is relaxed and seems to be immensely enjoying this overflow of sensual sinning – because no one can see him indulging in these pleasures. Shurooq says this painting was done with love and passion, it had been a “eureka moment, a vision, pure inspiration from God Himself”.
Another one of her paintings portrayed an Emarati man, a symbol of your average male from any of the Gulf countries, with a BlackBerry, an iPhone, and a pack of cigarettes in front of him. Around him you see symbols of Abercrombie & Fitch, and other popular consumer products within the Gulf region. Next to him you see newspaper articles. Egyptians still fighting for their freedom. Syrians slaughtered ruthlessly. Palestinians oppressed by Israelis. Parliament members stealing millions of Kuwaiti Dinars. Saudi women demanding the simple right to drive, while women in the West are astronauts. The Khaleeji man doesn’t care. He is living in his own little world of consumerism and materialistic values. So long as it does not affect him directly, he sees no reason to care about other people’s pain. He’s naive and happy, driving his expensive car, killing himself slowly with his posh cigarettes, drinking away his petty troubles with cheap Red Label, taking advantage of women and blackmailing them with pictures. He sees no real reason to care. Consumerism has made him grow numb to reality. It has created an alter universe for him, one in which he is content, one in which he does not acknowledge the guilt that should be gnawing at his insides for allowing other human beings to suffer while he lives in luxury and silence. Had he not been a slave to consumerism, he would realize that his silence is complicity.
Shurooq does not take part in that silence. She is doing what she loves, and uses her art as a message to society, to broaden minds, enlighten people, change the world. “Every single person who thinks about the message behind my work is being influenced. His mind works. He discusses it with a friend. Something has shifted. It has been passed on, a ripple effect, a pay-it-forward technique, a new generation of people who are activists, full of hope and power to do something, not just watch TV. They will reach a point where they will challenge themselves to be consistent with their actions, not just their ideas.”

So far, there have been tweets, blog posts, articles, and other forms of media published in support of Paint to Freedom all over the Arab world. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are only some of the countries whose writers and activists have took part so far. I particularly liked my friend Arie’s bold article here, and greatly appreciate his effort to support us. The influence has been overwhelmingly remarkable. You are more powerful than you think.

Invisible Children: Who is Joseph Kony?

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I loved, LOVED this documentary. It really makes you want to reach out to all of humanity instead of just your own country. Thank you Elio for sharing this with me!

“The people of the world see each other, and can protect each other. Right now, what we do, or don’t do, will affect every generation to come. We live in a world where we should be saying that the technology that is in our hands is allowing us to reach out to others. We are not just studying human history, we are shaping it. The better world we want, is coming. It’s just waiting for us to stop at nothing.”

This is another example of how you don’t need to be part of a corporation or hold a political position or have a lot of money in order to make a change. These are all students who made a difference. Students who painted, wrote, protested, advertised, did a bunch of small things that all added up to one big influence. Please share!