Category Archives: Books

Arab Spring in Kuwait?

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For a while now, many foreigners have been asking us Kuwaitis why the Arab Spring has not reached Kuwait – and doesn’t look like it’s going to. The answer has been one and the same: because we’re living the dream. We have malls with all the clothes we could desire, restaurants to fill our mouths with food to keep us fat and quiet, jobs that pay us to do nothing, universities that accept and nurture students with zero ambition, public schools that only require you to do well on exams, and extravagant cars that don’t get stolen or vandalized when we park them outside our homes – something very rare, since this hardly EVER happens in other countries. Many of my teachers still express their surprise over how secure our cars are.

But, the dream is going to die very soon, when Kuwait will have to find an alternative for oil. And from the looks of things, no one has a back up plan yet. No one is even considering a back up plan. No one is thinking long term. Not even the Kuwaiti men and women running for Parliament right now. Everyone is thinking short term instead.

If we were to come up with a long-term plan to improve Kuwait’s future rather than sustain this materialistic, meaningless abyss everyone loves so much, then the key parts are social development and education. Socially speaking, our society is still living in the stone age, where you’re judged according to who your ancestors are. You don’t defy the ‘alpha male’ of your family. MP’s beat each other up at the parliament and disgrace the entire nation. Human rights are violated on a daily basis, citizens robbed of their right to freedom of speech, religion, sexuality, political views, and marriage.

I think that for the Arab Spring to reach Kuwait, it’s the youth that needs to make it happen. The hard part is actually getting them to wake up and realize that the dream they’re living in isn’t what reality is actually like. It’s a world that was created to keep them quiet and away from ‘trouble’ – i.e. freedom. It still baffles me that this is enough for them, that they’re satisfied with shopping and eating and tanning their lives away. It’s no coincidence that that’s all there is to do in Kuwait. Dumbing an entire nation down is a process that requires careful thought and precision. First you start with the education. You make sure that all the modern, revolutionary ideas of the evil West are not incorporated into their academic studies. Then you make sure that the language of those evil ideas isn’t taught well enough for the students to be able to go out and explore those ideas; that way, they won’t pick up a book that tells them all about oppressive regimes and their cunning ways. 😉 They won’t do that because, 1) they don’t understand the language well enough. 2) they don’t like reading. If you create an entire generation of people who hate books and who groaned their way through English class, a class that was supposed to teach them to be fluent speakers, writers, and readers of a universal language that could be their gateway to knowledge and enlightenment, then you are essentially creating slaves who will submit to your laws and rules without complaint.

Then you show them what their boundaries are by making examples of other people. You use the media to your advantage. You arrest writers. You censor magazines, newspapers, and movies. You ban books. You make TV shows that encourage the mistreatment of domestic workers, that demean the importance of treating your partner properly, that glorify disrespecting women, and tell girls that the only way to ‘be beautiful’ is to objectify yourself – by Kuwaiti media standards, that means dress in really tight clothes, rub your face in a ton of make up, and make your voice about ten pitches higher than what it naturally is.

Then you create laws that tell them there’s no escape, but you don’t make it obvious. You make it seem like a good thing. You tell the women that they’re never allowed to marry a man without daddy’s approval, even if they’re 40 year old well-known professors. Then you narrow it down even more. You try to avoid intercultural marriages by telling those women that if they marry a non-Kuwaiti, you will guarantee them and their children a crappy future. Then you move on to the Kuwaiti marriages. In that case, it’s the family who instills those values within their children’s minds. They’re taught not to fall in love with someone who’s from a different religious sect – because you don’t need to worry about them falling in love with someone who’s from a different religion. Then you emphasize the glory of your own ethnic background, so that way they look down on other backgrounds enough to find them unappealing, thus ensuring that they won’t fall in love with an ‘outsider’. Of course, this is all if they fall in love.

If they’re allowed to fall in love, I should say. This is all assuming that the family in question is one that’s not a big fan of arranged marriages, of hooking up strangers and hoping for the best. It drives me insane because I’ve heard too many stories of couples who genuinely loved each other and couldn’t get married because their families didn’t approve – and, legally, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. A ‘bad’ marriage was prevented because the parents were an obstacle that the couple could not overcome.

There’s the question of whether or not you’re allowed to fall in love, and there’s the bigger question of whether or not you’re allowed to learn. University is one of the biggest ‘decisions’ a person is supposed to make. But when your options are narrowed down to AUK, KU, and GUST, you don’t have much to look forward to. If you talk to high school Kuwaiti students who are considering one of those three universities, most of them will tell you they’re having a hard time deciding because “they all have such nice campuses”. The education level is hardly ever taken into consideration if we’re talking about a typical Kuwaiti high school student. The other day I was actually surprised to hear one of my peers saying that she had ruled out one of those three universities because “girls smoke in public there!” so the princess felt like she wouldn’t be comfortable there.

Too many girls aren’t given the option of studying abroad, at a prestigious university that can provide them with the opportunity of an eye-opening academic and personal experience. And, once again, without daddy’s approval, there’s no way in hell that can happen for them. Let’s also not forget, a certain university in K-Town has different GPA requirements for both genders 😉 that way, 18 year old girls who didn’t do well enough to get into university can simply find a husband and make more Kuwaitis for the country. It also encourages young men to aim for a minimum GPA – what incentive would they have to do any better?

It makes no sense to me. The youth is robbed of so many basic rights, yet they’re also the biggest fans of this clever system. So long as they’re paid, fed, and given pretty clothes and cars, no one complains. I can only hope that soon enough their eyes will be opened, because when we’re no longer ‘living the dream’, it’s the youth who’s going to have to save the country.

Homeless Books

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My room has books all over the floors, pens over my pillows, and journals on my desks. I regularly sleep with and wake up next to my books, journals, and pens. As a result, my mind is very organized. I have all my thoughts down on paper and knowledge within my reach, sitting on my shelves and between my bedsheets. My room, on the other hand, is incredibly messy. It struck me just today when I had to literally jump over a pile of books just to get to the other side of my room. So, I looked through my books, and found almost a hundred books that I’m no longer interested in. I have some books that I could read over and over again, others that I know I will need for future reference, and others still that I have outgrown. Books are somewhat like clothes. When you’ve outgrown them, you give them away to others who could use them. The one hundred books that I need to give away are books that I grew up with, books that I read back when I was about 13 years old – but I’ve seen many people my own age reading them today. It’s probably always just been me who read books that weren’t for my own age, but I’m sure that someone else would enjoy reading them after I give them away.
I hold those books in my heart, but no longer have room for them in my room. As far as I know, there isn’t a place I can donate my books to where I know they will be looked after, so instead I’m posting this announcement to see whoever’s interested. The books I want to give away are mostly light-hearted fictional novels. For those that know me, they’re nothing like the heavy material I read nowadays, so you can rule that out 😉 I did ask a few friends to ask their school libraries if they take book donations, and a friend mentioned something called Vanguardia which I will look into and write about, but for now I’m keeping my options open to ensure that my books end up in good hands who will treasure them as I did.
Please let me know if you’re interested in a good read 🙂

Pursuit of Writing

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I wonder, what type of writing matters most in this world? Is it fiction, truth, or fictionalized truth?

Up until I was 16, I only wrote fiction, and only read fiction. I sometimes read and wrote fictionalized truth. But I loved and breathed fiction, it was an escape door that I always craved and always comforted me when I didn’t like reality. I liked to think that by writing fiction, I was doing the same for others. Many of my friends who used to read my fictional works told me so; that my made-up stories provided them a delightful escape from reality. Then reality grew difficult to avoid. So my fiction turned into fictionalized truth. Fictionalized truth is when you base a made-up story on true events, kind of like the fictional love story of Jack and Rose in Titanic, or the book My Brother Sam is Dead, which revolved around the events of the 18th century American Revolution, or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini about The Taliban. Fictionalized truth can be based on anything. It can be based on your own life, a country’s war conditions, social change, some experience you heard of, something you’ve always imagined, etc. There’s two versions of fictionalized truth. One is when the reader can figure out which parts of your story are based on truth. The other is when only you, the writer, know that your so-called story is based on truth. You’re basically taking reality, writing it down, and calling it fiction. It’s a secret that only you and your words share; maybe your characters, if you let the real-life versions read it.

After fictionalized truth came actual truth. I quit fiction for a long time, then arrived to my Journalism class in 11th grade and found a reason to write once more. It felt strange, alien. Like dipping your toes tentatively into a pool because you’re not sure how hot or cold the water is. But with time, with practice, I loved it. I also had a really awesome teacher who showed us how deceptive the media could be, and how it was up to the good writers to expose the evils of propaganda. I pursued it the summer after I finished my Journalism class through a Journalism & Media internship at Al Watan. I clearly remember one of the guest speakers there talking to us about the importance of being a reader before being a writer, and what an important role reading played in developing your skills as a writer. He said that of all the books we should be reading per month, only 2% of them should be fiction – because truth was more important. He agreed that fiction was delightful, but he also believed that escaping was for people who were not strong enough to face reality. He told us that we had a responsibility towards our country and towards the people around us to tell the truth. So by reading truth, we would be learning how to write it. I can’t remember the last time I read a fictional novel since July, when I heard him say that.
Reading truth is enlightening, and it opens up your eyes to things that you may not have realized. It exposes oppressors and grants the oppressed a chance of rising up. It teaches you underlying meanings of things that you may have deemed to be superficial and silly. It gives you new perspectives of looking at things. It allows you to stay informed, to develop an opinion, to look at all the different angles and create your own vision. But if truth is all you read and all you write, your sense of imagination and the magic in your soul will eventually die.

So what does a person’s taste in literature say about them? Is a lover of fiction really just someone who’s afraid of facing reality? Is a journalist just someone who lacks a sense of imagination and magic? Is a poet someone who decorates his thoughts and feelings with fancy words? And which is most important? How do you know which path to pursue? Is it possible to balance them?

What Makes a Girl Less of a Girl?

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I read a short non-fictional memoir by Eli Clare called “Stones in My Pockets, Stones in My Heart” from a book called The Disability Studies Reader given to me by my sister Shahd, who has taken several Gender Studies courses and is opening my eyes to an assortment of topics that relate to my womanhood and humanity. It was a powerful literary piece discussing how Eli coped with her gender identity struggles, beginning with how her father and his friends regularly raped her so early on in her life that she does not remember a point where she was not raped, into her teenage years and how quietly she ignored the pressure to wear skirts, paint her face with make-up, kiss boys, date in high school, shave her legs, strut in heels. She went through high school as an outcast, a reject, someone who always felt like she didn’t belong, someone who always asked her mother, “Mama, am I feminine?”. As she entered university she began exploring the possibility of her being a lesbian, and came to terms with it later on. Eli not only struggled with gender-labels, but also suffered from a chronic condition which made her hands shake consistently. She was labeled a ‘freak’ in every way. It was a long, bitter struggle, one that she described very powerfully and had a great emotional impact on me.

Last year I took a Psychology class as an elective, and I now remember studying gender roles at one point. My teacher was a 50-something-year old traditionalist, and once very boldly said “Girls feel that their hair is a part of their identity as females.” Because there’s nothing I hate more than a man telling us what girls are like, I told him that was not true. The old creep laughed and said, “Is that so? Well, would you cut off all of your hair?” And I told him I would. And I would’ve. He actually promised me an A in his class if I showed up the next class with a boy haircut. I kid you not, I was dead serious when I told him I would go through with it. The extent to which I am always determined to prove someone wrong never fails to surprise me. But – at the end of that day, my teacher hunted me down and told me he was only joking, and that he didn’t want my parents calling him yelling at him for getting their daughter to cut off her hair. I finished his old-fashioned course with an A anyway, with my hair in tact.

But I still stand by my point. My hair does not determine my identity as a girl or as a female. In fact, not even my body determines my identity as a female. Breast cancer is hereditary in my family – if someday I lose my breasts, and I lose my hair, then will I be stripped of the term ‘woman’ just because I don’t possess “womanly traits”? Do I not have a say in it?

One of my classmates decided to get a Rihanna-like haircut during our Junior year of high school, a bold move on her part. At the time, this meant a boy haircut, but it also meant that both sides of her head would be shaved. It was different, but she liked it, and that should be enough, right?

Wrong. Not in this world. Not in this country. Not in our high school.

Besides the bad treatment she received, my friend went through an incident that should never have occurred. A classmate known for his sexism and poor treatment and perception of females decided it would be funny to ‘playfully’ slap her, because he didn’t like her hair. Our teacher, a woman, was outraged and asked him how he would ever dare lay his hand on a girl. The jerk’s idiotic response was “she is not a girl”.

Now, put aside the fact that he assaulted a female classmate. What on earth made this guy think he had the right to determine what did or didn’t make a girl a girl? This is someone who honestly thought that “imaginating” was a word. So it’s not like he’s gotten an A in a Gender Studies course, or attained a Masters Degree in some form of criticism. Perhaps he was merely reciting what society tells him – but what does that tell us? That half of our society consists of mindless sheep who follow and recite whatever the rest of the herd is doing and saying?

Our society, according to most of the local male perceptions, believes that a girl with a boy hair cut is less of a girl. A girl that smokes is less of a girl. A girl that is not a virgin is less of a girl. A girl that is ‘too’ interested in sports is less of a girl. I know girls that have had their sexualities and gender-identity questioned because the people labeling them were genuinely jealous of what good athletes these girls were – girls that can beat any guy at any time.

We know that labeling stems from insecurity. But does that mean that our entire society is insecure? I would consider that possibility, but it’s difficult in our case. The people throwing labels around are too egotistical to be insecure.

Too egotistical to be insecure, and confident enough to believe they have the power and the right to decide not only what is right and what is wrong, but also what defines a man and what defines a woman. Though both standards are unrealistic, my personal point of view is that the standards set for a woman are much harsher.

The funny thing about smoking is, the idiots whose sole purpose in life is to put stickers on people, tend to use words that don’t really apply to the female smoker in question. There is no correlation whatsoever between smoking and sexuality, yet, these people attack her by calling her ‘promiscuous’, because that’s the only way they believe is a valid way of insulting a female’s womanhood. I can’t help but point out that it does nothing but prove their ignorance and stupidity, that they actually believe smoking is relevant to sexuality.

Smoking? Hair? Clothes (or lack thereof)? Is that all that defines what we are in society’s eyes?

House of Ten Thousand Mirrors

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Today my English teacher took my classmates and I to Lydia Al Qattan’s home in Qadsiya, the House of Ten Thousand Mirrors. It was an amazing visit, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories Lydia was kind enough to tell us. You can read about it in the next LoYACY issue. Blogyac will be making an announcement online as soon as the magazine hits the stands, which is expected to be the first week of November.

The Big Questions – Part II

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For the past couple of days I’ve been reading The Big Questions on my way to school in the morning.  I love the feel of it, it’s very open and really makes you contemplate everything it addresses. I think I may have jinxed it because yesterday in Philosophy my teacher asked us to take out our books and a black marker.

We had an assignment due that day so it was kind of weird for him to ask us to take out the books, since we always do the reading at home. So before reaching into my bag, I asked him, “Why?” and he told me “We’re going to censor them.”

“We’re going to do it with our own markers?!” my classmate asked him way-too-excitedly

“Yes we are”

And he put up the page numbers on the board. Entire chapters. Pictures. Questions. Quotes. Single-lined phrases. And he went around to make sure we were all ‘censoring’. The classmate that was very excited about it was doing it with more energy than I had ever seen him putting into his actual work. Every single one of my classmates did it with a black board marker, eliminating the words completely. I cannot describe how much it shocked me. No one hesitated when he said “Censor these pages”. Some looked at them, said “Oh it talks about religion/oh it has a nude picture/oh it talks about sexuality/oh it talks about revolutions” and went on with their task. My excited classmate said it was like being in a KG coloring class. He also said this was like “government appreciation day”…to which I will not comment on. But me, being the odd one out that I am, instead watched everyone marking everything out. The markers were the type that are used with English magazines when celebrities are shown in their bikinis or other ‘inappropriate’ clothing, the type that you couldn’t see past no matter what. Every word, blacked out. No one cared to know what those words were! “The Authority” says they are not meant to be read – therefore they obeyed.

Personally I lied and said I didn’t have my book with me, because I wanted to keep reading the book. You know how there’s always that one student in Biology class that refuses to dissect the frog because he/she thinks it is an act of animal cruelty? I am that one student that refuses to ruin books because I think it is an act of book-torture (which I do think should be a crime)! The result was my teacher giving me another copy, telling me to censor it along with everyone else and give him back the uncensored version later. And after five minutes of watching everyone scribbling at their books, my teacher told me my time was limited and I had to get this done before class ended. So with tentative hands, a heavy heart, and a very light pink pen, I drew thin lines across pages, thin enough for a person to still be able to read the words. Someone seemed to get tired of all the ‘coloring’, and jokingly asked, “Can’t we just rip them out?” to which he was told, “Yes, as long as you throw the pages in the recycling bin and they don’t leave the room when the bell rings.” So he ripped the pages. Crunched them up into little balls. Aimed for the recycling trash like it was a basketball hoop. And went on chatting with his group.

I once read a quote that said, “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people.” Isn’t ripping out pages and blacking out words essentially a form of burning books? I’m really not lying when I say it hurt my heart to see my 17 and 18 year old classmates mindlessly blacking out extremely thought-provoking words that they would never understand the magnitude of, simply because they didn’t take a few moments to allow their curiosity to get the best of them.

  It wasn’t all blues though. My friend Nawaf particularly enjoyed censoring the picture of the nude woman. I love his version.