Category Archives: Justice

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.

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!

Write for Rights

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I watched this video, and it made me think of the infinite power that writers possess. What really shook me the most is Adnan Ibrahim saying that the average Arab reads of his own free will for approximately three minutes a year – an utmost tragedy. Yet, I can’t help but wonder who is to blame. The Arab himself for not trying to find the tools to his own liberation, or the government for making the tools seem unappealing? I know people who HATE reading. Even more who actually can’t read. 18 year old full-blooded Arab students who stutter over their words in Arabic class, and use terms like “imaginating” in English class. It would be one thing if they compensated for their lack of Arabic fluency with their English skills, but it’s a total embarrassment when they can’t speak either of the two. Then again, I do have to say that schools, in this case, are partially to blame. When the material presented is deathly-boring and dry as a dead man’s bones, the student won’t show any interest and won’t feel encouraged to learn the material. But if you present him or her with poetry, or stories, or articles, or literature that they can relate to and will grab their attention, it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll want to take part in the class – and there you have it, he’s learning! I sometimes sit in my Arabic class while the teacher is talking about grammar, and I hide my poetry book under my desk and read. And to be honest, it feels like I’m learning more while I’m reading that book than while I’m listening to my teacher – my appreciation of language is deepened, my understanding of certain concepts expands, my own writing develops. How else can you be a better writer if you don’t read?

 

Almost every intellectual will tell you that he only managed to liberate himself through reading. And the ones in Kuwait will tell you they did it by reading many, many banned books. Adnan Ibrahim also mentioned self-critiquing; I along with several other writers I know have made this a habit through our writing. Keeping a journal to keep yourself in check is the best way to see how much you’ve grown from day to day. It gives you easy access to the person you were last night, or last month, or last year. That way, you can compare the ‘two people’. You can also compare yourself to the characters you read about, whether in fictional or in non fictional books. Read books that insult you, read books that provoke you, read books that make you squirm and feel uncomfortable and queasy. Those are the only books that challenge your frame of thought; if by the time you reach the last page, you still don’t agree, then your beliefs are firm. If not, then you’ve acquired new, better beliefs that would make you more comfortable with yourself. Read books that tell you to question everything, to doubt, to inquire, to aspire, to love, to fight, to rebel. Rebelling does not necessarily have to be violent. Simply by carrying a set of values and beliefs that opposes your society’s, you are rebelling. Simply by reading books that your society has deemed to be inappropriate, you are rebelling. And most importantly, by writing, you are rebelling.

In 1984 by George Orwell the main character keeps a journal. He’s afraid of keeping a journal, because he’s not allowed to – the ‘Thought Police’ arrest anyone who keeps track of his own thoughts or feelings or memories. Yet he writes, with a trembling hand and a quivering pen, he writes to remember. He writes so he can later assert the truth. He writes of his dreams, his secret desires, his childhood memories, the country he knew before it turned into a totalitarian state. Of course, later he is arrested – but it takes so much to break him after he had liberated himself. Books were also banned in this state, so when his new-found lover gives him books that discuss liberty and freedom and innate rights, he’s introduced to a completely new world. All of a sudden he’s awestruck with intimacy being an expression of love rather than a duty, with education being enlightening rather than evil, with family being sacred rather than a group of people put together to worship Big Brother. Of course, because he’s so enlightened, he’s caught. Intellectuals are always outcasts in these societies, and rejected because they think differently.

People of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Arab world altogether – write. Write about the injustices you experience, the disrespect you’re forced to tolerate, the discrimination you witness, the hopes you dream of for our future, your ambitions, your goals, your disappointments, your expectations, your demands, your sadness, your happiness – whatever that may be. You’ll be surprised to find that you’ll experience your own epiphanies while you are writing. Do it through poetry, fiction, non-fiction, articles, books, editorials, blog posts, anything. Write for you, write for your people, write for freedom, write for rights. Bring back the true power of the pen. Pour your heart and soul on paper and then share it. I’ve finally realized that the only reason the radical religious figures are more influential than the liberals is because they are organized and the liberals are dispersed and afraid of speaking out, for more often than not, they are already social outcasts.

But yesterday with the Paint to Freedom incident, I was surprised to see how many people seemed to share the same thoughts. Once you get your ideas and concerns out, I guarantee you will find at least one more person who feels the same way you do. And it’s always good to find someone who’s on the same side as you are.

Paint to Freedom

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Shurooq Amin had her gallery “It’s A Man’s World” at Al Salhiya tonight, and was surprised to find that someone had reported her artworks to be ‘inappropriate’. Police received complaints of people feeling ‘insulted’ by her artworks, and around 10 PM headed there to notify Shurooq that her gallery would be shut down, and if she didn’t comply she would have to pay a fine. They referred to her artwork as “pornographic” and مخلة. They took photos of her artworks, saying that they would be sending them to the ministry.

This is exactly why we’re always either stuck in limbo or in a constant state of regression rather than progress. We can’t find proper books in our own country anymore, now with Virgin being shut down and all the good writers banned in the other bookstores. Our movies are censored, and instead we’re fed a bunch of media advertisements to turn us into consumerist robots during those 15 minutes that the cinema had cut out. Our writings are censored, it’s inappropriate to write about love and inappropriate to address the endless issues our society is facing. How does denial help anyone? Why is it believed that if we pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it’ll go away? It only gets worse the more it’s ignored. Shurooq addressed those issues in her paintings and I for one am glad she did, someone needed to speak up. As a writer I relate to her, because I know how frustrating it is to constantly be forced to bite my tongue and mute my voice when I know that what I’m seeing is wrong – yet, pointing out the wrongs of society is apparently wrong in itself.

I say it needs to end. The intellectuals of the Arab society need to unite to fight censorship and ignorance and regression. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this regression was planned. Why would higher powers want ‘the public’ to enlighten and liberate themselves from their own shackles? Better to make them love those shackles and brainwash them well enough to have them enforce your ideologies on others too. That way, it won’t just be your security forces imposing your beliefs on others. It’ll be the monsters you created too.

Please hashtag #painttofreedom with any tweets regarding Shurooq Amin’s gallery or art/writing censorship in the Gulf.

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.