Category Archives: Trust

The Cruel Society

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My friend Arie wrote an article called The Cruel Sea about Bas Ya Bahar (an old Kuwaiti film) and an upcoming Egyptian author, Yahia Lababidi. It can be read here. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, even though it’s one of the only Kuwaiti films to be considered top-notch. In my defense, however, it’s very difficult to find lately. But I will try my best to find a copy at any of the old video stores in Salmiya.

I asked some older people about it, and they told me that it depicts the pearl-diving history of Kuwait before the discovery of oil. I asked, “That’s it?” and they said yes, mostly. I didn’t understand because Arie had mentioned something about rape victims in the Middle East, and here they were telling me it was about pearl diving. After Arie finished writing his article, though, I saw the very critical element that my elders seemed to have found irrelevant: two of the characters are in love with each other, but their families don’t approve of the relationship. So the girl is married off to a rich, old man. The girl is raped by her husband on their wedding night.

Of course, many people would argue that a woman can’t be raped by her husband, when in truth it’s more common than people think. If she’s not giving him her consent and he does it anyway, it’s rape. I got a reply on Twitter also mentioning a crucial occurrence that’s equally neglected: prostitutes being raped. Although that’s a separate issue on its own (I think this gives a good portrayal of the truth), women can be and are forced into sexual acts under all sorts of different circumstances. 1,000 women are raped per minute, according to UN statistics. That’s not even counting the ones that go unreported.

But what I think should be discussed, is how rape victims are looked at. Generally, they carry *at least* partial blame. Most societies all over the world tend to blame the victim in some way. In the Middle East, they carry most of the blame. It’s usually said that she asked for it by dressing or acting in a certain way, or by being out ‘too late’. Other times, she’s very badly beaten up by her own family, sometimes even killed, simply because her ‘honor’ has been violated – i.e. her virginity. I read about a sixteen year old Kuwaiti girl who was raped in 1991 by an Iraqi soldier. A case was filed a while later, but not because the girl was raped. A case was filed because the sixteen year old was murdered by her father and two brothers who thought they were preserving their family’s ‘honor’. The girl’s mother was also investigated with, but she apparently showed no objection to their act – she was ashamed of her daughter and proud of her sons and husband. The degree of monstrous inhumanity to which brainwash can lead to is just stunning. When a brother can kill his own sister, a father can kill his own daughter, and a mother can look on and say ‘good riddens’, that’s when you know society has reached a terrifying definition of priorities. ‘Honor’ – a figment of Middle Eastern mentality – topples over love. Over family, over justice, over protecting your loved ones.

I also remember watching a Kuwaiti TV show back in 2004 or 2003, where a woman is raped, and her brother finds out and decides to kill her. He takes her out to the desert, holds a gun to her temple, and you hear the girl’s thoughts being narrated, you hear her blaming herself and saying that she doesn’t blame her “maskeen” brother because she brought عار to her family. Then you see the brother having flashbacks of all their childhood memories, and suddenly she isn’t the cause of “shame” to his family, but his little sister. I can’t remember what happened later, I just remember that he couldn’t bring himself to do it and he cries because of what a “coward” he is. This was shown on TV! Even the media advocates honor killing! Heck, in Jordan, it’s legal! TODAY IN 20-FREAKING-12!!!

I wonder how Arab men today would react to their sister or future-fiance or wife getting raped. Would they blame her or support her and help her through the healing process? Someone was offended that I asked, saying that I was implying that they were savages. It really isn’t what I think, but from what I’ve seen and heard, most Arab men do tend to blame the victim, saying that she asked for it by doing something, as I said before. I have to point out that rape is never asked for, and that if they insist on going with that logic, then they’re also saying that men are animalistic savages who can’t control their sexual urges if they see something that appeals to them.

A friend of mine told me about a married 19-year-old girl in Saudi who became widely known across the media as Qatif Girl, and was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with her ex, and another 110 for trying to ‘distort’ Saudi’s reputation through the media by reporting her case to a Human Rights organization. She was gang-raped by 8 men, who got varied sentences ranging from 2-15 years. That’s it. So half of them will be released in two years, go back to society, and probably repeat their crime. Very few of the victims will have the courage to report the crime. Not even Qatif Girl did; her husband found out because the gang kept gossiping about what they did in an attempt to ‘ruin her reputation’. They were hoping that her husband would find out and kill her. Her brother tried to, apparently, when he found out; he beat her up until she was unconscious, but she didn’t die. She did, however, try to kill herself twice since then. Her life has been an absolute hell from what she’s said. If we were to apply the “she asked for it” logic in this case, it doesn’t apply. She was wearing an abaya and a niqab.

Why do they pretend to be ‘open minded’ and say that they would never blame the girl, but all of a sudden change their opinions when it’s a relative or someone close to them? All of a sudden it involves their honor. All of a sudden the first question that comes to mind isn’t, “How will I help her overcome this?” but rather, “What will people say?” and then there’s the sub-questions of “Who will marry her now that she’s lost her virginity?” “How will I deal with the shame?” “What do I do with her?”

What do you think? Guys – honestly, if it was your sister/mother/wife/fiance/steady girlfriend, what do you do? Do you ever blame the victim?

Girls – “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” 😉 keep that in mind next time you judge a girl who was harmed by a man.

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.

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.

The Big Questions

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It is Saturday evening and I am supposed to be reviewing for my Math quiz tomorrow and working on my article which I also have to finish by tomorrow. But I was looking through my Philosophy book, “The Big Questions” and it kept asking me thought-provoking questions that I thought I should share.

  The first question that grabbed my attention was “Do you want to have children? If so, why?”

Each question is provided with a more in-depth explanation to help the reader come up with his own answer. This particular question’s elaboration was:

“Most people have children for terrible reasons — or for no reason at all. They have them to keep a floundering relationship together. Them have them because they are temporarily lonely. They have them because they forgot to use a contraceptive or miscalculated the time of the month. But having children is one of the most important decisions anyone can ever make, and it is a decision with the longest-lasting personal consequences. It is a decision that reveals a great deal about the way we deal with the world — or fail to deal with it. Do we want to provide some future for the family name? Why? Do we need more hands around the house to help with the chores? (Don’t bet on it.) Do we look forward to having absolute authority over someone? (It doesn’t last very long.) Do we need someone to inherit the throne after we’re dead? (Not applicable to most of us.) Do we think that having children will give us a sense of immortality? Could it just be a matter of curiosity? Vanity? Are we willing to sacrifice that much of our time and energy? Or do we not consider it a sacrifice at all?”

I posted this on Twitter as well, and Shurooq Amin said that her purpose was “to create new people that would be an asset to the world by teaching them how to change the world for the better.” My friend Anan said it would give you “a child to love and cherish”. I personally love kids. Just not sure if I would love for them to be mine. Maybe I would if it was for the sake of seeing my spouse and myself wrapped into one person. I actually like the idea of adoption, but as we all know that’s “culturally unacceptable” (i.e. one of the reasons we are looked upon as primitive). Grey’s Anatomy’s last season, when Derek and Meredith adopted an African baby, made me fall in love with the idea.

Of course, McDreamy is unrealistically dreamy – and strangely enough, has more motherly instincts than his wife, Meredith, does, which explains why he fell in love with Zola and decided to adopt her. Now even if I wanted to adopt, where can you find a Kuwaiti man that would be willing to do that? 😦 There is this insane cultural belief that all children not born out of wedlock are “damned” – which I think is r e a l l y primitive, to believe in such an illogical superstition. Not only that, but it is unfair to sentence a newly born child to an entire life of damnation when you can give him or her a chance at a good, happy life like all children are entitled.

Well, those were my thoughts on two of the pages my Philosophy book covered about having children. Will be sure to mention all the other great questions later on 🙂

Kuwait’s Double Standards

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Kuwait’s double standards when it comes to gender is by far the most pathetic issue we have here. Men and women are simply not equal, and anyone that claims otherwise is in denial or is living too luxuriously to acknowledge other people’s problems. Guys can stay out late, girls can’t. Guys can leave the house in the middle of the night, girls can’t. Guys can travel with their buddies, girls need a “male escort” — because she’s a little girl who needs her hand to be held, even if she is 24 and leaving for her MA degree. Guys can study abroad and have fun and meet amazing professors and people and build a proper college experience, girls are looked down on if they do. Guys can smoke, girls are considered dirty if they do. Guys can swim shirtless – girls are given dirty looks even if they’re wearing boarding shorts over their swimsuit. If a guy is good at sports, he’s a popular jock. If a girl is good at sports, she’s a “boya”. Guys can have as many ‘relationships’ (i.e. flings) as they want, but if a girl falls in love with one guy she genuinely cared about, she is forever looked upon as tainted goods. Because really, that’s what women are in Kuwait – goods. When a guy wants to get married, he evaluates her as he would evaluate a product. Is she good looking? Is she clean? Has she been used before? Is she purebred? Has her previous owner tamed her properly? Does she sit when I tell her to, ask “how high” when I tell her to jump? How does she dress? Has she been exposed to foreign places? Has she done any of the things I have shamelessly done? If so, I want nothing to do with her, and I pray that every “good” Kuwaiti man (whatever that is) be warded from this tainted woman.
Guys wouldn’t be able to last ONE day living as Kuwaiti girls, let alone a lifetime of living in this society that is so damn miserable. And if we do try to go against everything that this messed up society stands for and deems “honorable” and “virtuous” – we lose every ounce of respect that we have worked so hard to earn. We’ve worked hard to earn that respect by doing something good for others, by taking part in our community, by being good to all, by thinking outside the box, by educating ourselves, by reading about taboo subjects in an effort to expand our thinking, by demanding our right to be equals, by wanting to love and to be loved, by asking for our simple right to have coffee with friends of the opposite sex. Every ounce of respect, obliterated. Why? We had coffee with a coworker. We fell in love. We went tanning in a bikini. We pursued an education abroad – because we want to learn from the very best, not because we are hoping to get lucky like the guys are. We openly discussed how unjust the different standards for marriage are for men and women, different standards for everything. And we were labeled “impure”. Keep your definition of purity if it means I must oppress myself so you can buy me later on.

The Rugrats Romance

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These two are the cutest kids ever. They’ll definitely turn out to be soul-mates, they’re already planning how many kids they’ll have when they’re married. Adorable!

Elliott talks about his future marriage to Bowie:

Elliott thinks a good husband can be good by:

“staying clean”

“picking her flowers”

“making breakfast”

“making sure she doesn’t get hurt”

And a good wife will:

“hug me”

“I want her to joke”

“I want her to just be how humans are, just like how I am” “which is what…?” “Beautiful.”

TOOOO CUTE!!!

Cane is Bitter

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In English class, we are doing a unit on Language and Culture. Our current focus is on a short story based in Trinidad, called “Cane is Bitter”. The story revolves around a Hindu family with several children, the eldest being their son Romesh. The family is very poor and uneducated, and their source of income totally relies on how much cane they cut. So the children work all day and into the night, and wake up the next morning to do it all over again, their entire lives – and then continue the same lifestyle with their own children. Since education isn’t offered, they don’t really have another alternative. But Romesh’s mother decides to send him to a city nearby where they do offer education. At this point Romesh is a grown man in his early 20s, and goes away for a year to study there. He studies math, English, learns to speak, read, and write in proper grammar, political science, history, poetry, philosophy, and reads a lot of fiction and non-fiction books. He feels like the horizons of his mind have expanded greatly because of the knowledge that has been bestowed upon him, enlightening his existence. He starts to appreciate beauty, romance, manners, words, poetry, and realizes how oppressed the people of his small village really are – especially his own family. When he goes to visit them (which is only on an annual basis), he is a completely different person. Though his mother is extremely proud of him, and glad that she had encouraged him to pursue an education elsewhere, his father is not. His father wants him to get married to a girl from a middle-class family (as the dowry in their culture is given by the girl to the man) and continue with the family ‘business’ of cane-cutting. As Romesh’s father and mother are discussing his future marriage — without his knowledge — a possibility crosses his father’s mind: “What if he’s in love with someone who is from a different culture?” In his case, he meant a black woman; but his wife quickly dismisses the thought from her husband’s mind.

Anyway, so one of the discussion questions had asked us what we would do if we were in Romesh’s situation. In my head, Romesh basically had to choose 1 of the following:

A) Keep his education and marry the girl his family wants, keeping his family happy and embracing the knowledge he had received

B) Keep his education and marry the girl *he* wants, which would end up with him having to give up his family

C) Refuse to get married and risk losing the education he is receiving, since his parents can easily prevent him from going anymore.

Our teacher was more detailed about the question, she wanted to make it more local, more personal. She asked us girls, “If your family said you could study abroad, as long as you would get married, would you?”

And we are talking about university. As in, she was asking us, 17 and 18 year old girls, if we would get married after our high school graduations just for the sake of having a male escort in order for our parents to approve of us going to a good university and getting the education we deserve. She told us that this had, in fact, happened a few years ago. A high school female student of hers got accepted to a university in the U.S. to study medicine, but her family wouldn’t agree unless she was married. Though the girl posed no objection, and did get married, she couldn’t juggle marriage with medicine, since she got pregnant a year into her studies, and had to drop out to care for her husband and her child.

What my teacher said was, that we didn’t even have the same options as Romesh. She pointed out that as Kuwaiti girls, if our families did not approve of the man we loved, that was it for us. It’s not like we can leave our families like Romesh can and choose our soulmates instead. We do not have that option, of walking away and running after the one we love; we let go, which was a really sad but very accurate point that she made.

Two of my classmates shocked me with their answers by saying, “I would find any guy to marry, travel with him abroad, and get a divorce when I’m done.” which is, in my opinion, taking advantage of a guy that doesn’t want to take advantage of you: he’s marrying you, he wants to spend the rest of his life with you! I told them that it wasn’t fair, that was using him. Their response was that “men are always using us, what’s the difference?”

It just got me thinking. Personally I would rather not get married and travel abroad than marry a stranger just for the sake of using him and be stuck with him forever – because I know myself and I wouldn’t leave someone who has been there for me for four years. Marriage is meant to be a commitment, not a way of taking advantage of your partner’s benefits for your own personal needs. I don’t know how my classmates would have the heart to use a man for four years and then leave him. What if, despite it being an arranged marriage, he falls in love with you during those four years? Would you break his heart and leave him anyway? How would the woman be any different than your typical man in that case? The only difference is that the typical man is seeking ways to satisfy his male ego, while apparently the typical woman (since I know two others who have said the same thing, making a total of four) is seeking ways to satisfy her academic dreams – and the trend seems to be that the best way to do that is by finding a man to ‘tolerate’ for 4 years.

I think it’s more than fine, to get married and travel abroad, if it is of the couple’s own free will and it was their own decision. I think that’s great, when two people are in love and decide to be together and support each other through their university years. But when that is the parents’ condition, and the girl marries a stranger with the intention of leaving him, then it isn’t fair to him. And regardless of what everyone says, both ends have feelings, both ends get hurt when their hearts are broken. I don’t think that men are always using women. I’m lucky enough to know a few really good men who would never take advantage of women. Some men do use women. Some women use men. If we were to go by the stereotypes, men love having their ego fed, and women love having their wallets fed. If we were to go by stereotypes, we would never be able to trust each other – not even when we’re married. Personally I think you can’t fully trust the stranger you are marrying if it is an arranged marriage, especially if you are planning to travel abroad with him at 18. Trouble could easily escalate, as mentioned before, pregnancy being one of the concerns, as well as domestic abuse; if you don’t know this man as well as the back of your hand, how do you know how he will behave when he is angry? In a foreign country, away from your family, living only with him, what will you do if he crosses a line? For me, it’s too fishy. I guess it works for some people though.