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February 24, 2009 No.
2056

Kuwaiti English-Language Daily Highlights MEMRI’s Role In Exposing Extremism in the Arab World And In Generating Change

The Kuwaiti English-language daily Kuwait Times recently published two articles, an op-ed by staff writer Shamael Al-Sharikh[1] and a column by Fouad Al-Obaid,[2] about MEMRI and MEMRI TV research. These articles reflect how exposing Arab/Muslim extremists to the West starts a chain reaction, galvanizing liberal and reformist intellectuals and prompting criticism and condemnation of these views leading, and ultimately undermining them.

In the words of Al-Obaidi in his column, "[Such extremist statements are] the sort of rhetoric that is not unfamiliar in our part of the world, and... [this] only proves our inherent weakness and lack of self-esteem... If we start a process of self-examination, in the near future, we would be able to start bringing forward solutions."

Following are excerpts from the articles.

Staff Writer Shamael Al-Sharikh: Extremists Issue "Medieval Fatwas... Revive [Archaic and Absurd] Customs... Defy Socio-Cultural Progress... And Write in Newspapers... in Arabic”

Kuwait Times staff writer Shamael Al-Sharikh wrote in a September 18, 2008 op-ed titled "Me Sorry, Me Sorry... Me Loves Europe!": "Being a Kuwaiti columnist with a mostly non-Kuwaiti readership, I sometimes feel obliged to bring out the best this country has to offer. Other columnists have certainly done their share of portraying Kuwaitis as maid-beaters and mindless brutes, so I feel I should represent the sophisticated Kuwaiti, occasionally gliding over the not-so-sophisticated Kuwaiti, the embarrassment-to-the-country Kuwaiti, and the oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-he-just-said-that Kuwaiti.

"In recent years, members of the latter category have risen in population, especially in the flanks of religious extremists. They decree medieval fatwas, they revoke certain customs and revive others based on how archaic and absurd they are, they defy socio-cultural progress... and they write in newspapers. Most of these articles, bless the Heavens, are written in Arabic, so it is rare that the non-Arab expatriate gets exposed to the absurdities of religious extremist writing in Kuwait."

"Along Came The Middle East Media Research Initiative (MEMRI)... And Their Pesky Translations of Op-Ed Pieces From the Arabic Newspapers"

"Along came the Middle East Media Research Initiative [sic] (MEMRI), and along came their pesky translations of Op-Ed pieces from the Arabic newspapers. The researchers at MEMRI have stumbled upon an article, written by a Kuwaiti columnist of the religious extremist kind, who also happens to be a government-appointed imam.

"In the article, titled 'The Qualities of the European,' the columnist made the following observations about Europeans:

"'As for the Europeans' relations with the Creator, animals are better than they are...for they do not permit what is permissible, and do not forbid what is forbidden. Moreover, whenever they find a way to please the Devil, they pursue it...

"'Europeans [also] usually smell bad, because they do not wash until it is absolutely necessary. They do not clean themselves properly after urinating, nor do they wipe the filth off [themselves]. Whoever mingles with them notices this characteristic. If Allah had not given them a cold climate, the stench would have been overwhelming, driving away the birds and withering the vegetation. For real cleanliness means nothing to them... (Translations taken from MEMRI.) "[3]

"The Article... Was Lambasted by Kuwaiti Blogs and Columnists Alike, For the Xenophobic Remarks Expressed In It"

"The article, which came out in August, was lambasted by Kuwaiti blogs and columnists alike, for the xenophobic remarks expressed in it. [The] famed political blog Sahat l-Safat ripped the column to shreds with a point-by-point analysis (please view 18 August 2008 post on http://kuwaitjunior.blogspot.com/).

"Al-Qabas Columnist Ahmad Al-Sarraf even suggested that someone translate this column into all European languages and fax it to the European embassies in Kuwait, so that the column's author gets denied a visa that next time he wants to vacation in Paris or London!

"I almost followed up on Al-Sarraf's suggestion, but changed my mind at the last minute, because I was too embarrassed to share this ridiculous piece with our European expatriates.

"As I said earlier, I do not enjoy writing pieces that make my county look bad. Moreover, with the menial labor strikes, the weakening stock market, and the newly elected National Assembly, I figured Kuwait had enough things to be embarrassed about, so we need not share our xenophobia with others and add insult to injury. Alas, those darned folks at MEMRI got hold of the column, translated it, and put it on their website, thereby completely foiling my plan of protecting my country from further shame."

"I Apologize to the European Continent for the Racist Comments Made in the Above-Mentioned Article"

"All that remains to be said now is this: On behalf of all normal Kuwaitis, I apologize to the European continent for the racist comments made in the above-mentioned article. It does not represent the opinions of the majority of Kuwaitis, who enjoy spending their summers in London, shopping for Italian clothing, eating French food, driving German cars, and swimming in Puerto Banos and the Cote d'Azur. Neither does the article represent the opinions of Kuwaiti businesses, who often deal with European strategic business partners, consultants, vendors, suppliers, and employees, to keep their businesses going. Most of all, it does not represent the opinions of the thousands of Kuwaitis who are still grateful for the British forces and other European nations of the international coalition who liberated Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion in 1990...

"Kuwait is not a nation of haters and ingrates, and this article is the unfortunate price we have to pay for our freedom of the press. It is a forgettable piece of literature written by an ignorant religious extremist that should be treated as a sort of cheap comedy, not an anthropological analysis of the European individual. Kuwait, unfortunately, is no different from many places in the West who deal with xenophobia, except Westerners call them neo-Nazis, and we call them religious extremists."

Columnist Fouad Al-Obaid: MEMRI TV Shows "Actual Clips That Were Aired – Nothing More, Nothing Less"

In his August 6, 2008 column, titled "When Subtitles Are Used," Kuwait Times columnist Fouad Al-Obaid wrote: "It is funny how it takes a foreign entity to repertoire and sample numerous clips that were aired on public TV here in the Middle East, and to further add subtitles to them; clarifying them for every one's viewing pleasure.

"Memritv.org, better known as 'The Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project,' albeit could be claimed to be biased with the explicit aim of pinpointing the outrageous comments made by certain individuals. This is nothing more than showing actual clips that were aired, nothing more, nothing less."

This "Rhetoric... Only Proves Our Inherent Weakness and Lack of Self-Esteem"

"…We can perhaps turn to a Friday sermon made by a Palestinian sheikh, whereby he claims, 'With the establishment of the State of Israel, the entire Islamic nation was lost, because Israel is like cancer that spreads through the body of the Islamic nation. This is because the Jews are viruses that spread like AIDS, which the entire world suffers from.' This is only an excerpt of the sort of rhetoric that is not unfamiliar in our part of the world, and is a rhetoric that only proves our inherent weakness and lack of self-esteem."

"If We Start a Process of Self-Examination, In The Near Future We Would Be Able to Start Bringing Forward Solutions"

"When we place our very own miseries in the hands of others, we are externalizing our problems that we are not able to solve, not because we cannot with some will and desire do so. Rather, we put our problems in the hand of foreigners because as such we can allow ourselves to do nothing about it for whatever reason we wish to ascribe to such act.

"In the Arab world, we are plagued by many ills, most of them are societal that emerge from a culture that is diverse. Yet, through the pan-Arab movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some tried to picture the 'Arab World' as being united. Whereas it never really was, [neither] in history nor in its present form. The reason for the differences emanate from culture, whereas here in Kuwait we are by regional standards a free open society, where you are allowed to express your mind, neighbors of ours get thrown in prison for similar acts, some even get murdered!

"We Need to Reform Our Respective Countries; We Need to Stop Externalizing Our Troubles, And to Take A Deeper Look At Our Malaises"

"It is an undeniable fact that we in the region, have a great potential to create an Arab Union, which would mimic the European Union and would ensure that every country gets a chance to prosper and develop. It is unlikely to happen if we are unable to be honest with ourselves. We need to reform our respective countries; we need to stop externalizing our troubles, and to take a deeper look at our malaises, noting that we will not be able to fix them in a year or two.

"If we start a process of self-examination, in the near future, we would be able to start bringing forward solutions…"

Endnotes:
[1] Kuwait Times (Kuwait), September 18, 2008, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTA4NTEyODk3OA==
[2] Kuwait Times (Kuwait), August 6, 2008, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTAwOTc0NDA4NA==.
[3] To read the full article visit: Government-Appointed Kuwaiti Preacher: Europeans Are Immoral, Unclean, and Cowardly