Following are excerpts from an interview with Kuwaiti journalist Ahmad Al-Sarraf, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on March 20, 2009.
Interviewer: Do you agree with those who label you an "extremist liberal"?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: First of all, there is no such thing as an "extremist liberal." There are extremist terrorists, extremist religious people, extremist racists, but extremist liberals – that's the first time I've heard this.
Interviewer: Haven't you heard that term used?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: No. I haven't heard it from a reliable source. As for people who curse me using this term – this happens a lot.
Interviewer: So I'm not the first?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: No, it happens a lot. If my extremism serves the interests of my country and my society... Being an extremist liberal is a good thing. I have never hurt anyone with my so-called "extremist liberalism." I have never denied anybody the right of speech. I have never eliminated anyone. I've never attacked anybody, or harmed his reputation. If that's what being an extremist liberal means, I welcome it.
Interviewer: Do you think there are terrorists writing in the Kuwaiti press?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Undoubtedly.
Interviewer: On what grounds do you classify them as terrorists?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Inciting one group against another constitutes terrorism. When you say that the members of a certain tribe, group, sect, or faith are not worthy of living... A well-known writer, or academic, gave a lecture, which was posted by MEMRI on the Internet. He called for the killing of any journalist who attacked Hamas. This is verbal extremism. One says it verbally, another writes it, but they both call for the killing of anybody who writes anything against Hamas. This is a terrorist call for murder. I have never said things like: "Kill so-and-so, finish so-and-so off, destroy so-and-so's business, or make so-and-so divorce his wife."
Interviewer: In the recent war in Gaza, you were opposed to Hamas. Many people thought that this was an attempt to justify the Israeli aggression against Hamas, against Gaza.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Nobody justifies aggression against an innocent, defenseless people. My problem with Hamas is that it gave Israel the pretext to carry out this treacherous aggression.
Interviewer: So you think that Hamas bears greater responsibility than Israel?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Without a doubt, Hamas bears greater responsibility for this aggression. At the time, there was a truce, which Hamas staunchly refused to renew. If this [non] renewal had stemmed from the beliefs of Hamas or of the people ruled by Hamas, we could have lived with it. But the fact that the decision was influenced from abroad, according to what has been said and published, makes it even more painful.
Interviewer: What do you mean by "influence from abroad"?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: I believe that Iran was involved in the non-renewal of the truce. They thought that the "celebration" they had in Lebanon in 2006 could be repeated in Gaza.
Interviewer: Do you mean the July war?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Yes, the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel. The attack and the destruction were ultimately the influence of Iran.
Interviewer: You consider the war in Lebanon to be a "celebration"?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: It was a tragic celebration, in which there were only losers. I'm sad to say that the party that caused the war is now claiming victory.
Israel has defeated us once, twice, three times, because of our backwardness. Now, when it is killing us and making us regress even further – our schools are being destroyed, our universities are collapsing, and our poverty and disintegration are growing – we claim that we have won.
Interviewer: Do you believe that Kuwaiti nationality will only be complete by disengaging from the Palestinian cause?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Exactly. You must focus on your own affairs, because zero plus zero still adds up to zero.
Interviewer: In your opinion, nobody really cares about the Palestinian cause?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: The Palestinian cause would have been better off – and this has been my view since 1967 – if it had been left up to the Palestinians. If Africa, by way of example, had not received Western aid, which makes them lazy... If they had been left to their own devices, they would have made greater progress. As long as you keep giving your son money, and helping him, and so on, his desire to work hard weakens.
The Palestinian people have been tormented and dispersed by the Arabs. The Palestinian people have been killed by the Arabs. If we just left them to their own devices... We should give them this material aid without laying down conditions.
Interviewer: So you agree to give them aid without laying down...
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: It's difficult. How can I give them 20 million without saying "do this" or "do that"?
Interviewer: So with regard to the rebuilding of Gaza, you believe you should give Hamas money for reconstruction.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: No, I don't. The inclination in the Arab League, the oil-producing countries, and the U.N. is to refrain from giving Hamas any money for reconstruction.
Interviewer: What do you think about this?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: This corroborates my approach. If you give aid to Hamas, you lay down your conditions, just like Iran did with Hamas and with Hizbullah in Lebanon. The guy who puts the money in the jukebox hears the song he wants, while all the others hear his song, whether they like it or not...
Interviewer: Then who would you give the aid to? Someone must be entrusted with it.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: I say: Stop giving aid. Every time Israel strikes, [they say]: "Come on, give money, construct homes, build schools, infrastructure, and streets – and then leave." Then we wait for the next disaster. Then Israel strikes again, and they go: "Come on, do this and that"... This scenario has repeated itself for 20 or 30 years. Somebody has to come and say: "Guys, let's change this." If the Palestinians had been left to deal with their Israeli enemy on their own, they would have reached agreements and made peace a long time ago. The problem is that we all want the Palestinians to sign an agreement with Israel according to our terms – the Saudi want them to sign an agreement according to their terms, the Egyptians want them to... and so on. They have not been able to reach common ground with Israel.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as a justified war. Peace is justified. Nothing justifies the collective killing of people. In my opinion, what happened in Lebanon – the 2006 war – was a crime against Lebanon.
Interviewer: But it was Israel that attacked.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: No, it wasn't Israel that kidnapped soldiers.
Interviewer: You have a clear opinion about Iran and its intervention in the region.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: I have a clear opinion regarding any religious rule in politics. My secularism rejects [the notion] of a religious scholar as a head of state. This is unacceptable.
Interviewer: You are one of the few writers in Kuwait who proclaim their secularism.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Yes.
Interviewer: The question is whether this secularism leads you to take an anti-religious stance.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Not necessarily. I am not against religion.
Interviewer: So it is possible, then.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Absolutely not. I believe that religion is a necessity for most of the nations of the world. Everybody is free in his relations with his Lord. There are numerous religions. I have nothing against religion or religious thought. I am against the practice of those who like to act as God's representative on Earth. They tell me how to drink, how to get married, how to enter the house, how to enter the bathroom, how to have sex, and how to get dressed. The continuous interference in my life is what I oppose.
Interviewer: You present yourself as a liberal, and one of the basic principles of liberalism is respecting other people's freedom of choice. Why do you interfere with the right of others to seek the guidance of muftis, and ask them how to dress, how to conduct their lives, how to eat or drink, as long as they made this choice?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: That's all well and good, but the problem with this interference, and this is what has happened in our case... After all these years in which we kept silent about this religious interference, they have begun deciding who has the right to live, to exist. True, at first it seems as if they are just giving you guidance on how to lead your life according to religion, but if you keep silent about this, it grows to the point that we end up with fatwas accusing people of apostasy.
There are innumerable fatwas issued by Shiites, accusing Sunnis of apostasy, and among Sunnis, accusing Shiites of apostasy. And this is only among ourselves. But once we reach the Buddhists and the Hindus – this is a whole different story altogether. It's a complete disaster.
More than 63% of the population of Kuwait are not Kuwaitis. It has become normal for people in Kuwait to act arrogantly toward others. The fact that you have rights which others do not enjoy has become a norm. As a liberal, I do not accept this. I have lived in England and in America, and I never felt, for a single day, that they had any advantage over me, even though it was me who was working for them. So why should I make the Lebanese, Palestinians, or Egyptians, who come to work for me, feel that I am better than them?
Interviewer: Have you ever thought about leaving Kuwait?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Yes, more than once.
Interviewer: Why? After all, you say there are people [in Kuwait] who support your ideas, and you say that it is our homeland, and that we should defend it.
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: That's all very well, but this was before the [Iraqi] invasion and occupation, and the liberation of Kuwait.
Interviewer: That's when you considered emigrating?
Ahmad Al-Sarraf: Yes. I was in a different psychological state of mind. My wife and I have a son with special needs, who is in need of treatment. Unfortunately, despite all our wealth, we have been unable to open a suitable school. In all the Arab countries – with the exception of Dubai, which opened a school for the disabled or slow learners twenty years ago – there is not one recognized school for children who are slow in learning.
We need to distance religion from our lives. All the constitutions in the world are based on man-made law.
Interviewer: You call for man-made law, rejecting any role for religion...
Religion is the relation between you and your Lord, your Creator, which pertains to personal matters in life – marriage, death, divorce, and so on. We Muslims criticize the Christians for having a formidable hierarchy in the clergy – starting with the Pope, in the case of Catholicism, or the other denominations, and including a large class of clergyman. We are becoming the same, I'm sad to say. We are getting to the point where we have a hierarchy of muftis. A child, who has just graduated from the shari'a department and who hasn't even grown a beard yet, issues fatwas, accusing people of apostasy, or excommunicating people. On what grounds?