I was asked this interesting question yesterday and thought I would post about it. First, there are always variables: It depends who you ask and when.
Kuwaitis who are over 40 are mostly very favorable towards Americans. Why? Because they lived through the 90/91 occupation of Kuwait by Iraq - as ADULTS.
Very important to state because very little (if anything) is written in school text books regarding the occupation at all; and even less (if anything) is written about American participation in the liberation of Kuwait. Yes, the liberation is celebrated each year on February 26th. Everyone knows that Kuwait was liberated from Iraq, but by whom? American participation (in my personal observance) has been played down over the years; especially after 2003 when those who were too young to remember much of 90/91 suddenly saw the US as an invading force of their brothers to the North. The US became the big, bad wolf (yet all the rapists and murderers of Kuwaitis and people who executed the Kuwaiti POWs were still living fine and well to the North - and yes, I have a strong opinion about this.)
Why is so little written/spoken of the Gulf War? In some cultures, confrontation is handled by avoidance. This just happens to be one of those cultures. (For example, if you get ten cups of tea instead of a direct answer to a business question, the answer is most likely, "no".) The Gulf War was so disturbing and awful that many Kuwaitis don't want to remember; so they don't talk about it and certainly don't put their children through the pain of having to re-tell the stories. Horrible things happened within families; POWs were taken off the streets. People were tortured. Women were raped and children were born as a product of that. People were murdered in front of their families. Bodies were hung from lamp posts or dumped outside relatives' homes.
The subject is - in many cases - totally avoided in Kuwaiti society; but at a price: Post Traumatic Stress. Can the increase of violent crimes committed by Kuwaitis, and perhaps even the divorce rate be blamed on issues that were never resolved after the Gulf War? Who knows? An 8 year old witnessing autrocities committed in 1990 would be 30 years old now. Is he/she divorced? Were there any emotional problems? (And just as a disclaimer: I'm not saying that everyone who went through the Gulf War/Occupation in Kuwait has PTSD or would do violent things, but those who witness terrible things often don't come out of it so well if it is not dealt with by councelling/treatment.)
An 8 year old also probably wouldn't have cared who liberated Kuwait - just as long as it happened. Ask someone 40, 50, 60 if he/she likes Americans.
If I had been asked the question, "how do Kuwaitis feel about Americans" in 1993, I could resoundingly state, "They love us!" When I first arrived in Kuwait in 1993, people would stop me on the street and talk about how thankful they were, how much they loved the people of the US. A few people even stopped to have their picture taken with my mother and I - we felt like celebrities. We felt wanted.
In 2004, I spent my last Liberation day holiday on the Gulf Road. For years, my friends and I had been out celebrating with the masses. Many cars flew American, British, Saudi and Kuwaiti flags (all Allied forces who took part in the liberation). Over the years, fewer and fewer US and UK flags were to be found. In 2004, I flew my American and Kuwaiti flags on my car. Two teenagers jumped on top of my 4x4 (no small feat), tore off the US flag, and stomped on it. It was quite a revelation. That night, I no longer felt so wanted.
During the few years when the stock market was doing great in Kuwait (for a period), logistics work was high and the economy was on an upswing; asking, "How do Kuwaitis feel about Americans?" might have been answered in a positive manner - even if it was purely economical.
Public sentiment is fickle and cyclical. You can ask the question, "How do Kuwaitis feel about Americans?" at different times and get completely different answers.
I remember when 9/11 took place in 2001. I was downtown and walked across the street and a bunch of non-Kuwaitis in a car drove by me and said that they were glad that it happened. They cheered. I heard, a few days later, that a group of non-Kuwaitis (foreign nationals from other Arab countries) and their families had been deported for celebrating 9/11 in the streets.
Kuwait took a very decisive and immediate stand. I don't believe that anyone in Kuwait would have demonstrated (or have been allowed to demonstrate) for any reason against Americans in say... 1992 -2003.
Kuwaitis at that time stopped me and gave me condolences - on behalf of themselves AND their country, to me and my country. I made friends that year who are still with me now; all attributed to the time and the circumstance.
How do Kuwaitis feel about Americans? this month
First and foremost, a majority of the Kuwaitis I have spoken to have said that they don't blame an individual, their government, or their country for the act of a small group of individuals (or even one person) responsible for the making of a film. Many Kuwaitis, including lawmakers, have publicly denounced the demonstrations and the problems.
However, the anti-American demonstrations held in Kuwait last week were the first I have ever witnessed while I have been in Kuwait. I was not there; I have only heard from others what happened. I have never even heard of such things taking place since I've been here. The photos I saw from the demonstrations were frightening; many had looks of true hatred. (Obviously, ALL media can distort if they choose to.) The demonstrations took place at the US Embassy in Bayan and no where else in Kuwait. It was small and isolated. I personally feel there is - at the time of this writing - an undercurrent of disenchantment (I don't want to say "dislke" because I don't believe it is that and it is certainly NOT "hatred") of Americans.
Obviously, that has a lot to do with the movie, but what else? [In my personal opinion (and this is my blog and I express my sole opinion), there isn't enough to do here to displace some of the anger that builds. It becomes a matter of blaming others - out of frustration - and in replacement of hope.] Kuwait is also a small population and there are still Kuwaiti nationals who have been in Guantanamo since 2001 without trial. Might be nice to get them a trial in the name of "democracy" and in keeping with the US constitutional right to a speedy trial, eh? 11 years is a long time for any family (and the families in Kuwait are large and extended) to wait for justice - in favor of or against their relative. This situation affects not only the families of those held in Guantanamo, but the lawyers of the Kuwaitis and their extended families. Information is passed back and forth in diwaniyas and everybody knows there are several means of communication in Kuwait: Telephone, telefax, and tell-a-Kuwaiti. News travels faster than lightening in the Kuwaiti community. (Ask anyone who has ever tried to keep a secret here.)
I have heard that someone/group has called for a boycott of American products.) I don't have anything to substantiate this other than what I have read on the internet.) However, if it is true, it will be a very difficult task as many products are imported from the US (and Kuwait has a long-standing relationship with the US.) Let's start the list with GM products. Although they are no longer in production, Kuwait was the largest importer of GMC Envoys anywhere. Chevy, GMC, Ford are all made in America. The Toyota Camry is the #1 most purchased made-in-America car in the US (although I don't know if the Camry is Japanese-made or American-made and imported to Kuwait.) Many ministries and oil companies give Mercury Grand Marquis to senior executives as company cars. It will be difficult to boycott vehicles. Then, fast food: All the major fast food chains are here in Kuwait and consumed daily by the ever-growing number of future-diabetics in the country. Then, there are more American products like clothing, appliances, cosmetics, computers (software, gaming), mobile phones, movies. It should make for an interesting boycott; especially since only the later on the list has anything (even vaguely) to do with why the boycott is being considered. Will a boycott of American products make a difference to America and/or manufacturers: No. (Not unless it is a Middle East boycott because) Kuwait is the size of the US State of New Jersey, yet only 1/3 of Kuwait is inhabited. Then, how many will actually boycott within the population? A boycott in Kuwait alone won't make a dent.
What to do, what to do....
How do Kuwaitis feel about Americans? If you ask my Kuwaiti friends - who know my family and I personally (or those who have studied in the US) - they love Americans. We have a connection and a bond. I think it is more difficult for Kuwaitis who have never been to the States or who have never known Americans nor shared some kind of common ground with Americans. The same could be said for Americans who have never taken the time to know Kuwaitis (Arabs/Middle Easterners/Moslems). People are distrustful of what they don't know/understand.
Every once in a while, it is time to re-build some trust (and I commend local groups like AWARE and TIES for attempting to accomplish this). Maybe they can invite some of those who were at the demonstrations to meet with Americans to find a common ground one-on-one rather than trying to take on foreign policy.
I think that culturally, Americans face problems directly and then move on. (Ok so call us "brash" and maybe even "confrontational"...) It may be uncomfortable for the moment, but works out in the long run. Little is being written on blogsphere by Americans recently because we all want to be quiet to avoid problems or becoming targets. I don't believe that the answer is just having 10 cups of tea: If you come into contact with people who don't know Americans, nor share any bond, reach out and find a common ground. 51% of the Kuwaiti population is below the age of 20; buy your neighbors' kid a toy. It isn't going to change foreign policy, but it might make a difference to that one person who - 20 years from now - remembers that an American was kind to them.