Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How do Kuwaitis feel about Americans?

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.

Who  

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.

When

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.

Anti-American Sentiment?

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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

your most eloquant post in a while

Anonymous said...

Good post, you are right about most of it. They soon forget about the good stuff that happened to Kuwait by us, and now see us as the Middle East occupiers. I personally never project myself as an American while in Kuwait, for the safety of myself and my family. There may be some Kuwaitis who like us, but most don’t care or don’t like us, and would not help an American if they were getting F****d up out in town.

Anonymous said...

I was actually in an American fast food restaurant and people came in and asked the workers if it was an American company , they answered YES and the people said they wouldnt buy from them and left. We asked the workers if it happened often and they said 'everyday'. This was right after america invaded Iraq, that restaurant isn't here anymore either.

Crazy in Kuwait said...

Great info, after taking a picture of the US flag with a big X on it and underneath it saying boycott I feel kind of threatened now. My husband is 40 and he was a teenager fighting during the invasion unlike a lot of them who ran away. He doesn't like to talk about it but I encourage him to let me write about it so that the event doesn't disappear one day. I got pulled over today by a couple young cops and they thought it was ok to just open my passenger door until I yelled at him to close it, he got pissed off and decided to keep my license, I think it's getting a little more tense these days.

UmKhaloodie said...

Calling to boycott goods happens everytime a country/person related to that country/or disagreement between two countries happens. The funny thing is, while many call to boycott american products, they are doing so from their iPhones via Twitter and will all rush tonight at 8pm to download the latest American made software for their ipads/iphones and macbooks.
I don't think we as westerners are disliked anymore than normal and that the number of people who feel a dislike towards us are far and in between. The majority of Kuwaitis respect us as westerns and what many of us do/or have done for this country.
I have educated over 400 Kuwaiti children in the past and I don't think for a second any one of them or their parents would dislike me because of something a western country may have done.
I think it's shocking that this movie has caused so much hatred/anger and death. There is no excuse whatsoever for such violence.
On the plus side, America will be back in the good books of Arabs tomorrow and the French will be getting it.
The french just published cartoons of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) this morning.......

Anonymous said...

Well said DG. be careful over there.

jewaira said...

I saw the sticker of the x-ed US flag and the call to boycott USA. This was on a GMC.It was a bit ironical.

I think rather than people on both sides getting defensive or going on the offensive, it is best to try to calm things down and think before one acts or says something hurtful.

It's crazy the way people are getting hysterical over hearsay, rumours, or matters that needn't be blown out of perspective.

VirtueS said...

I am a Kuwaiti, and this is my personal opinion:
I think your post in some parts was a bit bias and made Americans seem like the "good guys" and my generation seem like the "spoiled and rude brats", which is a generalization we get too much. refering to what you said about an organization bringing together Kuwaiti's and Americans-why don't you go up to Kuwaiti's in local places who seem free and friendly and try to start a convo, we don't bite you know;p and to answer the question "How do Kuwaiti's feel about Americans?" what I feel , ME, is it all comes down to the person, I don't judge on anything other than the actual person;p what I feel when AMERICA or AMERICANS is brought up? its basically like, okay cool. just like any other country, I know many people who would vouche for this.

Desert Girl said...

VirtueS - well yes, this is my perspective and my opinion.

I've been here for 16 years and walked up to more Kuwaitis than I can count. Yeah, you don't bite. However, it is sometimes hard for Westerners to make friends - or approach people - without knowing them; Especially when many Westerners are fed negative images by media, etc.

I never stated that anyone was "spoiled and rude brats" (do people refer to your generation that way? I don't know because those are not my words)and the post was not aimed at any generation. Just stating that not enough is taught in schools in Kuwait about the Gulf War.

"ME, is it all comes down to the person" - yup: Start a blog like I did. This is one person's perspective and I believe I have stated that several times since 2004.

Desert Girl said...

I forgot to mention the part about Americans as "good guys": This, again, is a perspective piece on a question I have been asked about how Kuwaitis feel about Americans; not "how do Americans feel about Kuwaitis" - that is for an entirely different post. However, I will add that I have American friends who try to integrate into society here and have Kuwaiti friends/form bonds - which is what I believe you should do whenever you move to another country. I also have acquaintances (not "friends") who don't want anything to do with Kuwaitis and choose not to integrate. They keep very strict boundaries (only socializing with other Americans/Westerners) and I believe are only here to make money and move on. I don't consider them friends because they do not share the same belief system that I do. I'm American so perhaps I am bias. VirtueS is Kuwaiti so I'm sure you he/she is bias towards Kuwaitis. Is one better than the other? Not in my opinion.

Marius said...

From ...Peter Beinart-The U.S. Started the War in Iraq. It’s Time to Finish It...Jul 30, 2012,Newsweek Magazine...

"Want to know why the world so often distrusts America? Because we’re a nation of amnesiacs. Our leaders get all hyped up about the need to remake some country halfway across the world, a country whose political pathologies, we are told, violate American values and menace American security. The American press joins in, the American people get dragged along, and next thing you know, American missiles are raining down on the place.The tyrants flee; some other folks take over, and they seem like a big improvement at first. Then the locals grow unhappy with our presence; they begin killing U.S. soldiers in attacks that shock Americans and prompt an angry debate about getting out, which America eventually does. And then it’s done. The curtain goes down, the show is over, and barely anybody in America pays any attention to country X anymore. Public conversation, in fact, quickly moves on to countries Y and Z, where evil rulers or civil strife may or may not pose an intolerable threat to American values and American security. Of all the tools used to conduct American foreign policy, perhaps none is as pervasive as the Etch a Sketch." ...

With the position of policeman of the world, a position that is America now, come and criticism, and bad opinions about them...

Desert Girl said...

Marius -

Your comment was so far off the mark on what my post was about that I was reluctant to post it; however, I did, for no other reason than to answer it with the following.

US forces have not been on a combat mission fighting for KUWAIT since 1991. (This post is about KUWAIT.) Troops were previously in Kuwait as logistics support to Iraq until the withdrawal in December of 2011. The camps in Kuwait (and they are not permanent bases) are currently here as forward-operating logistics centers for the region.

Regardless, this post is NOT about how Americans feel about Kuwaitis, but how Kuwaitis feel about Americans.

If you were writing to say that the US forces should leave Kuwait; then perhaps they should also leave Germany, as WWII ended a while back too (1945).

Chirp said...

I have been wanting to comment for awhile now on this post but I have been too lazy to log in from my computer.
First off I would like to stay you can't really "love" a group of people (or hate them) unless you have lived with them. I personally love americans, every time I see them out and about in Kuwait I want to ask them for a hug.
I was 6 when the invasion happened, so i have a vague recollection of how grateful my family was after the liberation, and I remember going out and taking pictures with the american troops. I also remember in 91 or 92 a group of americans came to Kuwait and my mother (due to her job) took them out into the desert for camel rides and took them all around Kuwait and they came to our house for a big family lunch. When I was in elementary school we wrote to a couple of American soldiers and they sent us back letters with glow sticks (which back then was the coolest thing ever).
But the main reason for my love towards Americans is the way they treated me during college, especially the ones that have become like family to me there. They were so open and welcoming and very respectful of my background. Even their families opened up their houses to us during holidays and events if we were alone. They reminded me of true blue Kuwaities. I'm still in touch with my college buddies, although I haven't seen them in forever, I still count them as family.

Expat and the City said...

Such a sweet comment Chirp. <3

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KG said...

Your site is awesome and you show so much heart and wisdom.
I'm an American but I would like to say that I think Kuwaitis are very nice and I haven't felt any animosity from anyone so(2 1/2yrs).
I try my best to show respect, kindness, and gratefulness for the hospitality I'm given.