mont blanc ascent packages Islamic extremism on rise in Kuwait
2002 12 03 04:00:00 PDT Kuwait City The glass and steel shopping mall glitters at night. Inside, luxury boutiques offer gold and jewels, Mont Blanc pens and Lacoste sportswear. At the designer coffee shop on the ground floor, patrons sip espressos and lattes around a baby grand piano that revolves beneath laser lights.
It’s a strangely Vegas like venue for a meeting with a leading member of the country’s burgeoning Islamist movement.
But that’s Kuwait, where the baubles and luxuries of the West abound thanks to the oil bonanza, yet the most potent political force calls for a return to fundamental Muslim values and tribal heritage. soldiers on a highway last month for allegedly speeding, drew his pistol without warning and shot both. Marines on training exercises, killing one before other Marines killed them.
After the highway incident, the Kuwaiti government put out word that the officer who was arrested in Saudi Arabia was mentally unbalanced. officials, meanwhile, assured journalists that this nation remained firmly in the pro American camp.
But Kuwaitis and longtime expatriates here say they have seen a steady and disturbing rise in Islamic extremism.
“I have been here 22 years, and in that time I have seen the country becoming more and more fundamentalist,” said a European businessman, who asked that his name not be used.
The government here restricts its own citizens’ access to one fourth of the country. troops already here. campaign against terrorism is a thinly disguised religious war against Muslims.
“Every day, we watch on TV the scenes of Israel killing people in Palestine, ” said Dr. Ismail Shatti, the Islamist who met with a journalist at the Galleria 2000 mall. “Every day. What do you expect to happen in the Arab person’s mind? You should expect huge anger, and sometimes it does not stay only as anger. It develops into action.”
Shatti runs a consulting business and wears a close trimmed goatee rather than the long, wild growth favored by the al Qaeda crowd. presence in Kuwait as a protector from the Hussein regime. If there were an invasion of Iraq, he would back the United States as a way of repaying the Americans for their role as Kuwait’s savior even though he would be opposed to the invasion himself, he said. guests.
“Any society consists of some fragile people, and pressure will guide them to lunacy and fanatic actions,” he said. victim in Kuwait: the Marine killed Oct. 8 by two men linked by investigators to al Qaeda. The attackers’ funeral drew a large crowd of supporters and a mullah later arrested who lionized them as martyrs. force in the country is able to take care of itself, it is an awkward reality that as troops are built up in the region for a possible invasion, they must be wary of the very people they came to help. But the liberals admit that they lack the financial support,
mass appeal and organization of the Islamists,
though the Sept. 11 attacks spurred them to press for democratic reforms and to oppose religious intolerance.
The limited democracy that the United States helped foster after the ouster of Iraqi troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War gave Islamists their foothold on power here, said Shamlan Essa, chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University.
“This is the problem with democracy it allows Islamic fundamentalists to pop up like mushrooms,” he said.
In the Kuwaiti parliament, between 15 and 20 of the 50 members are Islamists, while about 10 are liberals. The balance is held by “tribal” independents. In reality, however, the conservative tribal representatives tend to side with the Islamic bloc.
As a result, Islamic issues dominate public debate. Religious groups recently pushed through a law mandating segregation of the sexes on Kuwait University’s modern, sprawling campus, and there have been calls for more hours of religious training each week in public schools.
Both Kuwaiti officials and Western experts consider the number of hard core al Qaeda operatives in the country to be small; they put the number in the dozens rather than the hundreds. And the estimated 70 to 120 Kuwaitis who went to Afghanistan to fight with al Qaeda are reportedly under close scrutiny by intelligence agencies.
Shatti, a leader of the Islamic Constitutional Movement, said Islamists like him had had almost no political competition since the death of the Arab nationalist movement in the 1960s and 1970s and the eradication of communism and socialism after the Cold War. Now, the only alternative to Islamists is “liberal democracy the West,” he said. “And people do not like how the West has been treating us.”
Essa, the university chairman, blames the royal family, which runs the government, for giving the Islamist movement too much scope. Part of the reason, he suggests, is that the royals felt guilty for not having prevented the invasion by Iraq in August 1990 and were afraid to try to challenge the Islamists openly.
“The whole quandary in the gulf is that the governments and the Islamic fundamentalists both compete for the popular masses, and their competition inevitably revolves around Islam,” he said.