Saturday, November 15, 2008

MORE THINGS TO LEARN AND PONDER FROM KUWAIT

MORE THINGS TO LEARN AND PONDER FROM KUWAIT

By Kevin A. Stoda


Last week, the private sector took on the government of Kuwait and successfully forced the government to keep the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange (KSE) closed for at least five total days.

In the Kuwaiti system of politics, governance and constitutions, it took only a pair of disgruntled lawyers 9and investors), Adel Abduhadi and Khaled Al-Awadhi, to persuade the Kuwaiti courts to intervene and try to stave off more national losses of investment at the national stock exchange.

The FRIDAT TIMES stated, “Judge Najeeb Al-Majed issued the order to suspend trading immediately until the court can decide on the case. The court may extend the suspension or could reject it.”

Hundreds of disgruntled investors cheered both inside and outside the exchange at hearing the news of the closure

Imagine if American investors had been permitted to close down the U.S. Stock exchanges for the period of several cooling off weeks in September through November, i.e. possibly trillions of dollars might have been saved.

Then again—perhaps not! Financial sector regulation has been poor globally.

However, with the world economic summit of 20 nations taking place in the USA this weekend, the timing is fairly important for this event. “The KSE has been in a freefall the past few months. It has lost 45 Percent since June 24 when it hit an all-time high of 15,654 points.”

The Kuwait court decision to accept this call for a freeze at the exchange stated that the court “found that the bourse management [had] failed to take any measure to confront the global crisis which has created havoc in the investments of traders in the market.”

On the other hand, the Kuwaiti government is every bit as slow-footed as the U.S. government, i.e. in terms of getting both the securities and financial sectors regulated properly as per law or mandates. NOTE: The Kuwait government has intervened to protect some financially strapped banks and local savers’ assets in recent weeks.

Therefore, it is certainly not certain that the record slide in the KSE will not continue.

Nonetheless, a breather for planning and preparing is always more helpful than allowing heady confusion in an unregulated market arena.


ANOTHER POINT TO PONDER THIS WEEK

Another point to consider from news reports this week in Kuwait is from the DAILY AL-WATAN.

In a front-page article entitled, “Islamist Urges Travel Ban on Young Men”, AL-WATAN writes that Islamist activists have recently “urged the Kuwaiti government to restrict the travel of young men under the age of 21 unless they obtain approval from the government as well as their parents.”

The objective of this surprising proposal from the Islamists, according to Mubarak Al-Bathi, is “that such restrictions have the potential to reduce the chance of young men engaging in combat activities without the consent of the State or their parents.”

Over the past year at least 4 Kuwaities have crossed through Syria into Iraq to be involved in misled jihad activities.

Al-Bathi concluded by noting, “The move is not meant to curtail public freedoms. Rather, it seeks to ensure the safety of our children.”

In Kuwait, 21 years is the official age of adulthood--although marriage and driving of cars legally begins at 18.

As the Islamicist proposal includes banning all private holidays abroad by boys traveling alone, I am certain that there will soon be a coalition of young people lobbying against the Islamic proposal in coming months here in Kuwait. This is because youth often take up to dozens of flights to Europe and neighboring Gulf states each year to get away from local social and political constraints—as well as to flee from summer heat.


PONDERING LANGUAGE: EXAMPLE OF THE TCN CONCEPT

The editor of the KUWAIT TIMES (KT), Jamie Etheridge has turned her sights on the ex-pat community.

The editorialist wrote in her article, “The TCN Hypocrisy”, that European and other Western expatriates should take the occasion of the recent election of Barack Obama as U.S. to reconsider their own racist usage of language, especially in referring to other non-Western expatriates working, suffering or even slaving away in Kuwait, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Etheridge notes that in Kuwait and in other wealthy Gulf states there are many expats live in large numbers these days: “White people [here] are called Westerners, even if they are from countries like Australia or New Zealand. Arabs are Arabs unless they are Khaleejis (Arabs from the Gulf) and Kuwaitis are Arabs and Khaleejis but also Kuwaitis. I’m sure this all makes perfect sense in some universe.”

I believe the last sentence in Etheridge’s statement above [italics mine] refers to the fact that in the “official Kuwaiti view of the universe”, this sort of dividing up of the universe makes sense.

Naturally, Etheridge directly shares that it is certainly simply racist for Westerners to be observed using the same colonial forefather’s vocabulary in the 21st Century, i.e. long after the Western Colonial era had ended here in the Gulf and elsewhere.

The KT editor then turns to the U.S. military, which created some 6 years ago the term “Third Country National”--or TCN for short. The military did this when it subcontracted out in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf region for South Asians and Southeast Asians to work on their bases and in their Iraqi invasion and occupation efforts.

Taking on the racism in the TCN phraseology or usage in Kuwait, Jamie Etheridge explains, “Maybe it's naïve of me but I am offended each time I hear the term TCN. It seems to have an unstated but clearly derogatory meaning. The TCN label started with the US military contractors who came to Kuwait in droves at the start of the second Gulf war. The label is meant to differentiate Asian laborers from American contractors who work with the US military and its service providers here in Kuwait.”

The editor continues, “But now it's not just the US military that uses the label. TCN seems to have morphed into a catch-all category for any Asian male working in Kuwait. Whether from India or the Philippines, Korea or Bangladesh, if they are brown, poor and work in menial labor jobs they are automatically a TCN. Sometimes they need only be brown. Or Asian. Or poor. Or anything but white or Arab.”

The KT editorialist adds, “And what's worse is that other expats are now using the phrase. At a dinner last week, I heard the European engineer sitting next to me repeatedly call his colleagues TCNs. I wanted to ask him which 'Third' country he came from. It seems to me that any non-American expat - regardless of the color of their skin or their salary - could be described as a TCN. And regardless, we are all expats. If you aren't from Kuwait, you are a foreigner no matter where you hail from - Detroit or Dhaka or Dublin.” The KT editorialist adds.”

In reading Etheridge’s description of this dinner encounter [above], my own bias’ emerges.

At that dinner, I imagine that she is speaking of either a northern, central or western European—read German, Dutch, Scandinavian, French or British national. This is because I know that these former imperial states have citizens who should have been educated well enough since 1945 to not look at the world—nor speak of the world—in such a colonial manner.

( That is, I don’t automatically think of criticizing eastern or southern Europeans, who did not have nearly the large sprawling colonial booms in the 19th and early 20th century, i.e. as experienced by the British, French and other European colonial states. In short, my bias is that I don’t expect better from the Slavic, Mediterranean or other Eastern European peoples. So, I know I am a bit racist.)

Etheridge concludes her piece by pointing out how the TCN label just reveals our Western hypocrisies, “These labels pretend to tell us all we need to know about someone. In reality, they simply indicate what salary a person is likely to make and whether or not we want to mix with him. It's about economic and social class, not nationality. There are Indian bankers who make ten times the salary of a British teacher. Would we call them TCNs? … We fill our heads with ignorant and arrogant labels and fail to see the quality of someone's character. In his famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr said ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ When we use a phrase like TCN, we judge not character or decency but salary and nationality."

I agree wholeheartedly with one other statement of Etheridge’s, “When we paste on the TCN label, we stop looking at the person standing before us. We stop trying to know them. We think we know them already. But in reality we know nothing. The TCN label erases personality, character, individuality.”

Similarly, I find that in my homeland, the USA the use of foreigner, Arab, illegal alien, or Muslim are all misusing similar terms to the Kuwaiti TCN, which is being abused and abusive here in the Gulf these days of 2008.

The U.S. presidential election of November 2008 has apparently not enabled Americans and Europeans to get over the racism hidden behind traditional politically-loaded mudslinging terminologies, like TCN.

Neither Kuwaitis, nor ex-patriots in Kuwait, nor Americans should allow racism to be hidden behind euphemism. Therefore, I laud Etheridge for raising the issue in the local press.

ANOTHER EUPHEMISM—AND PET PEAVE--IN KUWAIT

During the rise of the Soviet Union and in the subsequent Cold War era, the term “comrade” was both beloved by some and despised by other. In a religious sense, “comrade” could have been equated with a phrase, like “brother and/or sister in the struggle”. In the communist faith or its international cadre-ship, the word “comrade” was, in fact, used to replace and neutralize class and gender in the fight against both fascism and capitalism.

On the one hand, in military terminology, comrade has often been an acceptable term on various sides in any conflict for centuries.

Meanwhile, the term “comrade” has been used with cynicism and derision by those who have opposed “communist movements”, “revolutionary movements”, “terrorist campaigns”, or even in those anti-progressives in political campaigns, e.g. setting the church against liberal, progressive or even socialist parties.

From socialist and religious Kuwait, there has arisen a similar term. This term is “habibi”.

Muna Al-Fuzai, writing for FRIDAY TIMES, has entitled a piece of hers, “Habibi: Not What it Seems”.

Al-Fuzai starts by noting, “Habibi. Do you know what this word means? It could mean 'darling' or 'my love,' but in fact, it's no longer exclusively used for this meaning. Nowadays, people use the word in their daily communications and discussion, but don't necessarily mean it in the traditional sense. So next time someone uses this word with you, you'll have to think twice about what message he wants to convey to you - and it may not be a very pleasant one.”

The popular columnist, Al-Fuzai, explains that “habibi”[masculine] and “habibti”[feminine] are among the most common words used in the local Arabic languages. It could mean things like friend as well as “my loved one”.

Imagine some progressive and conservative Christians facing off and gritting their teeth while calling each other “Brother” or “Sister” in Christ?

Al-Fuzai adds, “It is really funny that in this part of the world people use many terms of endearment that don't reflect any actual affection and aren't related to what they're actually being used to say.”

Al-Fuzai writes, “Habibi is a term of endearment. It's used, however, in one of two ways; to express affection or friendliness towards another male or in an absolutely opposite fashion, to show that the speaker is attempting to show some self-restraint before losing their temper with the person they're talking to. In the latter sense, it's used when the speaker is telling himself, ‘I have to show some patience before I blow my top here!’”

Although, Al-Fuzai imagines “this word [habibi] would mainly be [used] popular[ly] among young boys and college students, and most especially with young people talking with friends”, she recalls: “[O]ne occasion when two women were having a screeching fight, with each one screaming 'habibiti' in the other's face! What a strange situation, using an endearment that's only meant to be utilized among best friends in a fight!

“In another scenario,” Al-Fuzai continues her illustrations, “[A] salesman attempting to persuade a customer of the benefits of his product will use the same word [habibi] with them; it's a popular sales technique, but I'm not sure how effective it is. I know that most people living in Kuwait know this word, but I'll leave you to consider how and when you'll need to use it.”

This sort of self-criticism is always welcome among Kuwaitis.

In a way, it is similar to the self-criticism by American Jamie Etheridge [noted above] who criticized Westerners—who along with the Kuwaitis--are found using the concept Third Country National (TCN) as a derogatory term.

As a writer and as one fascinated by multi-cultural communication, I now turn to other readers to begin discussing how we are using and abusing language—i.e. misrepresent our culture and religion by using and abusing language in euphemistic imagery for covering up racism and lies about the Other.

We, as individuals and as groups,--wherever we are located on planet Earth—need to look to be more precise about what we think and feel.

Falling into a world of euphemism only covers over the truths of our hostilities and our realities. How can we mature if we keep covering up the reality on the ground?
In conclusion, by using euphemism, we can hardly mature in our interpersonal relations and build bridges between ourselves and the Other.

IN SUMMARY

By sharing these four reviews of this week’s Kuwaiti news, I have been attempting to aid readers in Kuwait, the other Gulf states, the USA, and Europe to rethink what they know about each other—and are saying about each other.

In the first article on how the legal-economic system of Kuwait allows investors to get more involved in enforcing regulation than is often the case in the West. In the West, we often talk about the need for investors to have a greater voice in the political economy of the state. Do European and American investors have the ability to force the shutting down of a run-away market? Shouldn’t we have more say in regulation and oversight?

Next, I have shown in the review concerning the Islamic proposal on regulating Kuwaiti youth movements in both inland and overseas. These particular Islamicists in the Gulf are willing to work together with the government here and in the West to limit the number of Kuwaiti youth falling prey to extremist struggles in the region.
Is the Western press reporting these endeavors and desires of Islamicists who are seeking to end the allure of terrorist extremism abusing their faith?

In the last two articles, I show how, in the aftermath of America’s most abusive political campaign in decades, Kuwaitis and ex-patriots are discussing our own hyperbole.

Are Americans and Europeans monitoring their usage of language these days as well? If not, they should be careful of euphemistic expressions and begin to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk of our post-colonial world

NOTES

Etheridge, Jamie, “The TCN Hypocrisy”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MzI0MTA2NzA1

Etheridge, Jamie, “The TCN Hypocrisy”, THE FRIDAY TIMES, November 14, p. 3.

Al-Fuzai, Muna, “Habibi: Not What it Seems”, THE FRIDAY TIMES, November 14, p.3.
“Islamist Urges Travel Ban on Young Men”, AL-WATAN, November 12, 2008, p. 1

Izzak, By B, “Court Shuts Down Kuwait Bourse”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTY5Mzc4NTE5MQ==

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6 Comments:

OpenID intlxpatr said...

Absolutely fascinating - you integrated seemingly unrelated items and used them as a lesson in direct communication, and how casually and carelessly we use words. I had read all those same articles, without making that connection. Very thought provoking, and thank you for stimulating some brain cell action.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've lived in Kuwait for many years. My friends are Kuwaitis and people of various other nationalities. This is the first time I've heard of a "TCN". Do people actually use that term?

And "habibti/habibi" is used the same way as "dear". I'm not sure what the big problem is...

1:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

"Habibi/habibti" I think the Kuwaiti writer explains herself well, but I will try to explain it from an American point of view.

Some Americans don't appreciate it if a waitress calls them "Honey" or "Dear"--some do, though.

However, if you call someone sister or brother--it is usually done in a religious sense.

"Dear" is always accepted if it is from a loved one--not if used by someone else.

Does that clarify a bit more.

In a socialist or communist society, comrade and brother me an equal or proletarian equal. This may not be acceptable to others who are very class or socially aware.

Customers and clients don't usually call each other "Dear".

11:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Dear intlxpatr,

I have ADD, so I think differently than other folks. Da Vinci may have thought that way too.

However, there are books about learning how to think like Da Vinci.

Peace,

Amigo

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I AM American, as are many of my friends. And I've never heard the term TCN. I often read your posts and think that you're in sort of another world - that of the expats - and it's not a world that I even recognize anymore, even though we're in the same place geographically.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Dear Anonymous,

As I read your comment, I thought you were going to say I live in a different world than you. Then it becomes clear you live in a different world than many expats as well as all of the logistics and employer sweatshops in Kuwait.

I did not invent the term. The U.S. DOD put it in use years ago and service firms use it. The fact that the author of the Kuwait Times raised the issue and targeted expats from Europe shows simply that she is tired of American firms and DOD exporting essentially racist double-speak. We have enough of that already.

In my articles I have the weblinks for the source articles. For example,

Etheridge, Jamie, “The TCN Hypocrisy”, THE FRIDAY TIMES, November 14, p. 3.

Perhaps you can write a note to the editor, too.

10:25 AM  

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