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By Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabbah

Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabbah is a former oil and information minister of Kuwait. He was Kuwait's ambassador to the United States during the Gulf War. Sheikh Saud's unparalleled candor has caused shock waves across the Arab world. These comments are adapted from an interview conducted by Ammar-al Jundi for Asharq Al Awsat/Global Viewpoint in London.

LONDON -- It is time to speak openly about the concerns of Kuwait and its citizens, and stop whistling in the dark and resorting to political niceties so widespread in the Arab world. This critical period in the aftermath of the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington no longer tolerates silence. I have to say what is consistent with my conscience and responsibility toward my country.

What were Kuwait's reactions and stance toward the terrible terrorist acts that not only hit the United States but the whole world, killing innocent people who had nothing to do with politics?

Full condemnation of these acts does not mean we forget what is taking place in the occupied Arab territories, but only that we have not forgotten that Kuwait itself was also a victim of terrorist acts during the '80s, including the attempt on the life of the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabber al Ahmed al Sabah, and the hijacking of civilian airliners. Thus Kuwait appreciates fully the horror and pain that result from terror.

Our official position toward the terrorist strikes against the United States, however, was largely hesitant and reserved. It was more like stuttering than flowing, meaningful speech. This is something I am unable to justify, recalling how the United States courageously sided with Kuwait in 1990 in the face of the Iraqi invasion.

Americans helped in the liberation of Kuwait and were willing to sacrifice life and money achieving this end. The logical question that comes to mind here is, what would we have done had the United States adopted a hesitant attitude in 1990? What would have become of Kuwait then? How could we have expelled the Iraqi aggressor?

It is important to remember that the Gulf War coalition did not materialize until after the Americans had sent troops to the region. That is why I believe that Kuwait should have been more grateful to the United States and behave in a way that reflects our traditions and customs, but, alas -- and I say this with utmost bitterness -- it is a test that, as usual, we have failed.

We should have been quick to send donations and other forms of support to the victims' families as well as relief teams. We should have had a high-profile presence among those taking part in the efforts aimed at alleviating the pain of the tragedy -- as such actions would always be remembered by the Americans, let alone history.

Of course, we do not know when we might again need the help of the world's only superpower. But if this superpower notices that we adopted an irresponsible position toward it in a time of heartfelt disaster, and failed to act in a way that reflects sympathy and solidarity, it would be only natural that we be dropped from the list of allies.

I can see no possible reason for this kind of behavior by the government of Kuwait other than seeking the goodwill of the active Kuwaiti Islamic groups. I say, feeling deep pain, that this is happening because the country is now hijacked by groups calling themselves ''Islamic" while in reality they are only using Islam as a cover to hide their political agendas. They are trying to climb to the top and dominate the political process under the banner of Islam.

Among the most important pillars of government worldwide, and in our country in particular, is the separation of state
from religion. Unfortunately, there is confusion on this in the Arab world. Politics creeps into religious matters and religion imposes itself on politics. In our part of the world, the religious encroachment on politics is by far the stronger and more influential. This is a fundamental problem in the region, even more so in Kuwait.

I am truly amazed that these self-styled Islamic groups, in spite of this present critical period, decided to issue a condemnation of the American campaign in Afghanistan.

This is shameful. Islam as I know it has nothing to do with terrorism. To me, trying to link our religion with terrorist violence is a non-starter. There was no need for such a condemnation because what the United States and its allies are doing aims basically at quelling terrorism, not fighting Islam. This matter is so clear, it barely merits an explanation.

We have suffered from wars that flared between Muslim states: Iraq invaded Kuwait, a neighbor and ''sister in Islam," displaced its people, sought to control its political system and destroy it, and occupied it for seven long months. Still, the alleged Islamists oppose strikes against a Muslim state. Keeping in mind that Iraq is a ''sister" Muslim state which nevertheless has been imprisoning a lot of our Kuwaiti brothers, where is Islam here?
May we ask what these Islamic groups have done with Iraq regarding Kuwaiti prisoners? Have they ever tried to free them?

The West, for its part, has been more merciful to them than the alleged Muslims and Islamists. Indeed, the United Kingdom and the United States are working hard to free these imprisoned Muslim Kuwaitis held in Arab Muslim Iraq prisons. And who can deny the efforts made by the United States to save the Muslims of Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and what it did to protect the Muslims of Somalia?

Too many in the Arab world have forgotten all this and are now jumping to defend terrorism, throwing accusations at America. This is mind-boggling and confirms the cynical outlooks of these so-called ''Islamic" groups.

Yet, as dubious as their behavior may be, it has not prevented them from expanding and growing. Governments have unfortunately left them a free hand and allowed them freedom to found associations, branches and committees, thus enabling them to play a strong role in political life.

In Kuwait, I believe the ''silent majority" shares my feelings that the issue here is not about religion but pure politics. I recall a visit from members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1990 when I was ambassador to the United States. Iraq was still occupying our country. They came to raise funds from Muslims in the United States to ''drive out the U.S. troops" from the region!

The Islamists are so keen to drive out any foreigner from the region because they are seeking to gain power and dominate the affairs of the state. I recall asking them about what they would see as a suitable alternative to foreign troops. Their answer: ''Muslim troops"! I met that with a sarcastic smile and explained to them that it was impossible to find Muslim forces as powerful as the American forces that are quite capable of handling 1 million Iraqi troops filling every corner of Kuwait.

Personally, I am unable to understand the wish to remove foreign armies that came, endangering their own lives, in order to liberate our country. This is also a worrying reality, more so, because these groups have financial muscle, and money is the main artery providing these groups power and influence inside the country.

That is why, once the sources of finance are brought under control and supervision, the tide would turn in favor of ordinary Kuwaitis so helpless inside their own country.

Ordinary Kuwaitis have been hijacked along with their country and are now living like hostages to these Islamic groups that threaten not only Kuwaiti security but also that of the whole Arab world. We need to end the entente between governments and the Islamic groups and scale down all political activities conducted under veil of charity and religion.

In Kuwait, the Islamic groups now have the temerity to interfere in the affairs of government, and, alas, the regime seems to be acquiescent. The Islamists have the majority of seats in the present government. Many ministers are either Salafis or Muslim Brothers, and this is dangerous.

People are not happy with what is going on, but they are keeping quiet as a sign of respect to the emir and his crown prince. The country is extremely tense, as if bordering a volcano, more so after the latest terrorist attacks and the position taken by the Islamic groups toward the United States and the United Kingdom.

In short, we are living in a period of political chaos and in desperate search for an identity. We talk of our Arab and Muslim identities, and we have taken and continue to take an active part in Arab Muslim organizations and fulfill our duties toward the Arab nation, and make sure we never fail to help the Arab countries in every way we can. But all this does not mean that we may not have foreign friends or allies we still need in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion.

In the past we were ''more royalist than the king." We didn't allow American battleships to dock in our ports or even enter our territorial waters. We used to be more ''pro-Palestine" than the Palestinians and more Arabist than all the Arabs. But now we are living in a different time. Here I am not calling for us to abandon our Arab and Islamic identities because these identities are deeply rooted. But we also need to be loyal and grateful to our friends and foreign allies.


We should always remember that brainwashing is one thing and belief or ideology is another. What is happening in the (Palestinian) occupied territories is a living example of a strife born out of belief. Any kind of resistance or martyrdom-seeking attacks is a legitimate struggle because it is taking place in occupied territories where its people are seeking to rid foreign occupation imposed by force. Not restricted to Palestinians, this right was practiced, too, by many Kuwaitis who carried out suicide/martyrdom attacks in order to defeat the Iraqi occupier and free Kuwait.

(c) 2001, Asharq Al Awsat/Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/16/01)