‘After Iftar’ Column
‘SHEPHERDS’ OF OUR CONSCIENCE
By Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted From Arab Times (24th September, 2007)
I truly believe that the majority of Kuwait and its citizens are upright, compassionate people who believe in charity, in all its forms, and fear God. Indeed, religion is invaluable to the fabric of society: the charity organizations functioning to assist the needy; distribution of Iftars and meals; the Zakat allocated to society’s poor, among other examples are a tribute to this country and a testament to the spiritual caliber of the average citizen. It is insufficient, however, because society demands that two main components be evident in order to maintain a healthy equilibrium, safeguarding citizens and their rights: Justice (“Adalah”) and Compassion (“Rahma”).
Kuwait is on the precipice of a spiritual and moral descent, every so often sliding into a ‘Devil’s Playground’: escalating violent crime, embezzlement and corruption, discrimination and intolerance, physical abuse, rapes, among other transgressions on basic human rights. One cannot pick up a newspaper without reading of someone being randomly picked off the street and sexually assaulted, of abuse, of murder, among other crimes (this very newspaper recently created a ‘Kuwait Crime’ section online due to rising crime).
White collar crime is on the rise as well.
One can embezzle hundreds of thousands (if not millions) from ministries (such as Communications) and remain on the job, paying off their larceny in installments like a regular bank loan, not even the threat of a sacking on the horizon.
Others play for much bigger stakes and walk unscathed among us.
Visa (“Iqama”) traders continue to smuggle thousands of laborers whom they will eventually disown (making millions in the process) – Kuwaiti movers and shakers know exactly who the culprits are but are impotent to do anything – and our inaction continues to lead to human rights abuses and tarnishes Kuwait’s reputation abroad.
Neglect on the part of corporations leads to unnecessary deaths of employees. Committees are formed to investigate. Months later results are shrouded in secrecy and the guilty are acquitted.
And the tragic farce goes on. It’s in your local paper everyday. No one is accountable.
How can we expect our society to instill respect of the law and human rights when the law is not impartial and when we do not castigate the guilty? The laws that protect the innocent are in place; however, loopholes in the legal structure and an inability to implement the law effectively on all individuals, not just the weak, is fueling despair, distrust and cynicism on the Kuwaiti street – this in turn leads to political quandaries delaying progress and development, but most of all it sends a disturbing message to the young generations: “Don’t respect the law. The law is for the weak.”
The Holy Quran states: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” [An-Nisa 4:35]
As long as there is no fear of punishment on the street level and in the upper echelons, corruption will continue to be rampant, crime and injustice will continue to flourish.
In conjunction with a firm and impartial implementation of the law, a society must also show empathy; unfortunately, a lack of compassion at a civic and governmental level is also evident, affecting health care, education and employee rights. Social unrest is on the rise. It seems like every ministry and government institution is on strike or threatening to strike due to unacceptable employee benefits (or lack thereof). Newspapers contain full page ads by employees of the oil, health, justice and aviation sectors (among others) demanding more rights and better financial incentives.
Doesn’t charity begin at home? God has blessed this nation with riches beyond belief and yet we choose to disregard our home, our community. We neglect investing in our infrastructure: our neighborhood clinics, hospitals, our electrical grid, our water resources, our roads; we neglect building shelters; we neglect building proper adoption homes for orphans (victims of broken homes and illicit marriages). Factories are being built in downtown civilian areas such as Hawalli and Salmiya and close to the city endangering our children. The Bidoon humanitarian issue continues to loom, a dark blemish on our heritage and reputation (it isn’t sufficient that we deny them free education or birth certificates, we also have to be malicious and deny them education in foreign countries as well) – I could go on but I think you get the picture and it isn’t the embodiment of what Islam should stand for.
Islam’s core principles revolve around fighting injustice and offering compassion to all members of society, irrespective of race, gender, ethnic group or religion. The society must protect its own and care for its weak and underprivileged (the poor, orphans, the abused etc) – at both a civic and legislative level. Irrespective of whether we are Muslims or not, we are members of this society: shepherds of our kin, our businesses, our employees, our neighbors, and our community. We all need to get involved, need to speak out against injustice whether we live in affluent comfortable neighborhoods or dingy ghettos.
‘Reform’ is a word that is bandied about too effortlessly in Kuwait, but you cannot have true reform if the social order does not take care of its own and has double standards meting out justice. It is only by directly facing the dark abyss of society’s shortcomings that Kuwait can underline the hidden causes of our hindrances and take back its rightful and historic place as a vanguard of progress, equality and integrity.