AFTER TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, JEAN SASSON
RETURNS TO KUWAIT
The last time I was in Kuwait was in March, 1991, when I was an invited guest of the Kuwaiti government’s FREEDOM FLIGHT, an organized flight taking guests into the war-torn country after liberation to see the result of the invasion and occupation. I had written the book The Rape of Kuwait, the only book written that told the world what happened to Kuwaitis on the day of the invasion on August 2, 1990. I chose to remain in the country nearly a month after the departure of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States and other invited guests had left. I felt a close attachment to Kuwaitis and yearned to meet with individual Kuwaitis, including freedom fighters, as well as others whom had been imprisoned in their country during the occupation.
That was a difficult time for anyone with a feeling heart, for I was an eyewitness to the grief and horror left behind by Saddam’s Iraqi military. I spoke with the parents who had lost their children, innocent Kuwaitis murdered for defending their country. Much of the country was in shambles with burned out palaces, government buildings, and ordinary homes. The oil fires were burning, blackening the skies and destroying untold animal life. Banks had been emptied of all valuables, including cash and gold. The entire country had been looted.
The small country and its citizens clearly showed the horror of war. Most striking, I learned how Kuwaitis never ceased fighting the invader. Few people in the world know how the Kuwaitis formed an underground fighting force and coordinated with their government working from Taif, everyone working together to engage the large Iraqi army that was occupying their small country. There was tragic loss of human life. The courage of Kuwaitis created enormous admiration and respect for the people of Kuwait.
After departing the area, I often thought about Kuwait and the Kuwaitis I had befriended during the time of invasion and occupation, and followed the news of the country, for I had never forgotten those whom I had met. Yet, I had not returned to Kuwait for twenty-five years, nor had I seen those friends, although there were occasional telephone calls or e-mails. And so when I received an invitation to visit Kuwait from His Excellency Ahmad Fahad Sulaiman Al-Fahad, the Director of His Highness The Amir’s office, a very unique and kindly man whom I had met at the Kuwaiti Embassy to Saudi Arabia in 1990 when I was gathering information from Kuwaitis who had been in Kuwait during the day of the invasion, I did not hesitate. Feeling keen curiosity to see for myself how Kuwait had recovered from the damaging ordeal of being a country occupied by a revenging army, I packed my bags and boarded a British Airways flight and returned to the country and the people who had won my heart over twenty-five years before.
I was fortunate to be able to renew old friendships, to see many of the Kuwaitis I had befriended during the time I was researching and writing the book about the invasion. It was especially nice to see His Excellency Ahmad Fahad Sulaiman Al-Fahad once again after so many years. I was unaware that he occupied such an important position working for his Emir and his country, but was not surprised as I recalled his devotion and love for his country, along with his exceptional work ethic and perfection from the first time I met him in Riyadh at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
I was pleased to see Soud A. Al-Mutawa, the young man who had organized Kuwaitis to escort the media around the country, and who had personally orchestrated my itinerary while in the country during those dark days. Soud was a banker by profession. I discovered that he is still a banker. Soud was one of the boldest men I’ve ever met, something one does not expect from a banker! He and I had sneaked into Southern Iraq, being caught by the American military more than once. The officers there finally gave up after catching us for the third time and told us we could stay BUT TO BE CAREFUL!
I was happy to find that Soud and his lovely wife Fatima are the parents of six children and twelve grandchildren. What a lovely, noisy and wonderful family life they have. Those three evenings I spent at their home were some of the most enjoyable evenings of my life.
I had been speaking to a fine young Kuwaiti man named Fares Al-Ayadhi for several years after he read one of my books and wondered if I might be the right person to tell the world about Fares’ search for his father, a world-renown song-writer and poet who had been captured while defending his county with inspiring songs and messages to the people. So we were both happy to finally meet in person after years of talking over the phone and sending e-mails. It was doubly lovely to meet Fares’ mother, sisters, and nieces and nephew. I look forward to a life-long friendship with one of the nicest families it has been my pleasure to come to know.
And, I met other new friends, as well, far too many to name here.
It was lovely to be welcomed with such genuine care by all Kuwaitis I met, and I’ll never forget how H.E. Al-Fahad made certain that my return to Kuwait would be perfect, and it was.
My desire to see the country was satisfied when I was taken around the country to many beautiful and wonderful sites, to museums, government buildings, including the Kuwaiti Parliament, a building that had been heavily damaged during the war. All had been restored with loving care.
And, I received a most pleasant surprise to be invited to meet many high ranking dignitaries, including His Excellency Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, the Minister of Information and Minister of State for Youth Affairs, who struck me as a very intelligent and dignified person. I also was fortunate to meet the youthful and highly respected Marzouq Al Alghanim, the Speaker of the National Assembly, State of Kuwait.
But the biggest surprise was when I was invited to Bayan Palace to meet with Kuwait’s Amir, His Highness Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. I had never met His Highness prior to this trip, although I had met many royals during the research done to write The Rape of Kuwait, (including the Crown Prince Saad Al-Salim Al-Sabah, who had given me a most engaging description of what had happened to him on the day of the invasion, as well as His Highness Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the 13th ruler of Kuwait).
Since I had closely followed the news of Kuwait since 1990, I knew of the long and distinguished career of Kuwait’s Emir, His Highness Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. Most impressive are his endless good deeds. I knew before arriving in Kuwait that His Highness is one of the world’s most charitable rulers, so generous that he was honored and decorated by the United Nations for his exemplary humanitarian mission work, and most especially with respect to Syria and Iraq, helping refugees from those countries. The Emir’s good works assist millions of desperate people all over the world, some of them citizens of the country that once invaded his own land. (What country in the world would be so kindly and generous to a country and people who has invaded them and attempted to destroy all that was Kuwait? Not many!)
All my Kuwaiti friends were delighted to hear that I had met with their Emir, and were thrilled to hear how he had impressed me with his friendly smile and charming manner. I found that all the Kuwaitis I knew were proud of their Emir and held enormous affection for him.
They were even happier to know that I saw and recognized the victory all Kuwaitis have accomplished. Kuwait is a country that has successfully overcome very dark days to show the world that one does not need to be bitter, but instead, can be generous and kindly toward those who have committed bitter deeds.
I remember well how I was attacked for interviewing Kuwaitis, getting their stories, and writing the book, The Rape of Kuwait,” but I have never regretted reaching out for personal stories. Despite the many wild lies told about the book by those who fought against the world helping Kuwait to be liberated, I believe that the book will be referred to for years to come, for it is the only contemporary book that tells what happened to individuals on the day of the invasion. It’s easy to attack people and countries and write only the negatives, it is more difficult when one feels a need to speak favorably about the same topic. This is because for some reason our world is now bubbling with so many negative people who receive their joy in life by belittling and attacking others. Tis a pity…
Now I believe that it is important for the world to remember that Kuwait is not an aggressive state, yet they have shown kindness and good will to those who were aggressive to them. Yes, Kuwait is a conservative nation, but in a good way. Women are working. Women are driving. Women are free to choose whether to wear the hijab or not. Yes, Kuwait is a wealthy country, but they choose to share their wealth and help many helpless in the world.
When I left Kuwait, I knew that I would return, because the entire trip was a great revelation of just how good a country can be.
I want to tell the world that all the good men and women who traveled to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and risked their lives to free Kuwait from the grasp of a brutal dictator, that Kuwait and Kuwaitis give so much back to the world. Kuwait is a country and peoples deserving of freedom.
If all the Kuwaitis I met might meet you today, I know that they would say “Thank you for your help, all of you.” For sure, Kuwait has made the most of a second chance to rebuild, and in the process, to continue helping others.”
The Kuwaitis have succeeded, by doing it, “The Kuwaiti Way.”
MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF MY RECENT TRIP TO KUWAIT: