anglowaiti literatureexhibition

/why i write in english

Article, published in Economic and Political Weekly, April 19, 2014, page 76.

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How and When I Decided to Become an Anglowaiti Writer

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I was asked once in an interview why I wrote in English and whether I thought that this growing trend of young Arabs writing in English would harm our Arab identity and impair our Islamic heritage. The answer I gave at the time was simple. Writers are businesspeople, and English is a lingua franca. I said that it would make total sense for writers of any mother tongue to write in English if they wanted a larger platform of readers.

The real response is much more complicated, however. It is true that English is a lingua franca, but I am also aware of the historical turmoil that has enabled the global impact of the English language. We’ve recently witnessed the entire Arab region teetering on the brink of a transformation. Change in itself is not entirely a bad thing. Fear of change lies in the manifold ways that a better future might be hijacked by fascists or imperialists. Due to the geopolitical tension in the region, writing in English in Kuwait ceases to be a mere business decision. It becomes political, whether or not writers are aware of their positions at the time of writing.

The aim of my work (and my whole Anglowaiti movement, really) is to establish a serious mindset that recognizes Kuwait as a sovereign, democratic Arab state that appreciates diversity, advocates hard work, and offers a safe haven for anyone (Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti) to work and live with self-respect.

Traditional media, namely, our local newspapers, state-sponsored TV, or publishing houses, continue to represent the ideology of an outdated figuration of Kuwaiti identity, based partly on the 1990s’ invasion and partly on the closed-minded, racist superiority of nationals. These publications sideline the struggles of more than 60% of the population. Indian, Egyptian, Filipino, Palestinian, and other nationalities that continue to build the country are represented as mere fillers or extras in the national narrative, without in any way receiving attention for their own struggles or aspirations.

Anglowaiti literature offers a decentered perspective. It doesn’t give voice to the voiceless, but by virtue of being expressed in a more global language, it condones the coexistence of various voices. My hope is that in expanding the national narrative, Anglowaitis might soften the nation’s stance (readers and officials in power) to the plight of “the others.” In other words, the intention is not to give voice to the voiceless but to condition readers to the heteroglossial nature of the nation so that officials and civilians actively participate in decreasing institutionalized racism. Once this is accomplished and Kuwaitis no longer fear immigrants, English can serve as a medium of communication between nationals and non-nationals. Creative social workers could then convey their personal struggles to an Anglowaiti audience that is already cultivated to recognize and criticize (objectively) social and economic malpractices.

People in Kuwait who ask me why I write in English since I’m an Arab fear everything Western; at the same time, they absorb everything Western. They go to Western cinemas, purchase entire wardrobes from Western retail stores, drive their Western cars to work, check their schedules on Western gadgets, and generally live a remarkably bourgeois existence based on the idolatry of commodities. Yet when I attend private schools that teach English as a primary language—schools owned by Kuwaitis that follow Kuwait’s Ministry of Education’s guidelines—when I am surrounded by other Kuwaiti students, and when I return home to the bosom of my Kuwaiti family, they wonder why I choose to be “westernized.” When they watch a Western movie or brag about their trips to the West, no one brings up the topic of “choice” in their consumption of Western culture. In doing so, they feel confident in their ability to recognize the constellation of commodities as Western products, which they can separate from their own identity and Arab/Islamic heritage. What I do is different. I produce something by using Western features, yet I myself am not Western—I was born and raised in Kuwait, studied in Kuwaiti schools, and mingled with Arab friends and relatives. My thoughts and beliefs then fit nowhere in the mental binary structure of traditionalists, threatening wonderfully preconceived notions of the self and others. They are Arabs who use Western commodities, but I am an Arab who expresses herself in a Western language, so what does that make me other than “westernized?”

I argue that it makes me a modern manifestation of a new, local identity that has become possible because of national decisions, from the 1950s onward, by the Kuwaiti government to embrace tenets of modernization. I suggest modernizing our lexicon in relation to contemporary questions (such as the future of Arab states after the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, and the global collapse of the financial markets) because even the imagined binary division separating modernity from tradition or authenticity from hybridity can no longer communicate present struggles.

In short, I hope that Anglowaiti writers conceive of their art as a social endeavor and partake in a collective debate about what it means to be Kuwaitis who express themselves in English in this turbulent period.