TU Global: Foreign lands, concepts
It wasn’t until after attending a seminar on labor migration in the Arab Gulf states, part of the College of Liberal Arts’ Global Challenges Lecture Series, that I started paying attention to the news coming from that region of the world.
Even for me, as someone who prides themselves on having an accurate and unbiased view of international affairs, I was guilty of assuming that the gulf region followed the same trend of daily terrorism and insurgency at the hands of radical extremists.
But after listening to professor Andrew Gardner explain how millions of people were flocking from all parts of the Middle East and South Asia to come work in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and that Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita, I realized that I had a pretty misconstrued perception of the region.
I also learned from this seminar that Qatar, along with other Gulf States, has been trying to modernize itself and make some rather progressive changes.
This was made even more evident to me the other night as I stumbled upon two articles about the debut of a rather “unique” piece of conceptual art in Qatar and about a rather “unique” new policy in Kuwait.
Located in Doha, Qatar, the Sidra Medical and Research Center is a hospital devoted to women and children’s health that’s set to open in 2015. For weeks, 14 large balloons floated out front of the building. On the evening of Oct. 7, with government officials, local artists and members of Qatar’s royal family present, the balloons sprouted open to the sound of an amplified beating heart. The result: 13 bronze sculptures depicting the gestation of a fetus and one final 46-foot tall baby boy.
The chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority, Sheikha al Mayassa, commissioned the piece by British artist Damien Hirst. In an area where most women still conform to age-old Islamic dress codes and public nudity is not an everyday occurrence like it is here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, the piece has warranted some pushback, but only on the social media front; not on the front of stones and Molotov cocktails.
A similar wave of online protest occurred when the statue of Zinedine Zidane, the French soccer player, head butting another player arrived in Qatar.
However, having a 46-foot tall sculpture of a butt-naked baby boy with his umbilical cord still dangling from his belly smells like social progress to me. Sheikha Al Mayassa told the New York Times that pieces such as these are part of an effort make Qatar a global platform for contemporary arts and culture.
Kuwait is going in the opposite direction.
The director of public health has announced his desire to create a medical test for detecting homosexuality for expats entering the country.
The proposal is intended for all GCC states (Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). If citizens test positive, their medical reports will be stamped as “unfit” and their visas will be disqualified. Now I know my columns are in the opinion section, but for the most part I don’t have a straightforward opinion on everything. However, this cuts it. If this provision were passed, I’d say these Kuwaiti officials are “unfit” to govern. Such a mindset will not only generate horrific press for the country and deter foreign talent and investment but will also throw the country’s social progress in quick reverse.
While these stories, or the contrast of the two, didn’t seem to make huge waves in the media, the timing was very unfortunate. Kuwait’s proposal is put up against the backdrop of Qatar’s progress. However, while the idea is being put forth by a Kuwaiti official, it makes the entire GCC region (where homosexuality is still illegal and sometimes punishable by death) look bad. Activists have already moved to boycott the 2022 World Cup, which is to take place in Qatar. The evolution of social progress in these countries is like a game of tug-of-war. And Kuwait is playing dirty.