Behind the scenes: Return to Kuwait

Photo: Jamie Etheridge

Photo: Jamie Etheridge

Jamie Etheridge was the first journalist to be allowed into the Shiite Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait city, a month after a suicide bomber killed 26 people there on 26th June 2015. The perpetrator was Saudi national Fahad Suleiman al-Gabbaa, a member of the Isis-affiliated Najd Province group. In DG #19, Etheridge tells the story of a traumatised and grief-stricken religious community, and a Kuwaiti population uniting to reject sectarian hatred.

At the mosque, Etheridge shot some exclusive footage for us. Here are some of her recordings and her recollection of walking through the devastated shrine.

“When I walked into the main prayer hall, the first thing I thought was how senseless. They are all Muslims and such killing to me seems utterly absurd and worse, hypocritical. Even if you factor in the various political agendas at play, it’s an incomparable waste of human life – a decidedly un-Islamic thing to do.

The prayer hall is vast and there were prayer rugs, prayer beads and turbah lying everywhere and even though it was just after the noon prayer (prayers are still taking place at the attached congregation hall), the place felt dark and close and dusty. I stood where the bomber stood – the patch of carpet stained with his blood has been cut up by the authorities but remnants of his charred flesh are clearly visible seared into the door casing and wall behind where he stood. I could not then and cannot now fathom the mind of the bomber. Like the patch of concrete showing beneath the missing section of carpet, I think how cold and lifeless he must have been to do what he did.

The man speaking English is Musaed al-Haddad, a Kuwaiti banker who has been coming to the mosque since he was a child. The older gentleman speaking Arabic is Abdulnabi Mansour al-Attar, a mosque official who was there on the day of the bombing. They both wanted for the world to see beyond just the headlines of yet another suicide bombing in the Middle East; to see what it meant for this community of worshippers and how the devastation affected them personally. I think they felt it was very important to show me what happened as a matter of historical record.”

“According to al-Attar, the man in this security footage is the person who bombed the mosque. The footage was widely seen across Kuwait on the actual day of the bombing as it was quickly shared all over Kuwait via WhatsApp. When I saw it myself on that day, I kept thinking in my head, he’s definitely not a Kuwaiti. I’ve lived here for more than a decade and I just couldn’t see a Kuwaiti doing that to his fellow countrymen. As in any country, there are divisions within society, but Kuwaitis also have suffered a lot as a community – during the Iraqi invasion, for example – and tend to support each other and stick together. I could not believe a Kuwaiti would attack his own community in such a gruesome way, even members of a different sect.

The main thing I took away from the bombing was how determined it made all Kuwaitis to stand up against any attempt to divide them. Attacking one segment, in this case Hasawi Shiites, felt like an attack on them all.

Though I’ve only lived here for a decade and as an expat who can never be fully integrated into the local society, I also felt attacked and angry. This is my Kuwait too. My family is here. I’m raising my children here and like any parent want a place that is safe for their kids to grow up in.”

Jamie Etheridge is a writer and analyst living in Kuwait. She tweets here. Her full story on the attack on the Imam al-Sadiq mosque appears in issue #19 of DG, which is hitting subscribers’ doormats shortly and can be pre-ordered in our online shop.

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