On vandalism and civic responsibility
I am writing this post two days after our house was vandalized.
On Monday, we returned home to find that our back door was broken down by a bunch of hooligans in an attempt to hurt our dog and/or get into our house. I’m seething with anger; this isn’t the first time we have been attacked by people in our neighborhood and I bet it won’t be the last time. We moved into this house in 2004, despite misgivings about the neighborhood “dynamic”. It was always obvious that we did not fit in here. For instance, during our first months here, I was driving home from university at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and kids who were playing out in the street, jumped on my car and started to bang on the doors. I was shocked and I stopped the car completely – I didn’t want to hurt anyone. It took a few minutes for those boys to tire of their games and climb down. I drove away, shaking my head – what were those kids thinking? I later learnt that they were reacting to seeing a woman driving! We soon noticed that no other woman in the neighborhood drove. The other women, in houses around us, were covered from head to toe in black. When they needed to leave the house, they were shuffled from their front doors and into large, awaiting SUVs and whisked away by their East-Asian drivers or bearded husbands.
The pranks started innocently enough. Ringing the doorbell and mocking us, running away only to come back minutes later and do the same thing. Then someone threw a rock at our kitchen’s skylight, shattering the glass and scaring us. We could not catch the culprit. We let it go, we fixed the glass and moved on. They probably took that as a sign, that we were not going to pick a fight with them (I say “they” because to this day, we don’t know which house exactly is initiating the violence). The skylight was broken again, this time by a large glass bottle chucked in our direction. This was followed by throwing a large rock and breaking our thick, double-glazed glass/metal front door. Twice. And setting our covered parking lot on fire, stealing our doorbell and breaking the other. They have agitated our puppies before, and have thrown rocks at them. (I won’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen kids torture animals in our neighborhood.) I’m probably leaving things out, but you probably get the point. They’re relentless.
On Tuesday morning, the police came to investigate the crime. They could not find anything, none of our neighbors reported the crime, although the ruckus would have been noticeable. Naturally, the police did not do anything. What could they do? The law is not always implemented in Kuwait; laws are fluid, protecting those with means (be they political, financial or social). Moreover, vandalism is taken lightly in our culture. So what if kids damaged private or public property? I have heard educated Kuwaitis defend vandalism. Whether it’s defaming a wall or breaking someone’s door, it must all be the same thing to them. There are always bigger fish to fry, more important battles to fight, I’ve been told.
I wonder when the citizens of Kuwait will finally see that change comes from the bottom up? You cannot build state of the art universities, if you don’t improve the schools; you cannot avoid accidents by ignoring the minor traffic violations; you cannot expect people to recycle or respect one another or even go out to vote if you turn a blind eye to petty crime. In an attempt to defend vandalism, someone once argued with me that laws are subjective. Although this person clearly does not understand the basic workings of a legal system nor the definition of subjectivity, his argument only goes to show the lack of civil responsibility in young adults.
As the political system takes blow after blow in Kuwait, voices rise in complaint, in dissatisfaction. Some say they’ve had it, others are sure “nothing will change”. They talk about leaving Kuwait and starting a life someplace else. New York, Milan, San Fran. It doesn’t matter where they want to go. What matters to me though, is that they’ll be taking their attitudes with them. Their dependency has become a bad habit, their lack of civic engagement a trademark. Most of the people I know in Kuwait would not make it very far in the cities of their dreams. They’re too nonchalant.
As our country struggles with its political system, I hope the youth rises to accept social responsibility. If you’re reading this and you see someone committing a crime, no matter how petty you think it is, know that it’s your job, as a citizen, to stop them. Whether you see kids breaking someone’s door down or tagging a wall, you must realize that those crimes are one and the same. Vandalism is the action of deliberate destruction or damage to public or private property. Vandalism is punished all over the world with hefty fines, community service or incarceration. Before you turn a blind eye on vandalism, just remember that you would not want it to happen to you. There is nothing worse than coming home to find that someone had been at your house and left their mark. It’s the ultimate violation of space and privacy. It makes one feel vulnerable, angry and helpless. Do not do it. Do not support it. I wish such crimes were taken more seriously in Kuwait. I wish that someone stopped those kids from vandalizing our house.