While there are some people who are balancing globalization and its impact on local culture, there are others who are proactively using the changing environment to look for new spaces and methods to vocalize their protest – either against globalization or against their local culture. As Giddens stated, “[l]ife-political problems do not fit readily within existing frameworks of politics, and may well stimulate the emergence of political forms which differ from those hitherto prominent, both within states and on a global level” (Giddens 1991: 228).
While some believe that a balance between modernity and traditions has been struck in Kuwaiti society, there are still elements of discontent. Said notes that “in Kuwait, there is a liberal culture struggling against the Islamists. But also against the tyranny of one party, oligarchical, or one-family rule” (Said 2003: 154). Hence, the new changes within globalization are not occurring without consequences.
The structure of Kuwaiti society reflects a form of resistance against what imperial powers may see is the ‘right’ way to establish a democracy. There are still many inequalities among the Kuwaiti citizens themselves. Tétreault and al-Mughni (1995) focus on these inequalities, particularly in relation to women’s rights in Kuwait. They note
Crystal (1990, 1992) argues that the generous allocation of social services to Kuwaitis also reinforces patriotism, state-centred nationalism and feelings of loyalty to the state. Kuwait’s welfare policies thus help to maintain the boundaries between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis. (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 71)
Traditions are juxtaposed against modernity, and there are some people who do not believe that the two can coexist. In Kuwait, holding on to traditions has become a way to create a national space within the country, where the influences of globalization are so evident. “Especially potent in a region where imperialism left so much political, social and economic chaos in its wake, appeals to tradition find strong support” (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 75). Therefore, it is as a result of imperialism in the past, and globalization in the present, that Kuwaitis have held on to tradition to bound them together and find a sense of unity.
Although the effects of globalization may be the source of feelings of national pride, there are also others who are using the changes in Kuwait to resist against traditional structures. For example, despite being used to promote national identity, Wheeler (2000) also found that “the Internet in Kuwait is leading to experimentation, especially among youths, which could lead, sometime in the future, to the interruption of Kuwaiti traditions” (Wheeler 2000: 442). She found that
Internet use by youths is creating new forms of communication across gender lines, interrupting traditional social rituals, and giving young people new autonomy in how they run their lives. Although these capabilities remain tempered by pre-existing value systems, we are seeing important signs of experimentation which cannot help but stimulate processes of change over time as young people redefine norms and values for future generations. (Wheeler 2000: 443)
There is, however a sense of conflict. The use of the Internet for cyber-dating or for communicating with the opposite sex is done in secret. There is still the idea that a ‘proper impression’ needs has to be given to the rest of society – this secrecy even occurs among friends because they do not want to be judged or reprimanded. Therefore, these youths are making a personal choice by choosing to communicate with someone of the opposite sex, despite the disapproval that they might get from their family members or friends.
Although media does have some influence on decisions that are being made, they are personal decisions. Personal identity is always evolving; however, it seems that national identity is rather steady. Having Kuwaiti pride and being Kuwaiti is unshakable. Perhaps it is, as Wheeler notes, that “[n]ational identity is defined by major life-changing events, the discovery of oil, the Iraqi Occupation, being Muslim, being born Kuwaiti” (Wheeler 2000: 444). She concludes in her research that the “presence of foreign media in Kuwait does not interrupt Kuwaiti national consciousness. This does not mean that such texts fail, however, to have any noticeable impact on Kuwaiti lives” (Wheeler 2000: 444). She notes that although there may appear to be conflicts, “in Kuwait the high penetration of foreign media in the local environment is a symbol of Kuwait’s openness to globalization” (Wheeler 2000: 444).
The variety of reactions to globalization from the Kuwaitis emphasizes the complexity of the phenomenon. The accelerated force of globalization has created urgency for people to look at life and evaluate and negotiate their position among the change. An element of cultural discourse is “the power to analyze, to get past cliché and straight out-and-out lies from authority, the questioning of authority, the search for alternatives. These are also part of the arsenal of cultural resistance” (Said: 2003: 159). In Kuwait’s case, cultural resistance is arising either against globalization and the new Kuwaiti identity that is developing or as voices supporting the socio-political changes that are occurring in Kuwait.
Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Said, E. (2003) Culture and Resistance. London: Pluto Press.
Tétreault, M.A. and al-Mughni, H. (1995) ‘Gender, Citizenship and Nationalism in Kuwait’ in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 22(1/2) pp. 64-80.
Wheeler, D. (2000) ‘New media, globalization and Kuwaiti national identity’ Middle East Journal 54(3) pp. 432-444.