Saturday, August 02, 2008

Kuwait and Bangladeshi Workers

Most of the Muslim Student Associations in universities in North America have a very vocal content about supporting Palestine issues. Many of them also have a strong pro-Arab camp, where they harp on supporting the Arab countries against Israel on many issues, and whenever Arabs are mistreated or discriminated against, it is painted as an "Islamic" issue. Many converts to Islam here also have an idolized view of the Arab lands.

Having lived in the Middle East before, I have a different view on these issues. Here's something I caught on the news recently.

Some time ago Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait went on strike because they had not been paid by the Kuwaiti authorities for more than 3 months. These are already dirt poor people doing menial jobs saving whatever scraps they can to help their families back in Bangladesh. So what did the Kuwaitis do?

They beat up the striking workers, locked many of them up and deported them all to Bangladesh. There were also tales of torture when those deported people reached Bangladesh.

Today, I found a letter in Kuwait Times where one resident writes "Bangladeshi cleaners, Thank you."
I would to thank all the Bangladeshi cleaners who used to collect the garbage from sunset until sunrise, to clean up the dirt and the leftovers of mine and of all residents of Kuwait. They were, in fact, doing a great job and excellent work.
While we enjoyed the luxury of new, clean clothes every day, the dirty, yellow dirty uniform was the costume that they lived, ate and maybe even slept in.
Salaries: Why do you work? This is not a new topic, it's an old one and a natural request. Why do any of us go to work and how many of us would work for free?
Meanwhile, now Kuwait, probably hit by the garbage on the streets, have admitted responsibility (where have we heard this before?).

I have said it before and I have said it again, the problem lies in governments of countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka making no attempt to ban their citizens from working in slavery-conditions in these countries. Blind by the lure of foreign currency and cash these workers bring, they have trampled on their welfare and rights.

Next time an Arab supporting MSA comes around to ask me for support against Israeli oppression against Palestinians, I am going to ask, "how are you any better".


Z said...

Yes, more people need to speak out about these issues. Criminal, how rampant exploitation of poor Asians and similar has produced these tourist and shopping destinations where the rich can party to their hearts' content and the owners and upper management make money hand over fist.

Muslim Girl said...

You're completely right. I saw a documentary about Dubai and the majority of workers that are building this multi-million dollar city come from countries like Pakistan India and Sri Lanka and are basically given no civil rights - let alone treated like human beings by those in charge. Not only should the governments of these countries be responsible for their citizens, but the government of the countries that hire these workers.

Shovon said...

Mezba, two wrongs dont make a right.

Deen said...

As an ex MSA president your article does have some strong merits. I do feel it is somewhat unfair to define all MSAs and everyone under the blanket of being just pro palestinian. MSAs like everyone else falls into the trap that we support causes in the news but not elsewhere. I have tried to focus on non-arab issues specifically problems in Chechnya, Uyughir regions, Somalia, Bangladesh and Darfur. Regardless, in dealing with MSA one should take a proactive stance, in that if there is a news item, that may not be front page but deals with muslim issues you should bring it up and ask them to do something about it and help them out. There are a million problems in the muslim world and they cannot handle every single one, but rather focuses on those that their members bring up.

Tammy said...

These governments in Dubai who are making multi million dollar city and not doing anything to help the poor, will have to answer all those question to Allah. No one fears what will happen to them onces they close their eyes and face the all mighty judge.

Musa said...

Mezba Bhai,

I agree with you more or less. Its particularly sad to hear converts talk about how they would love to go to Tunisia, Syria or Saudi Arabia as they have "true Muslims" there........many dont even know that Tunisian police sometimes stop Hijab wearers and rip it off the woman's head...

Coming to the Palestinian issue, given that you lived in AUH you would know that they, along with many Egyptians, Lebanese etc. are the most racist of all inhabitants in the UAE..............a number of Bangladeshis actually support the "other party" in the Middle East conflict after having had to deal with Palestinians for business ......

Yet, Bangladeshis back home are concinced that they are peaceful creatures facing genocide at hands of the evil "Joos"....

mezba said...

Z: The whole construction industry in the Middle East is staffed by Asians who are paid very less (if at all). As for tourism, I read recently that Thomas Cook no longer has Dubai as a must-see. Really, other than malls, there is not much to see.

Muslim Girl: the last time Bangladesh cared about its expat workers was ... never! All they care is the dirhams these people send back. I once met a guy (he was waiter) who used to work from 5am to 6 pm at a gas station and then 7 - 12 at a restaurant... and no holidays... because he didn't wanna take a chance at no income (salary not being paid).

Shovon: yes, but sometimes the Arab associations behave as if they are perfect.

Deen: true, I did generalize. My experiences stem from U of T, where the first years I was there the MSA was very political (read Palestine issues) - only during the later years did they start to become more locally involved (as more Asians got into it). Once I did bring this up at the MSA (that they were heavily into the Israel-Palestine issue) and the reaction I got was very negative - these were mostly hardline people there at that time. Even now, hardly anyone speaks of anti-Muslim behavior BY the Muslims themselves.

Tammy: so very true. They act as if they worship the almighty dollar.

Musa: I was in Kuwait during the Gulf War and when all the people fled (like all Indians/Bangladeshi families went back home to wait until end of conflict) leaving all their homes intact, it was the Palestinians who looted everything. They collaborated with the Iraqis too.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Mezba:

Someone here also mentioned the UAE. There have also been complaints about the way that the Saudis treat their foreign workers. In their case, it is mainly the domestic help.

I have found the majority of Arabs to be a very arrogant people. Maybe this is the very reason that Allah (swt) chose them for the final message. Islam does not belong solely to them, however; they are only a fraction of the percentage of Muslims in the world. Unfortunately, the entire Muslim world suffers the consequences of their behaviors and stereotypes attributed to them.

Anonymous said...

this is so outrageous! i've lived in the middle east, and yes, they really do treat all domestic/menial labour workers very badly (on average!). The horror stories of not paying them salaries, domestic worker abuse, torture - even when the newspapers wrote about these issues, the legal outcome was at most a light rap on the wrist. and that's IF there were any legal repercussions in the first place!

mezba said...

Safiyyah, in my experience there's good and bad in every community - but as a whole Arabs seem lethargic to take into account their treatment of people from South Asia, their arrogance in being the best Muslims (just due to being Arab) and in blindly trying to imitate the West.

Jane, I don't understand why they don't pay these guys - the salary's peanuts anyways!

Ghazala Khan said...

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Ghazala Khan
The Pakistani Spectator

mezba said...

Hi Ghazala, I am not Pakistani. Thank you though.

Najeeba said...

The Arabs are reaping from the Isreali's what they sowed among the Asian countries.

mezba said...

Najeeba: Welcome to the blog.

I don't know if there's a direct connection between this and the Israel issue. However I suspect the oil wealth and arrogance and sense of superiority has a lot to do with it.