School stabbing leaves Kuwaitis looking for answers

The brother of a 14-year-old boy killed by a schoolmate speaks about his family's grief, while the incident has begun a national debate.

Mohammed Al Azmi, 19, relates how his brother, Osama, 14, was stabbed to death by a classmate in a dispute outside their school in Qrain, Kuwait City on Tuesday, July 13, 2010.(Photo:Gustavo Ferrari/The National)

KUWAIT CITY // The stabbing to death of a 14-year-old boy by a teenage schoolmate has left Kuwaitis wondering what could have led to the murder of one of their youth at the hands of another, and a bereaved family struggling to cope with their grief. The victim, Omar al Azmi, was waiting with his brother Saad, 12, to be picked up by their elder brother Mohammed after classes at the middle school in Qusor when the murder happened in May.

Speaking at his home, not far from the scene of the attack, Mohammed, 19, said that as he drove towards the school grounds he saw several people fighting. When he approached the melee, he was confronted by a horrific sight. "My brother was lying in a pool of blood. He was shouting: 'Oh, Mohammed, they stabbed me!' He was stabbed once in the heart and I saw that he was dying," Mohammed said. The panic-stricken brother carried Omar to the car, placed him inside, and instructed Saad to try to stem the flow of blood with a T-shirt. Mohammed's journey to Adan hospital was so frenzied that he smashed into two cars without stopping. When he arrived, the staff told him his brother was already dead.

"I was going to study overseas, but now my mother is too afraid to let me go; Saad couldn't sleep for several days and he is terrified of school," Mohammed said. His mother has fits of hysteria and resigned from her job as a teacher. His father struggles to focus and almost quit his job as a systems operator for Kuwait Oil Co. "This incident has destroyed our lives," Mohammed said. According to local news reports, Badriya al Khaldi, the head of the Mubarak al Kabeer educational directorate, has confirmed that both the victim and the alleged killer were pupils at the Abdullah Meshari al Roudhan Middle School. Mohammed said that Omar was stabbed by a 16-year-old boy from a different tribe after an argument at a school canteen where one bumped into the other. Local media reported that the boy handed himself into police one day after the incident. The 16-year-old boy is believed to be in a juvenile detention centre, although the juvenile welfare department of the ministry of social affairs and labour could not be reached to confirm the detention. The ministry of education has responded to the killing by forming a committee to study violence in the country's schools. Officials at the ministry would not comment on the activities of the committee, but Meshari al Husaini, 42, a teacher at the College of Basic Education, said that one ministry alone cannot produce a comprehensive strategy to deal with a culture of violence that is becoming more deadly. Mr al Husaini is in a better position to comment on the problems facing Kuwaiti youth than most. Not only did his doctoral studies focus on school violence but as a high school pupil in Jahra, he used to dish it out. "When I was a student, I witnessed many violent incidents," Mr al Husaini said. He said he was one of 35 tribal "cousins" who "took control" of the school by intimidating other students. "If someone started a fight with us, we wouldn't ask the reason, we'd beat them - big time," he said. After being tempered by age, Mr al Husaini regretted how he had treated his schoolmates. "I was always thinking about the people who don't have cousins or a big family: how can they defend themselves in this community. When we got older, some people who I had hurt in the past became my friends and I felt ashamed. "This is why I decided to study the subject." Mr al Husaini said. While earning his degree in philosophy at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Mr al Husaini's research found that levels of violence are higher in the traditional - or Bedouin - areas of Kuwait. He said the older members of the tribes like to recall stories from the past when "fighting over pastures and water was a major part of life". He believes children are influenced by stories of their ancestors' heroic - and often violent - deeds. "This is the way of tribal people; it's their culture. Some people look at revenge as a way to get dignity. It's not good to go to a police station and report a complaint against someone who hit you. You have to take your right by your hand," he said. The government needs to create an umbrella organisation to outline policies for ministries, schools, sports clubs and families at the same time, he said. The policies should include measures such as withholding marriage certificates until couples complete parenting courses and teaching conflict resolution in schools. Fatema Ayyad, a professor of clinical psychology at Kuwait University, also questions if the ministry's committee will achieve the desired effect. She said: "I believe if you want to kill an issue in our world, you should make a committee. It's a very clear thing: you have to act. These people have salaries and do research and they sit with each other - so what?"