KUWAIT CITY // The US ambassador to Kuwait, Deborah Jones, has been criticised by some male members of parliament this week after she likened them to dogs in a briefing to the Middle East Institute in Washington last month. A member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Mubarak al Khurainij, has urged the committee chairman, Marzouq al Ghanim, to talk to the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Mohammed al Sabah al Salem al Sabah, to learn exactly what the ambassador meant by her remarks and explain the foreign ministry's stance on the issue, Mr al Khurainij said in a press release yesterday.
Other MPs have complained about being compared to dogs. One Islamist MP, Mohammed al Hayef, is reported to have asked the government to expel Ms Jones. The ambassador has served in Kuwait since April 2008, after leaving the post of principal officer at the US consulate general in Istanbul. Since joining the US state department in 1982, her overseas appointments have included the UAE, Ethiopia, Iraq, Argentina and Syria.
The speaker of parliament, Jassem al Kharafi, defended Ms Jones on Sunday. He said, given his "knowledge of her", there was confusion and misunderstanding over the remark. He said she would not say anything to threaten bilateral relations between the two countries and her comments were "misrepresented". He said an apology from the US Embassy would only be required had an offence in fact occurred.
The US Embassy here declined to comment on the controversy, which has been on the front pages of newspapers in Kuwait, a close US ally. In Ms Jones's speech, called A Briefing on Kuwait and Gulf Affairs, she spoke about the four women who were this year the first female politicians to be elected to the Kuwaiti parliament. She said some of her Kuwaiti colleagues "refer to them as the four cats and I said does that mean the remainder are dogs in the parliament? I don't know, because otherwise I don't know what else unifies them but their chromosomal make-up."
The line was delivered in a jovial tone and some members of the audience laughed. Ms Jones also said Kuwait's democracy was "fascinating" and spoke about the political wrangling in the national assembly that had led to several dissolutions of parliament and resignations of the cabinet in recent years. "What we have seen is a lot of very clever manoeuvring by the leadership to get around some of the problems they've been having and, in fact, we have seen some progress with this new parliament that was just voted in," she said. "The one you all know because famously, or infamously, it has four US-educated women, all PhD holders from American institutions."
At Kuwait's Grand Mosque, where tens of thousands of Muslims go every night during Ramadan to pray on temporary carpets in the building's grand courtyards, there were discussions about the ambassador's speech and how dogs are viewed in Islam. "For religious and cultural reasons, you shouldn't call someone a dog or make them look like a dog. It's like calling someone a pig; that is a disgrace, too," said Mohammed al Meteb, the manager of the Western Perception of Islam Centre. "It's the same in the West: if a man chases a woman they call him a dog.
"Cats and dogs, they fight all the time and that's what she referred to. She didn't mean anything by it but, at the same time, here, they took it as disrespect." Mr al Meteb said he believed she did not mean to be offensive by her speech but that she should explain her point of view, nonetheless. Ahmed al Asfour, the manager of the Grand Mosque, explained Islam's perception of animals. He said there was an Islamic story about a prostitute who lived without doing many good deeds, but on one occasion, she found a dog in the desert and gave it water. The Prophet Mohammed said the woman went to heaven for that reason, he said.
Another woman who prayed all the time but did not feed her cat until it eventually died of starvation went to hell, Mr al Asfour said. "It shows that the mercy of humans toward animals is important." But in Islam the dog's saliva is considered unclean, he said, and if it gets on someone's skin, they need to wash it seven times with sand and once with water. Also, dogs should not be kept in the home.
Mr al Meteb explained why: "The Angel Gabriel came to the Prophet Mohammed every once in a while, and then he stopped coming. The Prophet Mohammed wondered why and thought God might be mad at him. Then he found a puppy under his bed and he realised: if it's a place where there's a dog, the angels won't enter the house." If one says that someone is as devious as a fox, some people think that means he is clever and others might think that means he is sneaky, Mr al Asfour said. "When you choose your words, especially with animals, then you have to be careful."