Monday, September 14, 2009

Why?


Does history in Kuwait have any meaning or significance?

Apparently, preserving elements of the past is not a priority for the government or the people.

Mark from 248AM posted a video from YouTube showing the demolition of the Um Al Aish telecommunications station on the western outskirts of Kuwait City. The station opened in October 1969, bringing with it state-of-the-art satellite technology in keeping with the country's rapid advancement and growth. Along with national skyrocketing businesses and amassing wealth, it served as a key player in establishing Kuwait as a regional pioneer. When August 2, 1990 rolled around, Kuwait fell victim to the artillery-based onslaught of the Iraqi interlopers. Along with other heritage sites, important landmarks and basic infrastructure, the station was reduced to a bullet-riddled skeleton of twisted shards and burnt metal. It remained in its derelict state until May 2009, when the Kuwaiti government gave the go-ahead to knock the remains of the station into the ground.

Why does this bother me? Um Al Aish served as a testament to Kuwait's modernization and the fact that it was once a major powerhouse in the Middle East. In its dilapidation, it became a playground for photographers and graffiti artists. Rather than rebuild, however, the remains of the station could have been turned into some sort of museum or open-air memorial; something to remind Kuwaitis and visitors that a war happened here, that this was once the height of global technology, that this was once something. Clearing the site for redevelopment - what good does that do?

This isn't the first time something like this happens here: 
1. The bombed-out remains of the Sheikh Khazaal Diwan across the road from the Diabetes Research facility near Souq Sharq have recently been cordoned off for redevelopment into a museum. While I am incredibly interested to see the plans for the diwan, I fear that the crumbling exteriors of the old buildings will too be razed to have an ubiquitous, glass-and-stone-clad structure take their place. 
2. The National Museum of Kuwait along the Gulf Road, which was looted and set alight during the Invasion, has been sitting as a hollowed-out shell for the better part of twenty years. A sign was latterly installed indicating that the Museum will be rehabilitated and rebuilt. I'm 100 percent for rebuilding the structure; why it took Kuwait almost two decades to decide that it needed a major museum is beyond me. The only qualm I have is that the building will be turned into yet another jungle of concrete and steel without any hint of its illustrated past.
3. The Ramada Al Salam hotel [before and after images below] in Shuwaikh: not many people of this day and age have heard of it, but this hotel was once a Greek cruise ship that sailed the Mediterranean. It was sold to Kuwait in 1976, where it was dry-docked and turned into a land-based hotel not unlike the Queen Mary in Long Island, California. Known as the Kuwait Marriott from 1976 to 1989, the hotel rebranded as a Ramada shortly before the Invasion, where it was torched and completely destroyed. Its remains sat untouched for a number of years before authorities stepped in and scrapped the vessel. 

I have to stress that we do not need to canonize every last shred of the Invasion, but we at least need to keep poignant symbols of our past [the Bayt Al-Qurain is a good Invasion remnant, but not enough]. The Middle East is taking a tragic turn in wiping away its foundations in a desperate race to build hotels, malls, towers and other structures, turning the region into a bastardized, Arabic-themed Las Vegas. Dubai with its superlatives [the tallest, the longest, the widest, the first, the only...], Bahrain with its paradoxical bars and brothels packed with Arabs, Kuwait with its endless arsenal of retail possibilities... I can go on. 

Another trend we seem to be embarking on is Disneyfying elements of the past to keep with the twenty-first century, the best local example of which is the Kuwait Heritage Village. Currently under construction directly across from Souq Sharq, this massive project is designed around the ethos of old Kuwait, with one- or two-story buildings, narrow streets, winding alleyways and covered markets. The catch? It's all commercial. Upon completion in 2010/11, the project will serve as a mall and collection of restaurants. Where's the culture in that? The ultimate hypocrisy, however, lies in the name: with the word heritage, you'd expect the restoration of old buildings and such. This entire project, however, is a new-build! And to make matters worse, archeological remains dating back from thousands of years were discovered at the construction site. Rather than cancelling the project to turn it into a museum, the artifacts were dug up, transferred to storage and construction resumed. Typical.

We must develop, grow and change to keep with the times, but it is imperative that we remember who we are and where we came from. Without a cultural identity, Kuwait might as well be another cookie-cutter city in God-knows-where instead of a characteristic metropolis in the northern Persian Gulf. Why give up something as precious as the past to become nothing more than a cheap, gaudy, monotonous trend?

Why?


4 comments:

  1. This post was really an eye-opener. I didn't know about the sites mentioned and the plans to resurrect them, well, destroy and modernize them. Another enlightening post. Your critique is spot on.

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  2. I grew up in old Kuwait. I lived in Darwaza Abdul Razzak on Ahmed Al Jaber Street. I used to see the old Marriot Hotel everytime as kid when my dad used to go pick up my mother who used was nurse in Al Sabah Hospital. In hose days the gulf road was the only way to connect to route 80. Always stared in amazement at the ship and had a wonderfull experiences attending wedding parties there. Thought one day that I would have my wedding bash there and then 02-08-90 happened :-( I still have a pic of me taken by my dad standing next the huge ship propellor that was at entry to the drive way of the hotel .. man those were trully the golden days. Shame more is not being done to salvage a bit of the past

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  3. well said ^B...

    Will Kuwait Towers be next?

    I can't see why not! Maybe in 20-50 years they will look like a dirty old ugly pointy things in the middle of all those steel skyscrapers, so why not wipe them off to build another one of those?

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  4. Thanks for your amazing blog and insight. I love the way you think about how Kuwait developent is progressing. It really saddens me to see that Kuwait is not concentrating more and more on shopping and retail, when they are really over looking the History, Art, Scinence, and Sports venues.

    And if they are looking for more entertainment development, maybe they should look into an Amusment park? really, Al Madina Al Tarfihiya is getting quite OLD and does NOT compere to other amusement parks in other countries.

    Anyways, Love your blog. Keep up the good work!

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