- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Kuwaiti extremism

The director of the Kuwait Information Office was hounded from office by Islamic extremists who condemned him for appearing on a forum with Israeli representatives in New York last week.

Shafiq Ghabra was denounced for his "abominable deed" by the People's Congress for Resisting Normalization Between the Zionist Entity and the Gulf. The group accused him of trying to develop relations with Israel, a charge he denied strongly in the Kuwaiti press. Kuwait refuses to establish relations with Israel until the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is settled.

The People's Congress whipped up such a vocal campaign against him that not even his own ministry would defend him strongly enough to prevent his decision to step down after three years in Washington. The group has brought down ambassadors with past attacks.

Mr. Ghabra, however, began to turn public opinion his way as he fought back in the Kuwaiti press over the weekend.

However, he declined to discuss the details of the dispute when contacted by Embassy Row yesterday. He confirmed he has submitted his resignation from the information office, which operates independently from the Kuwaiti Embassy.

He said he expects to return to Kuwait to resume his tenured teaching position at Kuwait University.

"I am proud to be a Kuwaiti, and I am proud my country allows me the ability to fight back, to stand up and that there is in Kuwait at all levels of government and society the ability to stand up against terror to allow an open and democratic debate," he said.

Mr. Ghabra attended the panel discussion during the World Economic Forum, appearing with Egypt's Abdel-Menam Said Aly, head of the Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. The Israeli panelists included former Foreign Minister Sholomo Ben-Ami and Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to the United States and now president of Tel Aviv University.

The People's Congress argued that his participation on the panel was the equivalent of recognizing Israel, which, it points out, is a crime under Kuwaiti law.

The group said Mr. Ghabra's action "defies the feelings of the Arab and Islamic nation" and denounced Israel for the "worst types of repression" against Palestinians and for "imposing a siege and causing starvation and engaging in assassinations."

Mr. Ghabra, in a letter to Kuwaiti newspapers, defended his decision to attend the forum as a way to present the Arab view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He criticized his detractors for the thinking that anyone who disagrees with them has committed a "crime deserving execution."

"This type of violence in speech we have seen in many parts in our Arab world and have watched how it drove those societies into regression, isolation and destruction," he said.

"What hurt me in the attacks is the choice of words," he added. "I have not committed high treason or an offense to anyone; rather, I have worked seriously, with devotion and high energy to communicate the truth where I could."


Defending Indonesia

The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia yesterday defended that country against critics who believe the world's largest Muslim nation has done too little to combat terrorism.

"I am totally satisfied with the position of the government of Indonesia," Ambassador Ralph Boyce said on a tour of the troubled Aceh province.

Mr. Boyce said there is "no simple solution" to defeat terrorism, according to news reports from Indonesia.

Last week Frank Lavin, the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, urged Indonesia to follow the more aggressive standards against terrorists used in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Mr. Boyce began his two-day tour of the province on Monday just after separatist rebels threw a hand grenade into a crowded market place, injuring 12 persons.

He was met with an anti-American demonstration of about 50 students yesterday. They tried to block his way into a Muslim university where he addressed other students.

Mr. Boyce told the students that the U.S. war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.

He also said the United States might consider acting as a mediator in peace talks between the Indonesian government and the separatist rebels in Aceh if the Indonesian government requests such assistance.

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