The art of exaggeration

Two women, for whom I have the deepest respect, were heavily criticized last week; Oprah Winfrey and Ebtihal Al-Khatib. Oprah was criticized for saying Kuwaiti people behave like Paris Hilton, while workers from other countries do everything for them. Ebtihal was criticized for frankly expressing her rather liberal thoughts on a Lebanese TV show. This article is not meant to defend or attack any of those two women.

I simply noticed a repeating trend that I wanted to point out. To do that, let's just go back a little bit to a more vivid example. A few months ago, a man appeared on Kuwaiti television and violated the law by attacking a certain group of Kuwaiti society. Later on, a group of people exaggerated their reaction to that insult. They took to the streets to demonstrate against what was said. Certain MPs exaggerated their response to the public movement and demanded that the Minister of Information should resign. The minister's response was even more exaggerated and he proposed extreme legislation to limit the freedom of the press. The Kuwait Journalist Association's response to the bill were so exaggerated that they proposed amendments of their own!

This public game of 'ping-pong' seems to follow the law that "for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction". One act of extremism generates an extremist reaction.

Suppressing freedom in the Arab world generated a whole spectrum of extremist movements. The continuous neglect of national priorities and the stances on pan-Arab issues by some Arab regimes instigate radical movements.

On the other hand, social pressure and intolerance against liberal ideas drive some liberals to the other extreme. They tend to stand completely against any form of social limitation and demand the absolute opposite. And so the exaggeration continues in this 'Extremistan'.

Now, let's go back to Oprah and Ebtihal. What Oprah said was an exaggeration of a truth. Yes, Kuwait and other GCC countries are heavily reliant on foreign workers, no one can deny that. At the same time, not all Kuwaiti people can afford to live like Paris Hilton, even though many of them, myself included, would love to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle of Ms Hilton.

Oprah exaggerated her description of Kuwaiti people. There are many dedicated and hardworking Kuwaitis. But, then again, so what if Oprah said that about Kuwait? Do her comments makes us like that? So what if Ebtihal expressed her opinion on secularism and even gay marriage? Does that mean we will have gay weddings all over Kuwait this weekend? So what if an angry reader who doesn't agree with what I'm writing curses me right now and turns the page of the newspaper? Everyone has the right to their own opinion, even if we completely disagree with what they claim. It is their opinion, and it is just an opinion. If you think it's totally absurd, simply let other people decide that on their own. Eventually, people will stop being absurd if they know no one is paying attention to them.

An exaggerated reaction to absurdness can be absurd itself. A moderate reaction to extreme opinions can absorb their extremism and result in a better and more beneficial dialogue in the long run.

For now though, blowing things out of proportion remains a sophisticated art form that no one in the world seems to do better than us. I don't know if my conclusion is extremely exaggerated, so please try not to exaggerate it yourself. It's just an article.

© Kuwait Times 2010

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