The Imad Moughniyah Controversy

Posted in Kuwait, Politics at 10:35 pm by Haider

While the news of the recent death of Imad Moughniyah, a leading figure in Hizbollah, has been met with happiness by those who considered him a terrorist and sadness by those who considered him a hero, the two responses were combined in Kuwait to cause a national crisis. The controversy began when two members of the Kuwaiti parliament, MP Adnan Abdul Samad and MP Ahmed Lari, participated in a rally to mourn his death, while some other Kuwaiti officials accused Moughniyah of being the mastermind behind the hijacking of a Kuwait Airways flight in 1988 and killing two Kuwaiti hostages. Rather than take sides on this issue, I would like to take a look at the main issues that emerged from this crisis, and to see how we can avoid the unnecessary side effects that have erupted from this controversy.

The Accusation against Imad Moughniyah

The evidence presented against Imad Mougniyah has been largely based on eye witness accounts, and a suspicion during the hijacking, as revealed by some newspapers from that time. There may have been other intelligence linking Imad to the hijacking, but nothing substantial has been presented publicly. As noted by a friend, it is believed that Imad has had several plastic surgery operations on his face to hide his identity, and the hijackers were wearing masks during the hijacking, so the eye witness accounts seem suspicious.

Whether Imad Mougniyah was behind the hijacking or not is irrelevant to the crisis, as I will show in this post. The evidence did not take centre stage in this controversy. It was the loyalty of those who praised Imad Moughniyah that was questioned.

What Made the Issue so Sensitive?

The people at the heart of this controversy are not your average Kuwaiti citizens, but two members of parliament. This made the situation extremely sensitive because any Kuwaiti politician should place the well being of Kuwaiti citizens above the interests and causes of other peoples. Politicians are ultimately accountable to their people. For the two MP’s to mourn the death of a man accused of killing two Kuwaiti civilians and putting the lives of others in danger raises the issue of whether these MP’s are more interested in Hizbollah’s cause than the well being of Kuwaiti citizens. Had the rally been organized and attended by your average Kuwaiti citizens, then it would not have received this attention. But the responsibilities of a politician are far greater than a citizen. A politician cannot exercise the same freedom of speech as any other citizen because he does not simply represent himself, but represents a greater number of people, as well as the government itself.

Along with their position as politicians, the two MP’s are also Shia. Therefore, their loyalty is questioned not simply on a political level, but on a religious one: are the two MP’s prepared to side with a Shia operative (Imad Moughniyah) or group (Hizbollah) at the expense of Kuwait and its citizens? Does their loyalty first lie with religious affiliation, then national one? This issue is not simply a theoretical one. During the 1980’s, some Kuwaiti Shia committed terrorist acts in Kuwait against civilians, and they even attempted to assassinate the late Amir, Jabir Al-Ahmed Al-Subah. That is regarded as the result of religious loyalty superseding national loyalty. The fear that was ignited by this incident was whether the two MP’s can be categorized along with such Shia. MP Adnan Abdul Samad and MP Ahmed Lari are both pro-Iran and supporters of Hizbollah. What’s troubling about this is that Iran during the 1980’s was seeking to export its revolution, and the Shia that committed the terrorist acts in Kuwait were importing that revolution. The worry, therefore, is whether the two MP’s share this outlook.

Another reason for why the loyalty of the two MP’s was questioned wasn’t related to the stance they took at all. It had nothing to do with their political outlook, but everything to do with their religious beliefs. Some Islamists took this opportunity to remove two Shia from parliament. Whether they are loyal to Kuwait or not was irrelevant. What’s interesting to note about this group is that they pose a greater threat to Kuwait and its citizens than the supposed threat of the two MP’s. By dividing people on religious grounds means that the interests of Kuwaiti citizens as Kuwaiti citizens is irrelevant to these Islamists, whether they are in parliament or as civilians. As long as they are willing to undermine the well being of Kuwaitis because they are Shia, then they do not have the interests of Kuwait and its citizens at heart. They are the ones whose loyalty to Kuwait and its citizens, all its citizens, should be questioned.

In order to accuse the two MP’s of lacking loyalty, we must first understand their stance, and not jump to conclusions.

The Opinions of the two MP’s

It is extremely easy to assume what the stance of the two MP’s represents, and to connect their stance to others who share their religious or political beliefs. However, it is crucial that we acknowledge the similarity between opinions, as well as the differences. I am a Shia, but I have both religious and political disagreements with both MP’s. To simply share the same religious denomination does not mean that our beliefs are identical.

MP Adnan Abdul Samad made it clear that he did not believe that Imad Moughniyah was responsible for the hijacking. This is extremely different than saying: “He was behind the hijacking, but I still mourn his death!” MP Abdul Samad questioned the evidence against him, and believes that what was presented as evidence is not verified or even enough to jump to the conclusion that Imad Moughniyah is the mastermind behind the hijacking. He argued that Kuwait has never officially claimed that Moughniyah was behind the hijacking until his death, which is why he believes that the case against Moughniyah is a recent fabrication. This in no way can be seen as disloyalty to the country. Why should he accept the evidence when it is not enough to reach a firm conclusion? Is it loyalty to one’s country to side with the government, regardless of the evidence presented against others?

And while both MP’s do share a political vision with Iran and Hizbollah, this is not necessarily an indication that they will place the interests of Iran or Hizbollah at the expense of their country. They may see that the stance of Iran towards the US and Israel should be adopted by Kuwait. Not in solidarity with Iran, but as the right stance to take, morally and for the interests of Kuwait. While I may disagree with his politics but, again, this is no grounds to question his loyalty.

The Sectarian Formula

The idea that religious affiliation has taken precedence over national affiliation is a huge assumption, especially when it is stretched to include all Kuwaiti Shia. The idea that all Shia are loyal to Iran is such a fairytale belief that I find it too amusing to take seriously. Just because Iran is a predominantly Shia country does not mean that all Kuwaiti Shia have loyalty to Iran over Kuwait. Not all Shia adopt the same interpretation of Shi’ism as is popularly accepted by Iran’s people and government. There are many Kuwaiti Shia who accept Iran’s political vision but do not place their trust in the existing Iranian government. In any case, whether there are shared religious or political beliefs between Kuwaiti Shia and Iran, this is no reason to assume that Kuwaiti Shia are willing to side with Iran against Kuwait.

If the Islamists in parliament share the same vision as the mullahs of Saudi Arabia or the Taleban, does it mean that all Islamists are prepared to side with them against Kuwait? To single out the Shia in the question of national loyalty reveals a huge intellectual error on one hand, and a grave misunderstanding of Shi’ism on the other. It is illogical to accuse Kuwaiti Christians of siding with Western countries against Kuwait simply because they share the same religion. And contrary to common belief, Shi’ism did not originate in Iran, nor do all Shia have a bond with Iran.

Kuwaiti Shia are extremely diverse in their opinions, and the fact that this Imad Moughniyah issue is seen to exist along a Sunni-Shi’i divide is a distortion of reality, and can only stem from ignorance or deep seated hatred of Shia, neither of which will ever serve Kuwait or its people.

Blown Out of Proportion

It is interesting to gauge whether this issue has had its fair share of our attention, or has been blown out of proportion. To determine this, we must assess whether what happened has been treated correctly based on the facts and also compare it to similar incidents, and see how much of a reaction it has received compared to the other incidents.

As I have explained above, the position of MPs Adnan Abdul Samad and MP Ahmed Lari has been misunderstood, and so the reaction towards them is far greater than what the actual issue merits. Their loyalty to Kuwait should not be questioned, and calling for their citizenship to be revoked, and the fact that they were dismissed from their parliamentary bloc is a greater punishment than their “crime” deserves. The only “crime” they did commit in this whole issue is that they did not anticipate that many people will accept the argument that Imad Moughniyah is a criminal, when the evidence against him is inconclusive. They did not expect such a large number of people to accept the evidence at face value. And since there was a suspicion amongst the people, the MP’s could have spoken in defense of Imad Moughniyah, rather than attend a rally to mourn his death.

And when compared to other similar incidents, I would like to point you to an article in Al-Qabas (in Arabic), which compares this incident with the support some Kuwaiti writers – including some who are speaking out against the two MP’s today – have expressed to Saddam Hussein, the very dictator who invaded Kuwait and killed many, many Kuwaitis in the process! Their loyalty to Kuwait was not questioned, nor were there any legal action taken against them. If this is not an indication that this issue is blown out of proportion, then we must ask why the writers mentioned in the article have not been treated in a similar way to the two MP’s?

The Key Problems

This entire incident has highlighted three major problems that we are prone to falling into, which I think we should address in order to learn from this lesson:

1- We were quick to turn the issue into a sectarian issue, when it clearly isn’t. The problem here is that all Shia will bear the burden of a few Shia who do not represent them.

2- We questioned the loyalty of Kuwaiti citizens when the opinions they expressed were not disloyal. If we are quick to reach such a conclusion, then we might easily reject many opinions as disloyal and unpatriotic when they are simply unpopular or not correctly understood. This creates an unhealthy environment for dialogue, where opinions are not understood, but conclusions about these opinions are already reached. Ask the supporters of the two MP’s how they feel and you will understand what I mean.

3- We accepted the opinions and conclusions expressed through the media, without verifying the evidence presented or considering other interpretations of the incidents. We also approved of the attention this incident has been given, when it did not deserve such attention. I don’t blame the media for this, but our own gullibility.

I hope we learn from this incident, and not let the lessons pass us by, only to repeat the same mistakes.


  1. ESAM ALKAZEMI said,

    February 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Haider:

    Thank You For this Great Article, I totally agree with you. this is my first time visiting your blog, but it won’t be the last.

    best regards 🙂

  2. Haider said,

    March 1, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Dear Esam,

    Thanks for visiting my blog..

    I’m also thankful for your help with the research for this article 🙂

    You’re always welcome on this blog, and I look forward to your contributions..

  3. Farah Khajah said,

    March 24, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Dear Haider,

    Very interesting article. I had similar ideas and i totaly agree with you.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. Haider said,

    March 25, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Dear Farah, I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for the encouragement 😀

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