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War Strikes Close to Home for Kuwaiti Student

By Jeffrey C. Wu

When news of the U.S.-led aerial assault on Iraq broke last Wednesday night, visiting Kuwaiti student Bader El-Jeaan stayed up all night--praying for inner strength, the safety of his family and friends and an end to the suffering of his country.

Since El-Jeaan left Kuwait just two days before Iraqi tanks rolled through the small emirate, every aspect of his life has been consumed by the conflict.

"I'm really glad I started studying early," he says. "There's absolutely no way I could concentrate on my [Justice] exam now," he says.

El-Jeaan a wiry, quiety intense man with a haggard look to him, is quick to apologize for the state of his room although it is next to immaculate by most students' standards.

The television, he says, is on every waking hour--he merely turns down the volume when he needs to concentrate on something else. Several open newspapers, a copy of the Koran and his Muslim prayer rug sit on top of his Kuwaiti flag: "I lent it to someone for the protest."

Since coming to Harvard El-Jeaan says he has devoted almost all of his time to the Mideast crisis. He is the founder and co-president of Students for a Free Kuwait (SFK), and associates say that he spends enormous amounts of time keeping in touch with Kuwaitis and activists all over New England, dealing with the media and pressing Kuwait's case in the United States.

As he speaks his own image, from a Channel 4 interview taped that afternoon, flashes across the television screen.

But the devout Muslim openly admits that the Gulf Crisis has tuned his college experience so far into a lonely one. He has difficulty staying in tune with the papers, lectures and parties that fill many first-year students' lives. His only close friend, he says, is Stephen W. Gauster '92, the other co-president of Students for a Free Kuwait.

"That's one of the things I hate about this," he says. "I can't appreciate being at Harvard because of the whims of one person--Saddam Hussein. I hate the fact that I've been isolated here in my room and haven't been given the chance to meet the freshman class. And it's all one person's fault--Saddam Hussein."

"[Saddam] is a megalomaniac madman dictator," he says. "He should be exterminated."

"I still regard Iraqis as my fellow brothers. But I've lost some respect for the Iraqi people for not showing the moral fortitude for not standing up against injustice," he says. "I really don't think that they've been taken in by Saddam's rhetoric."

El-Jeaan says he also feels betrayed by the Arab community at Harvard. He says he is angry at Harvard's society of Arab Students because of the relative speed with which they condemned U.S. intervention in the Gulf, and the slowness of their condemnation of the Iraqi invasion of his homeland.

"We [SFK] lost touch with them a long time ago. We've taken divergent paths," he says. "I'm really saddened by the fact that the Arabs at Harvard couldn't unite."

"They keep calling for an Arab solution. If they couldn't find a solution to unite the Arabs here there's no way that could happen in the larger world. There's no such thing as Arab brotherly love."

And El-Jeaan says his isolation from the rest of Harvard's Arab community has also led to his estrangement from the Islamic Society.

El-Jeaan, a Muslim in the orthodox Sunni tradition, now worships alone. "I've felt a little intimidated because there are a lot of Palestinians and Jordanians who adamantly oppose Western intervention in Kuwait," he says. He finds strength from his ritual of praying five time each day. "I think anybody who isn't religious now has got to be crazy," he adds.

And as he speaks, he reaches for the Koran, opening it to a passage which reads: "If two parties of believers take up arms the one against the other, make peace between them. If either of them commits aggression against the other, fight the aggressor until they submit to God's judgment."

With the beginning of America's military involvement, El-Jeaan says that he has found himself hating the frequent anti-war protests more and more.

"I think they're trying their hardest to turn this into a fad--you know, relive the '60s," El-Jeean says. "Anyone who wants to do that has a sick sense of taste. I really hate the Boston radical hotbed."

El-Jeaan says be knows that may not be a popular stance at Harvard.

"I think I've established a reputation for being one of the most conservative students at Harvard," he points out, adding that he considers himself fairly liberal, "People don't realize I'm not American. This is my country I'm fighting for. If conservative means I'd die for my country, then yes, I'm conservative with all my heart."

El-Jeaan recounts an incident in the office of Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, when Epps' secretary, upon learning of his affiliation to SFK, said to him: "Your dreams must have come true."

"She naturally assumed that since we weren't against the war, we were for war. I had the urge to tell her off," he recalls. "[People] don't realize I have just as much--probably more--to lose as anyone else."

As the Western-educated Kuwaiti struggles for his homeland from afar, he finds himself engaged in activities far different from the school newspaper he edited in high school last year.

"I think I've grown mentally," he says. "I've been thrown on the threshold of reality. All Kuwaiti Youngsters have grown through this invasion. We're children no more."

El-Jean says he is ready to fight for what he believes.

"My embassy called me up last week and asked me if I was willing to be drafted," he adds. "I said `yes.'"

"I'm seriously considering going to Kuwait as one of the first volunteers as medical relief," he continues, outlining the responsibility he feels to the Gulf emirate. "I think my talents are going to be needed in reconstructing my country [after the war]. It depends on how torn up it is, [but] it might he politics."

For now, though, El-Jeaan, who will enter the class of '95 to concentrate in economics unless the war prevents him, is just waiting for the conflict to come to a quick finish. The struggle seems to have taken a heavy psychological and physical toll on him, though he maintains that no matter how long it takes, he will continue to support the freedom of his country.

"I pray this will be over soon," he says. "I don't think the Kuwaiti people can stand it."

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