Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't Work It In Dubai

See this story from

Bikini-clad Briton briefly detained in Dubai mall
By Michael Casey, The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - A British woman was briefly detained after stripping down to a bikini and walking in her beach wear through a five-star mall in Dubai, a police official in the Gulf emirate said Thursday.

According to the official, the British woman was shopping in the mall Wednesday, when a conservatively dressed Emirati woman came up to her and criticized her for wearing a low-cut top.

The two woman started arguing, then the Briton stripped down to her bikini and walked away like that through the mall, popular for its many luxury shops.
The mall, one of the world's largest, has signs asking shoppers to dress modestly, although Westerners in short skirts and revealing blouses routinely ignore the advisories.

The mall security subsequently detained both women and took them to a police station for questioning.

They were released later in the day, after the Emirati woman lodged a complaint for public indecency against the Briton, said the police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The British woman's name was not released.

British Embassy spokesman Simon Goldsmith said embassy officials were aware of the
incident and had offered consular assistance to the woman.

The incident is the latest in a string of cases involving frisky Westerners in Dubai, a cosmopolitan city-emirate with the most lenient social codes in the Gulf but a tendency to crackdown on foreigners who ignore the rules.

In March, a British couple were sentenced to a month in jail for passionately kissing in public while an Indian couple was sentenced to three months' prison for exchanging steamy text messages.

In 2008, two Britons accused of having sex on the beach got three months behind bars, though their sentences were later suspended.

(end of article)

While it may seem contradictory to create a lush, luxurious desert playground for adults and then tell them that they can't be free like adults, people seem to be forgetting something very essential here. Yes, Dubai has been created as a sort of pleasure palace for the well-heeled to go and party, but it's still part of the conservative Gulf. It is not a separate state entity where everything goes. In short, it's not Vegas. What happens there doesn't necessarily stay there, and can sometimes cause incidents, that, while they may seem trivial on the surface, only contribute to the widening ignorant views held by both Westerners and Easterners.

What ever happened to that old saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do?" It's more than just an expression. It's a belief that when you're a guest in someone's country, just as you might be a guest in someone's home, that you respect them. This means that you don't snoop around in their cupboards or make out in their pantry. And that you don't get tipsy and say obnoxious things while wearing a lamp shade on your head, thinking it's a fedora.

The basic tenet of respect is huge. It says something meaningful about the way that we perceive ourselves and the way that we perceive others. It shows that we value ourselves and other people and their rights and freedoms. Showing respect for another person's values and traditions is an indication that you're a self-aware, confident person with an open mind who recognizes that other people are just as valuable in their own way. It shows maturity and class.

That's why I find it unbelievable that Westerners, who are supposed to be the most open-minded, educated, worldly, and tolerant of nations, can't show basic respect to people in the Gulf. While you don't have to agree with the conservative practices of their people and their religion and you don't have to prescribe to their ideas, you should be respectful while on their territory. Cover yourself because it's the custom, not because you believe in it. Refrain from public displays of affection. Put aside your hedonistic ways for a couple of days and grow up.

Of course, it doesn't help that Dubai is marketed as a sort of pleasure island that's above all of these rules and attempts to sell the five star luxury vacation package to rich foreigners, excess and all. It's a funny sort of place, rife with contradictions and high end boutiques, sandy beaches and general anomalies like an indoor ski hill and rooftop tennis court. Despite all of this, though, people should remember that their pleasure islands are home to someone and that someone has their own values.

All of these little signs of disrespect are part of a festering wound that is just continuing to grow between East and West. Both sides are very critical and opinionated about the other and hold many ill-conceived notions of the other. There's a lot of stereotypes and newsreel images that continue to feed the ignorance and mistrust that already exists between Westerners and Easterners and travelers to and from are not doing a good job of undoing this.

That's because there's no willingness to learn or to respect one another and all of this will climax in more violent conflict later on. It's just like that bad relationship you have with that one person who undermines you all of the time with small jabs, joking and ridiculing your worth, until one day, the resentments grows too strong. And when it comes to the surface, the outcome is often disastrous.

But it doesn't have to come to that. Just as little incidents like these will cause the relationship to deteriorate, little actions of respect can help repair it. Travelers to this part of the world should be more considerate of the fact that even though they're on a personal trip, they do represent us. And we want them to represent the best of us. That's the only way we'll get closer to bridging an understanding and a peace.

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