Monday, 15 March 2010

Couples Kiss. Naturally.

Romeo and JulietImage via Wikipedia
I watched with growing horror as the kissing couple story broke on Sky News last night. Another brilliant, world-straddling home goal, splashed all over the news. The message from the news report was quite clear: if you drink alcohol or kiss when you're on holiday in Dubai, the strict and fundamentalist Islamic state, you will be thrown in an Arab jail.

That should do wonders for tourism. The expensive advertising is screaming 'Come to Dubai and Live the Life! Have fun in the sun!' and the world's media are quite clearly screaming 'Not.' I can tell you who'll win the battle for hearts and minds here, and it's not the advertising.

Oddly enough, the fact that the whole incident took place in Jumeirah Beach Residence (Jaybeearr to most of us) depresses me even more. This, surely, is the very motherlode of the live the life dream in Dubai, the place where nice, clean people go for their morning runs along cobbled, nicely maintained walkways and hang out in the very large number of nice restaurants and coffee shops that crowd together under the stacked sandy towers above them. This is where people from all around the world chat, eat and drink together; where they shop together and pass each other in constant procession, walking out in society.

 I can understand the whole thing being taken seriously if the couple involved were clearly going at it like rabbits in public while beating the place up in their drunken stupor, or if the woman who filed the complaint had asked them to desist and had been attacked with a torrent of abuse. But if any of this was the case, it's certainly not coming across in the media coverage. In fact, what is quite clearly coming across from the media coverage is that this regrettable incident should never have escalated into anything other than a warning and being given a leaflet on how to behave in Dubai, if that. The defence says it was a social kiss, according to GN, making the lovely claim that the couple had "denied lip-kissing".

I believe that what is and is not acceptable in Dubai should be communicated more clearly. There needs to be a guideline that can be shared by the airlines and hotels that bring tourists in, by the real estate companies that let and sell property and by the media that tell us where to go and what to enjoy. And that guideline has never been needed so much as it is now.

Let's be clear here. I've lived here a long time and travelled extensively around the Arab World. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have some sort of affinity with the place and its culture. I totally respect the requirement for modesty in the UAE and that we should all of us show appropriate respect for its cultural values.

But I despair. I'm becoming increasingly concerned at this terrible schizophrenia; the place in which I have lived and worked for so long is suddenly alien to me. The place that openly and freely sells alcohol to all comers and which displays kissing on its television screens is the place where fines and jail cells threaten all who are brave enough to enter. The inconsistency makes a mockery of the tolerance that has been behind Dubai's success and that I had always admired so very much.


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29 comments:

Anonymous said...

So reading the media reports it turns out that 1, The complainant told the police one version and the prosecution another (she told police only her children had seen and the prosecution that she had witnessed it herself) 2, Her number was then disconnected and they couldn't contact her to clarify point one 3, This means she wasn't in court to be questioned about her statement and inconsistencies 4, The court did not hear from other 'witnesses', and refused to read out what her children had said.

So it was basically one person's word against another without any other witnesses.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point of view. I hardly recognise this place any more myself.

They talk about tolerance, safety and justice but actions speak otherwise.

Zaher said...

Couples always kiss "naturally" in Dubai and no one speaks to them.
there is a couple of a points I want to highlight.
First, access to information in this part of the world is weak. I mean we can never know what really happened.
Second, we need to differentiate between a quick natural kiss and a make out. Nothing is blurry about that. making out in public is inappropriate in this part of the world, and in many other parts.

Let's not complicate things. you can have a quick kiss in public. don't make out in public. and regardless of what you choose to do, if a police officer approaches you then speak to him with respect.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all said on a global level , but also, internally, here in Dubai, this case creates divide between Expats and locals, and adds fuel to ridiculous stereotypes that already exist.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your comments. I am feeling more and more alienated here in Dubai. The lack of consistency is shocking. It does however make it that much easier to implement our plan to leave in the summer .... and not come back.

Dave said...

I totally agree with your post, and with anon who states the divide between locals and expats will become greater.

I, for one, am feeling incredibly angry about the treatment of these two UK citizens for nothing more than a kiss.

Susan said...

I wonder what God would be more offended by - a couple having a wee snog or a woman ruining someone else's life in a fit of spite?

Catherine F said...

I also wonder what the woman was doing in a restaurant in JBR at 2am with her children... what kind of mother hangs out with the kiddies that late?

As you mentioned, there should some sort of 'guidelines pamphlet' that should be handed out on flights/hotels. Maybe even a awareness checklist for all incoming tourists to sign off... (like a customs clearance form?).

How much more can we take of Schizophrenic Dubai? I think I'll be leaving in the summer too.

Anonymous said...

After years of living here, I'm still confused by the alcohol laws. I can go to a hotel bar and drink (some say I need a license, some say I need to be a guest, some say neither). So I can consume alcohol, but I can't be in public having consumed it? Fair enough if I'm fall-over drunk. But if I'm not? Can I be arrested after I leave a bar even if I've just had half a shandy? What happens when I get off a plane having had a glass of wine with my meal? Why will Duty-Free sell me a huge amount of booze without asking to see a license (but I can't ride the Metro home with it)? Ask and you get a dozen different stories: any ideas?

ultra[blue] said...

The times they are a changing.

How it was: Stupid illiterate uneducated arabs let foreigners do anything as long as they got shinny gold pieces.

How it's becoming: Somewhat educated Emaratis now actually want to kind of find a way of life that THEY like that balances modernity and culture.

How it will be: If you dont like it leave.

Rather simple.

Can I be arrested after I leave a bar even if I've just had half a shandy?

TECHNICALLY, yes. You can be arrested in the UAE for even the hint of alcohol. Just because it isnt enforced doesnt mean it isnt the case. Maybe people have gotten too used to the lax enforcement of laws here.

Anonymous said...

It really is a shame that Dubai is consistently making a mockery of itself. I am starting to feel embarassed living here.. I'm ashamed that by living here, I am more or less agreeing to this. The country is regressing so fast, I can't even defend it anymore by saying the Western media is biased. And the willingness of the country to go through this type of public mockery, AND lose business (tourism) as a result is beyond my comprehension.

Oussama said...

The kiss is a symptom of a more underlying malaise. Nationals are coming out and some don't like what they see. So it is a case of my way or the highway and damn the consequences.

Dubai Jazz said...

In a perfect world, we'd be protesting this by conducting mass kissing in public. "Make-out in unison".. "The riot of tongues".... "Effigies and lips on fire"..."Civil love fest".. and so on.

Anonymous said...

What with the catholic church fiddling with its choirboys and the islamic law enforcers doing things like this, it is a great time to be an atheist. Am I allowed to say that here?

Better put that comment anonymously just in case.

Susan said...

Yay! I'm with Dubai Jazz! Great idea

Luke said...

How about a "snogathon" to raise money for the wrongly incarcerated?

Media Junkie said...

...it's a good thing i'm leaving in a month.

redstar said...

It's hilarious to read comments like Ultrablue's.

Like it or leave it indeed - but for that to work, you have to define clearly what the laws are and enforce them consistently. People are happy to obey the law when staying or visiting Dubai - it'd be nice if it were made clear what those rules actually are...

Anonymous said...

UAE Olympic committe needs to lobby the IOC to get umbrage included in the next Olympics.

Surely the world champions at taking offence.

Anonymous said...

I think an important distinction is that more and more might say "...or leave". But those are the one's that can't leave. They're stuck here.

They can’t go on a trip to Casablanca, Colombo or KL or other places like the rich Emiratis do and where they gamble, drink alcohol or do whatever. These actually do it a lot more and more open. An increasing number is now doing it openly in Dubais Bars, Dischdasch and everything...

But the "pure" emiratis have no choice but to try to hang on to tiny little bit of morals that they have left. It's a lot more a problem between emiratis than between Dubai PR and foreign newsmedia.

So now you've got these proxy fights that expats or tourist get caught on in the middle.

ultra[blue] said...

Anonymous said...
I think an important distinction is that more and more might say "...or leave". But those are the one's that can't leave. They're stuck here.

They can’t go on a trip to Casablanca, Colombo or KL or other places like the rich Emiratis do and where they gamble, drink alcohol or do whatever. These actually do it a lot more and more open. An increasing number is now doing it openly in Dubais Bars, Dischdasch and everything...

But the "pure" emiratis have no choice but to try to hang on to tiny little bit of morals that they have left. It's a lot more a problem between emiratis than between Dubai PR and foreign newsmedia.

So now you've got these proxy fights that expats or tourist get caught on in the middle.
-----------------------------------
Not at all. Im not here because Im stuck and cant leave. I could have stayed in the US and lived there after my studied. I didnt. I feel an obligation to be here and steer this country that has given me everything in my direction.

And everyone else will do the same. And few will have the exact same direction. IF this country trns back to a sand pit, I will still be here trying to steer the sandpit.

This is what causes a difference of opinion. What you say holds some truth, but it isnt rich vs. pure as many rich are pure.

It isnt class at all. Its social inclination and religious inclination, like ANY OTHER COUNTRY.

You will have liberals, moderates, conservatives, conservative liberals, liberal conservatives... and probably a bunch of others that we could start with Neo this or pseudo that.

People assume that because this isnt a democracy these things do exist, but they do. very much so.

And yes, as foreigners living here, you will be caught in the middle, just as when I lived in the US, I was caught between Kerry and McCain back when.

Even within the highest ranks of govt, the rulers of the emirates, you will see that Sh Mohamed is a bit more liberal than the rest, where the ruler of Sharjah is much more conservative... You can do things in Dubai that you would be arrested for in Sharjah...

Its a huge fallacy to assume that because a democracy doesnt exist, that social/political differences dont exist.

I wish I knew who you were, as you are the only one who has been able to touch on this even if it wasnt 100% correct.

Same with religion. We have Muslims (Turks for example) who have legal Islamic reasoning FOR alcohol, with some rules. And you have the majority that are against. And you have some in the middle who are curious, and will try it, and sadly, some muslims will even become alcoholics...

Again, ALOT more going on behind the scenes in the UAE than most foreigners think ever could be going on.

ultra[blue] said...

redstar said...
It's hilarious to read comments like Ultrablue's.

Like it or leave it indeed - but for that to work, you have to define clearly what the laws are and enforce them consistently. People are happy to obey the law when staying or visiting Dubai - it'd be nice if it were made clear what those rules actually are...

As I recall, they were made clear about a year ago when Dubai's deputy ruler had them printed in news papers.

Also, the Sharjah laws are available as a handbook, and have been for years.

I know because I was handed one and asked to abide by their laws! (I was being cited for a parking offence) and the cop just handed me a booklet with MANY MANY rules, most not even related to traffic, but decency laws.

So the laws and rules are on book and have been published. If you chose not to read them, or follow them, that's your mistake.

If you chose to be a smart ass and sit there and come up with what if scenarios for each rule, you deserve being cited.

But they are on hand, Go down to the court or police station and ask for them. They might be online as well, as I used to have a copy of them in PDF format.

ALSO, visitors will usually find at least a breif outline on the embassy sites of their countries. I know that the US has a site related to this issue where they make their suggestions, going so far as to suggest how to dress.

So to say oh we dont know the rules when they are even on other country's site's is a bit silly.

Media Junkie said...

...and the trolls are back.

Rootless said...

ultra[blue] said:
"I feel an obligation to be here and steer this country that has given me everything in my direction."

But ya can't blue, ya can't steer this country anywhere.. Not unless you possess one of a small number of family names. You've just got to sit in the back and go along for the ride with the rest of us (who indeed CAN leave whenever we want).

That's what's at the nub of this: these kinds of incidents are an occasional pressure-release valve for a population that otherwise has no say in how their country is being run (and, please, schlepping along to a majlis is not the same as voting the b**ggers out: believe me that is a pleasure only us children of democracy can appreciate).

redstar said...

Thanks Ultrablue, your vauge references to what the law is, what the 'rules' are and how to find out more about it simply prove the point.

If you could track down a clear explanation of the laws regarding alcohol consumption in Dubai, that'd be very helpful.

It would also be helpful if you could find those guidelines on 'decency'. They were supposedly issued a year ago, but I can't find the guidelines online anywhere.

I sincerely doubt that if I popped down to the court or local police station and asked for a book of rules anyone would have a clue what I am talking about.

The British Foreign Office's guidelines are helpful - but, again, do not refer to what the actual law is on various topics. It's the usual vague 'be aware of local customs' and vague advice on alcohol.

Anonymous said...

"I wish I knew who you were, as you are the only one who has been able to touch on this even if it wasnt 100% correct."

Thanks, I appreciate that. I've lived in the US myself for a number of years before coming here and had similar thoughts on what was going on then after 9/11; which was basically a fight for control over the minds of people. Again "Immigrants" were the ones caught in that proxy fight.

I see something similar going on here too. Only of course this is not an open society with democratic rules. The next couple of months will be very interesting to watch.

Susan said...

So Ultrablue, here's the problem - you want tourists to come to Dubai because you want their money. But you expect them to read and memorise a whole handbook full of rules while they're here on holiday on the offchance some stroppy bag with a chip on her shoulder might take offense to something that in your own country wouldn't even be commented on.

So here's the scenario - you're reading a travel brochure planning your winter sun trip - here's the Carribean - blue skies, awesome beaches and relaxed rules about everything and here's Dubai, and in the small print it tells you to read and learn 300 odd rules before you get on the plane so you don't offend anyone and spend the next three months in jail or stuck here without your passport.

Which destination would you choose?

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you Alex. Having been here 30 years myself the inconsistency in the do's and don'ts seems to be becoming shadier and shadier. I'm now worried about greeting friends with the three kisses on the cheeks in case I get arrested.

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