Image via WikipediaI 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.