Respecting Culture

There has been some internet buzz regarding the American citizen (and his buddies) who made a satirical video, posted it on YouTube, and have been subsequently held in custody in Abu Dhabi. Some of the gentlemen being held are even UAE nationals. The exact portion of the video deemed offensive hasn’t been released, but I have some ideas. Upon first glance, the detention of this group could be deemed as scary or something you’d never hear of happening in the states (umm hello NSA), but after having lived here for a spell (short as it may be), it doesnt perplex me as much as you may initially think.

Before we moved here, I (and my family and friends in the states) were curious/nervous  as to how things would be from a cultural perspective – I think we have one idea as to how the Middle East is based on the bombardment of media attention we get in the states – between 24 hour news networks and the internet, information overload is inevitable. Further, the Middle East continues to be a volatile region of the world, and in a post 9/11 world, it makes sense that there is a lot of attention turned to countries over here. Given the influx of information about specific (and radical) groups of people, it is only human nature to apply one standard to all – I get it. You hear about radical Muslims abusing women (or even trying to kill those who try to pursue an education, like Mahlala), you see the veils and hear about the bombings in residential areas. Let me let you in on a little secret: it’s not like that here. Even in Lebanon where there were recently explosions, many people tell us how beautiful and amazing Beirut is (and we can’t wait to visit!) Granted, I have not been to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi, Iraq or Afghanistan, but I think that at the end of the day, it’s all about respecting culture or being culturally aware; if you can respect culture, you are (hopefully) well educated about the country/city you are visiting and can dress, act, and treat others accordingly. Yes, religion plays a huge part in culture in the Middle East, and residents and tourists alike must respect and be aware that.

I knew that things were a bit more laid back here in Dubai: alcohol is permitted (in hotels, sold in duty free and special permitted stores), the abaya isn’t a legally required piece of clothing for women…you get the gist. I remember the first time I went to Mall of Emirates here and saw this sign:


I immediately pulled out a cardigan I had in my purse to put over my thin strapped dress (bear in mind it was 110 degrees out); however, as I walked through the mall, I saw lots of variance in dress code – the cardigan wasnt really as necessary as I thought. (Sidenote: I’ve even seen a woman in a bikini and a gauzy dress coverup at the Burj Khalifa, so go figure – not that I recommend this type of get up here or anywhere, actually…)

What’s my point, you ask? It’s all about knowing, understanding and respecting the culture of the UAE: when you need to really cover up those shoulders, don’t stare at the burqa (which I admit, I sometimes do – not because I dont understand or respect it – because I do! – but more because I want to learn more – I wish I could be a fly on the wall of a real local meal here to take it all in!), don’t flaunt food/even eat in public during Ramadan, etc.

I am not the law maker here (in my own house, sure 😉 – around Dubai, not so much) – I must respect those laws set forth by the country in which I reside, and just as importantly, understand and respect the underlying cultural norms here. Did these gentlemen intentionally mean to offend residents of the UAE? I do not think so at all; I think they meant to be funny and timely, but it came off that way to the people with the power. There is no official word on what will result in the the detention of these individuals, but I think it’s a testament to truly respecting culture – here in Dubai, yes, but anywhere.

Sorry to get heavy on yall – and on a Sunday no less! I just really feel passionately about being a “citizen of the world”, and respecting different nationalities, religions, views in a calm/rational manner. We werent all made the same for a reason – how boring would that be? 🙂 Okay, back to lighter stuff tomorrow. Until next time…

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