October 22, 2006
Memo from Dubai
It seems worthwhile to draw attention to an interesting article in NYT on Dubai and culture clashes, one which I think despite some superficialities is actually quite interesting. Stemming from a recent local Expat paper's admonishment to respect local culture a bit, it appears to have set off some reaction. I frankly agree with the admonition.
I also found the illustrating image amusing as the inappropriate couple behind the Emirati clique is so very clearly Leb.
The editorial, which I have not bothered to track down, but struck me as reasonable:
Tensions burst into the open in early October when an English-language newspaper published an article protesting the growing disrespect for Muslim customs here during Ramadan, setting off a rare public debate about Dubai’s cultural identity.
“Too much flesh on show is wrong in a Muslim country at any time — but offense is being felt especially during Ramadan,” said the front-page editorial in 7Days, a free daily tabloid.
The article appeared with photographs of women in sleeveless tops and short skirts at a shopping mall under the headline, “Show Some Respect.” 7Days, which is run and edited largely by Westerners, advised its readers to “please remember that this is a Muslim country and many of us are guests here.”
Within hours, the newspaper was flooded with e-mail messages and phone calls, many praising the paper for acknowledging the sensitivities of Muslims but others lambasting it for seeming to toe an official line.
Unsurprising, as it rather strikes me that tolerance as understood by most people wherever, means "you tolerate me, not the other way around."
Beside that, given Dubai, I would think that to make sure the free wheeling atmosphere is maintained, that some respect of limits and mores would be well-advised.
Women need not wear the Abaya (well, actually I would wager Emiratiyat would not allow that to happen - I would note that Abaya can be quite slinky actually), but mini-skirts and the like, well.... I should think one should know better.
Many outsiders say that is what makes Dubai stand out in the region, and the reaction by some to the article on Muslim modesty involved some pushing back.
“Hello, this is 2006, not 1666,” wrote one reader, who demanded to know what was wrong with the clothing styles. “Does Dubai want to move forward in time where women are no longer regarded as second class citizens?”
This of course is typical of blind Western and Westernised reaction, as showing flesh like a Two Dinar Russian Whore has fuck all to do with the actual status of women and showing some degree of respect for the fact the city is in the midst of one of the most conservative areas of the region is not merely ordinary common politeness as newcomers, it's smart if you want to nice little Dubai Land game to continue in the long term.
Petulant and illogical responses such as the quoted one, of course, can be expected.
The remainder of the article gives a somewhat false sense that merely having restaurants serving meals during Ramadan is offensive. A bit of discretion of course is well-advised, but there is nothing wrong with that per se, insofar as there are plenty classes of Muslims themselves that may need restaurant services, such as travellers, ill persons, etc. The article I think conveys, inadvertantly an overly restricted vision, but no matter, the main point is a good segement of the expat/non-AraboMuslim population doesn't pay the slightest attention to the general concerns of the host culture. That is not long-run sustainable. Some compromise is necessary.
Of course there is also the Emirati side of sin as well, but I'll leave that to others in comments to get to.
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the inappropriate couple behind the Emirati clique is so very clearly Leb
... and the inappropriate woman is so very clearly not built for that dress.
Posted by: Yuri Guri at October 23, 2006 03:36 PM
In Leb Slut land, no woman is inappropriately built for any dress....
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 23, 2006 04:19 PM
Whenever I read the comments on secretdubai's blog it seems there's tremendous and pretty childish hostility between "expats" (presumed to be white, Western, from relatively modest backgrounds, trashily insensitive to local norms, living it up at the expense of the poor put-upon Emirati) and "locals" (presumed to be spoiled rich good-for-nothings who expect all the benefits of modernity without doing a day's honest work, reactionary social norms, etc). I've tended to assume this was just a reflection of the kind of whiny idiot who posts endless rants in blog comments/reflective of minority populations on two extremes of the Dubai spectrum. But if it's in any way representative of expat-local relations, things don't look very pleasant for Dubai's future...
To play devil's advocate for a moment: isn't the relatively more liberal atmosphere of Dubai one of the reasons why women from the region like to come there to work? It's easy to focus on "foreign" women and their clothing as a lightning-rod for larger social changes and anxieties (not to make excuses for the far end of stupid insensitive flesh-flashers, but still). You can't give visas to foreigners to make up over 80% of your population and not expect significant social change. And the pic above looks like it was taken in Medinat Jumeirah, which is a tourist-trap, isn't it? Seems a bit unfair to seduce tourists with images of the wild Vegas of the Middle East and then ask them to cover up.
If the expats want to have it both ways - go to a foreign country with better opportunities than they'd have back home, and still not have to adapt - then so do the locals, it seems.
Posted by: SP at October 24, 2006 02:43 AM
The atmosphere in Dubai is liberal by all but the most debauched standards - operationally if not in theory.
A bit more restraint on the part of the Western Expats (and the foreign Arabs who seem to desire to dress like cheap pimps most of the time) would go a long way to helping maintain sustainability.
Seducing tourists - yes, but come now, one need not walk around Dubai looking like a cheap London street tart. One could go upscale.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 24, 2006 07:26 PM
My feelings exactly. It is fascinating how difficult it seems for expatriates to reach the delicate balance between integrating with the hosting society and keeping their cultural and/or religious identity - this goes both for Western expatriates in Muslim countries and Muslim expatriates in Western countries. Living in Morocco, I've heard many Western expatriates complain about the fact that some Moroccan they've bumped into in their daily chores didn't speak English/French/Spanish but amazingly enough wanted to speak Arabic, in Morocco of all places,, and quite a few have been heard complainig not about the slump in producitvity and working standards experienced during Ramdan, a fair enough comment to make in my view, but really about ramadan itself. Well, if ramadan bothers you, could I suggest moving to Auckland or Reykjavik? The same could be said about that Muslim girl in England insisting in teaching children in Anglican school while wearing a face-covering niqab - consider moving to Riyad or Kabul...
The shallowness of expatriates' views on the host society is often impressive: I remember having to convince an Italian colleague, politically on the extreme-left, that even though you could wear a mini-skirt or sip a beer in public didn't mean that Tunisia - Saudi Arabia's and Syria's fiercest competitor for the "most repressive Arab regime"-award - was the most liberal Arab country...
On the other hand, Dubaï had it coming to them: as SP says, you cannot present yourself as the Las Vegas of the Middle East and allow 80% of the population to consist of foreigners and expect things to stay as before.
As for the ramadan dresscode, it is interesting to note the differences between Dubaï and Morocco. In the more urbane parts of Rabat and Casablanca (admittedly not representative of the country as a whole), it is difficult to detect that ramadan has begun solely by studying women's clothing: those who wore mini-skirts and cleavage before ramadan continue to do so once it's begun, as well as those dressing modestly or wearing a headscarf. The only change I've detected would be a downturn in the use of make-up. I daren't even think of how little ramadan affects dresscodes in Beyrouth...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at October 24, 2006 08:58 PM
Ibn Kafka's remarks are timely and well taken.
I'd add that people who read French should check out his blog, Obiter Dicta
BTW please send myself and eerie a note at our aqoul addresses, I'd like to extend an invite.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 25, 2006 09:22 AM
Dear Ibn Kafka,
I've never noticed any change in dresscode during Ramadan in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, or Egypt. I can't remember any women dressing "more modest" - those who dress modest/"islamic" continue & the others dress the way they do.
In Beirut, Ramadan only results in the Iftar lull in West and southern Beirut, but again, nobody dresses differently.
There is certainly a change in behavior - Muslims tend to live more "according to the book" during Ramadan, even those who do not fast are trying to live less, shall we say, sinful.
I would like to point out, though, that in the Levant the various social groups - let's dichotomize them by the labels of "hijab vs. miniskirt" - do not often meet, and thus during Ramadan there isn't exactly a "clash" in the sense that pious Muslims would be outraged by the display of miniskirts. No Egyptian woman would ever venture into a traditional neighborhood in a miniskirt anyway.
More interesting would be to look at how (Western) tourist organizations are sensitizing their clients to the fact that, during Ramadan, they should be extra-cautious about the kind of clothing they wear while visiting suqs and mosques.
Posted by: MSK at October 25, 2006 03:00 PM
Lounsbury, I tried to e-mail you but it bounced back.
Matthias: yes, that's what's puzzling me - trying to live less sinful during that month while wearing a Rotana attire frowned upon by religious orthodoxy - it shows methinks the unstoppable trend towards islam à la carte - a good thing in my view btw.
Niqash, is that your site? Interesting. Are you based in Iraq?
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at October 30, 2006 05:13 AM
Whenever I read the comments on secretdubai's blog
A huge thanks for differentiating between the comments and the actual blog (given how overshadowed it has been by all the comment hate and fighting in recent entries).
But yes, there is a hell of a lot of tension.
What I think locals/GCC nationals don't realise is how much MORE debauched most of us expats find Dubai compared to our (supposedly "corrupt" and "immoral") Western homelands. I'd barely seen a hooker before I came to Dubai, outside Pretty Woman or something. I'd certainly never been mistaken for a hooker (wearing trousers and a long-sleeved top) nor had the kind of approaches made to me that I have had here. And I've lived in "big cities" like London and Sydney, I haven't spent the whole of my life in St Mary Mead or something. The very blatancy of behaviour here is shocking.
There is a clear gulf of understanding with a certain, less exposed/less travelled element of the GCC: they think we are all whores, we think they are all perverts. Clearly this isn't the case on either side, but it's certainly the perception. They act like we expect perverts to act because they think we are whores and expect (welcome) that behaviour from them.
Posted by: secretdubai at November 1, 2006 07:29 PM