16 November, 2007

Understanding

I've noticed that there's been a lot of debate and hatred recently between the members here on the UAE community blog. As localexpat mentioned; there has been a lot of friction between (mainly, in my point of view) expats and locals.

I think a huge problem that characterizes the UAE is the fact that there is so little dialog between locals and non-locals who live in the Emirates. There is so much misunderstanding, hatred and racism. From what I've seen here, many people don't understand the other person's point of view.

Freedom of speech and expression caused a massive debate on the blog as you can from this post. I for one (although I'm a minority among my own people) believe that freedom of speech and even democracy are essential and important institutions for any country. It is a basic human right to be able to say, think and believe in what you want. However, these ideas are going to take a long time to be implemented in the UAE or even any country in the region.

Because of recent events such as the war in Iraq, many Arabs have a negative view of things like democracy. These ideas are tied to 'evil' America. So, whenever anyone speaks of it, it is met with hostility, anger and perhaps fear. The problem is, freedom of speech is not dangerous. Things are well and fine as they are, but what if a ruler at some point in time starts abusing his power? Yes, Bush was elected through democratic means (if that's what you believe). But he isn't going to be in power any longer. Democracy allows for this. Americans can voice their choice of who is to rule by voting and protesting. There is a problem where enough people aren't voting, but apart from that the system is there. There exists a way to escape. How effective it is is debatable, but my point is that there is a way. That's a problem with autocratic or non-democratic rule, you have no say. You have to accept whatever the one in charge says.

When people are happy and content, they do not see a need for change. My family live comfortably and many people in the UAE do, so not many people see a need for political change. Once you feel how little rights you have, that's when you're going to cry for change.

Many people just don't understand the importance of having a voice. I spoke to Sharla Musabih and interviewed her for an essay and I learned about so much that happens behind closed doors that I would have never imagined to happen in my own country. There is a major problem of domestic abuse that gets almost no coverage. Until I met a few women from the shelter and spoke to Sharla, I had no idea what was going on. To make a long story short, it turns out to be a lot. This problem could actively be fought and put under control if the press was free and could discuss these serious issues. By talking about it in the news and press and approaching the authorities, the government will be pressured to issue new legislation and protect women and others from abuse. It is difficult at the moment for a woman to get help when she has been abused by a husband. According to the US State Department Report on the UAE, "male guardians within the family have a positive legal right, in the Penal Code, to discipline women and children family members at their discretion, including use of physical violence."

Don't you think that needs to change?

What I'm trying to say is that freedom of speech is not a bad thing at all, but a very important right that every person should have.

But another major issue is that many expats don't understand the mentality of people in the country. We (that is Gulf Arabs, Middle Easterners, most people of the region) are used to despotism and monarchy. We don't know what it is to have a choice of government. The whole region, I argue, is still not ready for democracy. If Pakistan were to have completely free elections now, echoing the sentiments of a Democratic presidential candidate and a close Pakistani friend of mine; the radical Islamist party would probably get 85% of the votes. Iraq and many other countries are not prepared to follow this system. The population has to be educated first so that the application of the system can be effective.

Apparently elections went on in Oman and very few people even blogged about it. Much less voted. Free elections, freedom of speech, etc don't mean much to many people in the region. This is a major point that many many people (Americans to say the least) do not understand.

Also, there has been so much harsh criticism of the UAE. People going so far as to accuse others of being 'Jihadist' or the country being totalitarian. Seriously, there are places that are so much worse. The UAE is very young and has to go through many changes before it reaches an ideal state. America, the ideal democratic naion, suffered McCarthyism and the Red Scare in the '40s and '50s which led to many innocent people accused of being Communist and thrown into jail. Minorities such as African Americans and women only got their rights recently although the country was established for a good few centuries.

Whatever time, whatever place.. change is gradual. The UAE we live in now is definitely not the UAE we lived in 10 years ago. Although quieter and more peaceful in those days, there are so many more opportunities now. The UAE has really stepped up and stands out among the whole region. Just give it some time. Things are not going to keep going the way are at the moment.

What I really hope is that this gap that exists between locals and expats will be bridged. There is too big a divide at the moment, and both sides need to understand more about each other. We are after all, living in the same country! It's great that we can have debates like this on the blog and I hope it continues and improves.

(Sorry for the long post though..)

17 comments:

localexpat said...

Well said! I couldn't have put it better myself ;-)

rosh said...

Bravo MM, brilliantly said indeed! I couldn't lay it out better. I hope all those with differences read this post, in it's right context. If they grasp what you've said, it's a positive step towards understanding one another.

tobasco said...

Nicely written.

UAE is a country that is moving in the right direction. Ok, it's not perfect but considering the country was formed less than 40 years ago you have to give credit were it's due.

UK and US (for example) have had democratic rule for centuries yet discrimination against Women and Minorities were all only addressed within the last 40 odd years. Give UAE half that chance atleast before judging.

samuraisam said...

"I think a huge problem that characterizes the UAE is the fact that there is so little dialog between locals and non-locals who live in the Emirates. There is so much misunderstanding, hatred and racism. From what I've seen here, many people don't understand the other person's point of view."
I've personally had plenty of discussions with locals; it's quite different on the internet however, because as soon as you try to bring any form of criticism into a discussion people try and dismiss you as simply being a 'hater' or try to bring the west into the discussion and how they're not perfect when no one was even talking about them in the first place.

What does the west have to do with it? Freedom of speech is not a western invention.

I suppose much of my frustration when seeing the UAE's problems is the sharp contrast between problems and stupid crap no one needs-- Palm Island isn't and never will be a benchmark of a 'good' society. People here need to identify what the real problems are and stop living in neverland and acting as if Dubai's success in terms of economics is somehow going to override stuff like Al Wathba prison.

"When people are happy and content, they do not see a need for change. My family live comfortably and many people in the UAE do, so not many people see a need for political change."
Yeah, but that's just you; there are more than a few families who don't have ideal relations with the ruling families and they get treated like shit whilst everyone else doesn't; and whilst you may not see a point where you'll need to openly criticize things, if things don't go your way and you do need to criticize, you most probably won't find Al Wathba very comfortable.

Editor said...

Sharla's shelter story is a bit different than she tells it.

She doesn't want to be under the government umbrella.

However, her efforts have been recognised by the highest levels of the Emirates government, which has taken her lead and has started the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

http://www.dubaichronicle.com/2007/07/mohammed-issues-law-to-set-up-dubai.html

Here is the latest article on "City of Hope":

http://www.dubaichronicle.com/2007/11/chance-to-escape.html

The Woman in Black said...

With regret there will always be the friction between “locals” and expats why ? Because the locals don’t want to educate the expats into their culture and the expats believe that the UAE should be run the same way that their home country is run on.
Until there is a huge ice breaker it will continue to happen sad but true.

moviemania said...

localexpat, rosh and tabasco: thanks, I appreciate your compliments :) I really do hope that we can all take steps to understanding each other.

Sam: It's not just me, that's the whole situation of the UAE. People are content and happy with what they have, that's why there isn't a vast political movement.

My point is that there should be criticism which is very important. The country is far from perfect and does need change. But what a lot of people don't understand is that this change takes time and you can't expect it to happen within a fortnight.

Editor: only after much struggle has she gotten any kind of recognition from the government. Change is happening very very slowly and it needs more people like her to keep it going.

woman in black: exactly, there is this huge gap between both peoples. I really hope that at some point there will be some sort of ice breaker where both sides will be able to talk openly and civilly about the issues at hand.

Editor said...

A hint: Islam is a way of life for the majority in the region.
The expats on the other hand are a huge mixture of different religions.
I think that if one wishes to understand what and how, should read the Holly Book and some of the modern interpretations to gain knowledge from scientific point of view and find explanations how people think and why.
Unfortunately, most of the expats don't have the time or the interest to understand and learn, or simply don't care.

psamtani said...

Reading the Holy book is not going to really educate expats on what is going on. First of all, neither the UAE nor any other Middle Eastern country follow the spirit of Islamic Law, which is fundamentally egalitarian.

The laws in Middle Eastern countries clearly value some lives and opinions more than others. Islam deems all believers to be on the same plane, and to be treated equally. The UAE does not.

If people want to learn about the motivation behind what causes these unjust laws and acceptance of blatant racism, they should learn about the pre-Islamic history of the region, centered around tribes, where the structure of power was hierarchical.

You cant blame Islam for the injustices that an outdated culture imposes. These cultural traditions are much more deeply rooted in the minds of the locals than any Islamic tenet. People tend to use Islam as a shield and an excuse, rather than actually follow what it preaches.

The Woman in Black said...

The UAE is not really run by Islam is it ? lets face it, it is about customs and culture nothing more, this divide is not about islam, Islam is a way of life not about cultural divide.

moviemania said...

It's not about Islam. A lot of rules and regulations have nothing to do with the religion.

"You cant blame Islam for the injustices that an outdated culture imposes. These cultural traditions are much more deeply rooted in the minds of the locals than any Islamic tenet. People tend to use Islam as a shield and an excuse, rather than actually follow what it preaches."

psamtani is right, culture is always interwoven and confused with religion. Many many injustices that occur directly clash with Islam's values. Islamic philosophy says that everyone should have freedom as long as it doesn't infringe upon the freedom of others.

nick said...

Moviemania,

Well said, but you need to raise your sights and go farther in your analysis.

Freedom of speech is not the cause, but it is the effect of democracy.
Without a democratic system there are no constitutional rights for all citizens.

It’s been said that Islamic law is egalitarian. That may be the case – but only for Muslims. There is a clear distinction between ‘believer’ and ‘infidel’, in the Koran and its application in Islamic law.
And even more clearly there is in Shari’a law in word and its application a bias towards men over women, as can be judged by recent rape and abuse cases, and evidently some, like homosexuals are deemed less equal than others.

The problem is less the tribal / cultural history of despotism but the underlying idea of righteousness as defined by religion that pervades every country in the region.
It is a very small step for a majority of a population who is exclusively educated in one school of thought that claims the moral high ground over all others to accept the principle of totalitarian leadership. Especially so since most totalitarian leaders in the region are pro forma harnessing Islam as the winning ticket.

Plainly speaking, if you are used to be told what to think then thinking for yourself is not easy. Islam teaches people to accept its doctrine, not to question it.

One of the principles of democracy is the equal value of different opinions. Pluralism can only work in the framework of statutory guarantees for different views, even if these are directly opposed to one’s own.

As long as Islam claims absolute truth and supremacy over other religions or atheism there is no chance of pluralism and acceptance of ideological diversity as basis for democracy.

Secularism is the only way.

samuraisam said...

moviemania:"The country is far from perfect and does need change. But what a lot of people don't understand is that this change takes time and you can't expect it to happen within a fortnight."

I'm well aware of this (I even expressed the same sentiment a year ago in a GN interview: "Dubai's development has been very instantaneous, but deep down in society I don't think much has really changed; I believe that it conflicts on occasion with Dubai's development.

I think everyone is used to instantaneous change in Dubai, but in reality, some things are going to take a bit of time."
)

But people's opinions don't have infinite patience-- especially when there still seems to be an endless list of projects that have been thought up overnight yet there's an endless list of problems that have yet to be solved or even officially acknowledged.

nick said...

Secularism, just to be clear, is not anti-religion.
It just means that all beliefs are equal before the law and most importantly, private. And that the constitution of the state be based on a framework of non-religious principles to ensure equal rights for all regardless of their private beliefs.

Believe if you must. In private.

Khaled-ad said...

We are doomed!. We lie and believe ours lies.

Nature Strikes Back said...

The plain old knee jerk ranting that can appear on the blogs from both sides would be much more difficult in a face to face situation. But given what does seem to be almost a kind of community ghettoisation, neutral spaces that could become more of a forum for any exchange of ideas seem hard to find or create. However, last week I went to an exhibition opening which actually made me quite optimistic! This exhibition featured 14 UAE based artists from 7 different countries including 5 Emirati artists. The express purpose of this show was to bring residents from different cultural backgrounds together in one space.

It was the first time I have been in such a mixed crowd and it was really interesting.

There may not have been intense discussions on political and social exchange, reform and development while viewing the diverse artwork but its a good start!

Rejected said...

I'm not sure if the war on Iraq is what made Arabs in UAE take a stand against westerners. We as Iraqis are rejected from Arabs before westerners!

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