View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mosques, Bars and Confusing Values in the UAE

Following some recent court cases concerning the jailing of a lesbian couple for kissing on a Dubai beach and a heterosexual pair charged with sex in the sand, the New York Times has published an article about the moderate influences of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

The title of the New York Times article (22 September 2008)—‘Young and Arab in a Land of Mosques and Bars’—encapsulates the tolerance and confusion over the coupling of diverse cultural and moral standards.

The sixth in a series of articles “examining the lives of the young across the Muslim world at a time of religious revival”, Author Michael Slackman writes of the ‘unsettling freedom’ in ‘glittering, manic Dubai’ with young people drinking beer most nights, cavorting with prostitutes and living a ‘freewheeling, disorienting life’ with little restraint.

Dubai is portrayed as a ‘playground’, a city devoid of religious extremism, a place of inequities and exploitation, dazzling and confusing at the same time and glued together by ambition rather than culture. Many see Dubai as a model to which other Arab cities might aspire with its prescription for moderation and freedom for young people to redefine themselves.

The glitzy city is not all beer and skittles according to Jackman’s witnesses. Much of the lifestyle must be kept secret and success depends on what people can get away with. Not all people escape the arm of the law.

While many Internet sites are blocked firmly and clearly identified as being outside the cultural parameters and religious values of the UAE, many questionable activities are being experienced in a cloudy coherence of mosques and bars, gay and gain, halal and haram.

To read the entire article and series follow this link:
Michael Slackman, ‘Young and Arab in Land of Mosques and Bars,’ New York Times, 21 September 2008.

How accurate is Slackman’s portrayal of Dubai?

Does the lax moral behavior Slackman describes and the strong arm of the law in recent moral court cases, make for a city and country where values are in flux, standards are confusing and punishment is difficult to fathom?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Young people having a night out at a Dubai disco (Photograph courtesy of Shawn Baldwin and the NY Times from the photographic gallery at the above link).