Sunday, September 16, 2012

Returning to the UAE–Is it safe?

Dubai & AD sailing 006
In every culture, there are a few "twisted" individuals.
Unfortunately, they seem to get the most attention.
 I have been asked this question countless times, and my short answer is always the same: YES.

The longer, more complicated and more thoughtful answer is another question: What, exactly, is the definition of a “safe” place?

You don’t need me to tell you that violence is not confined to the Middle East.

But maybe you do need to be reminded that the words “Muslim,” “Islam,” “terrorist” and “violence” are not synonyms.

Our many Muslim friends here tell us again and again what they wish all people to understand: this is not them, not their faith, not their Islam, not their way.

Theirs is a religion of peace and generosity, prayer and family.

It’s the Al Qaeda who promote violence against the US and others. Al Qaeda commits egregious acts of violence in the name of the Muslim faith, with no regard to the religion itself.

Despite crowds, traffic, celebrations and rampant nationalism,
the UAE's 40th National Day was peaceful, safe, and a lot of fun.

I have been following the wave of violent demonstrations following the tragic death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three others. I have read accounts and opinions in the UAE newspapers and in US newspapers. One reads and hears many things, some conflicting.

So, I can only give you some of my impressions, as someone who just returned from the US, only to have the Libya attacks happen the very next day.

I flew back into Abu Dhabi on September 11, 2012. Do I feel safe here? Yes, just as safe as anywhere in the US and, in some ways, safer. For example, I think there is much less chance of being mugged here than in a large US city. In fact, a friend told me a story about two of her friends who recently went to a big-league baseball game. After the game, they were robbed of their money and jewelry in a dark section of the parking lot.

And no, it wasn’t in Detroit; it was a different city. But hey, let’s talk about Detroit, or any major city where sports fans can get violent. Our team won! Let’s riot. Our team lost? Lets riot! And it doesn’t just happen in the US, either.

Disneyland 173 (2)
They were rioting just 4 miles from
the Happiest Place on Earth.

Moving on. In July, when I was at Disneyland with my granddaughter, we watched the fireworks show on our last night there. As part of the production, we were promised that a slide show would soon appear in the sky. Instead, we sat with the crowd in quiet darkness, wondering about the helicopters hovering above. The fireworks show finally began. Only when we arrived back at our hotel did we learn that there were people rioting at the Anaheim Civic Center, four miles away. A police officer had been involved in a shooting incident.

It's great fun to dress up in an abaya
and visit the Zayed Grand Mosque.

People of Muslim faith do not require anything of me, as a non-Muslim, except to respect their faith and customs. I do not have to cover my head with a hijab, and I can dress in my normal style. I know that covering upper arms, and legs above the knees, is preferred as a sign of modestly and respect. I do so if I am going to be someplace where doing otherwise would be inappropriate. That said, I don’t worry about it much any more.

Here in the UAE, people are more western, more modern, than in many other places in the Arab world. But that is not to say that those other places are violent! They are just more socially conservative and traditional. Less westernized. And perhaps, less prone to western-style crime? I can’t say for sure.

This violence that you are hearing about is being committed by a small number of people, and many of them, I have heard, are bored, disenfranchised youth. “Hooligans.” Just as in the US and other countries, such people often see trouble as just something to do to relieve their frustrations. Just what Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups in other countries including the US, are looking for.

Violence, I am seeing, is really a series of isolated events. Sometimes they merge, sometimes not. The race riots in Detroit in 1968 were happening just a few miles from my quiet suburban neighborhood. I was very young, and they didn’t amount to much more than a rumor to me at the time. But of course, they were a terrible, terrible event. Yet, was I safe in St. Clair Shores with my family? Yes.

One of the world's  most dangerous places
to drive is the UAE.
 I understand much more about the Middle East than I did before I moved here. My parents were afraid for me, coming here, although they tried not to show it. I told them I would be safe, but I couldn’t explain, very well, why I thought this to be true.

Now I know what I suspected then: there is danger everywhere, it’s an inherent fact of life. Sadly, the most dangerous activity here is driving, particularly on Sheik Zayed Road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Dubai & AD sailing 014

Every place and every people has its dark side, but fortunately for most of us, we can see the light. Please don’t judge everyone in the Middle East by the violence you are hearing about.

May peace be with you.


Anonymous said...

Well said Anne!

Kathryn Thurber said...

A voice of reason.Thanks, Anne, for your unique perspective.