In a response to Samuel P. Huntington’s book, ‘The Clash of Civilization’ (in which he argued that people’s cultural and religious differences will be the main source of conflict in the post-cold war era), Mohammad Khatami, former Iranian president, proposed an alternative concept; “Dialog Among Civilizations”. No-one, except a hardcore extremist like John Bolton or Elliot Abrams, can deny the power of dialog vis-à-vis a clash. No sane human being willingly chooses clash if given a chance at dialog. But there’s an important proviso for dialog; it has to be honest. You can conduct hundreds of conferences, shake hands, exchange words of flattery and diplomacy, but you won’t get anywhere unless you ask each other the honest questions.
So this whole anti-indecency campaign got me thinking: why is there a cultural clash here? The components are obvious, a large ratio of the UAE’s citizens feel uncomfortable with the collective dressing habits of the expatriates. One culture is feeling apprehensive of the other. It accuses the other of being inconsiderate and insensitive. On the other hand, and although it’s wrong to portray the expatriate population as a monolith, I’m going to assume their reactions are uniform: so they retort by stating that the rules aren’t clearly displayed, the laws aren’t well known, some of them assert that they are free to wear what they like ..etc..
To me, there seem to be something missing here. Questions aren’t being asked. Words aren’t being exchanged. Probably due to fatigue or wariness or apathy. But these, in my inexperienced opinion, are important and vital questions. Starting with the issue of imposing a formula of decent closing, one has to wonder how can we, as Muslims, demand that people dress to our liking, when we vehemently protest Sarkozi’s statements and the head cover ban in France? What’s our contention when we protest these rules? Isn’t it that we think that people are FREE to wear whatever they like? and that we always never fail to counter by asking the obvious question: why should my sister’s Hijab offend you? I mean, we DO ask these questions, don’t we?
Similarly, aren’t people who, according to you, are wearing indecent clothing FREE to wear whatever they like? and if your answer is no, then aren’t they entitled to an explanation? Why is what a woman or man-- whose culture is obviously different to you, why is what their wear is a source of chagrin and discomfort to you? why is it offensive? Why are their actions, when they’re totally irrelevant to your well being or to your physical existence, matter so much to you?
Although I come from a conservative family, I am not overly religious, so I posed these questions to a colleague of mine. Y isn’t even an Emirati, he’s a Jordanian national and a provider of a small family. He recounted for me once how he’d been in the Emirates Mall with his family –wife, 12 years old daughter, 8 years old son—and this guy starts fondling and kissing a girl on a bench in the walkway across Carrefure. He told me he wanted to walk up to him and give him an earful, except that he was tired and busy with his purchases. I asked him why did he feel offended or disturbed by what he’d seen, since it doesn’t at all affect him (all he’s got to do with the action is that he can see it). He said that it’s not ‘healthy’ for his daughter, who is very near her puberty, to see such affection in action. I told him that he’s having unrealistic expectations of the world when he demands that nothing unhealthy (again, according to him) be exhibited anywhere near his daughter. He said that unlike most of other unhealthy actions in the universe, body exposure and display of affection stir up certain desires in human beings that are better kept in check. And that SATAN will play unfair games with the feeble minds, and seeing such scenes doesn’t help at all……
I had no further questions of Y.
On the other hand, one could very much ask: why do you, western (or generally foreign) expatriates and tourists, choose to wear revealing clothes? I understand that this is probably entrenched in your culture so deeply that you don’t question it anymore, but come on, think of something. Also, is your culture really totally sexually permissive? What’s your definition of ‘decency’? What do you know about the Arabic/Muslim view of decency?
Before wrapping up, let me just reiterate that it’s not me who’s asking the questions or who’s expected to come up with answers. I, personally, don’t feel offended either way. Strip off naked and walk by me in the food court and I won’t feel offended (it would be nice if you could cover your pubes though, I don’t fancy motes of hair landing in my Humos): I’m just posing these questions in this context because this is how I think we could have a real dialog. Everything else is a photo-Op or a missing opportunity.