Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not Again! Oh, Masterpiece Cake Shop, You Leave a Bad Taste in My Mouth.

Oh come on. This is getting ridiculous. As the story goes, and it seems to be confirmed by a number of sources, Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado refused to sell a gay couple a cake for their wedding. Really? Seriously? Come on. You can't even make a cake for a loving couple to share on their wedding day because you have some kind of issues with same sex marriage? Let it go. This is not right. It's exactly, EXACTLY the same as not selling a cake to someone who is black. Once again, as if it really needs to be stated again (though it appears that it does have to be), sexuality is not a choice, just like you don't choose your skin color, of your eye color. Why cause a loving couple who wish to celebrate the love they have for one another grief by discriminating against them? Discrimination hurts. That's not a nice atmosphere to plan a wedding in.

Now, there are plenty of people who are going to back Masterpiece Cake Shop because they "stood up for what they believe in" and weren't "bullied by those trying to shove homosexuality down peoples throats". It's sad that people have these views and attitudes. How would they feel if they were discriminated against? They wouldn't like it one bit, and would probably be the first to scream about it. Remember the golden rule: do unto others as they would have them do unto you. It's not nice to do this to people.

I'm disappointed to hear about yet another story of discrimination towards couples who just want to celebrate their love. Masterpiece Cake Shop, I have to be honest, your actions disgust me. Ya, your rights, bla, bla, bla, your free to serve whoever you want, bla, bla, bla, whatever. Just, make your stupid cakes and enjoy your righteous homophobia or whatever it is that is going on with you guys. It's sad that this stuff is still happening in society. Get with the program folks, the world is changing for the better, and your trying to hold it back. Please don't. Your just going to get trampled. Don't be the people who still think the world is flat and dinosaurs hung out with Jesus. Be the kind of people who help celebrate love, unity, friendship, commitment and happiness. You might find you feel a whole lot better about yourselves and your cakes will taste better as well! 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

GCC Dress Codes: Part Deux

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the current campaign going on in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) encouraging locals and foreigners to wear more clothing in public areas. I feel that I only managed to make half the points that I wanted to make in that post, hence a second part to my contribution on the debate.

I won't pretend that I know Islam well. I have been trying to learn, as it is a fascinating religion, although I must confess, I am not what I would call a religious person (agnostic with heavy leanings towards atheism). But, from my understanding, part of Islam is living a life that does not get wrapped up in material items. Living modestly is more than just's about everything around you. At least, this is my understanding/interpretation. Okay, fine. So, now we have this campaign, with religious undertones, trying to tell people that they should dress megalithic, lavish, overpriced, materialistic malls!!! Does anyone else see the irony here?? I mean, Dubai is hardly what I would call an Islamic city in any way, shape or form. It's known as a glitzy center of overindulgence and extreme material wealth, and a party, tourist destination. I don't believe Dubai fits into what Islam is asking for in the slightest. So, why, with all of this extreme, insane material wealth, is the focus firmly put on what people are wearing? Where are the calls for less elaborate buildings or a more modest skyline?? This seems overly selective to me. Obviously, if one of the main focuses of this campaign targets people in malls, these "modest" individuals are shopping in these materialistic Mecca's (pun intended). Is this not hypocritical?? Yes, I believe it is. I believe this is called Cherry Picking your cultural battles. And, of course, when this issue is raised, I have repeatedly been told that I am envious of the wealth and success of the UAE. I am going to be completely honest here: No, I am not. I have been wearing the same t-shirts for the past three years, and I like it that way. I am not exactly a fancy dresser. In Canada, I own a 1999 Saturn, and am thrilled with it. Sure, I like the looks of a Ferrari, but I see no practical use in owning one, or owning an item of clothing that would cost me the price of a vacation. No, I am not jealous. I hate malls. I try to avoid them like the plague. They are filled with piles of useless stuff that I don't want, in generic, bland stores, playing generic, bland autotuned pop music!! No jealousy here at all. In fact, most of the time, I feel more Muslim than most of these folks who claim to be Muslim.

The next big issue to me are the moral judgments that have been going on with this campaign. The underlying message, by many supporters, ranges from "Dressing immodestly shows that you have little class and think poorly of yourself", to out and out implying that people are sluts and whores asking to be raped by wearing the wrong clothes. Yes, this bothers me. Look, if you, individually feel it is important to dress a certain way based on YOUR moral ideas, that is fine. But judging others character and morals on what they choose to wear is just wrong, in many ways. It's cruel, it's mean, it's uncalled for, and it makes a complete mockery of the campaign and instantly loses my support. If someone is not dressed the way you like, covering up for sensitivity reasons is one thing, while covering up because people are implying that you are of poor moral character is a complete other ball of wax. And sadly, over and over, supporters have stated that women who wear provocative clothing are asking for sexual harassment or worse. This really pisses me off to no end, and I really wish someone would start a Slut Walk campaign or something to challenge these ridiculously misogynistic, and outright dangerous ideas! And, again, I must ask, is THIS what their religion is teaching these folks?? If so, it makes Islam look very unappealing from my perspective. So, once again, we have a specific campaign calling for people to be respectful, while showing absolutely little respect for others.

Finally, there is the issue of culture. I am in no way against the idea of preserving culture, but why are clothes the main focus here? Much of the culture has been decimated by fast food restaurants, giant SUVs, attempts to constantly build the world's tallest buildings, bars, malls, you name it. And, then there is the fact, as mentioned in my previous post that the overwhelming vast majority of the population aren't even from the country! That helps to kill culture pretty quick, regardless of what dress codes some wish to implement by law. Clothes really are superficial in this equation. Culture is far deeper than a few inches of cloth. And the frustrating thing is, Emiratis seem to like all of the fancy buildings and great stuff that gets built or comes with all of these foreigners, but there seems to be a general feeling of resentment and dislike towards the foreigners who are building all this stuff or bringing in things that are desired. Of course this doesn't apply to everyone; not all in the Emirates think this way, obviously. But, in the end, if the Gulf drastically decreased the number of foreigners coming in, stopped building like crazy, started making sure that jobs that foreigners are doing are being done by locals (including construction, taxi driving, menial labor, service jobs, etc.), regulated the number of chain stores and restaurants, and more, THEN, we are talking about preserving culture in a far more meaningful and effective way. Is that happening? No. Instead you have a group who feels that preserving culture is by telling people what to wear.

Again, I do not live in the UAE, or, thankfully, in the Gulf at all anymore. I am presenting my opinion. This opinion really doesn't matter. These are just my views on this subject, which strikes a chord with me because I have been, until just a few days ago, living in the Gulf. I am still rather absorbed in the issues and current events in the Gulf. This is why I have taken such an interest and have developed strong opinions. But, when all is said and done, that is all they are....opinions. 

GCC Dress Codes: To Support or Oppose?

When I first heard that activists in the United Arab Emirates had started a campaign to educate locals and foreigners about proper dressing and being respectful of the UAE dress code, I thought, "I can back this. I think cultural preservation is a good thing." Perhaps it was partly out of that thing sometimes referred to as "white guilt" where you can't help but want to distance yourself after centuries of colonialism and all the issues that has caused on the planet. "Yes! Let's preserve culture! I support you!" And so I started to follow the #UAEDressCode thread on Twitter where information about the campaign is spread.

And then, my views began to change...

You see, the folks who are calling for this dress code to be monitored, enforced and even turned into law are the very same type of people I would oppose pretty much everywhere else on the planet: Social (religious) conservatives who are more concerned about how others dress than actual important issues. In this case, the religion is Islam. But, it happens with all religions. So, no, I don't support this. And then I see locals in the UAE who are against laws that would impose a dress standard. Then, I thought, "Wait a minute, the UAE is NOT just made up of conservatives. It really is a diverse place and not everyone acts or thinks the same way, and by ME supporting this dress code, I am saying it's okay to have rules imposed on people I would normally support!" Why on earth would I do that?

The vision of the UAE Dress Code campaign is outlined in their twitter profile: "Freedom and Respect are given as long as you are not abusing them. Support #UAEDressCode for decency in public and for the UAE." One of the key words for me is Respect. Okay, respect. Sounds good. But, whoa, wait a minute. Respect? Okay, let's stop here. Now this is a country well known for it's abuse, mistreatment and exploitation of migrant laborers and domestic servants (check out this Human Rights Watch report for starters. Or, this article as another example among many that can be found). Where is the respect here? How is this continued mistreatment of workers showing any amount of respect? And the answers from Code supporters when this issue is raised? Consistently the same: "These people are being paid, given security and a good life. They can go home if they don't like it here." What?? The reality is, there are millions of people who have come to the UAE and the rest of the Gulf who have worked 10 plus hour days, often for much less than 7 dollars a day, 6 days a week usually in brutal conditions, such as extreme heat. Too often they end up living in worker slums. They often have their passports taken away until they have paid off the debt that they went into to try and get to the UAE to get the good job they were promised, which basically turns out to be a lie. And, while there, they have helped build the country, the whole REGION, virtually by hand, doing jobs that locals find too demeaning. Yes, workers are desperate to get to the UAE to try and make some money to help their families at home. That doesn't give the UAE or any other country the right to use, abuse, mistreat and exploit this source of labor. Too many people are dying of heat exhaustion, abuse or suicide as the result of these actions! And the Coders don't seem to care or understand this! Furthermore, these are supposed to be Islamic countries. Where in Islam does it say that this type of treatment is acceptable? This is NOT Islamic. So, when this campaign talks about respect (in a social and RELIGIOUS context), all they really care is about respect for themselves, and that is it. There is no respect in the Gulf if you are a migrant laborer, period. All you have to do is spend some time in the Gulf to know that this is true. And I have written about it before in a previous post as well.

Now, I do not live in the UAE. Until the other day, I did live in the Gulf and I have to be completely honest to say that I am very happy to no longer be there. Ultimately, of course, I have no say, and my opinion is just that, an opinion. My views will have no impact, and I understand and am perfectly okay with that. Because I have been living in the Gulf I have been more aware of and informed about what has been going on there than I have been my own country these days. What I saw while in the Gulf disgusted me. I have never seen such a level of racism, social and economic apartheid, exploitation, abuse, cruelty and lack of empathy or understanding. Now, of course it has been raised that my own country of Canada has not had a stellar history when it comes to how Native Canadians have been treated. I can't argue with that at all. It's true, and it is an issue that continues to haunt Canada. So, yes, there is some hypocrisy of my own as a Canadian when bringing up issues of human rights. But, I feel at least I, and many other Canadians, acknowledge that great wrongs have been done (though there are many who, sadly, don't). I know there are people in the Gulf who also can see the human rights abuses there and have concern. But, thus far, in communicating with people who support "The Code" I haven't found anyone who even cares, or is willing to admit the hard work and sacrifices that many have given to build a country that it isn't even theirs! Why??

So, between wanting to control fellow locals through religious and social conservatism and completely disregarding the idea of respect for a vast majority of the UAE's actually population (it is estimated that over 85 percent of people in the UAE are foreign workers with a massive number of these being migrant laborers and domestic servants from poor countries) I can't help but look at this campaign with a certain amount of disgust and frustration. All I can say is, if you demand respect, then it's a good idea to GIVE respect FIRST to the majority of people who aren't receiving it at the moment. If you love the UAE, great....thank a laborer, thank a nanny, thank a driver, thank one of the many who have given up so much (including their lives) to create the UAE that you love. Respect!!!