Thursday, July 5, 2012

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!!!

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