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Sex on the Beach: A Clash Between Cultures

Started by Paperboy, October 17, 2008, 02:51:08 AM

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If you keep up on the latest travel destinations, chances are you?ve heard the name ?Dubai? popping up a lot more often.  The most populous city of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has lately been on the front line of cultural growth, with new hotels popping up all the time where tourists can enjoy free-flowing alcohol before heading off to the beach in skimpy bikinis.  Sometimes called the Las Vegas of the Middle East, Dubai has been selling itself as the latest and greatest party hot spot, a liberal oasis among such conservative countries as Saudi Arabia, where alcohol is forbidden and even foreign women are required to wear enveloping black robes when in public.

What you?ve probably not heard, however, is that beneath the coat of shiny, liberal paint lies a legal culture based on strict Muslim laws.  Two Britons, Michelle Palmer, a Dubai resident, and Vince Acors, a visiting tourist, have recently been made painfully aware of this fact.  The two met at an all-you-can-drink champagne brunch and later made their way to the beach, where an unidentified resident reported them to the police for indecent behavior.  After spending a night in jail, they were released but forbidden from leaving the country until a court could determine their fate.  Though they both maintain they did not have intercourse, in Dubai, even holding hands, hugging, and kissing in public are against the law.1

Under charges of having sex before marriage, public indecency, and drunkenness, a Dubai judge today sentenced them each to three months in jail, a $350 fine, and deportation from Dubai after serving their sentences.  Ms. Palmer has already been fired from the job she has held for several years in Dubai?s publishing industry.2  The judge faced pressure from all sides in deciding this case, which could have potentially carried sentences of up to two years imprisonment.  On the one hand is the indigenous population, which has long raised objections to what they consider to be the city?s culture tipping in favor of foreigners.  Although Emiratis make up only 15 to 20 percent of the population of Dubai, which is primarily comprised of Asian migrant workers, Western expatriates, and tourists, they feel that their religious values ought to be enforced on everyone, and the laws currently stand in their favor.  On the other hand is the government, which doesn?t want to deter tourists from travelling to the area.  The possibility of being arrested for holding hands with someone doesn?t exactly look nice on a travel brochure. 

The government, however, have themselves recently been bending to the pressure placed on them by the indigenous population.  A few days after Palmer and Acors were arrested, the police force stepped up its efforts, detaining dozens of people, the vast majority of whom were tourists, for topless sunbathing and other acts deemed ?indecent.?  The government has also tightened its immigration rules, visa policies, and work permits.3  What this essentially boils down to is this: Dubai cannot have its cake and eat it, too.  If they want to be on the cutting edge of liberal tourist destinations, they are going to have to reform their laws.  The extremely unfortunate Ms. Palmer and Mr. Acors have brought Dubai?s strict Islamic laws to light, and the glittery paint on the city has been tarnished.  In a way, perhaps this is a step in the right direction, as the public eye is now focused, not just on the fancy hotels and sunny beaches, but on the potentially serious consequences of participating in what would be normal, everyday behavior in many cultures.  Dubai?s tourism economy will likely suffer as a result, and perhaps I?m being optimistic, but maybe they will be forced to examine their laws and how other cultures are affected by them.  I, for one, will not be travelling to Dubai anytime soon. - Laura