A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Listening In: Arabian Business reader comments on Dubai’s cancelled New Year

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 3, 2009

I enjoy reader comments, particularly on newspaper sites, and particularly in response to articles of local (or, in small countries, national) importance. I learn a great deal from them – well, at least from the ones that don’t degenerate into name calling, as some do! – : they tell me how local readers, for whom the article’s subject is a pressing and personal issue, feel.

Recently, I have been following reader comments on an Arabian Business article about Sheikh Maktoum’s decision to order all public New Year’s celebrations canceled.

The first responses – and many subsequent ones – were positive and wholly supportive, like this one, by a reader named Na:

God bless the ruler!!!
And may our blessings be with all the palestinians at this tough time.

Others were less moved by Maktoum’s decision, like Rob Tolley, who wrote:

Do you think not celebrating New Year is going to make a difference? Instead of canceling all celebrations if UAE feels that strong about the issue, send in some financial aid and military to assist.

When I last checked the comments, there were 83, amassed over several days. This article – and Sheikh Mohammed’s decision – touched a nerve, and people were clearly eager to comment on it. I don’t want to overstate the tenor of these comments, but I did notice a few trends. Those who approved of the cancellation tended to emphasize ethnic solidarity or religious behavior, like Yaseen:

Sheikh Mohammed has demonstrated what an exemplary leader he is. Muslim nations need to show a strong stand against Israel and demonstrate clear support of Palestine…. Well done Sheikh for doing exactly that!!! Esp in the month of Muharram – a time when the sahabe demonstrated their true faith in the face of aggression!

Muharram is the first month of the Muslim calendar, and historically a time when wars and other military ventures ceased (in the Christian world, Lent and other feast/fast times were also periods of truce). The “Sahaba” were Muhammad’s companions, who stood by him despite the many hardships that the early Muslim community endured.

Those who disagreed with Maktoum’s decision tended to say that it was either unhelpful or unrelated to Palestine, or that it would harm Dubai’s growing reputation as a tourist destination.

For example, Bahraintaxi suggested that Dubai’s ethical behavior might be better off if it started with a focus on the moral issues of domestic life:

Personally, I’m no great fan of New Year celebrations, but this is very odd. What on earth is the connection between New Year celebrations and what is happening currently in Palestine? What right does ANYONE have to tell us what we can and cannot celebrate and when? This is facile gesture politics: if Dubai wants to take a high ethical stand on political and social issues, it doesn’t take a genius to think of 101 things that ought be be banned in the city before New Year celebrations are!

Wael put the cancellation in terms of tourists and the individual’s right to choose: I think this is very bad for Dubai’s image as a touristic destination. There is no respect for the individual choice. I guess the end of the Dubai mania has already started.

And some suggested that a more effective tactic would be to ask hotels to donate a percentage of the night’s take to aid the people of Gaza.

In addition to calling for solidarity or religiously appropriate behavior, those who supported the decision described it as a triumph of “conscience” over “business” – a sign that Dubai would put humanity first.

I understand that in the end only the big public parties were canceled, or were restricted to eating and drinking, no dancing or loud music. I’m torn about the value of this: my parents and I did talk about the incongruity of celebrating the New Year – or any celebration – while people elsewhere were suffering. But we agreed that staying home, in and of itself, would do little to ameliorate their situation. Our feeling was: celebrate, but lift your voice in support of those suffering, and send money to aid those in need.

You can read the ongoing discussion here.

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