Ghutra is not a weapon!
The ailing man traveled to the US for specialist treatment after having heart surgery in the UAE and suffering a subsequent stroke that has affected his communication skills. The hotel where he’d been staying was booked for a convention so when he was told there was no room at the inn he called another hotel from the forecourt.
Imagine his horror to be confronted with police pointing lethal weapons in his direction. He was forced to the ground and handcuffed. The police broke one of his cell phones; the other was thrown into bushes.
Despite being compliant and unarmed he was treated with aggression and sarcasm. His privacy was infringed when his credit cards and a personal photograph were sifted and displayed for the video camera recording the entire episode. The cowboy attitudes of the policemen visibly softened when he put them in touch with one of his police officer friends who vouched for him. The expression on their faces spoke volumes.
Too late! Traumatized, he collapsed to the ground unable to talk and had to be hospitalized; thought to have suffered another stroke.
And why was he considered to be a suspect? All because the family of a clerk employed by the Fairmont Inn had tipped off the police that a suspicious man wearing a headdress had two disposable mobiles and was overheard declaring his allegiance to the so-called Daesh.
His headdress even made it to the police report. The executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed her alarm that the victim’s style of dress was mentioned in the report as an indicator of criminality.
Since when is it illegal to dress in a certain way or to carry more than one cell phone in the US? Secondly, the clerk admitted to the police that she hadn’t overheard anything, let alone a conversation with one of Baghdadi’s crazies.
Thankfully, this much-maligned individual has been released from the hospital. He says he has always worn national dress during his travels and blames Trump for creating a climate of hate toward Muslims and Mexicans. “Please tell Donald Trump to stop hating people,” he said. He’s been consulting with his lawyers as to what further steps he can take and has now received apologies from police chiefs and Avon’s Mayor.
In my view, apologies don’t cut it. He could have died or been paralyzed for life because mushy-headed, ignorant or spiteful people clearly associate Gulf attire with terrorists, notwithstanding that mass killers try their best to blend in and, indeed, the Orlando shooter as well as the San Bernardino gunman and the Boston bombers were Americans born and bred.
I hope he isn’t mollified by mealy-mouthed apologies. The state, the city, the police force, the hotel and its trouble-making employee should be sued for endangering the life of an innocent man who traveled to America seeking medical help. They need to be made an example of to deter others.
Indeed, there is an investigation now underway to find out if the calls were malicious. If this kind of treatment was meted out to an American visiting Abu Dhabi or Dubai what’s the betting it would result in a serious diplomatic incident!
The irony is that the UAE is one of several Gulf states leading the charge against extremism and the US and the Emirates have set up a joint financial counter-terrorism task force to enhance cooperation, coordination and information sharing to shut-down terrorist financing networks.
The UAE government has now advised its nationals not to wear national dress while outside the country to minimize future incidents. Sensible advice under the circumstances, maybe, but what an indictment on the ever more poisonous culture of a democratic country that never ceases to tout its values and lecture other countries to strive for the same!
It is incumbent upon President Obama to express his regrets to the Emirati leadership and, most importantly, to ensure that no Muslim visitor is subjected to similar mistreatment purely on the say-so of a dimwit, or perhaps a racist, threatened by a piece of cloth covering someone’s head. This is far from being an isolated incident. There’s a long list of recent hate attacks on Muslims and discriminatory practices.
In April, a student was removed from a Southwest Airlines plane because he was speaking Arabic. He said he was asked, “Why were you speaking Arabic” and maintains an airline employee spoke to him as if he was “an animal.” An entire Muslim family was asked to leave a United Airlines passenger jet that same month with no explanation given.
There’s a parallel situation in Britain where Brexit has unleashed a spate of hate crimes against Muslims, eastern Europeans and people of color. By contrast, the UAE that’s host to over 50 nationalities living and working together harmoniously stands as an example of tolerance for the world.
Emiratis are rightly proud of their country, their identity and their national dress. I wish the UAE authorities had given a different advisory – ‘Don’t go.’
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view