Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Culture and the law

There's a lesson to be learnt from the experience of Darren O’Mullane, an Aussie deported from Dubai for insulting someone.

It's about understanding the culture of the place you move to. Or at least being very aware of the differences.

When posting about various laws and sentences in the past I've talked about what to westerners seems the very strange seriousness with which insults and rude gestures are taken by the law.

Darren, a nurse, was driving home from a very bad day at work so he was was tired and stressed. Driving along Sheikh Zayed Road he was irritated by another driver who, he said, was weaving in and out and nearly crashed into him.

He did what he'd have done back in Sydney, raised his middle finger to the other driver. In Sydney the other driver would simply have returned the salute with two fingers and that would have been the end of it.

But this is a different culture and the other driver was Emirati. Insulting a person by word or gesture is taken very seriously indeed.

Reports say the police were ready to let the matter drop but the other driver insisted on pressing charges. After spending twenty-four days in Al Slammer Darren was deported.

He admitted the charges and to his credit he isn't whingeing that Dubai isn't the same as back home, as too many do.

Instead he said: "I want people to be aware of the law because I don’t want anyone to go through what my wife and I have been through. I’d like other people to be very careful. You’re in a different country and the laws are not always the same."

Spot on Darren. That's the lesson others need to learn from your unfortunate experience.

There are laws which I and many others think need to be changed, and I raise them here every so often. But when a law is so entwined with the culture that's a different thing. Expecting it to be changed to fit a foreign culture is ridiculous.

There are many other examples of the different culture, some but certainly not all resulting in the law being involved.

For example, insulting the royal family is a no-no. We're not the only country which forbids such insults by the way - remember the author jailed in Thailand for insulting the king?

The effusive way the leadership is talked about draws much criticism, and mirth, from westerners and others. But again it's part of the culture.

Listen to Arabs greeting each other and you'll hear the same kind of, to us, flowery language. We say 'hello' and sometimes add 'how are you?' while the Arabic greetings and enquiries about health, family etc go on for ages.

Criticising these things is to believe everyone should be 'like us'. Rather, we should understand and acknowledge that there are differences in culture.

As Darren discovered to his cost, the culture is often entwined with the law.

And while I'm rambling on about the law, reports in the papers today raise something which I think needs to be looked at with some urgency.

The Deyaar corruption case has come before the Dubai Misdemeanours Court. I have no comment to make on the charges, I don't have any information about the case.

The problem is that the CEO and others have been detained for over a year.

Two things need urgent attention by the lawmakers in my opinion.

One, a limit should be put on the length of time a person can be detained without charge.

Two, after the charge is laid a limit should be put on the length of time then allowed for the case to be heard.

Darren's tale in 7Days.

Deyaar case in Gulf News.


Dave said...

Fair enough comments Seabee and I agree that Darren has paid a harsh price for such a harmless act.

What annoys me though is this constant Dubai Govt attitude of why is the overseas media always picking on us.

Well this case with Darren is a classic example... whilst it might be in the UAE culture not to accept such hand gestures, most other countries would concentrate on the bad driving that necessitated such a reaction from him, but no not here in the UAE.... they jail the man who makes a hand signal for 24 days!!

This is why the UAE and Dubai are receiving negative publicity because of stupid rules and laws such as this one that make them so different from other countries.

Yes retain your culture and laws, even though they are far removed from the rest of the world, but you must also accept the criticism that goes hand-in-hand with these extremes.

Dave said...

And maybe if he knew he was going to be jailed for 24 days and then deported, he probably should have given the idiot driver a left hook just to make it worthwhile....

the real nick said...

I would question the naivete' of Darren to confess to something that would have been very difficult to prove in court. He could have just said he had been stroking his dreadlocks or wiping a smashed fly off the window, or...
It's stupid to show the finger and even more to confess it to the police.

Seabee said...

True Nick - I think the first thing a solicitor will tell a client is 'admit nothing'.

Dave, while plenty of people, expats especially, have been complaining about the overseas media, I haven't actually seen 'the Dubai Government' doing so.

redstar said...

I think Darren's case is tragic and a total overreaction by the courts.

He's not some drunken lout being insulting. The police officer himself didn't want to press charges, but the guy driving like a nutter did.

Punish Darren if you will, but deporting him and jailing him for upsetting a young chap who was driving like a fool - that really is too much, especially given that fact that Darren appears to have been honest and co-operative throughout the entire proceedings.

Elle said...

I heard about a similar case in Al Ain. But never heard what the outcome was.

Meherab Saher said...

I was in a similar situation once. Nutcase on my tail, Flashing high beams, the works.

But in my case, the guy actually forced me off the road, came up to my car, pulled open the dorr and grabbed my throat.

It was only after I apologised that he let me go.

The funny thing is, if the cops had got involved, he would have been justified for his actions.

Not criticising the culture, just the perspective that people have here. While it is ok to bully someone, if you react to it then you are the one at fault.

Mohammed said...

The real problem is not Darrens punishment, harsh as it may be.

Its that the officer's fanatic driver is seen as something normal, and that killing/injuring people is seen as a misdemneaor if the perpetrator has the right "connections"

And regarding Darren's acceptance fo guilt, even if he denied there would be a good chance the army officer's word would be taken over his.

Obscene gestures can very well be considered unacceptable, whats sad is that endangering people's lives and discrimination is justified by using "its our culture" as a tagline

Mohammed said...

I repeat, the main problem, is discrimination, nit the crime.

Anyone want to play a guessing game what would have happened if Darren was shown a finger? The guilty party would swear he didnt do it, and that Darren was in fact guilty and should be locked up for insulting his family (even if he didnt do it)....

In most places, natives consider it their privilege that they are given preference in jobs etc. Here the privilege is extended to crimes as well, so much so that some people actually think they shouldnt be at fault even after commiting a crime simply because "its my country"

Anonymous said...

i cant resist, this is my 3rd post


Your case reminds me why I switched from an avid anti-gun person to a passive supporter of gun owning. If guns were legal, that guy would never have dared to come up to your car.....

The post below (from 7days) typifies the main problem here, which is different standards for different people, and no society can propser in the long run by having such disrimination....

"I was once a victim of road rage myself with the driver, who was driving recklessly on the road and had almost hit me like yours, I open my window and told him what are you doing? If you want to kill yourself do not include me, then I called up the police to complain about him and guess what the story was turned upside down, I become the culprit because the other guy filed a complaint after me (they let us both sign a paper which indicates we are not going to drive fast) The worst part was the driver was a teenage guy who didn't have a license on him and only his passport!!!

The 2nd time, I was hit by another and I was given a pink copy and a fine of 250 Dhs. The police informed me that it was my fault. Is it really my fault when the driver was on his phone without headset and not knowing when people are signalign indicators while changing lanes??? Guess what? He only carried a Health Card which they accepted when we were in the Police Station!"

Anonymous said...

Well, drive like an idiot and endanger other peoples lives, you deserve to have the middle finger shown to you. That guy deserved it, he deserves to go to jail for dangerous driving. It always amazes me that people harass other drivers and are dangerous, and when someone gives them the finger, they cannot accept it. Gutless humans, no conscience. If in Australia I accidentally cut someone off or harrased them like this and they done the finger to me, I accept it. Why? Coz it was my fault, so their action was justified, but then again I am a decent, moral, mindful human being. I guess there are all types in the world any country you go.

However, this is the UAE and this is the law here, so I respect that and refrain from doing this here. You do the finger, be prepared to do the time. So not matter what the circumstances, Darren should not have done the finger, so he can only blame himself unfortunately. It's not Australia, it's the UAE. However it's a shame he has had to suffer a lot from this one action, and go to jail. The other guy should have gone to jail. What is more harmless, a finger or tailgating, swerving, flashing and harassing someone. Priorities are wrong here.

Anonymous said...

There is a lesson to be learned from the experience of Darren O'Mullane and it is that a culture that appears to take greater offense from rude hand gestures (that harm no one) as opposed to reckless driving by certain (privileged) members of the community (which can result in the death of many people) has some serious issues to deal with. Perceived honour and face appear to be more important than the lives of fellow human beings.

AdelDu2 said...

I think the sentiment being expressed here by most people is whilst there are obvious cultural differences between ex-pats and the indigenous population, it is not only harsh but bordering on ludicrous to punish someone so severely for what was basically an expression of frustration.

No matter what maybe said or what gestures may be made whilst driving, nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can be used as an excuse for poor, reckless and deliberately bad driving.

Unfortunately the authorities in the UAE seemingly do little to detect offenders (other than speed cameras set at 21 km/hr above the posted speed limits) but will spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on something that should probably be classed as a misdemeanour.

In my opinion, someone needs to sort out their priorities...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the advice to admit nothing as it will be difficult to prove is not applicable in the UAE. If the other party is Emirati proof goes out the window its your word against theirs - guess who wins.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your kind words. First and foremost, I have to accept fault; I knew it was wrong but in a moment of frustration I let my guard down.

My second fault was listening to my employers Public Relations Officer, who suggested a lawyer would cost more than the fine and that I was better off just fronting up and apologising. Which is what i did...

I had a Lawyer for my appeal,his advice was to LIE!! Every lawyer I met asked me why didn't I lie?? My only response, was that I was brought up to take responsibility for my actions.

I lied at my appeal, but still lost. I had already admitted guilt on two prior occasions. If I (and hopefully my PRO)had known how severe the punishment would be I would have lied from the start.

I only spoke to the press to boost public awareness. There is no court of justice in Dubai, only a court of law. If you are questioned by the police over any matter, even if you have the smoking gun in your hand, Lie. Deny everything.

Darren O'M

Seabee said...

Darren, welcome aboard.

Like you I think these cultural differences need to be aired every so often so that people are aware of them, which is why I posted about your predicament.

I hope it's going well back in Sydney.

Peter Jenkins said...

In the same week that the Australian nurse gets jailed and deported from UAE for showing his middle finger to a driver who nearly crashed into him, we hear news that one of the sheikh's brothers tortures someone and breaks his bones and no action is taken. And the rulers wonder why there is so much negativity towards the UAE?


Seabee said...

Peter, of course what happened and how it was handled, or wasn't handled, is indefensible. However there will now be an enquiry, as my later post says.

Like many others you claim 'the rulers' (or government) wonder why there is criticism - I'm curious to know where you've seen those reports.

There has been plenty of defensiveness against the criticism but in all the news media I access I haven't seen any reference to government or rulers or 'Dubai' complaining about it. It's been by ordinary people, the majority being expats.

Anonymous said...

Seebee - this looks very much like a complaint:

"In fact it was a "media bombardment" targeted at the UAE as a model for a federal state, a successful and prosperous Arab country. And Dubai, the city that has set up a successful economic model at a global level, was under a daily attack by some Western media, as if they were in a race against time to harm the UAE.

As for the motives of the campaign, God Almighty knows. But it seems that the success of the Arab, whether individual or state, city or a company, is seen as unacceptable. It seems that seeing distinct images of successful Arabs and Arab countries disturbs some people. They would rather stick with the distorted images of Arab stereotypes in their minds."

Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum
e-press conference ~ 19 April 2009

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right, people just need to accept and respect other cultures. We should Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. Killing thousands of people was only part of their culture at the time. I find it horrendous that the Khemer Rouge has been demonized, the killing was only part of their culture. How dare someone go to the UAE and give the finger to someone. The person that was given the finger must be having such a tough time now waking up every morning with that horrible vision of the bird.

Anonymous said...

I agree to a point that you should respect and adhere to a country's laws and customs if you are a visitor, but this is ridiculous. Dubai has invited the world to come to their country to invest, live, work and play there. They need to have some rationality and reason to their enforcement of laws and customs because of this invitation. They have a moral obligation to adapt an understanding of the cultures they are inviting to come to their country also. This is wrong what they did to this guy, plain and simple. It is indefensible. To jail and screw someone's life up over a middle finger is freaking crazy. Why anyone would choose to go to the UAE is beyond me after reading the mulitude of stories like this. I understand if you walk in to some tribal camp in Yemen and insult them, you probably deserve whatever happens, but they didn't invite or entice you to be there. I call bullshit on your post.

Seabee said...

Anon@7.37, you're really pushing the boundaries of the meaning of 'complaint'.

Sheikh Mohammed was asked by a journalist about the recent criticism of Dubai's development strategy, how he pervieved it and how he is dealing with it.
What you've quoted is simply part of his answer.

Anon@2.53 what ignorance you demonstrate. The pogroms you talk about have nothing whatsoever to do with culture. Far better to look words up so that you understand what's being said before you jump ranting into conversations and make yourself look foolish.

Anon@.3.12 you're simply confirming my point about not understanding other cultures because you're saying that countries must change their culture and laws to suit visitors. We are all visitors here, we can't become citizens or have permanent residency.Do you want your own country, whichever that is, to do the same?

Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia for example haven't abolished the death penalty for drug dealing because visitors' countries have abolished it. Australians, and other foreigners, have been executed.

The point is that to people from this part of the world an insult is a very serious matter and it goes way back into the history of the culture. To you the finger is neither here nor there, to someone else it is a major and punishable insult. Do you find it so hard to accept that people view things differently from you?

ZeTallGerman said...

seabee, I don't agree that a host country needs to "change" to suit foreigners.... heck, otherwise we'd have purely Hindu schools and temples in the middle of London, gigantic mosques in the centre of Paris, etc. overpowering the "local" culture. (these are just examples). However, the UAE is in a bit of a unique situation compared to other countries that welcome expatriate workers: Germany, for example, still has at least 75% "locals" and 25% expatriates. The same probably goes for most countries, but we all know the mind-boggling statistics in the UAE.

Secondly, I think that many anons aren't just opposing to the fact that Darren was jailed & deported and that the punishment was "harsh"... but let's think about what would happen if the Emirati had flipped his finger at Darren, and Darren were the one who complained?
I've had numberous Emiratis (mostly the women!) flip fingers and do other rude hand-gestures at me... some have also rolled-down their windows and cursed at me. I've tried complaining... guess what the "flippers / cursers" did once the police arrived? They lied.

So, maybe Darren's laywer's advice wasn't so wrong after all.

Alex said...

Can I just say that I went through the exact same thing here. I was nearly run off the road etc. when I gave the finger. My husband's PRO said whatever you do, just admit fault and it should go away. So I admitted to what I had done and the police officer was satisfied enough with that, but the other driver wanted a harsher punishment and stayed about 5-6 hours at the police station to make sure something harsher was done about it. reading what has happened here just makes me realise how lucky i was to have a police officer who was willing to talk the emirati out of going further with this, because this was the difference between me being let off the hook and what happened to Darren. I believe what i did was wrong, but didn't know at the time it was actually illegal, but what I don't agree with is that someone who runs you off the road then thinks he's in the right and has the gall to report you when you've done absolutely nothing to harm his life.
anyway, i know this is what a lot of you have already stated, but I just couldn't believe how similar my experience was to Darren's and how lucky I feel not to have had to go through what he did.

Alex said...

btw. even though Darren now says deny, deny everything if you ever get in to this situation.... the police officer specifically said to me that it was a good thing I admitted to it because he wouldn't have been so light on me if I would have tried to deny it.
I also think this is the only way he was able to convince the local to go away and forget about it.... otherwise I think I would have been in a LOT more trouble! So I'm not sure about the whole 'deny it all' advice.

Seabee said...

Y'all, three different things are being confused together.

One is the subject I posted about, which is the seriousness with which insults are viewed in the culture and therefore the law in this part of the world, and the need for everyone to be aware of that fact.

Second and separate is the question of the dangerous driving. Of course the driver should have been charged and punished, I've posted saying this about moronic drivers many, many times. Darren, and others, should have photographed him, reported him and insisted that he was charged.

Third and again separate is that while the official line is that everyone is equal under the law the question is raised endlessly whether Emiratis get preferential treatment.

(Last note - having to choose between advice from an HR person or a lawyer - that's a rock and a hard place if there ever was one!)

Anonymous said...

Seabea - the government has been vociferously complaining about the foreign press treament.

Through various newspaper columnists, through the FNC, and through Shk Mohammed directly. It's all very carefully orchestrated.

The point you should have been making, is that wasta is more important than the law. Cultural insensitivity or not, influence matters most.

Anonymous said...

If there's one thing I hate it's rude and ignorant drivers who hurl abusive language at you or swear at you just because they're having a bad day and are too pathetic to deal with it like a grown up.
I'd have pressed charges too. It's one of the best laws in the UAE.