There will be few people in the UAE who will view the video from Ohio police of the arrest of Ahmed Al Menhali without a sense of shock. In broad daylight, the businessman was forced to the ground by armed police, unceremoniously stripped of his shoes and even mocked by the police when he explained that he worked for the UAE embassy. On the video, police can be seen rifling through his Emirates ID, his UAE driving licence and even photographs of what seem to be female relatives.
A shocking display by any standards, but that it was based on the foolish testimony of a receptionist who apparently mistook Mr Al Menhali’s conversation in Arabic for a “pledge of allegiance to ISIL” makes the incident deeply embarrassing for Ohio police. In recognition of this, both the chief of police and the mayor of the town have apologised publicly.
As a precaution, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised Emiratis travelling abroad to avoid wearing national dress. This is completely understandable, but it is unfortunate that the prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in the US has reached such a stage that it is necessary for such a warning.
In general, this newspaper is against people having to drastically alter what they wear in order to feel safe. We don’t believe, for example, that women should have to alter their clothing to “avoid” sexual assault, nor that ethnic or religious groups should hide their symbols to avoid hate crime. Rather, society ought to adjust to make sure those groups are protected from assault.
The same ought to apply to Emiratis abroad. They should not have to hide their national dress because of prejudice; rather the police ought to protect them from assault and suspicion. One of the best things about the UAE is that people from around the world can wear their national clothing without fear. Emiratis should feel comfortable wearing theirs abroad.
Indeed, it does appear to be the police who were at fault here. At the least, the police ought to have calmed the situation, rather than escalated it with heavy weapons. These are tense times, for sure, but they are tense for everyone, and alienating people who are conducting business or tourism is definitely not the way to build bridges.