Recently, the story of a Norwegian woman who reported being raped while on a business trip in Dubai and was subsequently charged and convicted with sex outside of marriage and consumption of alcohol exploded onto the international news outlets. After condemnation by Human Rights groups, the international community and months of discussions between Norway and the UAE, the Norwegian woman was pardoned (as was the perpetrator) and she was free to leave the country. (You can read about it here.)
Despite being known for luxury hotels, shopping and tax free wages, United Arab Emirates has been harshly criticized for its strict compliance with Islamic laws, particularly against women. In fact, this wasn't the first case of foreign victims of rape being convicted of subsequent charges.
As I watched the story unfold here in Norway I debated whether it had changed my perspectives on the country. Would I still visit the UAE, given the opportunity, knowing my rights were largely minimized?
Of course, the United Arab Emirates isn't the only country with a blemished history of injustice. In fact, I think if we dug hard enough, we could find things we didn't like about every nation. Unsafe working conditions for locals, dictatorship, child trafficking, racial segregation, religious differences, legalized prostitution, marriage inequality, corrupt government all to varying degrees in varying locations but when do we draw the line? When do we strike a country from a travel list due to our own moral objections?
It's not cut and dry is it? Each of us have our own hierarchy of ethics - some we can tolerate, others we can't. Many of us make small choices daily in accord of our beliefs - buying locally grown, organic produce to curb a carbon footprint and minimize chemical use, reading labels on clothing to avoid brands and locations known to use sweatshops, adopting rescued animals in hopes to quell the puppy mill industry. Just last week I read an article about bars in Western Canada boycotting Russian vodka due to their anti-gay laws. Our choices might be drops in the ocean but we take the stance and hope that collectively, our voices make a difference.
Do these choices flood into travel? Of course, in the exhibits we visit and the organizations we choose to avoid. But, when our ethical stakes are higher, do we take a stronger standpoint? Is it when it jeopardizes our own personal safety? Do we set a boundary - 'when x, y & z change, I'll support the country?' Do we risk missing out on valuable cultural experiences, as different and sometimes frightening as they may be, to be a drop in the ocean?
What do you think?