Driving along Dubai's roads makes us ask if we are racists

Comment: Stereotypes can be tricky when you are stuck in traffic and tempted to yell at the motorist next to you.
By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Sun 04 Jun 2017 05:53 PM

I do not consider myself to be a racist, but living in the UAE has made me question my thinking.

In this part of the world, nationality matters. We all come from somewhere else, and we will all be leaving at the end of our time in the Emirates. Wanting to know a person’s nationality is not racist, it is simply part of the texture of life in the UAE.

The GCC is a region of nuances and stereotypes. Men and women from around the world carry with them the particular character traits of their homeland. Within their country, people have habits; outside their country, however, those habits become stereotypes, and — to the untrained — commenting on those stereotypes can sometimes be racist.

The UAE is not a melting pot. It is a nice place to live, work and raise a family. But in this country, Indians do not live with Canadians, Americans do not hang out with Brits, Filipinos do not mingle with Pakistanis. Within the respective ethnic communities in the UAE, people carry with them their nation’s stereotypes. This is the fabric that is wrapped around their DNA.

As I have argued previously, it is on the roads of the UAE where we are thrown together in a clash of civilisations. In a May 21 article, arabianbusiness.com reported that Indians topped the list of accidents and claims during Ramadan, according to findings released by Road Safety UAE, QIC Insured and Gargash Insurance Brokers. The companies said they based their information on 1,845 reported accidents and claims during Ramadan 2016.

Some readers, however, accused us of being racist.

Italian Luca Cima is a certified, international defence driving instructor at the Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Race Track as well as a car reviewer with Arabian Business. He has lived in the country for 14 years. For good or for bad, he says, after a few years in the UAE, you don’t need to ask where a particular driver comes from. Based on what they do on the road, he says, “you know immediately”.

“Driver behaviour in UAE traffic,” he says, “is often a transparent manifestation of prejudices.”

Speaking to Arabian Business, Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of Road Safety UAE, said the UAE is a multi-cultural and transient society. “It is important to identity common denominators transcending all cultures and backgrounds. We need those common denominators to … live a UAE-specific road safety culture.”

While I agree we should be able to get to a point where we all accept that arriving at our destination alive is the top priority, life on the road is not so black and white.

If I am in a taxi in Abu Dhabi, for instance, the driver and I will ask each other the same questions. The first is always: where do you come from? I assume a social scientist would say we both want to learn more about the person in our immediate environment, but I would argue we are both trying to learn if our initial impressions are correct.

For years I have debated with friends and colleagues that there are lines that separate societal observers from stereotypical believers and from racists.

On the roads of the UAE, there are truths about each of us, but the danger comes not with what we say about our fellow motorists, but what we assume.

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