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New UAE anti-hate law blazes a trail

Those who take to Internet to spew religious hatred will not be immune from being criminalized under the new law

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Published: Updated:

The Emirates is known as a nation of firsts, one that excels in all fields. I am proud of all that we have achieved in terms of infrastructure, facilities, modernity and multiculturalism, but what warms my heart most is that we have held fast to our values. A country without values is nothing but a façade without a soul, vulnerable to being toppled by a gust of wind.

The recently passed Anti-Discrimination Law, decreed by the President of the UAE, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, exemplifies the spirit of tolerance and respect for others, the bedrock of our faith and culture. I salute our President for his forthrightness in taking measures to stamp out hatred and discrimination before these malevolencies have a chance to take root, as sadly, they have done elsewhere.

The Islamic European Council has been quick to praise the move and called upon the governments of all Islamic countries to take a leaf out of the UAE’s book in light of regional and international changes threatening global peace.

The U.S., which permits Islamophobes to burn the Quran and allows the Ku Klux Klan to openly stir up racial tensions with public rallies, as happened recently in South Carolina, should re-evaluate its own hate laws – or rather their absence- maintained under the pretext of preserving free speech. Speech that incites violent clashes or indoctrinates disturbed individuals to go on killing sprees in schools, malls or cinemas can be a deadly weapon and has no place in civilized societies.


Stemming radicalism


The UK is currently overhauling its own Anti-Discrimination Law to stem radicalism. In all honesty, I found it shocking that people walking past Big Ben a few weeks ago carrying the self-ascribed Islamic State’s black flags could not be arrested because they had not broken any laws! Similarly astonishing is the fact that radicals are free to march through the streets of Great Britain distributing terrorist recruitment leaflets while chanting insults to the authorities.

Britain is a victim of its own laissez-faire policies, entire areas of the country have been turned into cesspools of hatred spawning terrorist plots against the state which has given shelter to immigrants. And because every action has a reaction, bigoted right wing groups are reaping rewards with new members recruited, especially in areas with large migrant communities.

When all around us, hatred manifesting as verbal abuse, sectarian violence and terrorism is winning the day, the UAE has issued a powerful message that the poisons of bigotry and racism will not be permitted to pollute this harmonious land where over 200 nationalities enjoy peaceful coexistence. Individuals and groups out to sow division by turning man against man will not be tolerated.

The state news agency WAM has described the law as providing “a sound foundation for the environment of tolerance, broad mindedness and acceptance in the UAE and aiming to safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance”. Those who violate the law – whether verbally or in writing - risk up to 10 years imprisonment and fines ranging from AED 50,000 to AED 2 million.

Moreover, it prohibits all forms of blasphemy and anything judged as offensive to God, his prophets, apostles, holy books, houses of worship and graveyards. Most importantly, it criminalizes expressions of Takfiri ideology that considers all those who reject its distortion of Islam, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, as ‘infidels’.

In a perfect world there should not be any need for laws to preserve human decency. Humanity has gained knowledge and every generation is better educated than the one before it. Ignorance, which has often been equated with evil, is no longer an excuse for wrong thinking or wrongdoing.

There was once a prevailing idea that the more we knew one another, the less we would fear one another and understand that no matter our ethnicity, skin colour or religious beliefs, we were all members of the same race – the human race which shares the same planet. But, sadly it seems the opposite has happened. Greed, the hunger for power and superiority, has trumped kindness and compassion in some areas of the world.

The internet, which once portended greater communication between people of all nationalities and religions, is now serving to exacerbate hatreds by allowing like-minded individuals to get together in what they believe is an anonymous environment where anything goes. The World Wide Web promotes hate on a mammoth scale with its ability to reach mass audiences.

The world, and in particular western democracies, shrink from pursuing internet hate speech that has driven untold numbers of impressionable young people to suicide or made them targets, but not so the United Arab Emirates.

‘Thought police’

Those who take to Internet to spew religious hatred will not be immune from being criminalized under the new law, which comes on the heels of another recently enacted Cyber Crimes Law barring anyone in the country from swearing at someone else online or incur a AED 250,000 penalty, a prison sentence and, in the case of non-nationals, ultimate deportation. In the same spirit of politeness, anyone who transmits offensive hand gestures in the form of emojis (depicting emotions) is liable to be prosecuted.

“Unbelievable but true” was a headline in Britain’s Express newspaper relative to the Cyber Crimes Law. It is certainly groundbreaking, but it makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t insults that harm the sensitivities of others be outlawed? Hurting others should be a social taboo just as it was in the time of our grandfathers when children were brought up to be courteous. Such behaviour was an absolute no-no in my youth and to preserve society’s mores it is only right that a code of conduct is reinstated.

The bottom line is this. There is no such thing as ‘thought police’ and if people wish to allow their personal hatreds to fester in their own heads, that is up to them provided that they do not soil our homeland with hatred or attempt to infect others. Diverse opinions are welcomed; they contribute to life’s rich fabric. All we ask in the United Arab Emirates is that those opinions be shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect. And anyone who thinks that that is asking too much would be advised to start packing.

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Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.