When I visited Dubai a few months ago, I ran across quite a few naysayers; people who disagreed with my choice to travel there because of their moral objections to the city. As a traveler (and wanna-be anthropologist), my goal is to visit and observe a place and its people. I am not there to pass judgment or to tell people how to do things better or differently. It’s my belief that every country–its culture and its people–are different and should be respected for those differences. But given the response I got from some when I decided to go to Dubai, I began to think about the ethics of travel–both with regards to Dubai and in general.
Dubai is a contrast of rich and poor—the “have-yachts” and “have-nots”. There is a lot of controversy surrounding immigrants moving there for the promise of a better life and better salaries and then basically being subjected to slave labor. Immigrants’ passports are confiscated and wages are withheld; and people are forced to live in deplorable conditions—several people to one-room apartments, non-functional facilities, and dirty and bug-ridden dwellings. In fact, statistics show that in Dubai, two Indian people kill themselves every day to escape the destitute lives they made for themselves in this city of dreams.
In addition to the way that immigrants are treated, there are other things that are cause for concern: rampant homophobia and the perception that women are treated as second-class citizens. Within the past few years, there have been cases of women being raped in Dubai and then being punished by the government for their rapes–as if they had seduced these rapists and made them break both Sharia and governmental laws. And while I absolutely disagree with each and every one of these things (slave labor, homophobia, and women being punished for rape), I still chose to go to Dubai. Not only did I choose to go there, but I had an amazing time.
So what about those ethics of travel? Should you sink your hard-earned cash into the tourism of countries or cities who have questionable ethics? I believe that’s a personal decision.
First of all, I don’t want to pass blanket judgments on cities or countries based on a few wrong-doings or moral discrepancies. If I never visited a country or city based on ethical reasons or because I didn’t like how things were handled, I’d never visit any other country. In fact, I couldn’t even stand to be in my own country.
Which brings me to my second point. Perhaps, instead of focusing on what others are doing wrong in their countries and cities, we need to take a look at our own home nations and focus on how things are potentially wrong or broken. As an American, I find that things aren’t exactly worlds better here than in Dubai. Like Dubai, there are huge wage discrepancies—the gap between the rich and the poor is abhorrent. Lots of immigrants come to America in the hopes of it being the land of opportunity and for the promise of a brighter and happier future. And then they end up working as gas station attendants, fast food workers, migrant workers, janitors, etc. Jobs that nobody really wants and jobs that don’t offer great wages.
Then, again like Dubai, there’s the rampant racism, homophobia, and religious divide. In fact, I would venture to say that in some areas of the US, it’s even worse than what you’d see in Dubai–especially in terms of racism and religion.
And lastly, women are lesser-than in the US as well. We often don’t make fair wages compared to our male counterparts, even if we have equal or more experience and education. And women in the US often don’t report rapes because they’re embarrassed, feel like it’s their fault and they’ll be blamed, or are afraid that nothing will be done.
Because things aren’t perfect in my own home country, I find it increasingly difficult to begrudge other nations of their faults and lapses in judgment. Just because something isn’t right for or to me doesn’t mean it isn’t right for or to another person.
There are enough countries that are off limits right now based on civil unrest and war. I don’t need to rule out any other countries based on cultural or ethical differences.