Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I used to be a Christian but gave that up in good time. Now, I suppose Humanist would be a better way to characterize myself and my belief system. That would be better than saying Atheist, which, rather than affirming what one believes, affirms a negation of belief, a somewhat self-contradicting expression.

More than a disbelief, Humanism asserts a belief in the sacredness, if you will, of humanity. It elevates the notion of brotherly love to the highest ideal. So where does the festival of Christmas fit in for an ex-Christian and believer in the primacy of humanity, while living in a somewhat Islamic state?

It comes into play, on the one hand, with often being faced with the assumption that one is Christian, simply because he hails from a Western country. People in the Islamic world, it would seem, view the rest of the world as a mirrored, albeit errant, version of their own. "I'm Muslim so you must be Christian," so the rationale goes. "We have our Eid (an important Islamic celebration) so you must have your Christmas."

It is so much easier to respond, "Right, I'm Christian," rather than create puzzlement, sympathy or, even worse, an opportunity to proselytize by saying, "I have no religion." A non-believer, and even more so, an ex-Christian, is a ripe pick in the world of the Prophet. Invariably some obscure ex-Christian convert to Islam will be held up as proof of the errancy of believing in a faith, thusly discredited.

Such simple minds--one of the main reasons I left Christianity! There may be something to that sense of a mirrored reality after all.

Getting back to Christmas in the UAE, it is gaining in importance here as not only a commercial opportunity but also an expression of the multiculturalism that is growing in this land. To the chagrin of some the UAE is a land of Hindus, Christians and even those invisible and silent humanists and other unorthodox non-believers, in addition to the native Islamics.

Christmas, whether one believes in its religious significance or not, is full of symbolism that goes far beyond the religious fundamentals. It is a festival of the family, togetherness, brotherly love, sharing, fantasy, as well as that of crass consumerism and more, both good and bad. It is an inescapable part of contemporary Western culture, if not Western religion. As Dubai and the rest of the UAE adopt capitalism, globalization and modernization, the legacy of Christmas is bound to take hold.

To its credit, the occasion presents as good a time as any to spend a special moment with a loved one or loved ones. In that, its relevance transcends the confines of any one religion or any religion at all. It is both fitting and beneficial that it continues to grow in significance in even an Islamic society, and more so in one that is as multicultural as the UAE.

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Monday, December 25, 2006


I left my hometown a long time ago. It was one day back in August 1979, when I got on a bus (with my mother) to head to college a thousand miles away. Could I have ever imagined I would have one day ended up in the UAE? Of course not. I'd never even heard of the UAE.

I believe the UAE first hit my radar screen in around 1997. I don't remember if it was online, in a newspaper or magazine article or something on TV. It was a report or advertisement for the Dubai Shopping Festival. For some reason it struck me that that would make an exotic travel destination. I flirted with the thought of getting on an airplane and making a shopping trip to a faraway place called Dubai.

By then I was already far away from my hometown. I had made it from small town Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country, to a more wonderfully exotic land of sushi, hi-tech and a roaring economy. Japan was the home away from home that for a while seemed like a place I would never leave.

But I did, and it wasn't easy. I had already uprooted myself from a 5-year stint in Hawaii. Now, Hawaii was truly a home away from home. It had everything a perfect place should have. A perfect climate, the most magnificent scenery and one could enjoy an easy and comfortable lifestyle in modern, trendy Honolulu.

There was also the culture. There were locals there, too, but it was a much less exclusive club than the one fashioned by locals here. Anyone could become a local--as long as he looked or acted the part. There was the lingo and the dress, but most of it all it was having an attitude that communicated "hanging loose."

Six years in the UAE and I once again have a sense of hometown. It isn't the number of years, however, that has done it. What it is is the change that has been sweeping over Dubai in recent years. It is the magic in that bit of real estate jargon expressed elusively in the term freehold.

This notion of freehold has gradually infected my conscience with a sense that the UAE can mean home. Why wouldn't it? You make a momentous decision to commit yourself to buying a home. It's not a rental contract, not a lease, not even a job contract, but a residence to which you commit years of your life to pay for, and hopefully inhabit for a good slice of life.

It doesn't matter that people often comment derisively or self-depreciatively about being here for the money. That isn't the case when someone decides to invest in a home. Grant it, people get into buying property in the UAE in order to flip it--to make a profit in the short or medium term. But whether it is to beat the rising rent spiral or just have a bit more stability in terms of one's residency, lots of people are buying, or at least want to buy, to make a home of the place they happen to be in.

When I left my hometown in 1979 it was in fact to go to a place that was far away. I wanted to experience a sense of independence that I had never felt growing up in a small town in Cajun country. Although I knew nothing of Dubai or the UAE then, had I known that Dubai would be the place that it has become some 30 years later, it probably would have been on my radar screen.

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