The announcement by the UAE leadership to name 2019 as the ‘Year of Tolerance’ establishes the country as a model for others all over the globe. Emiratis, like their leaders, are tolerant and strive to preserve these cherished values. From the expats who live and work in this country to the tourists who visit the UAE — everyone finds this a hospitable and open nation.
The magnitude of diversity in the country, which has welcomed people from around 200 nations living side by side in harmony, is considered not only a source of pride for the UAE but its pillar of strength also. With culture at the core, diversity enriches all aspects of civilisation. Strong nations benefit more from diversity as they have no fear of diluting their own identity. On the contrary, any visitor or expat in the UAE can easily recognise how Emirati national identity is enhanced by the diversity of its population. For that matter, tolerance is not confined to accepting others who follow a different religion from yours. It covers all aspects of human activity: Tolerance in business by adopting fair competition, tolerance in politics by respecting diversity of views ... The list is endless.
Equal under the law
In the UAE tolerance is not measured by the tens of churches, temples, synagogues and other centres of faith that exist along with the many mosques, but it is seeded in the law of the land. For example, slandering anybody or even defaming them on social media is punishable by a fine and imprisonment in the UAE. Nationals have absolutely no privileges over expats in that regard. All are equal under the law.
Policing is a good example and the way officers in the UAE deal with an incident or dispute — even minor behavioural ones, is appreciable. That’s tolerance stemming from established values and expressed normally in all aspects of daily life. Yet, the practice of tolerance is not only “inside” the country and among around 200 different nationalities living on its soil. It goes beyond borders as an essential component of the UAE’s foreign policy.
The recent announcement coincided with the capital Abu Dhabi hosting peace negotiations and follow-up meetings on Emirati foreign policy initiatives to promote peace, stability and prosperity in different parts of Asia and Africa. The first round of direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and American officials concluded in a positive spirit and agreement. Needless to add, the propagation of peace among rivals, especially in the areas of entrenched conflicts in Asia and Africa, is based on the value of tolerance held by the UAE. Proactive foreign policy is a means of preserving national interest. Using your clout to bring peace between rivals is in essence a propagation of tolerance. The UAE is leading by example, and trying to help by sending this message out.
Road to prosperity
Meanwhile, tolerance doesn’t mean going easy on fanaticism or militancy. On the contrary, fighting these traits — religious or else — is a practice of tolerance. Groups like Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) and its terrorist offshoot groups are a dangerous threat to tolerance and must be fought. Again, the UAE is pioneering the endeavour to reclaim Islam from those who try to hijack it and utilise it for political ends.
It goes in parallel: promoting tolerance and confronting those who threaten it. Even those who justify fanaticism and terror, claiming it is “freedom of speech” or hiding under the pretext of human rights, are not helping the cause of promoting tolerance. It amounts to alienation and eventually gives way to discrimination. Of course, some in the media will stick to negative coverage of equating sabotage to tolerance and terrorism to political dissent, but Emiratis pursue their way regardless. Such coverage has never hindered the UAE’s determination to go ahead with what they believe in: peace, stability, sustainable development, tolerance — for themselves and the rest of the world.
In brief, you can easily enjoy tolerance if you’re in the UAE. Also, you can see signs of it outside the country in many initiatives and actions aided by the country in all corners of the globe. The Year of Tolerance is another step on the road of stability and prosperity for the UAE.
Dr Ahmad Mustafa is an Abu Dhabi-based journalist