x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Road-rage video led to open talk among Emiratis

The video of a man attacking another during traffic altercation has led to intense discussion among Emiratis and started a healthy public conversation

The 22-year-old Indian national who allegedly filmed the infamous Dubai road- rage incident and uploaded it to YouTube is now being held in custody, after the son of the Emirati filmed in the attack filed a complaint of defamation against him. Dubai police refused to release him on bail. But the impact of what he did is huge, not only on the man filmed hitting the driver, but on UAE society as a whole.

The video, which went viral a few hours after it was uploaded and has been watched thousands of times, showed an Emirati man in a kandura repeatedly beating an Indian driver with his agal and punching him, after a road accident, until another man stepped in to stop the attack.

The clip has been widely circulated on social media networks and mobile chat apps. The incident was also covered by the local and foreign press.

The act of capturing such video and posting it online breaches UAE law - the man faces a maximum of two years in jail or a fine of up to Dh20,000 if convicted of violating privacy by filming without permission, or defamation charges.

Despite that, the video was successful in provoking a public discussion within Emirati society. I've seen many such conversations on social media, particularly Twitter.

Many Emiratis condemned the assault, describing the behaviour of the government official as shocking, inappropriate, unacceptable, shameful and not to be tolerated. Many agreed that such behaviour does not represent the UAE's true culture. Some others, however, defended the man, saying that "this could happen to anyone" and that "we don't know the full story" to judge.

Another topic of discussion was whether the man who filmed the incident deserved to be arrested. Some people said that filming the incident was a "public service" and a type of "courage", calling for rewarding the man instead of arresting him. Some suggested that the official would not have been arrested without the video, and that public pressure could have forced authorities to intervene.

On the other hand, as UAE society places great importance on reputation and the power of shame, many people condemned filming and distributing the video of the attack, saying that damaging the reputation of others is never a good thing, and that he should have taken the video to the authorities instead of posting it online for everyone to watch.

Regardless of our opinions on this case, we would all agree that open discourse plays an important role in the development of societies. Without the airing of such videos, people may not have had the opportunity to discuss this important issue so openly and express their opinions about it.

As human beings, we always disagree with each other. This is not only normal, but also healthy. Our conflicts cannot simply be avoided by being relegated to the private sphere, behind closed doors. It's healthy to have an environment where we, as a people, discuss issues and exchange opinions, so that we can all flourish as communities and individual human beings.

People, no matter what their social or economic status, should be held to account for any crime or abuse that they may commit. In this case, putting the issue under the spotlight made people think, speak and draw lessons from it.

During these recent discussions, I could see the point of view of those who were concerned at the possible consequences of arresting the man who filmed the incident, and over the UAE's privacy and defamation laws in general. An Emirati writer said that this could send a message that is loud and clear: "Next time you see someone being beaten in public, move along."

But is this the message that the Government wants to convey to the public?

The law clearly needs more attention. A legal specialist, Dr Ali Al Jarman, told The National that "people are not allowed to film any incident, even if they see a crime being committed. The act of recording the incident is illegal in itself," he said. "Even if you take it to the police and don't publish it, you are still in violation of the law."

When it comes to defamation cases, the law gives victims of alleged defamation the right to win cases by simply proving the harm on their reputation, even if the statement about them was proven to be true.

But what we saw in the road-rage incident was that such an act of "defamation" helped in holding the man accountable, and at the same time started a healthy public conversation.

This is an important part of change and progress in any society. Similar cases could have happened in the past with more ambiguity and less transparency. They could have been solved behind closed doors with few lessons learnt.

Defamation laws could also affect journalists, as it can push them to self-censor or under-report sensitive stories to avoid stepping on someone's toes.

The end does not always justify the means. But I think, in this case, we should think about the greater good.



On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui