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Powered by, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

Respect cultural sensitivities of the country, readers say

07/07/2009 11:05 PM | By Sanya Nayeem, Deputy Readers Editor

Dubai: Obscenity is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as anything that is 'abhorrent to morality or virtue'.

So would a woman in swimwear make for a good illustrative description?

Which scenarios fly under the radar and what makes you cringe and look away? Gulf News readers voiced opinions from both ends of the spectrum.

Tanisha Gupta, who works in a Dubai-based media agency, thought wearing a bikini did not automatically qualify for an 'obscene' label. She said: "Obscenity is not just about what people are wearing, but what they are doing. Posing in distasteful ways would be more offensive to me than just a woman wearing a swimsuit."

Noorin Ansari, a Sharjah resident, agreed and added that context was important when considering whether an image was obscene or not. She said: "Especially during summer, lifestyle magazines often tend to display images of beachgoers. I don't see anything wrong with that. In fact, I have come across worse images that are far more offensive than people in swimwear."

For Ansari, public displays of affection were a good example of being culturally insensitive, more so when it is done in family areas.

But with the lines often blurred between what is acceptable and what isn't, how does one classify something as offensive?

Arif Akhtar, a managing director based in Sharjah, said the issue was much more complicated with a multicultural society, as "obscenity for one person could be art for another."

He thought the authorities were tackling a non-issue. "People who would consider [such photographs] to be obscene or insensitive are probably watching worse scenes on their television every day."

Paul Sherlock, a British-Irish expatriate, said it was ultimately a personal judgement call.

He said: "Images of people in bikinis do not bother me in the slightest, but [whether it is obscene or not] is not my decision to make. Cultural sensitivities of every country should be respected - but I don't understand why an image of a beachgoer would be singled out for criticism."

Melanie Poblete, a Dubai resident, felt some sort of balance was necessary to keep such issues in check.

She said: "Even if I wear a bikini, I feel I must respect the culture of this country. It is not about freedom of expression, but the responsibility to respect the values of the people with whom you [coexist]."

Cultural and religious sensitivities aside, people must adhere to the laws of the land in which they live, according to Ahmad Al Kathiri, a Canadian expatriate. He said: "In Canada, such images would not have made a difference, but UAE places a high priority on decency and modesty, so of course these values should be upheld."

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