DUBAI // A civil rights group in America has told Emiratis with US travel plans they have nothing to fear after a UAE national was falsely accused of terrorist activity while checking into an Ohio hotel.
The reassurance came after the heavy-handed arrest of businessman Ahmed Al Menhali in the small town of Avon, an incident that sparked anger in the UAE and US.
Criminal charges could yet be brought against the hotel clerk for making false claims that Mr Al Menhali pledged allegiance to ISIL while checking in.
Mr Al Menhali received hospital treatment after suffering a panic attack because of the incident. The mayor of Avon and police have since issued an apology.
Washington’s American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights organisation committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent, spoke out to cool diplomatic tensions, after the UAE Government issued a warning about Emiratis wearing national dress while overseas.
Committee spokesman Abed Ayoub encouraged Emiratis to continue wearing traditional dress but advised caution when visiting provincial areas.
“Unfortunately, once we heard about Ohio, we were not surprised,” said Mr Ayoub, an American-born Arab Muslim.
“With the rhetoric we have in the US, the rise of xenophobia and Islamophobia is affecting us all.
“We’ve seen cases of women wearing hijab being singled out or profiled, so it was not a surprise a man wearing this kind of dress would be involved in an incident sooner or later.”
The committee aims to protect civil rights, investigate hate crimes and profiling against Arabs in the US. Its legal department handles discrimination cases on a pro-bono basis.
The story resonated in Washington’s Islamic and Arab communities and also sparked fierce debate.
“Larger cites are more cosmopolitan, so there is more community understanding of cultural sensitivities,” Mr Ayoub said. “When you go to smaller towns, they will have seen few Arabs or Muslims before, so the kind of reaction we saw in Ohio is more likely.”
On Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation advised Emiratis against wearing traditional dress when travelling to minimise the risk of similar incidents.
The anti-discrimination committee understood the response but encouraged visiting Emiratis to continue as normal.
“We understand the UAE Government’s reasoning behind the decision to advise caution against wearing national dress,” Mr Abed said.
“Their citizens must be put first and they must ensure they are safe overseas. We hope it is not permanent, because we want all international people to be able to travel safely and be who they are. Emiratis should not worry and plan their trip as normal.
“If someone feels they are profiled, they can call an organisation like the ADC, or the embassy and they can help to remedy the situation.
“It is not something that should deter them from coming here or force them to change their plans.”
In Avon, the county prosecutor is considering asking a grand jury to press criminal charges against the hotel clerk who made the allegations against Mr Al Menhali to police.
“This is the process we follow in such situations,” said Avon mayor Bryan Jensen.
“The police investigate. The prosecutor considers everything the police have collected and decides whether to pursue charges with a grand jury,” he said.
Avon police chief Richard Bosley encouraged people to report suspicious activity based on fact, rather than speculation.
“What someone reports to the police has a dramatic impact on how police respond,” he said.
“You can put onlookers and our own officers in unnecessary danger if you report untrue information.”
* Additional reporting by Naser Al Remeithi
Source: uae news