At a time when foreigners in Western garb are being singled out for deadly attacks by the Islamic State and other militants, the United Arab Emirates has warned its citizens against wearing traditional Muslim clothing while traveling in the West.
Officials in the UAE, responding to an incident in which an Emirati tourist was arrested in Ohio, cautioned Sunday that travelers from the Arab country should “refrain from wearing the national dress” in public places while visiting the West “to ensure their safety” and said that women should abide by bans on face veils in European countries, according to news reports from Dubai.
The tourist, Ahmed al-Menhali, was detained at gunpoint last week in Avon, Ohio, after a suspicious hotel clerk alerted relatives, who called 911. Menhali, a 41-year-old businessman, was in the United States for medical treatment and tried to book a hotel in the Cleveland suburb. He was wearing a flowing white headscarf and a full-length white robe at the time. Police accosted and handcuffed him outside the hotel entrance while he was speaking on his phone in Arabic. He later told the broadcaster Al Jazeera that the clerk said he was “pledging my allegiance to ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State.
A police video posted by a Cleveland TV channel showed an officer loading his rifle and running toward Menhali, while others shouted at him and held him down, according to Al Jazeera. He collapsed at one point, apparently feeling ill, and emergency workers took him to a hospital. He had previously suffered a stroke and was not armed.
Police and town officials later apologized for the incident, calling it “very regrettable.” But such an incident is hardly surprising amid growing alarm in the wake of the recent mass terrorist attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino, California, in which the Muslim attackers pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.
The Ohio incident came to light one day after terrorists in Bangladesh assaulted a coffee shop and bakery in a cosmopolitan district of the capital, Dhaka, reportedly singling out and shooting Western patrons while sparing local Muslims. The gunmen, who were wearing jeans and were clean-shaven, reportedly told restaurant staff members that Western visitors were undermining Islam by wearing revealing clothes and drinking alcohol. The attack left about 30 people dead.
Westerners face significant dangers in Muslim countries, their appearance making them easy targets for Islamist militants. In Tunisia, Afghanistan and Indonesia, Muslim militants have increasingly sought out Western tourists and facilities for attack, aiming to drive out other Westerners and shore up their religious appeal.
Muslim activist groups in the United Sates expressed alarm at the Ohio incident, calling it another example of bigotry and heightened Islamophobia. Other observers pointed out that the two attacks in Florida and California were carried out by Muslims who wore ordinary Western clothing, spoke English and were established in local immigrant communities. But many people posting on social media defended the police response in Ohio and blamed Islam and Muslims’ religious beliefs for rising global chaos.
“I am very sympathetic to Muslims, but come on,” one person commented on a news story about the incident. “I feel bad this gentleman became ill. However, because of actions of MUSLIMS … then yes everyone is gonna have to pay at least for a while.”