Peace in the Middle East (Safety Part II)

22 Jul 2019

**There will be at least one F bomb dropped because, hey, cussing is one way to get through loaded and complicated topics like this.

 

Alright, the topic in Qatar (and the Middle East in general) is like a big ol’ ball of interconnecting knots. It’s a lot of information with a lot of nuance and overlap, which is why I’ve decided to split the topic in half. Here we have Part II where I’ll discuss safety in regard to civil rights and crime. Part I is about safety when it comes to religion and politics.

 

Note, though, that I’m using the same introduction for both Part I and Part II, so don’t freak out if you get a feeling of déjà vu. Are you ready? Let’s do it!

What You'll Find in This Post

  • The types of worries people had about my stay in Qatar

  • Quick list of Qatar’s government, history, and demographics

  • Censorship (the internet, what you shouldn’t say, and art & fashion)

  • Freedom of religion (Muslims, religious spaces, and Jews & Israel)

  • Safety as an American in Qatar

  • Safety as an LGBT+ person

  • Crime (statistics, security, and commentary on specific safety concerns)

  • Final thoughts on my feelings of human rights and crime safety in Qatar

Ho-ly shit, there were so many worries people expressed to me before I went to Qatar when it came to things like crime, terrorism, and civil rights. Most of their statements started with, “You might not want to go over there. Afterall…”

 

"It's so dangerous!"

“They're waging holy wars!”

“They treat women so awfully!”

“You’ll have to hide your hair!”

“They’ll make you go to Muslim-church!”

“The water will make you sick!”

“You’ll get caught in a sandstorm!”

“You’ll have to learn Arabic to survive!”

“You’ll have to wear black every day!”

“You’ll get kidnapped!”

“You’ll get sent to a shady Arab hospital if you get hurt!”

 

And, of course, we can’t forget the eternal question of:

 

 “Are you scared yet?”

 

Yes, there was a lot of fear and concern coming from some of the people in my life, but I understood where they were coming from. America has fed its citizens some scary images of turmoil in the Middle East since at least the 1980s. We see images and videos of oppressed women, kidnapped citizens, murdered journalists, self-proclaimed terrorists, men with an uncanny number of guns, and bombs dropped on ancient sites and innocent civilians.

 

It’s true that a lot of fucked up shit has happened in the modern Middle East, and some of it is still going on, but all that scary stuff does not define any of the 22 countries* that make up the Middle East.

 

Every country is different; each has their own history, leadership, economics, social standards, and even though most are Islamic, each country usually has their own interpretation of the Quran. Further still, things like population and geography play a huge part in all those other things I just listed, and when everything combines, you see how unique each country is. Yeah, all Middle Eastern countries have some similarities, but the differences are what you should pay attention to because in the differences are where feelings of safety come into play.

 

In both Part I and Part II of this post, I’m going to discuss some of the safety concerns people had for me when it came to living in Qatar in four months. Thing is, in order to talk about safety in its entirety, we’ve got to talk about other stuff too, like politics, religion, crime, and civil rights. I know, those are some topics that can get real complicated real fast, but I promise to say things as simply as possible and I’ll toss in a few links to some outside resources. I’m not a great authority on any of the subjects I’m about to cover; I’m just a girl who was experiencing some unfamiliar things in Qatar and decided to Google shit so I could better understand what I was experiencing and why. I urge you to pursue your own research if something I write piques you’re interest.

 

If I can fall down the research rabbit hole, so can you.

 

Something else that might help is hitting up some of my other blog posts. As of 2019, there’s posts about being a woman in Qatar, the sort of art you’re allowed to do (freedom of speech), what it was like being surrounded by Islam every day, pork & alcohol (illegal substances), the migrant worker & expatriate situation, traffic & construction safety, racism/colorism/ethnic discrimination, nationalism, water, the immense wealth, the dating scene in Qatar, and even posts about weather, language, and the mandatory medical exam, just in case someone is worried you’ll get kidnapped in a sandstorm and taken to a suspicious hospital where everything is in Arabic. Those posts dive deeper into topics that also contribute to the feelings of safety and danger in Qatar.

 

Alright, are you ready? Let’s dive in!

 

*The number of countries in the Middle East/Arab World range between 16 and 22. Different sources provide different answers, but the two most popular seem to be 18 and 22.

 

First let’s establish what Qatar is and how its organized

 

 Remember, that little red dot in the middle of the Persian Gulf is Qatar.

  • Official name: State of Qatar.

  • Between 1783 and 1971, Qatar has been ruled by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. It got its independence from Great Britain in 1971.

  • It is a little peninsula attached to the big Arabian Peninsula. 

    • It’s physically about the size of Connecticut.

  • Government system: Constitutional monarchy

    • There’s an Emir who is the head of state and government. There’s naturally a royal family, as well as a Cabinet and a Consultative Assembly.

    • Qatar holds general elections. There was an election in 1999 where citizens could vote for all 29 seats in the Municipal Council. When the intention to hold an election was announced in 1995, only men were given the right to vote, but by the time the elections happened in 1999, women could not only vote, but could also run for office. Nowadays, all citizens 18 & up can vote in elections. The next election is to vote in 30 of the 45 seats in the Consultative Assembly. Thing is, this election has been continuously postponed since 2013. It’s now supposed to occur in 2019.

    • Here is a straightforward journal article from 1999 about Qatari elections and reforms made by the Father Emir’s administration. You’ll learn m+9ore about him later, don’t worry. 

  • The population of Qatar is about 2.7 million and continues to increase.

    • For comparison, New York City is about 8.6 million. Richmond, Virginia is about 230,000.

  • Approximately 75% of the population is male, leaving 25% female.

  • Approximately 90% of the population are expatriates, leaving 10% Qatari nationals.

  • Qatar is split into eight municipalities: Al Shamal, Al Khor, Al-Shahaniya, Umm Salal, Al Daayen, Ad Dawah (or Ad Doha), Al Rayyan, and Al Wakrah

  • Doha, the country’s capital, is located in Ad Dawah. About 60% of the population lives in Doha.

 

There, that wasn’t too bad right?

 

Okay, let’s get into the serious shiznik.

 

Civil Rights & Human Rights

 

Listen, this may be a cop-out, but I think we can all agree that human rights are a deeply nuanced topic, so I thought I’d give you a simplified starting point: Wikipedia. My middle school history teachers probably just felt a chill shoot through their spines, but as much as they denounced Wikipedia, I’ve always thought that it’s a good starting point when trying to learn about something complicated. You can always hunt down scholarly articles and peer reviewed journals later.

 

Still, though, let me tell you what I’ve learned through my own experiences and research . . .

 

Freedom of speech/expression

 

Let’s be real, there’s a lot of drama that goes on when it comes to the concept of freedom of speech in the Middle East. So, what do you want to talk about first? How about . . .

 

The Internet

 

Here we have an odd photo of me in a mini sandstorm. Photos like this? Post away! Photos of the oil refinery behind me? Don’t even think about it.

 

From what I understand, when the Father Emir first became the ruler of Qatar back in 1995, he got rid of the Ministry of Information, the government peeps who censored the press. When the current Emir took leadership, though, his regime established the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) . . . those are the government peeps who keep the internet safe, which I think includes the censorship of certain haram websites.

 

That said, when I came into the country, I was told that the government was watching me, so I should be careful what websites I visit. Truthfully, I didn’t think about that warning again after that and I went on my usual websites no problem. If some government official was monitoring me, well, they witnessed one boring ass internet pattern. Everything was Netflix, Origin, Google Maps, and 53 visits to the same Algonquin folktale website. I suppose they’re not interested in you if you’re not researching ways to overthrow society or usurp the political regime . . . or looking at porn. Yeah, apparently a lot of pornography is blocked in Qatar. Can you still find it? Of course, it’s porn. But perhaps your usual X-rated stomping ground won’t be available to you while under the watchful eye of the Qatari government. Note, though, I myself never investigated the truthfulness of the porn-block; I was told by locals who apparently thought it was necessary information for an expat to be aware of.  

 

The way I see it, at least the government is more or less open about the fact they censor the web. It makes it less of a surprise when you stumble upon a blocked website, or better yet, stumble unto an unblocked website only to have it be blocked a week later (congrats, it was probably you who tipped them off). What I mean is when you know someone is watching you, you feel less creeped out when they make their presence known, unlike those times when you’re having a conversation about specialty blue hot sauce and suddenly your phone starts showing you ads for it, or those times when Alexa says “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that” even though the room was stone silent.

 

Oh, and Netflix? Yeah, Netflix was censored, but not too censored. They still streamed shows and movies that featured drug & alcohol use, full frontal nudity, unmarried sexual encounters, and some pretty nasty blood & gore too. The only thing I wanted the watch that I couldn’t find was The Office (neither the U.S. nor British version). Otherwise I was able to spend four months comfortably inhaling season after season of Star Trek, Jane the Virgin, BoJack Horseman, and my much-loved historical TV dramas no problem.

 

What about what you are literally allowed to say?

 

When it comes to what you’re verbally allowed to say, there’s no way for the country to technically monitor that. However, when it comes to the things you write and send out into the world—be it a newspaper article, a social media blurb, or (ahem) a blog post—there might be some problems. Thing is, I can’t find a list that explicitly states what you aren’t allowed to say; there’s not much more than the vague concept of, don’t say anything that will harm the country.

 

But here’s a quick list of some things that you probably shouldn’t talk about . . . or post pictures of:

 

  • Disagreements with the government

  • Saying mean stuff about the royal family

  • Sex (especially when the couple is unmarried)

  • Nudity

  • Anything related to pro-LGBT+

  • Drugs & alcohol

  • Photos of natural gas/oil refineries

  • Photos of government buildings

  • Negative criticisms of Islam

 

There’s apparently a big habit of self-censorship from both the press and individuals. This has resulted in certain events or topics not being covered or barely being mentioned, like the migrant worker situation or a mall fire that killed 19 people. If you get a chance, look up Doha News, a news outlet that was always a bit controversial and eventually got blocked in Qatar (in fact, here's an easily readable article about it all, start to finish).

 

While we're at it, here's another website that will give you an overview of freedom of the press in Qatar. Some key points: It's from 2017, funded by the U.S. government, and written in very legible, 1.5 spaced, “Freight Text Pro Book” font (as in to say, it won't make your eyes hurt). I’d also like to mention that Qatar didn’t have a habit of acting violently toward journalists. If there is a journalist—or journalists—who gets in trouble, the first step would be to shut down whatever they’re doing. At the very worst, journalists run the risk of jail time (but if you somehow manage to really get on their nerves, they'll probably find a way to deport you).

 

Hey, but if you’re looking for a more detailed look at all this, I recommend checking out my post about what sort of visual & written art you’re allowed to do in Qatar.

 

Freedom of speech through art & fashion

 

This poster is from the Reflect Your Respect campaign and directly references how un-modest attire is technically punishable by law. The other posters aren’t this intense, and the modesty rule also isn’t this intense in practice (as in to say, I saw a few tourists in spaghetti straps and all they got were stares, not handcuffs).

 

Clothing and art can say a lot, right? The aesthetic of the Black Panthers? Pussy hats? $15 Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Amazon? Artists like Judy Chicago and Sonya Clark? Or what about that 1964 painting of Ruby Bridges by Normal Rockwell? Art and fashion are wonderful avenues of silent self-expression, ways to comment on loaded topics that can be difficult to verbalize because of the fact they’re so loaded.

 

Well, the art and clothing self-expression situation in Qatar basically follows the same rules as everything else.

 

Nothing with images of drugs, alcohol, pro-LGBT+, disrespect to Islam, disrespect to the government, disrespect to the royal family, or anything with sexual content (including the PG-13 stuff). And when it comes to expressing things about the social movements and political climates of other countries? Well, I’m not entirely sure. I can safely assume that wearing some kind of Saudi nationalist t-shirt will get you some mean looks (because Qatar and Saudi were so not friends in 2018), but when it comes to countries that Qatar is chill with? Movements that aren’t taking place in Qatar and don’t effect Qatar in any way really? I’d like to believe they’d let it slide.

 

Check out the post about clothing & self-expression and the one about what kind of art you’re allowed to do in Qatar . . . they both go into a bit more detail when it comes to clothing, art, and freedom of speech.  

 

Final thoughts on censorship

 

Okay, so Qatar is not the place where you’re going to see huge political demonstrations, read varying critiques of the government, or see titties (be it in art or a dirty magazine), but it’s not as terribly oppressive or violent as people assumed. The whole censorship thing didn’t affect my everyday life, but you should also know that my everyday life was naturally pretty far from the censorship problem line. I wasn’t a journalist nor was I openly religious, and even though I support everything LGBT+, I was never in a situation where the topic came up. I didn’t have much of an opinion on the government or the royal family because I was so new to Qatar, the artwork I made during my time there was pretty tame (both visually and thematically), and I had no interest in pornography. In short, my normal life in Doha was inherently unoffensive.

 

Freedom of religion

 

Doha was cool when it came to abstract monuments, and when I thought about it, I realized Islamic art has always had a history of abstracted imagery (things like geometric shapes, abstracted flowers, and stylized calligraphy on ceramic tiles). Other religions have their own art canons too, but you probably won’t see many of them on display in Qatar.

 

I can only find statistics from 2010, perhaps because their census rolls around every 10 years (making the next one in 2020), but I doubt the numbers have shifted but so much. I looked up some projections of what the religion demographics would look like by 2020 and the only notably change is there may be 2% less Muslims. That said, as of 2010, Qatar was statistically:

 

  • 67.7% Muslim

  • 13.8% Christian

  • 13.8% Hindu

  • 3.1% Buddhist

  • Less than 1% Jew

  • Less that 1% “folk religions”

  • Less than 1% unaffiliated

  • And less than 1% “other religions”

 

How does Qatar feel about Muslims?

 

Islam, naturally, is widely accepted and there was a lot of variety when it came to how Muslims expressed their spiritually. Some were conservative, some were liberal; some wore hijabs and niqabs, others didn’t; some were okay with touching the opposite sex, others weren’t; some made their religion known, others kept it private. Whatever their particular flavor of Islam was, people seemed cool with it. Granted, there may still have been some tension between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims that I didn’t pick up on, but outwardly I didn’t encounter any Muslims who had beef with other Muslims. For context, Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims have been quarrelling for 1,400 years and Qatar—and Islam in general—is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Check out this 44 second YouTube video for an overview of the disagreement.

 

Note, though, that if you’re Muslim and decide to kick Islam to the curb whilst in Qatar, that is technically punishable by death. I’m not sure if that’s a rule in Qatar or a rule in Islam, but it’s a thing. And if you insult Islam in any way (known as blasphemy) that can get you jail time . . . and it would probably get non-Muslims jail time too.  

 

How does Qatar feel about places of worship?

 

When it comes to worshiping spaces, non-Islamic buildings are not allowed to have imagery or symbols of the religion on the outside of their buildings. This means no crucifixes, Stars of David, Christmas trees, or stained-glass windows of saints visible can be visible from the outside. Why? I’m not 100% clear on that. I’m sure it’s because Qatar is a Muslim country, but I’m not sure if it’s because Qatar is legally Muslim or socially Muslim, as in to say, I don’t know if it is written in some sort of governmental rulebook or is just requested. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both, like the request for non-Muslims to dress modestly while in the country; it’s got a legal argument attached, but it’s mostly a request to respect social customs.

 

Regardless of what they look like on the outside, you are bound to find plenty of mosques, Hindu temples, and churches (including Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Orthodox, and Interdenominational). There seem to be Buddhist temples, or at the very least some regular meeting spaces, but when it comes to synagogues . . . those may be a bit harder to find.

 

How does Qatar feel about Jews . . . and Israel?

 

There’s a long history of antisemitism in the Arab World and some of Qatar’s neighbors, like Saudi Arabia, do not allow synagogues to be erected in the country as of 2018. Other countries, like the UAE, just established their first (publicly known) synagogue in December 2018 and are trying to be chill with Israel, despite public opinion. When it comes to Qatar, well, a surprising number of people casually tossed some anti-Jew hate speech my way. And with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still going on—and with Trump having delcared America’s stance on who owns the city of Jerusalem just a month before my arrival in Doha—it seemed to make any low-key antisemitism a bit more high-key. One time I was discussing something casual with my friend, something about the Dome of the Rock—art history stuff—and I casually mentioned “the country Israel”. That’s when my sentence was suddenly interrupted by a very aggressive, “ISRAEL IS NOT A COUNTRY, DON’T EVER SAY THAT!” followed by a jumble of F bombs and accusations of theft and murder.

 

Whoa, I thought. Their reaction was so intense it made me question whether or not Israel was a country, as though maybe all those years in middle school playing The Globe Game on Shockwave.com had given me severe misinformation. I can’t say whether or not their reaction was based on religious disagreements (against Judaism) or political disagreements (about Israel-Palestine), but it was a surprisingly passionate and concerning response either way.  

 

You know what? Here’s another YouTube video. It’s 10 minutes, with plenty of graphics and clear narration to explain the roughly 90-year conflict between Israel and Palestine.

 

Anyway, when it comes to being Jewish in Qatar, it’s technically okay. Technically, Qatar is legally cool with all religions as long as nobody tries to convert Muslims to a faith other than Islam. “Proselytizing”, the act of converting someone to another faith, can get you jail time. However, the fact I couldn’t find any synagogues on Google Maps and none of my Doha-based friends have memory of synagogues existing in the country perhaps speaks to the way Judaism is considered in the country. Note, though, that Qatar is totally cool with Jews and Israelis hanging out at the World Cup in 2022 despite Qatar not recognizing the state of Israel as a real country.

 

Safety as an American

 There is a lot of American stuff in Qatar which makes sense having that Qatar and America had been friends for a while. This is the St. Regis hotel lit up at night. Fun fact, the first St. Regis hotel was opened by John Jacob Astor IV in 1904. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world and definitely the wealthiest on the Titanic . . . he went down with the ship.

 

Hey, sometimes America doesn’t have a good relationship with certain countries, and sometimes that sour relationship gets taken out on American citizens abroad. So, was it safe to be an American in Qatar?

 

Hell, yeah!

 

No, seriously, the U.S. and Qatar have been friends for years (you can read more about that in Part I of this post). If anything, being American may get you treated pretty well . . . maybe even a little bit better than how America treats you depending on your race & gender. You can read more about that in my post about colorism, racism, and ethnic discrimination and in my post about being a woman in Qatar.

 

But listen, there are plenty of Americans in Qatar, especially in Education City. After all, most of the universities there are American universities. The only “Oh, so you’re American?” thing that happened to me was when my Uber driver kept asking me why America voted for Trump, and that’s not anti-American, that’s a valid ass question.                                                                                                          

Safety as an LGBT+ person

 

I mean, the Doha skyline is sort of like a rainbow.

 

I am a heterosexual cisgender female, so Qatari laws about people in the LGBT+ community didn’t apply to me. However, there are some people—including people I love—that are a part of the community and I’d want them to know all these things if they were to visit Doha. Further still, VCU is seemingly one of the most queer-friendly universities in the country and I think any students coming from the home campus to VCUQ should thoroughly understand the differences in atmosphere. So, here’s the rundown:

 

Homosexuality is illegal

 

Homosexuality between men—be they citizens, expatriates, or tourists—can result in 1-3 years in jail (an improvement from the original 5 years). If you are definitely not a Qatari citizen, though, you have the added risk of being deported. It’s unclear as to what the punishment is for gay women, but it is clear that you shouldn’t be doing anything romantic or sexual with someone of the same gender. Punishments for homosexuality include flogging and technically death if the perpetrators are Muslim. I’m not sure if the death penalty ever gets carried out, but it’s worth a mention.

 

What constitutes as homosexual behavior? Basically, anything aside from handholding and cheek kissing.

 

When it comes to handholding, it’s not unheard of to see Arab men holding hands and it was especially common to see Indian men doing it. Thing is, those are cultural norms for them and I’m not entirely sure if same-gender handholding would still be perceived as platonic amongst Western couples. When it comes to cheek kissing, you know how its sometimes used as a greeting? Yeah, that greeting was relatively common in Qatar, mostly between people who knew each other (like friends and relatives). Sometimes it was lip-to-cheek, sometimes it was cheek-to-cheek (with a kissing sound still made), sometimes it was one kiss, sometimes it was two kisses, but a kiss was a kiss. However, cheek kissing between men and women was still considered inappropriate unless they were related.

 

I was cheek-kissed twice by (female) acquaintances in both public and private spaces. There was nothing weird about the act itself, no, for me the weird part was that I wasn’t expecting someone I had only met twice to enter my bubble like that. It startled me, that’s all. What can I say?  I was raised in the somewhat strict “stay out of my bubble” American personal space culture.

 

But I digress, let’s get back on topic.

 

Other LGBT+ not-so-fun facts

  • Employers and salespeople can discriminate against LGBT applicants, workers, and patrons

  • Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children

  • same-sex couples are not allowed to become the step-parent of their partner’s child

  • LGBT+ people are not allowed to serve in the military

  • It is not possible to legally change your gender

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM) are not allowed to donate blood (however, this is its own subject that every country approaches differently)

  • Same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships are not acknowledged in Qatar

  • Gender and sexuality are in no way a spectrum. Every consideration of men and women is cisgender

  • Cross-dressing is not illegal, but it’s highly frowned upon.

  • Campaigning for LGBT+ rights? I don’t think it’s technically illegal, but whatever you are doing will get shut down real fast

  • There are no public support or solidarity groups for the LGBT community, nor any public attempts to educate those outside the community

 

In essence, being LGBT+ or supporting LGBT+ plus is dangerous from both a legal and social standpoint. But here’s a real fun fact: George Michael performed in Qatar way back in 2008. It didn’t ignite a wave of social acceptance, but it is kind of cool, right?

 

Crime

 

Sure, this is just a wobbly photo of my foot. But you know what I had to do to take a photo of my foot? Look down. The fact I felt safe enough to look down on a public sidewalk to take a carefully crafted awkward photo of my foot speaks to how safe I felt in the country.

 

When it comes to things like sexual assault, murder, burglary, theft, and overzealous gun usage, Qatar is a very different place than America.

 

First, let’s lay down some statistics:

 

Some people, I included, find comfort in numbers. This may help set the stage for you:

 

  • The United States world crime index is 47.13. This means its safety rating ranks 45 out of 118.

  • Qatar’s world crime index is 13.26. This means its safety rating is 118 out of 118.

 

Yes, Qatar is at the very bottom of the list.

 

Qatar was literally the safest country in the world and in April 2019, a bunch of articles came out about how Qatar’s crime rate had dropped below the global average. What does this mean? Crimes like aggravated assault, theft, murder, arson, burglary, and drug abuse are all about 95% - 99% lower than the national average. Further still, those big heavy hitter crimes only made up about 12% of what the country was dealing with. The other 88% of crimes being committed was stupid shit like violations, non-criminal quarrels, forgery, breach of trust, and nonpayment (otherwise known as “minor crimes”).

 

Here is a link to one of the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s 2019 security reports on Qatar. It’s from an American government organization and goes into a bit more detail about different types of crimes in Qatar and what the tea is.

 

And we can’t forget the security presence

 

Compared to the U.S., Qatar had a ton of security. There was ample security at VCUQ, riding around on golf carts in Education City, and it was normal to walk through metal detectors or send your purse through x-ray machines before entering public spaces like malls and hotels. I also always saw some sort of security guard everywhere I went. Sometimes it was the police, and sometimes it was private security, but neither of their presences felt aggressive. The widespread security alone probably contributed to the lack of people breaking the law. If you feel like you’re being watched, you’re not going to do anything that’s gonna get you in trouble, right?

 

So, if it’s so safe, what is there to talk about?

 

Uhmm . . . maybe we can talk about the St. Regis again? But in the daytime?

 

Even though the country is incredibly safe, I’ve still got some commentary based on the sorts of things the people in my life were worried about. Let’s just go through it in alphabetical order.

 

Automobile Safety

 

People don’t usually steal cars, that’s for sure. However, traffic in Doha could be a nightmarish and car accidents were the number two cause of death in Qatar until 2017 (beat out only by heart disease). By 2018, though, death-causing automobile accidents dropped by about 10%. I suppose that when you mix a ton of normal city construction with World Cup construction and drivers from an array of different countries (that all have different driving habits), things can get rough. Speeding, road rage, and a frustrating number of roundabouts were like bitter sprinkles on top of a terrible traffic cupcake.

 

You can learn more about all that in my post Wear Your Seat Belt.

 

Guns

 

As we all know, the U.S. is legally very chill when it comes to guns. Lots of people have them, and lots of people use them, which has led to some pretty severe problems recently. Things like kids accidently harming themselves or others with poorly stored firearms and our recent history of people shooting up office buildings, high schools, elementary schools, universities, concerts, and places of worship have made the idea of gun laws a national conversation.  

 

My point is that America’s habit of gun-slingin’ was intense compared to Qatar.

 

In Qatar, annual deaths from firearms—be they intentional or unintentional—have never gotten into the double digits. In 2014 (the most recent statistic I could find) there were two gun deaths, two.

 

From what I understand, the right to privately own firearms is not guaranteed by law, as in to say, no one necessarily has “the right to bear arms”. That said, civilians can still own guns if they want, but not many people seem to want them . . . probably because gun stores aren’t a thing in Qatar and the process of getting a gun license is one helluva a process.

 

And when it comes to the police? Some of the Qatari police force carry machine guns, but I didn’t really see them around. The police I did see all had the typical belt holster/handgun combination, but most of the cops I saw were directing traffic. I also haven’t heard of any police brutality between the Qatari police and civilians.

 

Hey, but here’s a fun fact: Qatar has national rifle teams for both men and women, and they’ve both won medals . . . the women’s team especially.

 

Home Invasions

 

I lived in the girls’ residence hall in Education City. The process for getting into a student’s room in a residence hall involved about six doors and gates, most of which required some sort of ID and sometimes even a pin number.

 

When it comes to living off campus? Well, the homes in Doha vary, but many of them are in gated communities, in which case you’ve got to give your ID to the security guards and write down who you’re visiting in why.

 

In short, it’s hard to break into someone’s house.

 

Kidnapping

 

Getting kidnapped is highly unlikely. Afterall, kidnappings usually happen when there are guns, drugs, or alcohol involved. Maybe you were held at gunpoint, maybe you were drugged, or maybe you got super drunk and couldn’t help but make a bad judgement call (not victim blaming, but we all know the effect alcohol has on the brain).

 

Well, it’s crazy hard to get both guns and drugs in Qatar, and the alcohol is limited, so without those three things involved, kidnapping adults is going to be a bit more difficult. Still, as safe as the country is, it’s always a good idea to use common-sense safety rules, like not walking off with strangers, travelling with a group, or letting people know what your plans are.

 

Murder

 

Nope, didn’t experience any murders while I was in Doha. I only bring it up because Sharia Law can be applied when trying acts of murder.

 

Sexual assault & harassment against women

 

Compared to the U.S., Qatar doesn’t have a noticeable climate of sexual assault and very few incidents of harassment. The women who do get harassed are usually expatriates, especially those travelling alone, but from what I can tell it’s typically commentary (as opposed to touching). I myself was never harassed, not even a little bit. I wasn’t even catcalled (a problem that some Middle Eastern countries are notorious for). Granted, I got some stares in the souq when I wore a fitted shirt, and a faculty member shared a story of having to tell a salesman (also at the souq) to talk to her face, not her breasts, but neither of us were ever touched . . . which is more than I can say for my experience in America.  

 

One thing you should keep in mind is that Qatar, as an Islamic state, has a culture of separating women from men. You can read more about it in the post Being a Woman in Qatar, but long story short there are some spaces that are coed and some spaces that are not. The residence halls in Education City, for example, have a male building and a female building, and some restaurants have male sections and family sections (for women and children). I’m sure that to some extent having lots of spaces throughout the country where women simply don’t encounter men plays a part in the low number of sexual assault & harassment incidents. Sexual assault is also really frowned upon in Islam and it’s another crime that can be tried by Sharia Law.

 

Theft

 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had your headphones stolen.

 

I remember attending a midnight wedding in Doha and futzing over whether I should leave my purse on the table, under a chair, or keep it with me while I went to dance. After all, it was a room full of strangers and I couldn’t afford to have my stuff stolen, I had only been in the country for eight hours. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have wasted my energy worrying about that. You see, because not only was the wedding a safe place for my stuff, but Doha as a whole didn’t really have a theft problem (perhaps because Sharia Law can be applied when trying theft).

 

Coming from the U.S., theft isn’t unheard of. Coming from Richmond, the local news and barrage of VCU Alerts let it be known that theft, burglary, and robbery happen on the regular. And at VCU itself? Hah, I dare you to leave your laptop on the table unattended while you go to the bathroom. Or how about leaving your art supplies sprawled out while you go pick up a sandwich? Or making the mistake of not hearing your name when they call your order in a crowded campus Starbucks? Yeah, someone is going to snatch your stuff.

 

At VCUQ, however, you could leave your laptop on a majless cushion for a full day and nobody would mess with it. Gucci sunglasses, hand carved walking sticks, gold earrings, and even your entire purse was safe from thieves, so it seemed. VCUQ even sent out emails when they received stuff in the lost and found. And when it came to more public places like the Student Center? Once my friend lost his headphones, came back the next day, asked the security desk, and got his headphones back. He had to describe the headphone to them, but the point is that no one stole his headphones.

 

Can you imagine that? A place filled with students who don’t steal headphones? Sounds like the first tier of heaven.

 

So, overall did I feel safe within Qatar’s human rights and crime situations?

 

You see this face? This is the goofy frog face of a woman wholly unconcerned with having her human rights violated and jacket stolen.

 

When it comes to human rights, I think I felt safe by default. I just so happened to lead a life that was far away from clashing with things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and rights as an LGBT+ person. I also found that being American got me better treatment than I was used to in the U.S. and that ultimately made me feel safer.

 

When it comes to crime, wow, I felt a lot safer than in the U.S. To feel as though I didn’t have to put my purse under my coat, or keep my hand on the stun gun in my pocket, or wrap my keys around my knuckles in case I had to throw a punch, or walk different routes home so stalkers couldn’t figure out my routine, or pretend to be on a phone call to deter potential robbers, or continuously remind my roommates to lock the goddamn door because anyone can and has walked off the city streets into our apartment complex . . . to not have to think about any of that was mind-blowing. It was calming. The safeness in Doha was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I loved what I was able to accomplish when my mind wasn’t cluttered with all the ways to combat the possible dangers coming my way.

 

I know, I’m making America sound like hell on earth

 

America isn’t awful, America could be worse, but America could also be a lot better. Women’s rights, sexual assaults, police brutality, mass shootings, bomb threats . . . it’s a lot. Richmond alone was considered one of the most dangerous cities in America until recent years, and the VCU Alerts never let me forget how many sexual assaults, sexual harassments, aggravated assaults, armed robberies, motor vehicle thefts, sexual batteries, grand larcenies, and shootings happen on or near campus. I’ve had shootings take place on the street behind my apartment twice and as much as VCU Police tries to keep students safe, being on an urban campus that everyone has access to meant that things like gun violence, protesters on the highway, and random men masturbating in classrooms was not unheard of.

 

All of this is why it felt incredibly refreshing to be in Doha, to be in a place where I felt so safe in so many ways everywhere I went.

 

Like I said, I felt safe

 

Look I’m sure Qatar has secrets, every country does, and I know we could have that whole conversation about giving up freedoms in exchange for safety, but at the end of the day I still felt safer in Qatar than I did in the U.S. For the first time in my life, I felt completely safe and that peace of mind allowed me to accomplish so much.

 

How was it like when I came back to the U.S.? Gosh, it hit me hard. First of all, I had to switch my brain back to defensive mode; I had to remember to do things like not lay my wallet on the counter while I looked through my purse for change, or to lock the latch bolt and the deadbolt when I went in the backyard with my dog. Then when it comes to my comfort level? After experiencing what a truly safe place felt like, the atmosphere in America felt twice as aggressive.

 

It wasn’t an easy transition.

 

Listen, before I left, the people around me were nervous that I was walking into trouble, but I ended up walking into literally the safest country on earth. That experience had a good effect on me despite some of the obstacles present in the country.

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About the Creator

Nia Alexander Campbell is an artist and writer from Richmond, Virginia. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in...

 

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