By Ross Clark (THE TIMES, 17/10/08):
Having taken the odd nocturnal stroll along Norfolk’s beaches, I am no stranger to the sound of rustling grasses and cries of delight in the sand dunes. And I can’t say that I’ve ever suffered a Mary Whitehouse moment and fired off a missive about moral decay to the council, the local newspaper or anyone else. So long as plein-airists choose a quiet spot away from children and don’t leave behind condoms or broken bottles, as far as I am concerned, they can carry on frolicking from Bognor to Blackpool.
But not in Dubai. The most shocking thing about the case of Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors, who have just been jailed for three months there after being found guilty of having sex on a beach, is that they themselves appear to be shocked.
While they deny actually having sex, they admit “kissing and canoodling” and drinking in public – which they must surely have known, and if not they were warned by a policeman that evening – were in themselves imprisonable offences in Dubai.
If Palmer and Acors expect me to write an Amnesty International-style letter to the Emir begging for mercy, they can forget it. They haven’t just been stupid, they have been thoroughly irresponsible. There is no better recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda than the sight of Westerners trying to thumb their noses at the laws of Islamic countries.
It would be very easy for Dubai to turn a blind eye to the behaviour of British tourists and expatriates: to say to themselves, we may not like it, but we like the foreign currency too much to discourage these free-spending Westerners.
That is the Faustian pact into which so many holiday destinations around the world have entered, with inevitable results: Westerners start to behave like outlaws, doing things that they wouldn’t dare do at home. We’ve all seen it: the crowds of young men on the Costas who get even more drunk and swear even more loudly than they would on a night out in Basingstoke.
It doesn’t end there: just look at Gary Glitter and the other British sex tourists who seek to exploit what they perceive to be a reluctance on the part of courts in the Far East to prosecute foully behaved Westerners.
Laudably, Dubai has made it quite clear that while it will accommodate Westerners taking a glass of wine with their supper and exposing their legs on the beach, it will otherwise preserve its standards of decency, even if it means putting at risk its burgeoning tourist industry. It has taken great pains to publish information on what is and what is not acceptable on its beaches.
Read it, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else to work and play.