No Entry for Qatari Women: The day I was banned from Jazz
I’m a young woman who has developed a sense of appreciation and fondness for jazz over the last decade. Unfortunately, my love for jazz brought me face to face with a discriminatory law when a female friend and I tried to attend the “Women in Jazz” event last Thursday at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) in the St. Regis Hotel. I was denied entrance for being a Qatari woman. (I am not sure if it is a law or just an arbitrary policy, but in this narration, I will use the term ‘law’.)
I was born and raised in Qatar, and both my parents are Qatari. But as a result of my country’s international profile, my education, technology, and friends, I have developed a global identity. I respect local social norms yet I aspire to experience the best of what the world has to offer, including jazz music. I’m one of many Qatari women who enjoy live jazz music. So, I was excited in 2012 when JALC opened in Doha. It quickly became one of my favorite cultural spots and a vibrant venue, which played host to two friends’ birthday dinners.
Why was national dress not allowed? Was it the presence of alcohol? Wouldn’t anyone who wishes to drink be able to so in Doha or overseas?
Before my first visit to JALC I found that “national dress” was stated as not allowed on their website. Although I didn’t understand the reasons behind the prohibition of national dress, I complied and was able to enjoy the venue, food and the music. National dress for Qataris means thobes for men and the black robe, or abayas, for women. We wear it as a way of expressing our culture and national identity. I cover my body modestly and hair, in the accompanying, shayla or hijab. So why was national dress not allowed? Was non-Qatari ‘national dress’ allowed? Was it the presence of alcohol? Then why is ‘national dress’ allowed at many restaurants and airlines that serve alcohol? Was it so that no Qataris will drink? Wouldn’t anyone who wishes to drink be able to so in Doha or overseas? If because it is haram, then why import alcohol to Doha in the first place? Nonetheless, I tolerated that no ‘national dress’ rule, donned a colorful hijab, modest shirt and skirt and went for one purpose: to enjoy jazz as it’s meant to be heard – live.
Now, it would seem that ‘national dress’ is no longer an issue. Women are the issue. Qatari women.
Like the three previous times, I wasn’t in my abaya when I went to JALC. Also, I checked their webpage for any policy changes. I didn’t see any references to the “ID scanning”, which I read as a polite way to say, “No Qataris allowed.” Yet, I was denied entry for being a Qatari woman. Qatari men, on the other hand, are still welcome, just not in their thobes.
If the presence of alcohol truly was the issue, venues could be divided into alcoholic and non-alcoholic sections, or even days.
I, a Qatari woman, was banned from an event that celebrated the women of jazz. The obvious irony aside, I also was embarrassed when the guest relation’s manager politely, but firmly denied my entrance. What really embarrassed me though was the thought that as a citizen of Qatar, I was banned from enjoying this unique art form…in Qatar!
I have always been a responsible person, and that responsibility doesn’t come from any external source, but rather from a freedom of choice, an inner sense of reason and awareness. And this is the case for so many young other Qatari men and women who I know. If this ban was because of alcohol, I appreciate the intention to protect Qataris potential discomfort. However, such a law can be an obstacle in our practical development, independence and sensibility. Additionally, this law doesn’t help in sparing us from the cultural shock when we leave our Doha bubble. Furthermore, if the presence of alcohol truly was the issue, venues could be divided into alcoholic and non-alcoholic sections, or even days. If self-monitoring doesn’t suffice and there are other religious, cultural or legal reasons, then simply don’t serve alcohol to Qataris.
It saddens me that now in order to enjoy live jazz music I must either wait for the few seasonal public concerts at the MIA Park, or travel abroad. Even the new monthly “family afternoons” are geared towards specific audience and purpose, not for the entire public. When jazz came to Doha with the opening of the Jazz at Lincoln Center at St. Regis, I was ecstatic. I thought both citizens and expats will be able to enjoy what the venue has to offer, in my case it was food and live music. Unfortunately, the recent rule changes have made this jazz venue more like a speakeasy to those like me, and I don’t know the password or the secret knock, I hope for a change, an equitable change.
JustHere contacted St. Regis for a comment, to which an official said, “We do make our JALC Doha musicians available to the entire community through our family afternoons and free concerts in MIA Park.”
[Photo courtesy: JALC website]
Note: This article has been updated with a quote from a St. Regis official.