At least we are Dubai

Conor Purcell April 30, 2010

George Fulton’s opinion piece on Dubai – “At least we are not Dubai” – was misguiding, cliché-ridden and typical of the simplistic analysis some of the foreign media has employed when talking about Dubai. Schadenfreude seems to be the dominant emotion. Just who did these Arabs think they were? The economic crash that affected the entire world (including Pakistan) led to an outpouring of glee in certain sections of the media when it came to the Emirates.

There seemed to be delight that Dubai had ‘failed’ and expectations that the city would turn into a ghost town, receding back into the sand. What this reporting exhibits is ignorance — ignorance of the fact that Dubai is about much more than five-star hotels and skyscrapers. This ignorance is clear from George’s second paragraph. He claims that Dubai has no art.

Did he, in his ten days in the city, visit the thriving art scene in Al Quoz or walk through an exhibition at The Gate at the Dubai International Financial Centre? Did he pick up a copy of Bidoun or Brownbook magazine? It seems not. What he did do was go to the mall, where he observed “people buying shirts they will never wear and books they will never read.”

One wonders how he came to this conclusion. But we get the sense George came to his conclusion long before he arrived in Dubai and nothing he saw was going to change his mind. He loves clichés: “…the Arabs walk around with enough gold-bling to blind you at ten paces. But not everything that glitters is gold.” Thanks George, how insightful. Most of the Emiratis walk around in simple white khandouras, the women in black abayas — that’s certainly not blinding.

But why let a fact get in the way of a pithy phrase? George has a question he wants answered: “…will this city of hubris built on sand and folly sink back into the dunes, a desert mirage that evaporates once the public relations people, the speculators and the tourists disappear?” We can guess what he believes will happen, but unluckily for George, Dubai is made of slightly sterner stuff. It is by no means perfect, but name a country that is?

For all its faults, it still draws millions of tourists each year and many of the speculators have already left — something the locals and long-term expatriates are not sorry about. And if Dubai did fail just what message would that send to the rest of the world? Why would that be celebrated? Dubai has forced the world to look at the Middle East through a different frame — a frame that does not include violence or poverty. Dubai reached high and that makes it a big target.

And many of Dubai’s critics have valid points. But George’s article makes no valid points — it swims around in clichés and speculation, telling us about a man in a “silly shirt” and women in “oversized sunglasses.” He delights in his own prose, describing what he sees when the call to prayer filters through the Mall of the Emirates. “Nobody appears to move to the prayer room; everyone’s too busy performing sajda before Stella McCartney, genuflecting before Gucci, and prostrating themselves at Prada.”

How clever, how witty, how simplistic. Is Dubai a consumer culture? Of course it is. Name a country where people do not shop at malls or try to better themselves. Is Pakistan immune to this? I could list Pakistan’s faults, but having never been there I won’t. I do know this — I would rather live in Dubai than Pakistan. And there are more than 500,000 Pakistanis living and working in Dubai who would agree with me.

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