Monday, April 13, 2009

Defending Dubai Part 2

Obviously last week's post about Hari's article in The Independent provoked a lot of discussion. It's clear that the subject of "Dubai-bashing" is a topic that a lot of people care deeply about. Some people think that Dubai has been built on the back of slave labour. Some think that Dubai is a vitally stable city in an often turbulent region. Some think that Dubai represents everything that's wrong with the global financial system. And some think that Dubai represents everything that's right with Arab ingenuity and ambition.

Clearly, we're far from a consensus on any of these articles. It's certainly disappointing when people who comment on articles (both pro- and anti-Dubai) essentially argue that anyone living in Dubai should be ashamed of themselves for condoning and benefiting from slavery. This attitude frustrates me the most. The vast majority of residents in Dubai are hard-working people who think that the way in which the labourers are treated is disgraceful. But if you'd only read these recent anti-Dubai articles, the uninformed outsider would think that every resident is ecstatic about the situation. This is what is so patently unfair about these articles.

Furthermore, where were these articles before the financial crisis? If these journalists care so much about the labourer situation, why weren't they highlighting the issue over the past decade? What makes this the perfect time to decry Dubai's labour laws? Again, I am certainly not approving of the treatment of labourers, but what seems unfair to a lot of my fellow Dubai residents is the sudden avalanche of negativity. It feels as thought these media outlets are kicking us while we're down.

The best question to ask is not who is right or wrong, but what can we do to make the situation better? How can we help the workers who have had their passports taken away? How can we ensure that they receive adequate compensation for their work. Pointing fingers at people, and publishing gross caricatures of the residents of Dubai will do nothing to change the situation. We need to channel this attention into action.

Over on Boing Boing today, there's a link to a post by Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito, where he defends Dubai from the recent wave of criticism. He writes,

I don't want to appear like I'm defending human rights offenders. As a board member of Global Voices, WITNESS and a supporter of a number of Human Rights organizations, I spend a TON of time on human rights issues. We NEED to talk about human rights. However, human rights issues are resolved by understanding how and what kind of pressure to put on who in order to cause the change. While broad understanding of human rights is important, I don't find that sprinkling them on articles as part of a negative press pile-on is really, comparatively speaking, that productive.

In Ito's post, there's a link to another post by Jamie Stewart, AKA desert_blogger, who writes for Independent Minds, a collection of blogs by journalists who write for The Independent. Stewart writes in response to a documentary that was aired recently (in the UK, I believe). He says,

Though many aspects of life here should indeed be put under the microscope, it should not be forgotten that the city, and its burgeoning growth, has repackaged the Middle East in the thoughts of many people. The means of its arrival on the world stage were questioned by last night's documentary, rightly so, but a huge experiment is underway, that mixes culture, ethnicity, and religion. It was never going to be easy.

Dubai bashing is a very real phenomenon. I wouldn't be surprised to see it as the exhibition sport at the next Olympics. Now, I'm not one to cast doubt on other's work. But, to raise some choice points from recent articles on Dubai: No, the Palm island is not sinking; No, the streets are not plagued with broke expats dusting the sand from their clothes after another night sleeping in the sand dunes; and I've turned on the taps THOUSANDS of times, and a river of cockroaches has never come pouring out (thank the NY Times for that pearl!)
The point of this post is that it's important to get things in perspective.

It's encouraging that some journalists are starting to realise that nothing much is going to change just by writing articles that point fingers at drunk expats at Double Decker's.

In the interest of impartiality, Johann Hari, the author of the commentary that has caused so much discussion over the last week or so, has written a response to some of the criticism of his opinion piece. You can find his rebuttal here.

So, again, it's over to you guys. Do you still agree with Hari, or do you still think Dubai is a monstrosity? Or if you disagreed with Hari's opinion, has it at least slightly changed your perspective of the labour conditions in the UAE? Leave your opinions in the comments section below...


  1. I personally believe that Dubai indeed represents everything that is wrong with the global financial system ... the rich people who are getting richer exploiting the poor who keep getting poorer !!!

  2. Hi Sam
    As I sit here in my nice safe democratic state in Australia..drafting safety policy for the government...
    I ask you? What is being done for the workers rights locally?
    Are you going to get involved?
    Lobby govt here is pretty easy? What's it like there?