Monday, 20 April 2009

Dubai The Curse of The Auspicious

"I do not know whether Geraldine Bedell's book The Gulf Between Us was excluded because of its content or because of the horrible pun in its title, but I know for sure that there is more to the title than meets the discerning eye."

It is a fact that with undeniable success comes heavy scrutiny, but with the recent flood of tarnishing publicity and the Western media's constant probing of Dubai it has become evident that the intentions behind the accusatory tone of the press are both malicious and vindictive. It is also common knowledge that Dubai has comfortably taken its place among the greatest cities in the world and at an unprecedented pace. Dubai has gladly opened its doors to people from all walks of life, it has offered avid opportunities for many seeking career advancement and homes to those seeking stability and security. Dubai’s astounding achievements have stunned the Western media into submission, but that state of shock has clearly worn out. As of late all that is written about Dubai is nothing, but a slew of selective negatives, a so-called revelation on a need-to-expose basis.

The first bout of that coverage spurred from the amount of construction sites in Dubai, the media latched onto the “inhumane” labour camps. No matter what the issue the Western press seems to bring Islam into it one way or another. The BBC News published an article on the worker camps in Dubai with this opening sentence:

“There are two sounds you cannot escape in Dubai: the call to prayer ringing out from the city’s mosques five times a day and the 24-hour clunking and grinding of construction.”

What the sound of prayers has to do with labour camps is beyond me, but it is there in black and white. Failing to mention that Dubai has provided thousands of jobs for otherwise poor, desperate workers, they went on and on about the working hours and the camp conditions. The living condition details were highly exaggerated and as for working hours, the fact is the workers follow scheduled shifts that are well within reason and general rules. On the other hand, there are many Western companies that have benefited and are still benefiting from exploiting children in Asia utilising sweatshops to produce their tons of merchandise. That is all well just as long as it doesn’t happen on their soil I guess.

The second wave resulted from an incident where a British couple was found frolicking and engaging in sexual activities on a public beach in Dubai. They were arrested and taken through the proper procedures of the UAE’s legal system. Surprisingly, the British press pounced on the story and made a huge capital by painting a picture of how horrific and unjust UAE’s legal system is, mocking the religious, moral and societal beliefs of the country. Conveniently ignoring the fact that their very own British law on sex clearly states that:
“Consenting adults will be allowed to have sex at home with the curtains open but will face jail sentences of up to six months for making love in the back garden” (The Independent).
Their own back garden let alone a public beach in a Muslim country which proudly cherishes its proven traditions.

The third addition to the ongoing tsunami came in the form of protests against Dubai’s refusal in granting the Israeli female tennis player Shahar Peer, who also serves as an administrative secretary in the Israeli military, entry into the country. The media took it upon itself to label it an anti-Semitic act against Peer claiming that Dubai was taking a political stance on a professional tennis player, when in reality it was not so. The UAE has granted Andy Ram, an Israeli tennis player entry, under a “special permit” granted after the allowance of time for the necessary procedures to be taken. The UAE does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel, therefore, it is understandable that the entry of an Israeli would take time to be processed. This would also be the case for a Muslim holding an Israeli citizenship, and in Shahar Peer’s case the time was simply inadequate. But even under such an assumption as the one taken by the Western media wouldn’t the UAE government be completely justified in reinforcing its political position even if it were in the name of sports? Do they not have the right to refuse the fluttering of the Israeli flag on their soil when only a month ago Israel was well into a meaningless war on Gaza that left 1300 Palestinians dead?

Having not yet recovered from the tennis debacle Dubai is once again being forced to defend itself against the Western media after the recent exclusion of a novel from The Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature. The romantic work of fiction by an up-and-coming British writer Geraldine Bedell features the character of a homosexual sheikh. The press spun the story claiming that the country’s Islamic beliefs are stifling creativity with its censorship. This in turn forced Canadian Booker-prize winner and vice-president of the writer’s group International PEN Margaret Atwood to withdraw only a week before the festival was to begin. Atwood pulled out of the festival as a reaction to the onslaught of media that followed the festival organiser Isobel Abulhoul's decision to exclude the book and immediately posted a letter on her website stating the reasons for her withdrawal.

The chaos and outrageous media outpouring became highly contagious affecting other writers listed to participate in the festival and threats of withdrawal were made before the event organisers had a chance to clarify their position. Once Abulhoul had the chance to explain the situation it became clear to Atwood and the rest of the writers that the book was not considered for the festival because the slots provided are given to more well-known authors.
This is well within their rights as festival organisers and such rejections are done in every festival around the world. Atwood herself spoke candidly to The Guardian about her hasty reaction saying “The little golden time bomb of a refusal-with-reasons was carefully guarded by someone – who? – until now, when it was hurled into the press to great publicity effect, easily stampeding people like me.” Atwood has nowagreed to attend the festival via video link-up to make up for the misunderstanding.
Books are banned and censored for many reasons. Canada for example considers hate literature illegal, and every country is free to set its own standards according to its cultural fabric. It is clear that Geraldine Bedell was upset at the refusal of her book, took advantage of Abulhoul’s honesty and cashed in on her five minutes of fame. I do not know whether Bedell’s book The Gulf Between Us was excluded because of its content or because of the horrible pun in its title? It is quite an expected reaction that the media would make an issue out of the exclusion because it deals with homosexuality accusing Dubai of intolerance and bigotry. When on the other end of the spectrum ideals are not so different, in the United States' 2008 elections the California ballot Proposition 8, which eliminates same-sex couple’s right to marry, was passed and readily implemented. This cements the fact that no matter how open-minded the West may seem, sugar-coating their words and hiding behind their political correctness, their ideals are as reserved as ours, if not even more so.

One might argue that the media's sole purpose of existence is to report on such issues regardless of the implications and I would undoubtedly agree, but the truth is we do not report for the sake of reporting. We have a responsibility to report the truth and when the truth looks to be somewhat unattainable we must unearth it. Implications or not we must reveal both sides of the coin showing heads for heads and tails for tails. It is a shame that a country such as the UAE and a city such as Dubai that have come so far in so little time be judged so harshly and so unjustly by the Western media. Political agendas, no matter how powerful, should not taint journalism because once that happens, then our voices become their echos and our words become their weapons of mass destruction.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on February 27, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. I MADE COMMENTS ON UR STORYS IN OCTOBER. i just read this article now, and agree totally with u and i also mentioned in ur superhero article, how powerful the media is, 1 story comes to mind about the journalist who was kidnapped by the taleban, i think evon ridley was her name, she worked for the daily express newspaper.. every single day until she was released it would be headline news, how sorry they felt for her, they had her daughter saying "mummy please come home" they had all her friends and family, i think it lasted 2 months ,and when she was finnaly released she made a statement she was treated with respect and dignity, the headline in the express was shes been brainwashed, she wasnt allowed to work in the express jus in case she wrote of her ordeal and make the taleban look good.. shes also become a muslim and now works in tv.. MY POINT BEING SHE WAS THERE JOURNALIST AND THE WAY THEY DROPED HER COS SHE DID NOT SERVE THERE PURPOSE. YOU MY FRIEND ARE DOING A AMAZING JOB AND KEEP IT UP

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