Come Die In Dubai 08.10.17
The flashbacks came three weeks ago, with the story of a UK citizen arrested in Dubai. Jamil Mukadam had been tailgated by a Dubai local on a highway, flashed and nearly driven off the road. The British driver flipped his middle finger in fury, then later got arrested for obscene behaviour. He's facing a six-month sentence at the mercy of a court that's Kangaroo as much as Sharia – though at the level of daily practice, how can a Sharia court with its gathering of old men randomly passing judgments be anything other?
The case of Jamil Mukadam resonated as a story because I witnessed some of the same kind of things in Saudi Arabia, when I lived and worked there. I'd noticed soon enough a self-righteous insecurity among men who have been raised to believe they don't have to work because work is for the different forms of underclass. But of course, the men of Dubai, like those in Qatar or Saudi Arabia and probably Kuwait have this thing in common – they have their oil wealth and they'll never need to work properly - only to 'manage' those who do. The temporary migrant workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and environs, they can empty the bins and build the roads and tend the gardens.
It always comes back to the roads, however, for the clearest evidence of a social sickness on the Arab peninsula. It's there that you'll see through the tailgating and the drifting and the slaloming of the immature that there are no rules, really, if you're a practising Sunni male. If a Saudi crashes into you, it's your fault. If a Saudi cuts you up or nearly kills you, you stay calm. You hold up a middle finger at your peril, with the risk of being run off the road and then arrested. Life is cheap; public face is everything. To beat a maid behind your silent compound walls is fine as long as no one knows. To pray publicly is essential, the sign of your self-worth. It's living like this, and seeing this Jekyll and Hyde morality that showed to me what it is to live in a theocracy, the dual gargantuan split of personality between public and private that one witnesses in people. A religious society, whether Christian, Islamic or whatever, can only ever end up like Saudi Arabia if you let human beings run the show, in the name of moral perfection.
I didn't realize Dubai could afford to be like this with its tourist industry, but last week came another story, of another UK citizen, Scotsman Jamie Herron, behind bars, this time for touching a Dubai male in a crowded bar. Whether it was accidental or not, the hypocrisy simply sounds familiar: both men were in a bar serving alcohol. The Dubai local is now using his privilege to have the British bloke prosecuted for public indecency and for drinking alcohol. Hello? They were in a bar serving alcohol. What was the Dubai local doing there? What is Dubai doing, allowing alcohol for sale if its consumption is illegal? Do the tourists who flock there know that drinking alcohol in Dubai is a criminalized offence? I drank there myself, at Dubai airport in an Irish pub. Is this Dubai's new direction? Or has it always played roulette with tourists in this way?I can't believe Dubai would risk courting these kind of headlines, with the potential damage to the tourism it relies on so heavily. Why are people so desperate to fly to Dubai anyway? I went there to meet my brother – I was living in nearby Saudi at the time – and see the world's tallest building and the show of fountains at its foot; I had a good time. It's compact, there's not that much to do, and the beaches are without character if you're into sunbathing. Unlike Saudi Arabia, you don't go there to work and save money, the rents are too expensive. Yet if I once thought Dubai's worth exaggerated as a tourist destination, I now can only gaze in disbelief at its weird, Jurassic Park vibe where the attractions give way to something terrible, with the tourists left abandoned in some fantasy world gone wrong. So I'll close with words from Jurassic Park, while wondering if the contradictions of Dubai are finally catching up with it: 'You never had control. That's the illusion.'