April 4, 2013
by Soniah Kamal
I visited Dubai a few years ago. Being the loser that I am, I was more into the history than the malls. Some of the malls were nice, and I especially liked the mini-exhibits on Islamic history, but really a mall, no matter what, is still a mall and I’m not into shopping. Yes, I know, it’s a marvel to be able to ski indoors in snow while heat shatters the desert outside, but so what? As for the allure of clubs and drinks didn’t do much for me either. My favorite times were hanging out with my friend’s Pakistani driver. He told me tales which made me incredibly sad and mad. Since I hail from Pakistan also, hanging out with the driver was yet another reminder that no one chooses which family they are born into and no one knows where life, no matter how wise they think their choices, may lead them. Prior to my visit, everyone told me how I would love Dubai (sadly ‘everyone’ do not know me after all) , and how, once I set foot in this Desert Paradise (because there are prayer rooms in the malls and clubs at night), I would ache to move there. Not so. Simply because I do not like to be in a country where the law is different for different people.
Johann Harris has penned a beautifully written a soul piercing article on Dubai: ‘The dark side of Dubai’. It might make some angry. Some might call her a liar. Some might say it is propaganda against the a prosperous Muslim country. But there will be many who will nod in recognition. Particularly distasteful to me were the statements the ex-pats make about servants and the servant (slave) culture, though my disgust makes me examine why I held them to a higher moral standard to begin with. The living conditions described at the workers’ camps were sickening. And a hierarchy based on the color of one’s skin and the country of origin is wrong, wrong, wrong i.e. paying a white person more than a brown/black/blue person for the same amount of work…
To lie about wages, to dupe someone over living conditions, to shackle them in debt from the get go is reprehensible. To take away a passport is entrapment and enslavement.
‘A Human Rights Watch study found there is a “cover-up of the true extent” of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.’
Every section every sentence, every observation in Harris’ article is quotable.
There is no such thing as Utopia or real equality– some people are wealthy, some people are poor, some are masters, others are servants. But slavery is slavery is slavery.
I know how easy it is to turn a blind eye to ‘slavery’ and inequality. Especially if you believe that poor people are poor because ‘they don’t work hard enough or just want to be.’ How the credo of ‘none of my business’ trumps everything else as long as your life is not effected. How insurmountable the odds look, even if you are a conscientious citizen, especially if you risk rocking your own boat.
Is Dubai the only place where such things can happen? Nope. Happens in the U.S. too. Back in 2007 I blogged about John Bowe’s book ‘Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy’ about a group of Indian workers lured from from India to Oklahoma with the promise of green cards only to learn that this wasn’t quite true…. But they also learned that their story could end happily after all.
Not so much in Dubai. Please read Johanna’s article. Whether you agree or disagree it will make you think.