Friday, August 24, 2007

Bigger Towers, Bigger Crimes: Dubai a "model" for the Mideast?

"Utopia II: Built by Slaves, Enjoyed by Businessmen"

Bridgethought of the Day: Just when you think you're getting somewhere, someone has to go and tell everybody how you got there. Another good reason to watch your step...

Human Rights Watch has come out with a report on the abuse of workers who build the famous towers in Dubai that is downright horrifying. At the same time, Dubai is having something of a "coming out" party, both as a potential high tech business mecca and tax shelter, according to an article by Michael Kanellos, editor at large at CNET Although Mr. Kanellos' source, Ghazi Benothman, a Senior Associate with Crosslink Capital, says "there's almost no poverty," the Human Rights Watch report, as discussed in a piece by Rafia Zakaria, tells a shocking and very different story:

"Workers in the Gulf States face some of the most horrendous work environments on the planet. Forced to work sixteen- to twenty-hour days in debilitating heat, without any vacation for years and with compensation withheld for months on end, the Dubai construction workers eke out an existence devoid of any dignity or freedom. Living at the mercy of the employers, who literally "own" their employment visas and hence their freedom of movement, these modern day slaves are unable to leave any employer for fear of deportation.

The employers, on the other hand, can, like the Pharoanic rulers of Egypt, easily trade them for cheaper workers or sell them via trading their employment contracts to other companies."

But it gets worse ...

"In addition to the restricted freedom of movement, companies in the UAE, both large and small, often refuse to pay these workers since few legal enforcement mechanisms exist to force them to do so. According to the Report, Al-Hamed Development and Construction, a company worth over $300 million dollars and one of the fastest growing construction companies in the world, failed to pay 7000 of its construction workers in 2005-2006. The smaller companies are also notorious for absconding or simply closing up shop without paying their workers.The fact that the construction workers are "guests" without equivalent legal rights that would enable to contest such actions without fears of reprisals, further entrenches their status as slaves in a society that surely treats them as such. In addition, most workers still owe debts to their handlers and so cannot return without wages to pay them off; so they are caught in a vicious circle of persecution."

Most of the workers are Pakistani, Indian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi, and other Asian nationalities. The Arabs of Dubai behave in a way that reveals their totally un-Islamic racism . These workers are treated as human chattel, slaves. It reminds me of the attitude of Sudanese Arabs in Darfur. This ugly side of Sunni Muslims must be faced-down - by other Sunni Muslims, those with a conscience. Those with no allegiance to corrupt governments, such as the Saudi government.

Their "mainstream" position certainly doesn't look deserved from a human rights standpoint. What message are they trying to convey? Did they never hear that superiority is not attained by hubris or fantasy? And on the flip side, what are the "rebels" trying to say that can only be written in the blood of the unguilty? When did al-Qaeda ever unseat a dictator? Well, at least they are egalitarian - Asians welcome alongside Arabs...

On the other hand, while Dubai is showcased as a "model" for Middle Eastern "development" and "cooperation", this is all greased by plenty of liquor and, of course, prostitution and oil money splurged by "fun-starved Saudis" and Kuwaitis for their "entertainment" on the abuse of children as jockeys and the abuse of young women, many of them Russian, as prostitutes. Although much of this is in fact illegal (with the exception of alcohol), enforcement is slim to rare, probably mostly for appearances.

This only feeds into the constant refrain that the so-called "war" between the West & Islam is actually a cultural war between those who drink alcohol and engage in non-marital sex and "show some skin", to those nasty Islamists who emphatically do not, and are willing to fight for a world where these things are kept to a minimum. The "West" sees it as a war between "backward" ways, always using the example of cutting off hands as a punishment for theft, stoning to death for adulterers (not common, since even in the strictest sense, it requires 4 uninvolved male - or 8 female - eyewitnesses), wearing head coverings for women, and of course, that favorite one about "jihad", wildly & widely thought to mean "cutting off heads of infidels NOW". Even Christiane Amanpour went to great lengths to show how difficult and disturbing it can be to wear those head-coverings, while in fact, it could take about 10 seconds to pull on a "Taliban-strength" hijab, much less time than the most perfunctory hairdo.

Both sides exaggerate the nefarious intent of the other, and when they attempt to bridge the gap, you get people from the Islamic world falling all over themselves to baptize themselves in buckets of corruption and imitation Westernism meeting slick-looking but basically unaware businessmen from the West with dollar signs in their brains more than willing to overlook the side effects of this awkward version of cultural detente. After all, human oppression, be it in China or the Middle East, is all in a day's work. And somewhere in the thick of it all, ominously, lies the long shadow of Halliburton and its godfather, Dick Cheney.

But Divine intervention may be on the way. They say very tall buildings may actually cause or trigger earthquakes in places where none were before. So how long is this history's tallest manmade structure going to last? And what do you think it symbolizes?

No comments: