Dubai, once hailed as the shining star of Arab enterprise, has hit the headlines in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons.
I am currently watching a BBC Panorama investigation into the horrific conditions faced by foreign workers left destitute by the downturn in the country’s construction industry and last week Johann Hari, of the Independent, wrote an article about how the recession is revealing the corruption at the heart of “Dubai Disneyland”.
As Dubai’s illusory wealth vanishes in the stark reality of recession, the scene is ugly. Yet in the sprit of free debate, I thought it only right to publish a reaction written by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a journalist based in Dubai.
If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country
I recently figured that if British journalists such as Johann Hari (Tuesday, 7 April, The Independent) who come to Dubai don’t send back something sensationalist it won’t get printed and they won’t get paid. After all, sleaze sells. I called a British journalist friend of mine and said: “I’m going to write an article about London, the same way your compatriots write about Dubai.”
By the time I was back at home I had come to my senses, it’s not fair to London, a city so dear to my heart, or Londoners to be judged by the actions of a few. It’s easy to generalise about a country when figures are manipulated to sensationalise and sell papers.
Say for example that I had written an article that states that, in wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets.
Say then that I wrote an article that states that Britain, the so called “jail capital of Western Europe” sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and that up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.
I could have written an article that stated Britain, victor in the Second World War, had given refuge to 400 Nazi war criminals, with all but one of them getting away with it.
Or one stating that the number of Indians who died while serving the British Empire, to build your Tube and grow your tea, is so large it is simply unquantifiable by any historian.
Or say I write an article about the 2.5 million-strong Indian volunteer army who served Britain during the Second World War, where 87,000 of them died for their occupiers’ freedom and yet until recently those who survived continued to be discriminated against in pay and pension.
I could have written an article that stated that, in civilised Britain, one in every 23 teenage girls had an abortion and in 2006 more than 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales involved girls below the age of 18.
I could have written an article stating that Britain, the human rights champion, not wanting to get its hands dirty, had resorted to secretly outsourcing torture to Third World states under the guise of rendition by allowing up to 170 so called CIA torture flights to use its bases.
Or that Britain’s MI5 unlawfully shared with the CIA secret material to interrogate suspects and “facilitate interviews” including cases where the suspects were later proven to be innocent.
I could have written an article that stated that the Britain of family values is the only country in the EU that recruits child soldiers as young as 16 into its Army and ships them off battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting it in the same league as African dictatorships and Burma.
I could have written an article that states that Britain either recently did or has yet to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict or the UN’s International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
I could have highlighted the fact that liberal Britain is responsible for the physical and racial abuse of hundreds of failed asylum-seekers at the hands of private security guards during their forced removal from the country.
I could have written about the countless cases of slave-like working conditions of immigrant labours such as the 23 Chinese workers who lost their lives in 2004 as they harvested cockles in the dangerous rising tides in Morecambe Bay.
I could have written about how mortality rates from liver diseases due to alcohol abuse have declined in Europe in recent decades but in Britain the rate trebled in the same period reflecting deep societal failures.
I could have written about how in “Big Brother” Britain maltreatment of minors is so serious that one in 10, or an estimated one million children a year, suffer physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.
Or that according to Oxfam 13.2 million people in the UK live in poverty – a staggering 20 per cent of the population in the sixth richest nation in the world.
I could have written all that, but out of respect for Britain, I decided not to. Because when you stitch together a collection of unconnected facts taken out of context, you end up with a distorted and inaccurate picture: something that Britain’s Dubai-bashers would do well to learn.