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Lessons not learnt PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 04 December 2009 15:06




by Hishamuddin Rais . First published in  theSun

in Karachi in 1979 when Dubai Chalo (Let’s Go to Dubai) was released. Before this film was made every young male Pakistani was talking about Dubai chalo – not about the film – but about the possibility of finding manual work in Dubai. This was 30 years ago when Dubai, a small fishing enclave, became the main attraction for Pakistan’s unskilled labouring class who were unable to migrate to Europe or the Americas. The building industry in Dubai was then still at its early stage.



I also remember an article in The Dawn, a Karachi daily, on a proposal to solemnise Dubai Chalo as a psychological syndrome. This was after research by a university found many Pakistani women were suffering in angst and loneliness after being left by their husbands who were working abroad.


Recently, Dubai was in the headlines again. Another syndrome is fermenting aggressively and it has all the elements of greed, sex, desire, human folly and sheer madness.


I do read about what’s going on in Dubai. But I am not titillated by tall buildings or six-lane highways. Infrastructure is not my cup of tea, it’s too banal, though I’m keen to understand the superstructure of any society.


Without any oil, the horse-loving Maktoum dynasty has with other people’s money transformed Dubai into the playground for the rich and famous.


Years ago at the beginning, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum wanted to transform Dubai into a city that could rival ancient Cordoba or Baghdad. Somewhere along the line, the Sheikh missed his intellectual target.


Caliph al-Rashid and his son al-Ma’mun set up an institution called Baitul Hikmah, or House of Wisdom, in Baghdad. The state bankrolled the institution by building universities and huge libraries that housed learned Muslim thinkers and scholars from all over the world. Ancient Greek philosophies were translated into Arabic. It made Baghdad the centre of learning from the 9th to the 13th century while Europe was still in the Dark Ages.


Baghdad became the most elegant intellectual city – it had nothing to do with the biggest, the tallest, the longest, the widest, the fastest or the most expensive hotel. It was not about shopping malls or hedonism. Baghdad was about rational thought, philosophy, poetry and scientific inquiry that produced names like Ibnu Sina, Abu Nawas, Al-Farabi; that laid the foundation of the Renaissance. How the Sheikh was able to compare present-day Dubai with old Baghdad or Cordoba is mind-boggling.


On the eve of Hari Raya Haji news came out from Dubai that created shudders from Wall Street to Shanghai, from Mumbai to Tokyo. Stock markets around the world went tumbling down.


The news – Dubai had incurred a debt of US$80 billion (RM270 billion) and investors were wondering whether state-run Dubai World, which holds more than US$50 billion (RM169 billion) in liabilities, would be able to pay back its creditors. The construction bubble had finally burst. This was almost a replay of what happened in Iceland last year that sparked the market crash of 2008.


I am amazed to read that 80% of the world’s cranes are in Dubai. Since last week – the cranes have stopped working. The construction industry has come to a halt – all is silent. Some stopped because of the religious holiday but most of them stopped for good.


To me Dubai is just another Pak Man Telo’s scheme multiplied a million times. If Pak Man Telo had to convince his neighbours in Taiping to invest, Dubai World went global. The rich and famous were recruited to buy an apartment, a condo, a villa or a man-made island as property investment. An artificial world was created in the sea where one could have a villa or some land for future investment.


The rich and famous from David Beckham to Brad Pitt, from Donald Trump to Shahrukh Khan bought property in Dubai. Everyone was intoxicated by the property boom – a haven for the hedonistic tax-free lifestyle. In Dubai, the weekend begins on Monday and party time was all-year round. It was a remake of Rome just before Nero decided to torch it.


In 1967, there was a soirée of the rich and the powerful – to celebrate Ahmad Shah Reza’s coronation. I read how four tonnes of caviar was flown in and France ran out of champagne – all flown for that weekend in Persepolis. The Persepolis soiree that became a scoring point for Khomeini against the Shah was nothing compared to the opening of the Atlantis hotel last year in Palm Jumeirah – a self-acclaimed Eighth Wonder of the World. The whole evening cost US$20 million (RM67 million) and Kylie Minogue was paid US$2 million (RM6.7 million) just to prance around.


How vulgar and hedonistic Dubai could be? Just less than 900 miles away is Baghdad, the city that Sheikh Rasheed would love to emulate is now being occupied by the American forces and her cultural and intellectual heritage destroyed.


Dubai is not about late capitalism or about postmodernism – but purely about human greed. This time the Dubai Chalo syndrome is no longer about female angst and loneliness but the signs of human greed and vulgarity that has no limit.


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Last Updated on Friday, 04 December 2009 15:49

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