Friday, March 24, 2006

Dubai Chalo (Lets Go Dubai!)

The recent port controversy has resulted in the usual apologetics from some Muslim groups/individuals, and from some well-intentioned liberals.

The apologetic goes like this: The UAE (and most notably Dubai) is this great pro-Western area of the "Arab/Muslim world" that Americans should have no fear off... it is supposedly this wonderful "progressive" Muslim area, that has the look and feel of Disneyland (OK - well, maybe just Miami). Therefore, fear Dubai not, it is everything that the "west" wants, indeed, the city is constructed in the very image of America.

Ignored, and lost in all of this is the sordid history of Dubai - where workers from all over South Asia, and parts of East Asia (especially Phillipines) have little or no rights. Throughout 60s, 70s, 80, 90s, and now - Dubai has imported hundreds of thousands of workers, promising them much higher wages for their labor. During the 70s and 80s - workers would leave Karachi by the shiploads for the promised land of Dubai. Once there, they would find construction jobs paying dismal wages, but much higher than what they would earn in Pakistan. Sounds familiar? Not all that different than what immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America face in the United States.

A couple of days ago, thousands of mostly South Asian construction workers in Dubai went on strike - protesting dismal working conditions, terrible wages, and lack of medical care.

The builders, who are working on towers next to the tower, are demanding better wages, overtime pay, improved medical care and better treatment from their foremen.

Pay for the workers ranges from US$7.60 per day for a skilled carpenter, with labourers getting $4 per day.

Foreign workers are key to the construction boom in the Gulf region. Millions of migrant workers have flooded in, outweighing the local population.
Prestigious projects, like the recent $ 4.1bn airport expansion in Dubai, rely mainly on workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These workers are cheap, usually earning less than $300 a month.
The UAE and Dubai have a per-capita income of over $20,000 making the area one of the richest in the world. This per-capita income statistic is skewed towards those who are actually "citizens" of UAE - and they constitute less than 20% of the population, the rest are non-citizen imported workers.

So, what is going on here? Sure, we should be concerned about the underlying anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tone that the port controversy took on.

BUT "Muslim" is NOT the name of a tribe, state, or country. This means, that as Muslims, we should not be running to apologize and gloss over the oligarchical and monarchical nature of "states" such as UAE, and Dubai.

As a Muslim, my solidarity does not lie with the "emirs" "kings" and "queens" or the Big Businesses who are the favorites of the Bush White House. I would hope I can live in the way that Imam Ali (AS) instructed:

“None are more disgusted by equity, more importunate in demands, less grateful upon bestowal, slower to pardon withholding (favor) and more deficient in patience at the misfortunes of time than the favorites. Whereas the support of religion, the solidarity of Muslims and preparedness in the face of the enemy lie only with the common people (also translated as masses) of the community, so let your inclination and affection be toward them.”

This means that while I would take serious issue with the racist nature of the "port debate" in the United States, by no means would I then make the UAE/Dubai out to be some kind of a wonderful paradise that it is obviously not. And when workers struggle for rights, I would stand with 'em here in the United States, or there in Dubai, as a Muslim.

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