Middle East | UAE

Dubai / Dark Reality of a Playground for the Affluent – Drawing a Line

diverging gustoes or objective concern?


   Like the mirage of a cement oasis in the desert, Dubai rises tall above the sand. It is a playground for a wealthy multinational society, sporting haute-couture-uniforms, living in ritzy apartments on the 100th floor and driving to only the fanciest of malls in plush gas hogs. From the world's tallest building to palm shaped artificial islands and mall-skiing in the desert – if you want it, it's all there.

"The former fishing village wears but future on its amber desert-skin."

Hoisted out of the dunes at a tremendous speed, modern Dubai is home to one of the globe's most head-spinning skylines but little of its historic roots. Nowadays, an important port and multicultural trade center, the former fishing village wears but future on its amber desert-skin. Thus, looking for authentic fantasies á la Arabian Nights is in vain, even at the allegedly traditional souks.  If you're in it for decadent western style fun in the sun, however, you've found yourself a luxurious 5 star amusement park that spits out world-renowned landmarks by the minute. How you ask? Well, ever taller comes at a price beyond dollar bills. A gruesome narrative lurks behind the glamorous facades: much of Dubai’s facelift is done by modern day slaves who are paid a pittance while working 12h shifts in the desert sky’s furnace. BBC’s Ben Anderson and others have shed light on the real costs of these ivory towers – human rights violations and inhumane working conditions.


But ever taller comes at a price beyond dollar bills.


None of it was for me. I certainly didn’t see all facets of this realm, but the face it presented me with was merely an unnatural and pretentious mask. Every nuance appeared tailored solely to the affluent: streets resembling highways without space for sidewalks, rendering driving the new walking; city limits pushed beyond the shore onto artificial islands, fueling the global sand crisis; majestic whale sharks forced into aquariums and man-made desert winters at the mall, fulfilling a craving for entertainment that outpaced ethical considerations.


I know people who love Dubai and it makes me wonder, where to draw a line in the sand between diverging gustoes and objective concern. Certainly, discussing individual taste is quicksand-hopeless; but raising the question of whether we support universally condemnable practices like modern day slave labor by visiting or living in places where these methods are prevalent, is fundamental.




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