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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 09:46 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 09:46 | SYDNEY

AA Gill does Dubai

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14 April 2011 12:48

There has apparently been much dishdasha readjustment going on in Dubai recently over this Vanity Fair article by British restaurant critic and travel writer AA Gill. 

I had two reactions to Gill's eloquent monstering of Dubai. First, Gill's article is breathlessly superficial. Indeed between Dubai's dusty climate and what must have been a very quick tour of the emirate, it is remarkable that Gill did not have an asthma attack.

For Gill, Dubai is only fixated on the best, the biggest and the most expensive and is inhabited by apparently feckless Arabs, avaricious expats and tyrannized guest workers. 

Yes there are truths in what Gill says, but many Western and Arab writers have explored them already. 

So how about telling us something we (or most people) don't know.

Like the fact there is life in what at first appears to be a formless cultural desert. That if you spend enough time and gain the trust of the locals you will be admitted to a world where you will find, generosity, humour, poetry and a deep sense of history.

The locals do not erect material edifices to their culture nor do they easily admit strangers into their private, family-centred worlds. But you can understand why they might remain defensive.

Why open your majlis to people as quick to judge as Gill. Indeed, one fears that Dubai's response to the Vanity Fair article, if there is one, will be to employ yet more western PR experts who know as much about local culture as Gill does.

Second, Gill failed to ask a basic question, even though he repeatedly answered it: for whom was Dubai built'

There is a rational economic model behind Dubai's excess. Build massive airports and stupendous tourist attractions and the West (and others) will give you a livelihood beyond your rapidly dwindling natural resources.

And, notwithstanding its recent stumble, the model has worked for Dubai, even if it has been founded on as superficial an understanding of the West as Gill's view of Dubai. 

And who built Dubai' Gill argues that 'the plan was money. The architect was money. The designer was money and the builder was money'.

Well the money was certainly Dubai's. But the planners, architects, designers and builders were often Westerners, happy to take the money and share in the fantasy. Or if they have been locals, they are not recently retired bedouin, but the products of some of the West's best universities.

Dubai is not a reflection of local culture or, as Gill suggest, its absence. It is a mirror, albeit a distorted one, of our own.

Photo, of the Souk Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, by Flickr user P.J.P.

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