From The Guardian 18 February 09
Written by Siobhan Campbell
Germaine Greer's account of her recent trip to Dubai is disappointing (An article titled From its artificial islands to its boring new skycraper, Dubai's architecture is beyond crass, 9 February).
Her verdict of Dubai as "crass" and "with neither charm nor character" lacks insight, and panders to the media pastime of rejoicing in the supposedly burst bubble of Dubai's prosperity.
As a Dubai resident I'm the first to admit that this place has its shortcomings, some of which are on a staggering environmental or humanitarian scale. The traffic and sewage problems that the city is currently experiencing are examples of this, but it cannot be overlooked that what was once a dusty fishing port and trading village has transformed itself in less than 40 years.
Sights such as the Burj Al Arab, the Palm Islands and the Burj Dubai, which Greer mentions, are being built on a jaw-dropping scale with the intention of attracting investment and tourists: with both of these come jobs. The UAE has long recognised the need to diversify its industries, and the fact that "only 6% of Dubai's revenue comes from oil" is testament to the success of this drive. One could argue that the entire mirage of "excess" and "megalomania" that Greer finds so crass is likewise created for tourist appeal.
In contrast, while Greer states that the dhows on Dubai Creek only have a purpose in taking "tourists on one-hour pleasure cruises", they are in fact an integral part of the city's transport network. Washing machines, televisions, DVD players and other household goods are unloaded from the dhows returning from India, Iran and the Gulf states, and stacked up on the creek banks without guard, where anyone can stroll past but where no one would dream of stealing anything - a remarkable sight to tourists but one, it would seem, that isn't on the tour bus route.
"Here, there is no subsistence; here there is only shopping," says Greer - a predictable response from someone who has taken a bus tour of Dubai's shopping malls and construction sites without setting foot in the city to witness its dynamism. Dubai has an intrinsic impermanence by virtue of its ever-changing skyline and its workforce of expats who are forever coming and going. Many find this constant flux energising and revitalising, rather than seeing it as a reflection of the city's superficiality.
As for Dubai having "neither charm nor character", Greer has failed to appreciate the dichotomy between Dubai's need to modernise and its desire to retain its cultural identity. With a population of whom only 20% are nationals, forging a single cultural identity will always be a challenge; but if it's history and heritage you're after then the Bastakiya and Bur Dubai areas should be on any tourist's itinerary.
The assumption that one can get a true sense of a place from a whirlwind visit compounds the popular view that Dubai's culture is skin deep and that the city is the epitome of the throwaway consumerist society. What did Ms Greer expect from four hours on a bus?
• Siobhan Campbell is a writer and editor for Explorer Publishing in Dubai firstname.lastname@example.org