One thing confused me about the headlines last week, which were essentially a morality tale about the loneliness of the professional politician. Why did the former British secretary for defence Liam Fox choose Dubai for his mysterious stopovers between London and Afghanistan? Why could not it be somewhere else, perhaps the Wembley Plaza Hotel in Middlesex? Four times in 18 months, the former defense secretary laid his head there, when Bahrain, or maybe Oman, were the usual options. However, it was Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Of all the slave states in all the towns in all the world, he walks into this one.
Fox is not alone. Last year, more than 700,000 British tourists stayed in Dubai’s hotels, according to the Dubai tourism Web site. The British are Dubai’s best customers, which exposes how much people will collude with, or ignore evil, if their hotel rooms are cheap, sumptuous and have cable TV.
Virgin Holidays say on its Web site: “Dubai is like no other place on Earth. It is a truly fabulous destination where visitors can indulge in top-quality hotels, great shopping, fine dining, state-of-the-art spas and, of course, fantastic beaches. There is, however, more to Dubai than meets the eye...”
Yes indeed, it is unique, and there is more than meets the eye. That copy could be rewritten to say: “It is a truly fabulous destination where visitors can indulge in top-quality state censorship, great homophobia, fine misogyny, state-of-the-art police brutality and, of course, fantastic indentured servitude,” and it would not be libelous — not in Britain, anyway.
Dubai does not impose income tax, so the tourists are joined by an international convention of laughing parasites — all refugees from tax. I used to hate them, until I realized that any British people who want to live in Dubai, we can probably afford to lose.
I went to Dubai two years ago because a friend was going for work and I am not a woman to let a friend go shopping in a tyranny alone. I knew there would be trouble, reading the guidebook on the plane. Dubai practices religious tolerance toward all religions, it said — except Judaism. So I knew I should not do anything explicitly Jewish in the UAE, such as complain about the racist cartoons of hook-nosed Jews sitting on the world as if it were a big space-hopper made of gentiles. UAE newspapers think all Jews look like Harvey Weinstein crossed with Shrek. However, Dubai, owner of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building — or spike — on Earth has worse to show us than some casual anti-semitism.
Dubai, like the rest of the UAE, is a repressive state, hiding behind religious piety and that dreadful word glitz. If Mickey Mouse is in residence here, he has some of the smartest kids locked up in Space Mountain. Do not dare to be gay, or adulterous or a democrat in Dubai. Homosexuality will get you up to 10 years in prison — party on, gays. A group of transvestites got five years in Abu Dhabi for dressing up; two lesbians got a month in Dubai for kissing on the beach, before being spat out with deportation. I met a British woman in prison in Dubai. She was there for adultery, on the word of her husband — pale, thin, denied access to her children, almost too atrophied to speak. In the end, I did not interview her. Appearing in the British media might prejudice her case, and anyway, she had no words.