BOOK REVIEW: The giant shopping malls and skyscrapers of Dubai are a playground for a patriarchy that only pays lip service to human rights, suggests Irfan Yusuf, as he casts his eye over 60 Minutes journalist Tom Steinfort’s new book The Sins of the Sheikh.
You don’t have to wear a leather jacket and ride a motor bike to engage in criminal behaviour. You can wear the whitest of white colours, including dog collars and even a long white robe and turban.
You can be a president or a prime minister who rubs shoulders with world leaders. Australian journalist Tom Steinfort has written a gripping account of the misdeeds of the Sheikhs of various Arabian Peninsula dictatorships.
His focus is on Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, though passing mention is also made of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other wealthy nations in the area.
What makes Dubai so fascinating is the sheer scale of the criminality and who it has been directed out – two daughters and the estranged wife of the leader.
Steinfort reports the daughters were kidnapped outside the country (one in the UK and one on the high seas close to India), returned to Dubai and imprisoned, with evidence at least one tortured.
The Sheikh’s estranged wife, herself from Jordanian royalty, fled Dubai fearing for her life.
Her evidence about the Sheikh’s criminal conduct against his daughters was accepted by a superior English court. Dubai, known for wealth and glitz, is regarded as a “moderate” Arab nation. The UAE has recently concluded a peace treaty with Israel. Plenty of Westerners live a comfortable tax-free existence.
With heavy censorship rivalling China and North Korea, news of the kidnapping and detention of the Sheikh’s daughters is unreported in local media. Western workers are known as “expats”. But not all workers enjoy this elite designation.
Dubai’s wealth has been built on the blood and sweat of labourers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other third world Asian countries. Dubai has no minimum wage. Labourers have their passports confiscated and live in appalling conditions in camps on the edge of the city.
It’s criminal for any leader to preside over such labour conditions. Yet these slave labourers rate only a passing mention. This is no criticism of the book. The fact that a world leader is prepared to treat his own family members with violence and criminality is itself scandalous.
I’m not the most religious person in the world, but Dubai reminds me of a prophecy attributed to the Muslim Prophet that as the Day of Judgment approaches, uncivilised Bedouin tribesmen will compete in erecting skyscrapers.
Still, allegedly civilised countries are happy to play along with all this.
As the author states in his final chapter: “There’s a big difference between Western values and Western interests”.
Indeed as Crikey reported on 9 September 2008, our longest serving Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was most amused by waterboarding and other torture methods (including those employed against Australian Guantanamo detainees) during the “war on terror” during what he described as “that pretty fascinating period of my life”.
Ironically, those who dare criticise the royal families of these Sheikdoms are typically prosecuted under anti-terror laws.