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No man is an island, entire of itself [Jun. 14th, 2009|08:22 pm]
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I'm having a temporary change of heart. As far as Sultan Al Qassimi is concerned, I've started, so I'll finish. One day. But a point-by-point defence of so many points, many of which are frankly new to me, and some that are indefensible, is not an easy task.

And so to offer a breather - although it is a while since I have written on here, shameful really - I'm going to do what Titian (probably) did half way through painting Bacchus and Ariadne: step back and look at the big picture. Depending on the size of the room he was in obviously. Otherwise he may have fallen off his Venetian balcony. Ouch.

So to the point: all countries have problems. The purpose of government cannot be to solve them all. This can never be, because people are complex creatures. One man's utopia is the next man's Doncaster (yes, I have been actually - check out my profile pic - see that mid-Yorkshire sun tingeing my face?!). The purpose of government can really only be to align such problems, prioritise them, and attempt to deal with them by whichever means brings the largest net benefit to the largest number of people.

If we expect anymore, we will only be disappointed. And so we can write 900 words, or 9000, or 90,000 for that matter, pointing out the problems in one another's countries. They will always be many, some severe, some less so, and some will affect the many, while some will affect the few.

All that we wind up becoming are willing participants in an historical axe grinding contest, where the size of our axe can be attributed to the depth of our nationalism and belief in national stereotypes, or our definition of fairness, or the degree to which we are not willing to accept, or the degree to which we are prepared to listen provided we may immediately strike back. Pointing problems out, great. But accepting them, even better.

So from Titian's view point, before I tumble backwards and fall four storeys onto the gondolier below, ruining his lunch-time Cornetto in the process (national stereotypes anybody?) there is another way to view such complex and interconnecting problems, with a two-pronged approach.

First of all, as with any entity, be it an individual, a family, or an entire nation for that matter, the first step to solving a problem is recognising the existence of that problem in the first place. From an individual perspective, the first step to Robinson Crusoe's personal betterment was the acceptance that week after week he was stuck on some sodding island-hell off the coast of Venezuela in the first place. "Stop trying to swim for it Robinson! You've survived a week, and it's not so bad. Just go and make friends with the rough-skinned fellow over there in the trees - it is Friday after all."

Similarly, the first step to Dubai's improvement of its disgraceful treatment of migrant labourers is to admit the flaw. Just like the first step to solving all of the UK's woes is to accept the problems as they come.

And here is the second prong. In order to do so, a society must have the self-correcting mechanisms in place. Freedom of association, a free press, opposing political parties, and so on. All facets of democracy, apparently. Exemplified by the simple fact that Johann Hari's article that furthered all of this was published by the UK media. As was Sultan Al Qassemi's response. Mr Hari's article has since been blocked, and un-blocked, in the UAE. Mr Al Qassemi's has not. Denial, or acceptance? Which path to choose? Had Crusoe trod the former, he'd still be supping coconuts.

But yet, as we know, not even democracy can provide perfection, for one man's island-hell off the coast of Venezuela - was another man's home. At least democracy, in its inherent ability to point out and accept the problems, at times, some may say, with a little too much gusto, gets half-way there. What to do about them? Now...that's the hard part.

In the UK, in Dubai, everywhere, we face global warming, financial crises, religious intolerance, poverty, and if we ever thought reaching for the heavens would save us, we now have a cloud of space junk baring our entry to the stratosphere. In the words of Robinson Crueso when he first laid eye's on Friday's spear - "shit". 

Societies have problems. It doesn't hurt to occasionally shout about it. It took Robinson Crusoe 28 years to escape his. It will take the human race a little longer.
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Dazed and confused [May. 17th, 2009|07:19 pm]
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Time for the next installment, and it's a particularly challenging one. This whole game has turned into a marathon - just when I think Mr Al Qassemi must be getting towards the end of his list (here), I look further down the page, and it only appears to grow longer. He certainly did his research.

- Britain, the human rights champion, not wanting to get its hands dirty, had resorted to secretly outsourcing torture to Third World states under the guise of rendition by allowing up to 170 so called CIA torture flights to use its bases.

Hmmm. Not too sure on this one. Can anyone help me out? Where does the Third World state come into it exactly when we are talking about CIA flights? Surely these were manned by the US military, and therefore acts of torture such as waterboarding - as has now become clear were being used - were being carried out by the US military. Am I too tired and missing something?

I can only assume that the bases referred to were to be found in North Africa, Afghanistan, etc, but even so, surely UK and US military personnel would have been the people present?

If Mr Al Qassemi is referring to the rendition of wanted persons to Third World countries where torture would have been inevitable, then that is of course indefensible, and a violation of human rights. Namely, article three of the Universal Declartion: The right to life and security of person; and article five: no one shall be subject to torture. But if this is the case, where do the CIA come in?

If we are saying that the CIA left suspected terrorists at the mercy of Third World regimes and that the UK's crime was allowing the CIA to use its bases, fair point. But it's not state sanctioned torture, is it? Or if ti is, in a round about way, it's not like THIS.

I've tried to avoid the trap of defending one nation's record by attacking another, so I'll admit the UK's record is somewhat tainted by the above. But this video has to be brought up. Good to see that the Sheikh in question has apparently been detained for the time being while an - ahem - investigation is carried out, but it's still state sanctioned torture. And here's why.

I know, for a fact, that the UN has been aware of this video for months, and therefore, the UAE has also known. And here's how. I spoke to a senior staff member of the Office of the UN High Commissioner  for Human Rights, who shall remain nameless for now, just three weeks ago. He had seen the video months before hand.
It was not until it was broadcast on ABC News in the US, and the subsequent weight of international public opinion came crashing down, and noises were made that sounded like the US - UAE nuclear agreement for energy production could be delayed, that the UAE made any attempt to even look like it was interested. 

And even then the initial effort was a lame "this is not a pattern of behaviour - the matter has been settled between the individuals." Apparently because one agreed not to press charges against the other for cutting him short on a little grain, while the other "agreed" to forget about being shot at, whipped, beaten with a plank with a nail sticking out of it, and run over by a jeep.

Oh please...

Watch this space for updates.

email: these.dubai.times@gmail.com

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Cigar, Jean Claude? You're free to choose... [May. 6th, 2009|07:35 pm]
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I don't mind admitting that by choosing to look into each of Mr Al Qassemi's points in this article, (see previous two posts) I am already feeling like the journalistic equivalent of the boy whose dad caught him smoking, then showed him the error of his ways by locking him in his bedroom with 12 cigars, and didn't let him leave until he'd smoked the lot. In short, it's taking a long time, and I'm not even half way there. Still, in the eternal words of Jean Claude Van Damme, "No retreat....No surrender."

- Of the 2.5 million-strong Indian volunteer army who served Britain during the Second World War, 87,000 of them died for their occupiers' freedom and yet until recently those who survived continued to be discriminated against in pay and pension.

Pretty difficult to condense the Second World War down into one paragraph. Good guys, bad guys, etc. If only we could have enlisted Jean Claude Van Damme before Belgium was overrun. Of those 2.5 million, it is surprising to learn that every last one was a volunteer. They were not conscripted - they enlisted. As leader of India's push for independence, Gandhi stood against Fascism. OK - India's entry into the war was declared without the consent of its congress, but over the years that followed, it's 2.5 million fought the spectre of fascism - not because they were forced to, but because, by definition of them being a volunteer force, they believed in what they were fighting for. We would hope to think.

They constituted the third largest force in the campaign to free Italy from Nazi occupation. They fought for the freedom of the world from Fascism surely, and the freedom of Europe from Germany, and Asia from Japan, as well as for the freedom of their occupiers. And may I add, India declared independence from Britain on August 15th 1947 - two years after the close of the war. I dare say those brave men fought for something else during the preceding five years as well. Their own freedom.

As for the pension, Mr Al Qassemi refers to the Gurkhas, and the lower pay and pension given to those who had retired or discharged. This was on the grounds of the Gurkha's being based in Hong Kong until the 1997 handover, and the fact that the soldiers who had served up until this date - but not after - were unlikely to have residential ties to the UK, and so instead retired to be with their families in Nepal, where the cost of living, and subsequently the pension, was lower. Which would seem to be fair enough.

The question though, is one of morals, and a Gurkha's right to retire to the country which they choose to serve, if they proove successful in a hotly contested enlistment exercise in Nepal. For those who have served after 1997 the situation is most contentious - just ask Joanna Lumley. And for what it's worth, Mr Al Qassemi, you are probably right. I believe these guys do deserve an equal pension if retiring in the UK. But the automatic right to retire in the UK? If I was set to retire, and I had to choose between the Nepalese Alps and Milton Keynes...Jean Claude Van Damme wouldn't keep me from the hills.

- In civilised Britain, one in every 23 teenage girls had an abortion and in 2006 more than 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales involved girls below the age of 18.

Al Qassemi...such an easy target. In the UAE, abortion remains illegal. Technically, It is NOT legal in the UK either - rather, certain Acts of parliament, most notably the 1967 Abortion Act, provide a legal defence under certain circumstances. The woman's physical or mental health must be adjudged to be more at risk through continuing with the pregnancy, than by termination. And two doctors must give their consent. Tellingly, as I have just learned, "The woman's "actual or reasonably foreseeable future environment" may be taken into account." (BBC)

This allows a certain freedom of choice. Take the most tragic of circumstances, the rape victim. Does she not have the right to terminate a pregnancy should that be the case??? It's educated freedom of choice, and the presence of the doctor's consent means it must be an educated choice, by law.

You also mention that 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions were carried out on girls below the age of 18. That sounds a large figure - but it's less than 10% of the total. It's reasonable to state that the younger age group are going to be less able to care for a child, less able to provide a suitable environment, and more likely to be physically endangered by the pregnancy. Therefore, by the terms of the well-considered UK abortion law, far more likely to - I hesitate to use phrase qualify for - but face the necessity of abortion.

Maybe you hint that UK abortion law makes it too easy for a girl to abort a pregnancy, and therefore she is less likely to bother with contraception? Yet I hardly think there is a girl in the world who would choose to put herself in such a position. But choose to get herself OUT of such a position - yes. She should have every right.

Would you rather a society that performed 194,000 abortions annually, or one that stood by and watched 194,000 women suffer through an unplanned pregnancy, no matter the circumstance, and forced her to bring a baby into the world that maybe she would raise, if only she could afford to?

I would like to close with a quick story that makes my blood boil. Recently, as reported in the Dubai press, a woman was caught in Deira, a suburb of Dubai, after paying a man to perform an illegal abortion. She was found at his home by the police, bloodied, with the foetus at her feet. The man, and the woman, were arrested.

THAT is the alternative to freedom of choice.

email - these.dubai.times@gmail.com
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Points, good and bad [May. 4th, 2009|07:15 pm]
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It has been some time since I have had the luxury of being able to write on this here blog, due to a particularly heavy few weeks at work. In the bosses absence, the news still had to be written, and so it was - lots of it. However, here we are again.

As mentioned in the last post, there is a whole Human Rights Watch report into the state of the UAE media to pore through, not to mention the small matter of a rather large labour conference that brought together the UAE Ministry of Labour and the Washington DC-based workers rights group The Solidarity Centre to disagree on all things. And since my last post, the Sheikh Issa video has been aired on ABC News in the US and is growing in infamy - and rightly so - a subject that will demand a mention. A careful mention. All I can say for now is that I'm pleased the story appears to have legs. Which is more than can be said for the poor Afghan grain dealer, no doubt.

But, as also mentioned in the last post, there is the rest of Mr Al Qassemi's article yet to handle. And I don't like to make a promise I can't keep. So to the next point...

-Britain, victor in the Second World War, had given refuge to 400 Nazi war criminals, with all but one of them getting away with it.

It would seem Al Qassemi has a pretty good point here, though the wording is somewhat misleading. Far from "giving refuge" to 400 Nazi war criminals, said criminals were able to slip into the country from 1946 onwards, and could not be tried in a UK court until the 1991 War Crimes Act was passed. Bit of a delay though, I think you'd agree.

It seems to be generally agreed upon that a combination of assisting the security services, lying, and good old fashioned running away very fast kept almost all of these war criminals - bar just one - away from any possible extradition hearing. In short, they stayed alive, and free, by whatever means possible, until they could play the old "too ill to stand trial" card. I'd imagine the descendants of the victims of these criminals have felt pretty ill too over the years as well.

This 2001 Guardian report picks up on one such case - Anton Gecas. The report mentions that "Nine years ago Gecas lost the only trial he has ever faced, a defamation action against Scottish Television which reported he had led atrocities in Lithuania and Belarus." So there you have it. The man was declared guilty, in effect, within a UK court room for leading atrocities in Lithuania and Belarus. It was on the balance of probabilities, as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt, the standard required in a criminal case. But the court said he did it.

Gecas died a free man in a Scottish hospital on September 12th 2001 - one day after the world changed, ten days after The Guardian report, nine years after he lost his defamation case, ten years after he could have been tried in the UK for his proven war crimes, and around 55 years after his arrival in Britain.

Al Qassemi, you most definitely have a point. Poorly worded, but a point all the same.

-the number of Indians who died while serving the British Empire, to build your Tube and grow your tea, is so large it is simply unquantifiable by any historian.

Historian Rajani Palme Dutt, author of The End of Gandhi (Feb 1922) and The British Empire (Oct 1923) has put it somewhere between 24-29 million. Other historians seem to agree British policy was definitely among the reasons. Again, Al Qassemi, who am I to argue?

But weak as it sounds, I can say this. The best we can do regarding past exploitation and human rights violations, however heinous, dark and at times unfathomable, is to try to learn from our many mistakes. Nothing we can do will ever erase history.

But by addressing the violations that occur today, we can make a difference, and in cases, contribute a little to a snowball, that may, one day, shatter the dark side of history before it has been written.

Exploitation is ingrained in many facets of many societies - part of the social fabric - all over the world. We should address it, talk about it, write about it, and document it, so that we and others may continue the learning process. Whether past, present or future.

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In response to Mr Al Qassemi [Apr. 11th, 2009|03:31 pm]
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Welcome to my ramblings. In the light of so much media hype being directed at my home of Dubai of late, I would like to offer a view of life on this side of the fence. One of the primary criticisms of the US and UK based journalists that have written in critique of Dubai of late has been the fact that they are generally jetted in, spend a week here at most, knock out 1000 wds (Or in Johann Hari's case, 9000 wds), and swiftly board the plane back home.

Myself, I have been here for years. I write for a national newspaper, based in Dubai, but covering the length and breadth of the UAE, and, whenever possible, other Middle Eastern nations. I was born and educated in several less-than-attractive areas of the UK before moving to this region some time ago, and so have seen things from both sides of the coin. Now, I would like to begin this blog, for a change, by doing as I have been told.

In response to Johann Hari's article, Sultan Al Qassemi came out punching with a spirited - not so much "defence" of Dubai, but an assault on the UK. Perhaps living by that old football manager adage, the best form of defence is attack? Or maybe he realised that there is little point in defending the indefencible, and so gave up before he had even started?

Either way, Sultan Al Qassemi instructed us, "If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country." And so I did, taking the first two points of Al Qassemi's most handy point-by-point diagnosis as my guide.  There will be more on the proceeding points of Al Qassemi's article in my later posts.

- "In wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets."

In Dubai, should you happen to be a UAE national, if you marry a fellow national, the state will give you, at the very least, a plot of land, or in most cases, a villa. There is no homelessness among nationals. How can the state afford this? Because there is no welfare state. Instead, if you lose your job, through no fault of your own, and cannot pay the bank loan that you took out to pay the rent 12 months in advance, as is the norm, you will be sent to prison. There is no legal concept of bankruptcy. No state assistance. 

Further, the reason why there are no mentally ill people walking the streets of Dubai, is not because there is no mental illness here. Of course there is. But the stigma attached to mental illness across the Middle East means that there is no concept of care in the community. The mentally ill are simply herded up and shipped off to some unknown destination, where they cannot stain the marble finish shopping malls, sun-kissed beaches, and plush hotel complexes.

Finally, when it comes to homelessness, let us look at the lowest earners in Dubai. The migrant labourers. Well, we all know of their standard of accommodation, do we not? The poorest construction worker or hotel doorman in the UK can live a life of dignity, thanks to this extraordinary concept they call the minimum wage. It criminalises exploitation. No doubt the UK government could introduce the concept of labour camps to house the homeless? To give food and warmth to those starving people? Hang on a sec - isn't that what homeless shelters are for?

Now, Al Qassemi, you tell me the difference between a London homeless shelter and a Dubai labour camp? Other than the fact that the residents of a Dubai labour camp actually have jobs, of course. Only no money, no dignity, no rights, no equality, no meat, or fish, etc, etc, etc.

- Britain, the so called "jail capital of Western Europe" sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.

Al Qassemi, do you really want to defend the Middle East by starting on the treatment of women in society? Maybe Britain sentenced 12,000 women to prison in 2006? Maybe this was because women do not live in abject fear of the state? I wonder how many of them were jailed for adultery? Zero. Adultery in the UAE is a criminal offence for a woman. And I should know. Not for a man, I might add.

This will have to do for now. I will be returning to the Sultan's further points in future posts. Also, let me add, Human Rights Watch is to release a report into media freedom in the UAE in a few days time. Something that will give me plenty more to write on.

email: these.dubai.times@gmail.com


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The rise of the Middle East [Mar. 6th, 2009|02:15 pm]
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