If you missed Part One, click here.
Look, it's me in my little black dress.
Clothing in Dubai is pretty important. The abaya is not obligatory, but many women wear one (along with a niqab). The black drape thrown on over designer clothes can be pretty fancy - SMW calls the fancy smocks a Bedazzlebaya. Many expats tell me there is something mysterious and alluring about the Bedazzlebaya, the women who peak out from them with what the Saudis call "seditious eyes", and the Christian Louboutin's that they make sure are noticeable as they stroll through the malls. Some of the Bedazzlebaya's are beautiful garments, they look more like flowing dresses than a big black sheet. However, there is nothing mysterious or alluring about wearing a bag over your face. It makes you anonymous and erases your identity. When I am in the Bath and Body Works (yes, they are in the UAE too)a woman comes in wearing a black burqa (a fancy one, a bedazzleburqa if you will). I cannot see her eyes, face, nose or any part of her body. I am not even sure there is a woman underneath the cloth, nor am I convinced that she can actually see where she is going. Not only can men not interact with her, I cannot interact with her. There is no looking over with a friendly smile, telling her that Coconut Lime Verbara is one of my favourites. There is no exchange of glances or idle chatter as I try to navigate around her in the store. I am not sure if she is looking at me, my husband, the wall, the soaps, or if her eyes are closed. She is isolated. Not just from men, but from women. From interaction with the rest of the world. The burqa is about segregation and isolation. There is nothing mysterious or alluring about this.
The flip side is that if you are not covered up, you are a nice piece of meat for men to look at. For Westerners the main rules are cover up your breasts, shoulders and the top half of your legs. Not playing by the rules can get you kicked out of shopping centres, arrested, or harrassed as you go about your business. A friend of mine (white, Western) goes running with her husband and is shocked, shocked!, when a group of boys (who appear to be no older then 12 or 13) start cat-calling her, whistling at her, and yelling that she is sexy from across a parking lot. She is stunned that boys would be so vocal towards her when she is running with a man, a man who is clearly capable of manhandling the boys. That evening at dinner she relays the story to our friend Bella, who lives in Dubai. Bella asks my friend what she was wearing on the run: shorts and a tank top (not spaghetti straps). "Oh," laughs Bella, "of course you got yelled at - you were wearing shorts and you had no sleeves."
While in Dubai, we spend a fair amount of time driving around, and we see many construction sites. One of my colleauges spent a decade in the construction business, and expresses his disbelief that none of the workers appear to be wearing any safety equipment. No steel-toe boots, no hard hats, no safety harnesses. He is informed that these workers are expendable.
21st century pyramids.
The stories continue. There is more that I would like to write, but for the time being I have decided not to, as I do not want to jeopordize our contacts who still live in Dubai. Maybe at some point in the future I will write more.
The level of government propaganda and censorship is astounding. At a cocktail reception we ask an expat about Dubai's economic woes. "What woes?" he asks. "The media has overplayed everything, the finances are fine. Dubai is still booming." Yet on our way home that night we drive past an entire development that has been abandoned, concrete housing blocks stand empty and unfinished.
And this is how many expats live in Dubai. Seemingly intelligent and fully capable of accessing information (especially considering most of them travel outside the UAE frequently for business and pleasure), it is much easier for them to turn a blind eye to the reality of Dubai and instead live in the Disney World version. "Look at the beautiful mosques," they say, "these Muslims are so devoted." Two breaths later someone asks if they know any Emiratis who have converted to Christianity. "Yes, we know of a couple but they cannot be identified because they would be killed." So matter of fact. So blasé. I am not sure if this is total stupidity or a supersized ability to ignore reality. Is it really that difficult to put two and two together?
So what if labourers here are modern day slaves? So what if women here are a second class and do not have the freedom to dress as they choose? So what if being alone with an unmarried man can get you sent to jail? So what if next door in Abu Dhabi they still chop off people's hands? So what if apostates get killed? So what if there is no freedom of expression, religion, assembly? So what if we hang out at the spa with the wives of arms dealers and break bread with people who want Jews wiped off the planet? We are making loads of money. And it's tax free.
Updated: Kaffir Kanuck has more useful info on this topic. Check it out.