Thursday, June 04, 2009

Telling it (not) like it is

Boredom Warning: This post is me having a whinge.

Tracing back a few 'Came From' arrivals at 'Life in Dubai' I went to a blog I haven't seen before, which had linked to one of my posts.

The post is by Isaac K, who lived in Dubai for nineteen years, became disenchanted and has moved on.

That's not unusual, it's a transient society with people coming in and moving out every day.

After nineteen years of enjoying a good life in Dubai, I say that because the post begins: "I get this feeling every time the plane touches down at Dubai Intl. Airport. A sort of “I’m home” thought that just involuntarily runs through my mind", it's actually an example of the current fad of jumping on the Bash Dubai bandwagon.

Stop right there.

That isn't the point of this post. I'm not complaining because someone is doing a hatchet job on Dubai. I'm not leaping to Dubai's defence, the subject matter is irrelevant, it could be any one of countless topics.

What I'm complaining about is something right at the top of my 'Things I Hate' list.

I hate it when people state untruths as facts. When something is misrepresented. When the facts are twisted to fit an agenda.

That's what I found when I followed the link back to this post on the SubMedia blog.

It's full of emotive phrases, with untrue statements presented as facts, misleading captions to photographs.

The post is headlined 'The real cost of slave labour', which gives an indication of what's to follow.

That old emotive 'slave labour' once again. We all came voluntarily and we're paid for our work, so where does 'slave labour' come into it?

It's not a reasoned criticism it's a blatant hatchet job and it does a disservice to those who are highlighting things which need changing, whose constructive criticism is based on facts.

It says for example:

My parents, nearing retirement age, are planning to move to India where they have rights and a far more relaxed life free of the constant threat of deportation.

Constant threat of deportation?

Why would that be?

I'm sure they're perfectly normal, peaceful, hard-working, law-abiding people. So why does their son say they live in constant fear of deportation?

It surely can't be true, it's certainly not true of the vast majority of residents. We're all constantly looking nervously over our shoulders, it says, living in perpetual fear of deportation.

Not true, but the phrase is deliberately used to create the wrong impression.

The post goes on:

UAE bloggers have been debating the issue hotly (here it links to me) that the expatriate population in the country is deflating.

They, along with the government-monitored-if-not-owned newspapers are the only ones defending the city as the whole world cackles at a dirty dream that has been exposed for what it really was.

'The whole world', another of my top hates, like statements beginning 'we all' and 'everybody'. A personal opinion given some fake authority by adding the untrue claim that it's the universal view.

It goes on with the old myth of thousands of cars: abandoned at the airport as the immigrant middle class fled the sinking ship, a story long since proven to be untrue.

The facts are that there are annually about 1400 cars abandoned across the city. Last year it's said the figure rose to 3000, of which a few were left at the airport.

But that original untrue story conjoured up, as it was intended to, pictures of thousands of expats fleeing in desperation, jumping from their cars at the airport and stampeding refugee-like to freedom.

Then there are photos with deliberately misleading captions.

For example: There are more visual cues as well. You can walk along the promenade and see workers sleeping on the ground in the open.

Good heavens! Workers on their break taking a nap! How is that more evidence of a sinking ship I wonder?

I see the same in Australia, council workers, in particular it seems, at midday sleeping in their trucks parked at the roadside or on park benches. Strangely, no-one there relates it to an exposed dirty dream.

Then there's a photo of an open road through a desert section, with the mystifying caption: You can also note the miles and miles of highway left unadvertised.

A clear open road through a desert landscape, now there's proof that the ship's sinking! There are clear open roads through unbuilt areas all over the world, exactly like the one shown in the photo.

There's the blatantly untrue stuff:

Since we have nothing to fear (despite the number of construction projects that have been canceled, such as the $5 billion Jebel Ali Airport)

The airport has not been cancelled. Work is proceeding on schedule.

It accuses the business community and government of being being in denial that there's a slowdown, when what they're actually doing is talking it up to try to restore confidence, just as they do all over the world.

I won't go on, you can read it for yourself if you care to, the link's at the bottom.

Reminder, I'm not talking about this because it's a criticism of Dubai but because it's a classic example of all those things I detest.

It has misinformation.

I has untrue statements presented as fact.

It has innocent, normal photographs misrepresented.

It makes no difference to me whether it's a well-known columnist in a major newspaper or an anonymous blogger, or someone I talk to over a coffee come to that.

Criticism is justified, necessary even, if something needs be improved. It won't be if we don't highlight it, if we don't make constructive criticism.

But the criticism must be based on the truth. Comments which misrepresent, which distort, which lie, do a disservice to genuine criticism.

This deplorable level of comment has so much dubious, incorrect, disproveable content that any accurate criticism is swamped by it.

It invites the comment 'it's all lies' and dismissal of the criticism.

If you're interested, here's the link: SubMedia.


Mohammed said...

Were you equally angry when hacks/people exagerrated anything good in Dubai?

While "constant threat of deportation" sounds dramatic, you are probably not aware of the situation 10-15 years ago, when many expats in some small companies really had it against them. In some cases people not paid salaries for 6 months were told that if they complained, they would be falsely accused of some crime or absconding, and therein comes the "constant threat of deportation" thing

~*♥ mizz pinkx ♥*~ said...

Interesting read and a pretty valid argument for toning down the drama!

Dave said...

There is one truth in there though Seabee and that is his reference to the "torture tape" has not been properly dealt with by the UAE in any way shape or form.

Media Junkie said...

hence the name 'submedia'

Ryan B. said...

You always post an interesting read. And it's refreshing to see someone shares my view on this "information". My inbox is filled with negative stories.

Seabee said...

Mohammed you missed the point of the post, in spite of me explaining in some detail what it was not about.

In any case, unscrupulous employers exist all over the world, taking advantage of and mistreating employees. It happened fifteen years ago? It happens today too but it doesn't constitute constant fear of deportation amongst expats.

Dave yes indeed, but that demands individual attention rather than being buried in paragraphs of nonsense.

I posted about it when the enquiry was announced but there's been no information since. It probably needs some prodding from international media again.

Anonymous said...

Seabee, the recession has revealed an altogether different side of you. From being the biggest nitpicker on the blogsphere, cribbing about every misplaced pebble on the roads of your beloved Marina to being Dubai's self-appointed defender in chief. Suddenly realised that this is the good life and panicked at the thought of things really becoming bad enough to send you back to a life of drudgery (and taxes) at Ozland eh ! Not unexpectedly, you've swung to the extreme, refusing to accept any substance in that which you do not instinctively consider 'right'. Next step ? - maybe you could buy a pretty miniskirt at one of the many desperate sales in town right now and found the all new Dubai cheerleading squad...with a mandate to cheer, of course, until this economic mess gets sorted which point you can revert to whining about road diversions in the Dubai Marina and similar subjects of equal earth shattering significance.

Seabee said...

Anon@12.11 you couldn't be more wrong. Not surprising really, it's the attitude I keep complaining about, people speaking authoritatively from a position of absolutely no knowledge of the subject.

It's arrogance in the extreme, the arrogance of ignorance which I've posted about in the past.

You know nothing about me but you feel qualified to state: "Suddenly realised that this is the good life and panicked at the thought of things really becoming bad enough to send you back to a life of drudgery (and taxes) at Ozland eh!"

Not that it's any of your business, but your ignorance of the facts needs to be pointed out, I have a life far from drudgery in Oz with a higher standard of living, better house, better car than in Dubai.

That's not why I'm in Dubai, nor do I have to stay one minute longer than I choose to. I'm a completely free agent.

I complain about things, Dubai-related or otherwise, if I think they can and should be improved. I do the same in Oz, I did the same when I lived in the UK and in Singapore, I'd do the same regardless of where I was.

Acceptance and silence when something needs improving should not be an option.

By the way, "road diversions in the Dubai Marina and similar subjects of equal earth shattering significance".

The blog is not called 'Earth Shattering World Events' but is 'Life in Dubai' and the majority of posts are about just that. Day to day things I come across.

Roads not cleaned, dangerous road junctions, workers on a break, good restaurants, strange happenings in RAK, new facilities, roadside landscaping, court cases, abras and dhows on the Creek and all the rest of it, it's mundane stuff but a look at life as it is right here right now.

That's the point of it. If you're expecting major world news you're on the wrong web page, you should try somewhere like

rosh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rosh said...

rosh has left a new comment on the post "Telling it (not) like it is":

"We all came voluntarily and we're paid for our work, so where does 'slave labour' come into it?"

Seabee, not all amongst 'us' came voluntarily. Thousands like I are born in the UAE. We, unlike our parents (or you) didn't have that choice. It's unnerving for many like I, who've lived in one place since birth (the ONE place we've known as 'home' in every way possible) slotted into an 'expat bucket'. Well educated, travelled and brilliant individuals like my brothers & friends could relocate and live in most places on this planet. They are not in the UAE for whatever few tax free fulooss. They choose to be there, 'cause it's their home. The Media and government can call it 'transient' or whatever, but in the larger scheme of things, it's nothing farther from the truth for many like us.

"My parents, nearing retirement age, are planning to move to India where they have rights and a far more relaxed life free of the constant threat of deportation."

Dad moved to the UAE Oct of '69 (it wasn't even UAE back then). Trust me he didn't move for the cash or ways of life back then, he was doing really well in Ontario. Mom moved to the UAE in Sept of '74. My sister in law's granddad served in the UAE army from 1964 to 1986. Since the 1980's all three, have had that 'concern' on 'deportation' given frivolous 'causes' - i.e. for the silliest and for the blatant untruths people could be deported. Deportation was used as a 'threat' - openly or otherwise if two parties failed to reach consensus. The 'option' to have someone 'removed' played well for those lacking in ethics or humanity. This issue grew more so subsequently in the 90's (which is why I think the whole sponsorship program should be shoved back to the stone ages) For instance, someone could have an asinine boss, or have the misfortune of an unethical local business partner (because amongst the good, there's also the bad in every society) I can list a few factual events where hardworking and successful entrepreneurs, who've been in the UAE 4 decades plus, in SHJ's prison (in the golden years of their lives) given greed of local business partners. Two of them are in their late 60's, of Palestinian descent and self made successful businessmen arrived in the UAE with nothing but the clothes on their back. These people could have caved into the threat of deportation, and one of them did given in. I could go on, however, the 'threat of deportation' is a larger issue, which you seem oblivious to.

I agree with most else you've said.

elisabeth said...

really good blog, keep going !

Anonymous said...

different people write from their life perspectives, and obviously you do not have enough knowledge about his experience or background. granted he might have exaggerated, but i did not see too many people leading the crusade whenever a blatant lie is spun by the official dubai PR, or published by the govt controlled media.

slave labour: i dont think there is much of any issue calling it that, considering that you have your passport and ticket confiscated by your slave trader, and your rights to protest are either not known to these poor people, and if you strike, you could go to jail. do not tell me you did not see all those protests we saw last year, with arrests and people getting deported because they were not being paid for months, food not being provided etc. while it is not govt policy, very few countries which such miniscule populations will allow their labour rules to be so blatantly ignored.

deportation: every month i guess there is a new rule on who can bring in their parents, what salary is needed, what kind of accommodation can be shared by how many people, what kind of relation they need to share etc. does this not sound threatening to someone who is not that rich, has old parents sharing accommodation.

cars left behind : I am surprised you have previously questioned all data given out by dubai govt PR, but loves the questionable data given out by them on cars being left behind.

empty advertising spaces: it is well documented local advertising has gone down close to 50% last quarter, to quote some researches.

obviously all these may not address the points you addressed of loose writing, but what is loose to you may not be as loose to someone else. or someone else has decided loose government pr writing needs to be met with loose blog writing. whose mistakes should you be correcting...some individual's, or the governments?

Seabee said...

Rosh I wasn't ignoring people in your position - I have many friends and aquaintances who were born here or came as children when their parents moved here.
My comment is in the context of the charge of 'slave labour' which you and the others don't fit into. You're not a slave are you?

Like your brother & friends, my aquaintances have either continued their life here or moved on to new challenges.

I'm not oblivious to the threat of possible deportation - over the years I know people it's happened to and others who left suddenly because they thought it might happen.

But it isn't something that concerns the majority of expats I talk to, not something that's even in their mind. That was my point, it's not an overbearing concern amongst the expat popultaion in general.


"slave labour: i dont think there is much of any issue calling it that, considering that you have your passport and ticket confiscated by your slave trader"
It's illegal to hold employees' passports, and even though some companies do it that does not apply to the vast majority of companies and employees.

Your comments on "deportation" have nothing to do with deportation. You're talking about laws relating to who can become resident in the country. Every country has similar laws on the subject.

Cars data is not government PR but a combination of of data made public by government, banks, car dealers etc.

Reduced advertising - yes, we're in a world-wide recession and every country is experiencing a reduction in advertising. It's also being caused to traditional media by online and other new advertising avenues.

ZeTallGerman said...

As to what rosh said:
That is still one of the major issues for which the UAE deserves to be critisized for: my fiance was born here, studied here, made his driving license here, and has always worked here, never abroad. Yet, despite having been here for the entire 31 years of his life, he has NO MORE RIGHTS than an expat who gets off a plane at Dubai airport this morning.
Threat of deportation? This may be a dramatic way of putting it, but it's reality. I've had friends put in Al Slammer and deported for seemingly innocent and unimportant "crimes" such as a small bar fight... or kissing in public... or even trying to give first aid to an injured cyclist who had been knocked-off his bike.
No matter how long we are here, we will never made to feel like "home" by the government or Emirati citizens. And because of that, a recent call for "expats to integrate more into UAE culture" will remain unanswered by most of us... why integrate, for what benefit?

BTW: exit from UAE is being planned... not because we're forced, but because after 12 and 31 years respectfully starting to loose faith in humanity here.

Seabee said...

ZTG the 'slave labour' and deportation things are separate from the citizenship issue - but I agree with you absolutely. It's unrealistic to tell us to integrate when we can only live here on three-yearly renewed visas.

In contrast, the Aussie way is to limit immigration, but those who are allowed in are encouraged to become citizens. Big publicity campaigns are run by the government to try to get immigrants to become Australians.

The belief is obviously that people will integrate more readily and easily if they are citizens, carrying an Aussie passport.

Mohammed said...

Very well put ZeTallGerman and Rosh.

Seabee, the threat of deportations isnt strong amour "your" circle of expats. To be honest, it isnt even strong in my circle, but that doesnt mean we can extrapolate it to the entire expat population.

Rosh was to the point, and there are plenty of such cases. We both mentioned the 90's if you noticed, which is when regulations were even less stringently enforced and whimsical people with influence had more power to put who they ant in jail.

And BTW there is a BIG difference between unscrupulous employers taking advantage of employees (happens even in most 1st world countries), and a situation where even the wrong person hitting your car will lead to you going to jail.
Here, there is a very fine line between being in jail and being deported.

Mohammed said...

Oh, one more thing. For people who have been here for long, and have children in school, the contant "threat of deportation" may not be relevant, but the constant "threat of having to leave in short notice" is always there.

There are few places in the world, where someone can live in a country for 20 years as a white collar worker, but yet may have to leave in a period of 1 month if he doesnt get an an apartment. This happenned in AUH where rents were much crazier than DXB in 2007-2008

People who were renting an apt at 80k suddenly had to move out (building to be "renovated"), and found nothing in the market under 150k. That is akin to being under a constant fear of having to leave all of a sudden.....

Anonymous said...


I stumbled upon your blog, and have been reading with great intrest, and I see my point of view reflected in a lot of your posts.

A though on your comment about it being illegal for employers to hold on to passports: that may be the law, but a lot of companies in Dubai still hold on to employees' passports. This happens in the local mom-and-pop establishments, as well as in multi-national companies located in free zones.

The laborer rarely knows his rights, and does not have the better job/house/car back home to stand up against injustice, and just hands over his passport without a whimper, when told that this is company policy. This laborer does not know that the company cannot hold on to his passport, and does not know where to get his voice heard, if he does find out.

Seabee said...

Anon@7.31, I agree, holding passports happens all too often.

The government has a campaign of sorts to inform employees of their rights, where and how to complain, a hotline has been set up - there are leaflets in various languages for example - but much more needs to be done.

thewanderingsufi said...

Hey Seabee. This is Isaac. What a what. Odd that you told me about this post a full half year after it was made. My comments back on this tirade can be found here: