Sunday, September 28, 2008
I am heading out of the country, first to Dubai on business and then back to Spain for a week-long trip with Mrs. TH in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. Posting will be off-hours and on strange subjects, but perhaps that will be more of a feature than a bug for many of you. I am hopeful that my co-bloggers will keep the home fires burning.
I have never been to Dubai, and am very much looking forward to it. If the transporting awesomeness of the Emirates Lounge at Kennedy Airport -- whence I blog -- is any indication, it is going to be as luxurious as it is fun. Indeed, the lounge itself is so nice that I have half a mind just to hang out here for the next few days.
Anyway, the New York Times put out something of a primer on Dubai about a week ago, focusing on the intersection between the divine and the commercial:
In Egypt, and across much of the Arab world, there is an Islamic revival being driven by young people, where faith and ritual are increasingly the cornerstone of identity. But that is not true amid the ethnic mix that is Dubai, where 80 percent of the people are expatriates, with 200 nationalities.
This economically vital, socially freewheeling yet unmistakably Muslim state has had a transforming effect on young men. Religion has become more of a personal choice and Islam less of a common bond than national identity.
Dubai is, in some ways, a vision of what the rest of the Arab world could become — if it offered comparable economic opportunity, insistence on following the law and tolerance for cultural diversity. In this environment, religion is not something young men turn to because it fills a void or because they are bowing to a collective demand. That, in turn, creates an atmosphere that is open not only to those inclined to a less observant way of life, but also to those who are more religious. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Algeria, a man with a long beard is often treated as an Islamist — and sometimes denied work. Not here in Dubai.
“Here, I can practice my religion in a natural and free way because it is a Muslim country and I can also achieve my ambition at work,” said Ahmed Kassab, 30, an electrical engineer from Zagazig Egypt, who wears a long dark beard and has a prayer mark on his forehead. “People here judge the person based on productivity more than what he looks like. It’s different in Egypt, of course.”
No one can say for sure why Dubai has been spared the kind of religion-fueled extremism that has plagued other countries in the region. There are not even metal detectors at hotel and mall entrances, standard fare from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. Some speculate that Dubai is like Vienna during the cold war, a playground for all sides. There is a robust state security system. But there is also a feeling that diversity, tolerance and opportunity help breed moderation.
Read the whole thing, and ask yourself this: Will Dubai's "alumni" have the energy and influence to transform the Arab world when they return to their more conservative countries, or will the great weight of that culture suffocate them or drive them away?
Check back tomorrow for pictures.