Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What kind of cosmopolitan city is Dubai ?

Dubai is a cosmopolitan city. So is Newyork. But the kind of 'cosmopolitan' city that Dubai has become is different from a conventional cosmopolitan city. Dictionary.com defines the word as "free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world". In the western context of a cosmoplitan city, it is one which does not define itself in nationalistic or partisan terms. There is no scope for domination of a community or over-bearing chauvinism from anyone.

By this definition, Dubai does fall short, though not totally.The city is home to a few million expats, who have come from all corners of the world to make a living.

What the city has managed to do well is that it has provided a level playing ground for all communities, and people of all nationalities. The city provides equal opportunities for anyone who is willing to work hard to make a good living. It provides unmatched quality of life this part of the world and is considered a heaven in the Middle East. One can see Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Americans, French, British, Africans of various nations in Dubai living and working together. There seems to be a natural melting of cultures and influences. But, look closer and one will notice that this melting is not really taking place. There are very clear boundries, barriers which are keeping people away from each other.

"Filipana bed space", " Indian living space" read some of the ads in the prominent newspapers when one looks for accomodation. Space has taken on nationalistic connotations. People of certain nationalities do not want to share space or even consider living with others. When one of my friends recently came to Dubai, i had a very hard time finding accomodation for her - since there werent many places available to begin with and also a lot of people backed off when they heard she was british. This seemed to be a case of reverse racism.

What is going wrong ?
I believe what is going wrong is an almost ghettoisation of Dubai. Satwa, Karama and other areas in Dubai are ghettos of Philipinos and Indians. There are huge clusters of people of the same nationalities living in their own world in Dubai. Walk down Karama and you will feel it is little India. There is a sense of nostalgia and perhaps even longing in the people who live here. The concept of space is also skewed here, with Indian style shops dotting the streets.

The other European and Arab expats seem to live in their own small groups, not mingling much with Asian communities.

Is it healthy ? one may ask Well, to begin with, it doesnt help to have this segregation based on nationality and race when one is living in such close proximity.

I believe there can be more inclusiveness built into the system and this can begin with making the areas which have become ghettos more open. Make them more inclusive, open and accepting of other people.

Dubai is a great place to live. It can be a better place if people start looking beyong their nationalities and start thinking of themselves as denizens of Dubai.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jihad against terror

The last few weeks have been filled with bad news. Bad news about the global economic downturn, the falling price of Oil, the gloomy scenario in Dubai's real estate market and more. As if all these werent enough, there was the terrorist attack in Mumbai; which killed more than 170 innocent people. And yet again, the same people turn out to be the culprits, Al-Qaeda, LeT, Deccan Mujahideen - what is in a name ? They are all the same - filth and degraded souls out to exact revenge against innocent people.

Caught amidst all this confusion is the average muslim. Muslims like me. We dont go around carrying guns and bombs. We dont intend to kill ANYONE, we have dreams; ambitions and aspirations like anyone else. Yet, when it comes down to being a suspect, we come first on the list. A comedian named Ahmed Ahmed ( who is wellknown for his show " Axis of Evil" which does packed shows in UAE and US put it well when he joked " My name appeared on one of FBI's list when travelling and they would not let me travel. Perhaps there is an ACTUAL terrorist out there whose name is Ahmed Ahmed and he is having the last laugh".

How muslims in India and the rest of the world deal with this will determine their future. Muslims in India today are a passive lot. Of the millions who live in the country, few are in positions of leadership. Fewer are in real positions of power; where they can change the course of their destiny. With others including the media, the judiciary, the executive branch of the government driving the agenda; how can this group of people hope to ever be in-charge ?

There seems to be hope amidst all the darkness that surrounds us. I was happy to learn that there is a group organising a " Jihad against terror" - a peaceful demonstration of thousands of muslims at the Victoria Terminus - the point where the shooting happened. This is scheduled for Dec 7, at 3 pm in Mumbai and simultaneously across 10 cities in India.

In this context, the Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa against terrorism. The excerpts of which are given below :
"Islam is a religion of Peace and Harmony. In Islam, creating social discord or disorder, breach of peace, rioting, bloodshed, pillage or plunder and killing of innocent persons anywhere in the world are ALL considered most inhuman crimes.

There are several verses in the Quran that strictly prohibit the breach of peace. For example: “Do not spread discord on Earth…”

The Quran clearly states that the killing of (even) one innocent person is equivalent to massacre of all humankind because its like opening the floodgates that creates a situation beyond anyone’s control; while saving one life is equivalent to the rescue of all humankind".

This is just one of the steps that are being taken by many of the rational and well-informed muslims in India.

I believe there needs to be a aggressive campaign to de-toxify the image of muslims and Islam. One must start with the perception first. In today's day and age, perception is bigger than reality. The possibility of Pakistan engineering the whole episode ( as made clear by the US government's announcement yesterday) cannot be ruled out.

The ordinary muslims must come out openly and speak out. Speak out against these acts - and not only the massacre of muslims in Gujrat. These killings in Mumbai are as real as the ones in Gujrat. They are as real as the ones in Kashmir. Killing innocent people cannot justify the anger and hurt that the community feels.

I believe that the Darul Uloom should go a step further and make these terrorists outcasts. They must be treated as renegades who have given up religion. Since religion is the cause of all this conflict; deny them the privilige of belonging to Islam. The problem with Islam is also that the "entry barrier" is so low. The religion is open to anyone who believes in one god and the prophet Muhammad. May be we should make the rules of staying in the religion stronger. Make it harder for people to mis-use the privilige of belonging to this great religion which has given the world a lot. Perhaps its time our Mullahs start giving this a serious thought.