Is the coverage of the deported Swedish woman anything more than fake news?
I remember being on a press trip in Germany in early 2009, sitting in my hotel room watching the news. European media outlets had fixated on how Dubai was faring during the global financial crisis, and were showing images on repeat of cars that had been abandoned at the airport, half-drunk coffees left in their cup-holders, as if the owners had fled in some kind of frenzied, post-apocalyptic exodus. That was the narrative that stuck, the story that captured the imagination. For months afterwards, my friends from abroad would reference those abandoned cars – as if they were an emblem of Dubai’s perceived fall from grace.
Then, as now, I had trouble reconciling what I saw on the news with my own experiences. Yes, 2009 was a difficult year, but what about all of us that buckled down and stayed, those of us who were lucky enough to keep our jobs, who laid down roots and made this place home, even when the going got tough? Those cars were only one part of the story – but they were the only part that the world wanted to know. It was the same when the now infamous “sex on the beach” story broke; or in 2011, when the late A A Gill wrote a gleefully derogatory story about Dubai in Vanity Fair, where he glibly concluded that “Dubai is a cautionary tale about what money can’t buy: a culture of its own”.
In truth, there has been a long tradition of Dubai-bashing in the international media. And this week’s coverage of a woman who was allegedly held in jail for three days for having a single glass of wine is continuing that tradition. International news outlets have been quick to print the woman’s side of the story, inflammatory headlines and all.
Needless to say, there was less of a rush to publish the official account of events provided by the UAE’s authorities.
The outside world takes great satisfaction in cutting Dubai down to size – but let’s not pretend that these one-sided portrayals of the city are fuelled by anything other than narrow-mindedness and racism. In turn, those of us who live here are often accused of being overly defensive, as if we have drunk the Kool-Aid and are no longer capable of rational thought. But more times than not, we have to be defensive.
By default, overwhelmingly negative perceptions of Dubai extend to the people who live here. When they mistakenly write Dubai off as shallow, money-obsessed, close-minded or uncultured, the haters are also making a value judgement on those of us who choose to live here, are they not?
While on holiday a couple of weeks ago, I had the extreme misfortune of attending a lunch party with a gentleman who was all too comfortable expressing his anti-Arab sentiment. “That place would have been nothing if us Brits hadn’t pulled it out of the desert,” he said as I spluttered on my drink. I can only imagine the satisfaction brought to him by this week’s headlines.
One-sided news coverage about the region feeds into the myriad misconceptions that people have about the UAE, with no regard for how diverse, multi-cultural, tolerant and innovative this country is. Some people may be able to see beyond the negative headlines, but many others will not, as the distasteful gentleman at that lunch party proved.
I am not saying Dubai is perfect. And there is always more than one side to every story.
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