Matt J. Duffy

The Real Damage of Vanity Fair’s Attack on Dubai

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The UAE is up in arms about a scathing critique of Dubai in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair. The author, whose professional career appears to be built upon offending various groups, viciously attacked most things Dubai — notably Emiratis and Western expats. An obviously gifted writer, A.A. Gill writes in this typical passage:

Dubai has been built very fast. The plan was money. The architect was money. The designer was money and the builder was money. And if you ever wondered what money would look like if it were left to its own devices, it’s Dubai.

Much of the article is quite offensive to people who live here but disagree with his sweeping conclusions. The article does contain some kernels of truth. For instance, Emiratis and Western expats do tend to lead an affluent, cushy lifestyle here. Indeed, Emirati columnist Aida Al Busaidy penned an editorial today that chides her countrymen for relying upon their help for so many tasks.

But, Gill’s tone does the most damage. He sounds snarky and bitter. His demeanor immediately erodes the ability to deliver a meaningful message to an audience that actually lives in the emirate. Of course, he didn’t write it for the UAE; Gill authored his vitriolic piece for the people who read Vanity Fair. They will read it quickly, have a laugh, and, some of them will surely feel smug that they don’t live here.

Gill, of course, has a habit of this type of thing. His list of offended groups include the Albanians, Germans and even the oft-overlooked Welsh. The people of the UAE have just joined a growing club.

The reaction here was predictably negative. H.E. Najla Al Awadhi, the prominent member of the Federal National Committee, urged her followers on Twitter to comment on the article and speak out against Gill’s “racism.” Aida Al Busaidy chided Gill and ascribed his motives as “hatred and jealousy.” Tom Gara, a Financial Times reporter based in the UAE, noted that much of the report appeared to have been written before he ever arrived.

Gara provided the only mild defense by tweeting that the UAE should consider the article “karmic payback for forcing your citizens to read foreign newspapers for truthful coverage of their own country.” That’s a good point — the weak news media laws in the UAE prevent the local press from offering anything approaching truly critical reporting. Of course, Gill’s brand of journalism isn’t critical; it’s brutish.

And herein lies the greatest damage that Gill has perpetrated — far worse than simply tarnishing the image of Dubai in the minds of global readers. Instead, Gill gave palpable evidence to those in the UAE who believe that journalists can’t be trusted to be “free”. His behavior provides powerful ammunition to those who oppose creating stronger protections for press freedoms here. Gill’s article shows these opponents that the country’s current laws are beneficial because they force journalists to be “responsible” in their reporting.

This is a shame. Gill’s article does not show the need for restrictive press laws. His Vanity Fair piece shows the need for journalists to take their profession seriously and to act with integrity.

It’s doubtful that Gill will ever realize the error of his ways. He’s probably moved on to his next journalistic victim. Unfortunately, the UAE may be left with the effects of his report for years to come.

8 Responses to The Real Damage of Vanity Fair’s Attack on Dubai

  1. Chris Pereira 12/07/2011 at 7:51 PM

    I was raised in Dubai, have family and run a business there and I can say that AA Gill is 95% on the money. The truth hurts but that’s how it is.

  2. Elijah L. 28/04/2011 at 3:59 PM

    I have lived and worked in Dubai for 6 years. Thank god I moved back home in the States last year. In fact, Gill’s article was very transparent and true. A lot of the things he said, even though offensive to some at times, express exactly how I felt about this plastic city and its inhabitants. But I guess people won’t really know what he’s talking about unless they go live there for a while and experience the ugliness of it all.

  3. Tim 04/04/2011 at 3:19 PM

    I just googled “Dubai article”. Gill’s article was far from the only one, and none seem to get more that a paragraph or two in before using phrases like “dark underbelly” and talking about the fakery of it all. I’ve never been to Dubai, but if all these articles are so similar, either all online articles suffer from the same bias, or there is something fishy going on with Dubai. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

    I do get a strong impression that Dubai attracted the wealth by just not bothering with taxation, and they paid for that by,
    a) Splurging the wealth they have (had?) and
    b) Exploiting foreign workers for cheap labour.

    Clearly (a) is unsustainable and (b) is unethical, and I don’t care what background those workers came from. Fine, if they can go home whenever they like but it seems this often isn’t the case. Also, @AmyAus82, if you think it’s reasonable to divide human beings up into categories like “whites” and “drones” you were already far stupider than this article was ever going to make you.

    Plus Lee Vardough is spot on. If you want to blame opinion pieces in the states for unfair laws in Dubai, help yourself, but I think you’re looking in the wrong place.

  4. Lee Vardough 30/03/2011 at 2:54 AM

    It was not a journalistic piece, it was an opinion piece. If your countrymen are going to base what kind of freedom of speech rights to give people based on an opinion piece some guy in the states wrote, you need to seriously evaluate your set of values.

    • An Asian's opinion 12/04/2011 at 5:24 PM

      And not just an opinion piece either, but a satire as AA Gill is a well know satirist. It is not at all surprising that a lot about people today, particularly those in Asia and the Middle East, to have absolutely no concept of Western philosophy and thought to understand and appreciate the utility of satire, which has a history going back to the Ancient Greeks. Like caricatures, satire educates as it ridicules and lampoons. The Middle East, as in Asia have not had any revolutions in thought and ideas (which suits their autocratic regimes pretty well) and sees all critique as “insults” not to be endured. The maturity and resilience of a culture (and all the good things that come with it) comes with the ability to laugh at oneself. Anything else just leads to more wars and more tragedy.

  5. Sam 28/03/2011 at 7:43 PM

    By: AmyAus82 ..

    I’m so sick and tired of this junk.

    It’s the same story ‘locals are rich, lazy and stupid’, ‘westerners (whites) are ‘drunks here for the money living lives they couldn’t in their own country’, and the ‘poor unfortunate workers struggle through every day more humble than the last’…


    Let’s call it as it really is, shall we?

    Locals: living a country that developed around them so have known nothing other than living the way they have and are trying to enjoy it, They value education and love their family but enjoy active social lives, whether it be with friends or just their family.

    Whites: offered better deals so came here to get forward because 1) they would have the chance to move up a level, and 2) they would return to their country with cross cultural experience, extra bonus for future jobs. Don’t love everyday, but work hard to get to the next because they are living in a mixed bag of cultures and it IS tough so YES they do enjoy those nice five star events because, while away from their families and friends, they do tend to substitute the sadness with ‘things’- but still hard working and do it every day because that’s life

    Drones: Not always as ‘woe as me’ as the papers make them. They came here for the same reason the whites did, the money is better than in their country. Many of them suffer, but let’s face it, they suffer in their own countries regardless and it’s not an issue of ‘UAE treating them bad’ it’s an issue of the world declaring some countries are third world and have poor passports so don’t have education/quality to first world standards. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are all in need of help, many will stab you in the back if they get the chance – because they’re born evil? No. Because they were born and taught from birth that survival is battle of the strongest. Not everyone with a sad face is a victim.

    That’s a better stereotype. One our ‘learned’ friend didn’t bother to find out about. He flew in, stayed for a day or two and flew out. He wrote a high school newsletter article and left.

    The same insulting article could have been written by me about holidays in the US, UK, Asia, Africa… many countries… if I chose to look at the things he chooses to look it.

    ‘Deafening journey to loud mouthed, narrow minded America’
    ‘Who will England whinge to next?’
    ‘Australia: Are you sure it’s not Asia or the Middle East?’

    You can angle anything you want from anything you want.

    It’s a case of whether your journalists really wants to write or just wants to make a word count.

    We can see from his opening paragraph that rattled off possibly four or five metaphors, wasting even more of our time, that he had a word count that needed to be filled and to have filled it with ‘real’ information would have required references, the time for which he did not want to spend.

    Boo to you AA Gill.

    I will never read an article by you again.

    I am stupider for having read it and would like those 10 minutes of my life back.


  6. CR 24/03/2011 at 4:28 PM

    I’ve lived here for almost 5 years, my wife for nearly 10. Whether people want to accept it or not most of what he said is true to varying extents. When you read the article, look past his rather bitter tone to core of the it. I admit he is making rather broad generalizations, but the core of his article is pretty much on target. Emirati’s have lost virtually all their own culture, most of them live in an economic fairy tale, this entire country would COMPLETELY FALL APART without its poorly paid and extremely mistreated Asian labor force, there is most definentely ” a generation of kids who expect to never seriously work—but do expect secure jobs” ( I have met or have friends who have met way to many for it to be untrue and alot of the early 20’s and younger actually laugh about the way their parents or grandparents lived before the money), most expats (not all) are “single, greedy, and insincere” living lives that “revolve around drink and sex and pool parties and barbecues with a lot of hysterical laughing and theme nights, karaoke, and slobbery, regretful coupling” (go to any friday brunch to meet them). Not everyone (Emirati and expat) can be defined by the above,some are actually “normal”, but they are the exception not the rule. Don’t get me wrong though, most days I like it here (wadi’s, dunes, beaches, camping, variety of restaurants, endless sunny days) and at least Dubai really tried to be a fun place to live and a tourist mecca . Abu Dhabi waits to see how something works in Dubai, then does a cut rate, waste of money version of its own.

  7. GM 16/03/2011 at 10:26 PM

    Unfortunately, there are many others like A.A. Gill, who come here and bite their fingers with jealousy. Underpaid, undermined, ignorant and hateful….

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