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Five guys in white come to my door, and I get a new iPod [Nov. 11th, 2006|02:00 pm]
bklyn_in_dubai
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[Note: I have edited this entry (originally posted November 11) a bit for language (though not content) after a couple of people, rightly, took offense at some word choices and tone. Normally I would say piss off, but given that my goal here is to tell a story, it does me no good if people get hung up on things other than the story itself. So I edited those parts I thought needed editing.]

What happens when five guys come to your door wearing dishdash, the long, white robe local Emirati men favor, pressed neatly in fine fabrics with lovely cufflinks? I found out the day before Id. Followers of this blog know that I have been doing interviews for four months now on expats born and brought up in Dubai. Apparently, so did the secret police. And they decided to do something about that.

On October 22, 12 hours after my wife and 14-month-old son arrived, five guys in dishdash and one lady cop show up at my door with a court order to search and confiscate. The one lady cop means that they knew that my wife was there. That they showed up at my friend’s place, where I had only been staying for three days, and the fact that they showed up a little more than a day before I was taking a flight to India means, as a duty officer at the US consulate told my wife, that they were keeping very good tabs on me.

So these fellows come in, with a court order written in Arabic with a red seal stamped on top, take my laptop and iPod, backup CDs, written notes and printouts. They search the apartment fully. You must come with us. My wife says she and our son will come too. No. We will bring him back in half an hour. (Haraamis, lying the day before Id. Shame, shame.) Can I leave my mobile since my wife has no phone access where we are staying and doesn’t have a mobile? It is not allowed. Can I at least write down some phone numbers as she doesn’t know anyone here? Yes. I write two numbers then one of them huffs, “no more numbers!”

So off we go, in a Toyota Highlander 4x4 with the sport stripes and excessively tinted windows, to the main, massive police HQ in Deira. We approach from airport road, make a right to the side gate. Once through this gate, one of the secret fellows tells me, actually motions me, to put my head down. We wind up and up a ramp until we arrive at secret police HQ, an oasis of bougainvillea and other lovely hanging vines and plants. I’m taken to a room where the questioning begins.

My interrogators for the next 13 hours or so were two locals (this day for me was a bonanza of interactions with locals!) – one in his late 20s, skinny with jaundiced skin and no front teeth, one in his mid-late 30s, short and chubby with jowels like a chipmunk who claims to have studied in Russia. The latter played the role of good cop, while the former was bad cop. Apparently their secret police training consists of watching bad American cop movies. I immediately asked/demanded of good cop whether the US consulate was informed. He lied (haraamis!) and said they were. I know he lied because the US consul told me he was not informed.

The questioning was mostly a time pass. Bad cop started filling out a massive dossier form, which for the next nine hours both would write in Arabic details about my family’s migration history, my educational history from pre-KG to the PhD level, details about my work history, etc. Every now and then they would interject with the real questions: why did you come to Dubai? Who is funding you? Why are you asking so many questions? Why are you doing interviews? Why are you asking so many questions about locals? Who said you can come? Why did you come to Dubai?

I answered their questions slowly, calmly, not getting agitated. They didn’t like my answers. But my answers were irrelevant. Obviously they had already decided I was a nuisance or a threat and I had to go. But first it seemed they wanted some kind of admission of guilt from me, which I was not prepared to give. Maybe they should have resorted to physical violence to achieve their goals? I was a little annoyed they were not violent, did not even threaten violence. They were not even particularly rude. They never raised their voices. They gave me no cause to really be afraid. Mostly I was just bored. They could have at least been a little menacing, if just to ease the boredom.

While they were going over my data, the two cops shuttled back and forth to the interrogation room (an unused, quite nicely-sized room, though not fully furnished). They were coming from another room where I imagined a team of Emirati intelligence experts poring over my research materials alternately sending bad cop or good cop back with written questions to ask me. These were variants of the same questions above. And I would answer the same way. And they would not like the answers no matter how I paraphrased the answers to their paraphrased questions.

Now as for funding, I have a Fulbright fellowship, which is funded by the US government, and is handled through the US State Department (though they exert no pressure upon individual scholars). I don’t say this to boast, but to give a relevant detail. When I was swept up by the secret ones, my wife went into action, going to a nearby hotel to call the US consulate. When she told them how I was taken away by the men in white who didn’t show ID, and that I was a Fulbrighter, the ambassador apparently became “pissed off”. The ambassador and consul general were on the phone for over nine hours before they were able to locate me and arrange for my release. They are very protective of their Fulbrighters and don’t like it when they are picked up by secret police and held without charge and without their being notified. The secret higher ups told them I would be released by the end of the night.

It was around the time that the ambassador received my release guarantee that my interrogators stopped with their questions and left me locked in the room for over two hours. After which the chief came.

Chief was all business. After saying salaam – with an oddly effeminate, weak handshake, not at all what you would expect from hyper-masculine, patriarchal Gulf Arabs – he got down to business. I shot first asking if I was being charged. He snarled, rather irritated at my impudence. We can hold you for 48 hours without charge. As this is a country more of rules and edicts, rather than “laws”, and since they were the secret police, they probably could have done anything they liked. Except that someone high up ordered me released. Anyway, chief said the research you have been doing is creating divisions in UAE society and we will not allow it. You are asking too many questions about locals and nonlocals. Why do you ask so many questions? So we are keeping your files. We will return your laptop after we take away the relevant files. Also your iPod. These we will give you back tomorrow. We will contact you. You will also leave on the next available flight. (Good cop told me later it would be fine for me to take my already scheduled flight to India the next night.) Do not return through Dubai; you are banned and will be arrested if you try to return. (There was no actual ban stamp in my passport; they are secret police, they have their own “rules” and ways, I imagine. I will not be going back to Dubai to test whether or not there is an actual ban. Unless it is at the personal invitation of Sheikh Mohammed.)

There was a time gap between when chief told me to leave Dubai and between when I was to be released. Good cop stayed with me for most of this time. He was chatty and maybe thinking that I was going to write stuff anyway, and was trying to put a cheery spin on things. He said I hope you have enjoyed Dubai, well, this is not enjoyable, but I hope the rest of your stay has been productive and enjoyable and that you represent Dubai positively. Huh?

Well, my discussions with him were very productive, and actually made my stay with my local hosts worthwhile for me. It was my only indepth interview with a local. Good cop attempted to clarify the labor and residency laws for me, even allowing me to write down some notes. He told me much about the kinds of dissatisfactions many locals have with expats and the importance they have been given in Dubai, and he gave me an interesting insight into how intelligent Dubai intelligence is:

I have doubts of your funding. What do you mean? I told you I have a Fulbright. No, I think it is someone else. Ok, who do you think? I think it is “the Jewish”. Why would the Jewish be funding my asking questions of people? I do not know, but I think it is them. Ok, who else? I think maybe the CIA… Now, ok, it’s one thing if your average Emirati in the café (you won’t find them on the street) thinks that the Elders of Zion are building shopping malls to destroy local Emirati culture, but the people who are supposed to be intelligence should show some sign of intelligence. But they didn’t. Maybe good cop was just saying this stuff to throw me off. More likely he believed it. Sheikh Mohammed should really look into the quality of the public servants in his secret police.

So that was that. They put me back in the backseat of the Highlander with the 60% tinted windows to take me home. I was provided with two 4 oz. containers of water placed on the seat. After thirteen hours of questioning with no food or water. (Though to be fair, the driver, when he pulled over because bad cop had to come find us because he forgot to have me sign a receipt for my passport and mobile phone, bought me a Vitamin C drink. That was nice of him. I threw it out when I got back to the flat.)

The next day, a shady police guy calls and says he will come to my flat and give me back my laptop and iPod. I say, uh, I don’t think so. We will meet somewhere public. At 8 pm, he calls me and says come meet me in Lamcy Plaza mall. And come alone. My wife did not like that. But I figured what would they do now? So I went.

I call him from the ground level. Where are you? Standing next to the guy dressed like a chicken. Come up the escalator. I hesitate to do this because I cannot see him. But I go. Halfway up I think, oh, this is such a bad idea. At the top I make to immediately turn around but he calls to me from the Starbuck’s. Come here. So I go. There are two of them; one talks, the other does not. Neither shows me ID; in fact talking cop says we do not need to show. After some awkward, uncomfortable small talk with him and his partner, silent cop, I sit down to write out a receipt for equipment received in “best operating condition”, even though my ibook does not turn on, and when I do turn it on in the flat, the hard drive and operating system have been wiped clean. My iPod has been replaced by a new 60 GB video ipod. My guess is they could not figure out how to delete the files from the iPod, so just kept it. I wish they would have given me a new macbook pro laptop to go with my new iPod. That would have been classy. But they did not. Talking cop tells me that next time I come to Dubai he will show me around, be my tour guide. I say, uh, I was banned, remember? He says I know nothing of this.

Now, most of my material had been backed up and sent home, so why they thought I would not be able to write my book, I don’t understand. What they also didn’t understand, which I tried to impress upon them, is that taken in full, the book was going to paint a pretty positive picture of Dubai. But these fellows were obsessing over details; they were not big picture guys. They also had no idea what Fulbright is. Which may be a problem for them, because Fulbright is a bilateral agreement between the US and other states. The US sends scholars to country x, and country x in turn sends scholars to the US. Basically, Fulbrighters are considered by the embassy to be a special class of nonofficial American representatives to be protected by the host country. As I said above, the ambassador was not happy at my detainment. Maybe somebody’s head will roll – right off his body? (It could happen – this is after all a kingdom.) Again, these are not really the types I would want running my intelligence.

What kind of intelligence? They were obviously not police. The logical assumption is CID, the UAE’s version of the FBI. But a guy who knows about such things told me he knows someone very high up in CID who told him I was not with them. This fellow felt that it was SSD – State Security Department (or something like that, I don’t recall exactly) that picked me up. That’s some impressive paranoia really high up. And it is counterproductive for what Sheikh Mohammed is trying to accomplish for Dubai. My guess is that there is factionalism in his court, and this one faction acted without the knowledge of those closer to the Sheikh. How else can you explain why and how they could do something that the US consul explained to me threatened to turn into an “international incident”, which could prove to be embarrassing to the Sheikh, more embarrassing than the small ethnography I was working on?

I had my own paranoia, so the embassy arranged for us to be driven to the airport at 1 am in a light armored vehicle. Cool. This fellow took us as far as the customs desk and remained until our flight took off, staying in touch with me by mobile. I called him when I cleared customs, he called me as I waited for my flight, and he had me SMS him as soon as the plane took off and the landing gear went up. I was trying to be sly with my phone on the plane, hiding it under a stack of papers. My wife shook her head at my sad attempt at being slick (hanging out with the SSD guys rubbed off on me), as the light from my phone was quite bright and extended a few feet in all directions in the darkened plane. In any case, we got off fine. Though our luggage did not arrive with us. Odd given that it was a direct flight, and a short one at that. My wife is convinced they wanted one last look at our stuff. Hmmm.

My time and interactions with these fellows has changed the focus of the book, from what I was originally researching, second-generation expats born or brought up in Dubai. Likely the book will now take a much more critical turn, linking these workers with the hyper-exploited construction workers, with the trafficked women in the sex trade, with the three year old camel jockeys, with prize-winning thoroughbred race horses, with greed, with rapacious rents, with an absurd caste-like system that rewards locals for a good choice of parents and punishes housemaids and low wage workers for daring to come to Dubai to work. Because the development of Dubai integrally links all of these. Fear and work and sex and money in Dubai. How’s that for a title?
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From: thesamuraisam
2006-11-11 10:28 am (UTC)

...

Very interesting read.

I look forward to being able to read your book.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-11 11:09 am (UTC)

Re: ...

Thanks, Samuraisam. Normally I'm a little lazy, but this is making me inspired to really crank this out.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-11 12:21 pm (UTC)

When will you publish the book?

When is the book gonna be published?
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-11 12:24 pm (UTC)

Re: When will you publish the book?

It's going to take 1 1/2-2 years probably, given my teaching commitments and the 14 month old boy.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-11 12:41 pm (UTC)

be an objective scholar

I hope that you don't let your personal resentment influence your book too much. From what I've read about your blog, Dubai is a complicated place with good as well as bad. Is it really worse than the U.S. or India? I would just hate for you to get lazy and overemotional, and comprise your academic standards for journalistic sensationalism. I am looking forward to reading the book. An anonymous fan
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[User Picture]From: qlewkr
2006-11-11 02:19 pm (UTC)
Amazing story, Syed. I am so glad you managed to escape (relatively) unscathed. And many, many kudos to your smart wife for reacting so well under pressure. What a terrible first day in Dubai for her!

Wow, it's very alarming to imagine being watched that closely and discretely for so long, isn't it?

-Deb
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 12:10 am (UTC)
If not for wife I might still be there. Good thing for wife.
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[User Picture]From: nativeinformant
2006-11-11 03:33 pm (UTC)

Here's what I don't get...

Any thoughts on why you in particular were singled out for this? I mean, your research seems pretty innocuous to me, and you don't say anything in your blog that is any more critical than what is written on other UAE blogs or even in newspapers. And, you were not talking to laborers, sex workers, child jockeys, or anyone else "controversial" in terms of human rights issues. So just wondering how they found out about you and why you were seen as so much of a threat that they held you for so long. Any ideas?
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 12:11 am (UTC)

Re: Here's what I don't get...

I just don't know. I was interviewing those guys as much as I could, but they weren't letting me in on how they knew. That much intelligence they showed.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-11 06:29 pm (UTC)

Unbelievable

Yow, what a bummer! I can't believe the earlier commenter who wanted you to try to ignore this and not let it colour your view of Dubai! You were held and interrogated for quite a while, and this idiot expects you to just laugh it off! For gods' sake. Good luck with the thesis and and looking forward to the book.

Keefieboy. webmasterdubai.blogspot.com (sorry can't understand LiveJournal garbage).
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 12:15 am (UTC)

Re: Unbelievable

His point is actually a good one; I think he's trying to say just because I got fucked with is no reason to turn the book into an attack on them. If anything though, before this happened I was a little too soft on Dubai, going along with people's views of Dubai as this overall fantastic place. Now I have a bit more of the dark side in me, and it will show up in the writing too. Thanks for the wishes.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-11 10:30 pm (UTC)
Brilliant story and a great read - I love the ay-rabs and their bizarre ways.
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[User Picture]From: octal
2006-11-12 12:42 am (UTC)
Wow. I wish you'd release your book a little sooner, as it will probably depress property values a fair bit, and I'd like to buy some property at a short-term discount.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 04:24 am (UTC)
I will try my friend, but I can only do so much. But a depression of property values in Dubai would mean that RAK would get hammered and their speedboat service would tank.
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[User Picture]From: change_ling
2006-11-12 05:32 am (UTC)
wow. you've given me yet another insight into the country i now live in.
looking forward to the book! :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-12 07:03 am (UTC)

mmmm

I think from a personal prospective that the person that you had taken some of the information from is naming names that should not be mentioned and if you play at the high levels you either keep your mouth shut or suffer the punishment for naming and shaming.

Your treamtment by the secret police is not unusal and in fact you have been treated quite well by them from your accounts there are other horror stories that you can read that make this look like a day at the spa.

I wish you all the luck in the world and I would love to read your book when it is published, although I am sure that it will not be readily available in Dubai
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 12:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting... or not (part one)

Thanks for the points, Wasim. I was aiming to entertain and inform. You may not like the form of entertainment (which writing always is), and when I write this up for a major international weekly publication, the tongue-in-cheek references to dishdash will disappear. Yeah, that was a little obnoxious. It was also aimed at our censorious brothers in the government. Hi guys! If any locals read it and get pissed off at me for calling the secret police guys dishdashes (I could have gone with one of the litany of nastier Arab slurs), then fcuk 'em if they can't take a little humor. They should really be pissed at these other fellows who are making them look bad. Plus this is a blog after all; I want to vent a bit, and be a little obnoxious. Why the hell not?

As for informing, there's not much for you to take issue with. This account was descriptive of what happened. People get booted out of Dubai all the time, from all levels of expat workers. Yeah, there's plenty good here, and in terms of human rights and personal freedoms compares favorably to most Gulf and Arab countries.

But there is a dark side (google Mike Davis and Dubai for a very interesting article). While you may feel loyalty to this government, Wasim, it feels none to you. Turn 60, leave. Demand rights, leave. If you keep your head bowed and mouth shut and stick to just working and making money and going for the occasional hooker (who work all through Ramadan), likely they'll let you stay. But get uppity, well...

As for the fulbright, the point of saying I have one was not to brag, but to make a point. Fulbright is a US government funded fellowship that sends scholars from the US to other countries AND bring scholars from other countries to the US. In essence, it is an exchange program. UAE nationals go to the US on Fulbright. It is a bilateral agreement at the level of states. That makes me a symbolic representative. That's why the higherups at the US embassy and consulate were looking for me -- it's very bad for them that I was whisked away by our friends in white. And why not refer to them as bastards? What, secret police are people too yeah? Actually, chipmunk-looking good cop said to me he was "doing dirty work, but someone has to do it, right?" (that's a quote.) So he was in effect say he was a bastard for doing this, especially during Ramadan. Haraam.

MI5-er? Hardly. I was not intimidated because these guys did nothing really to make me feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Actually, if you reread the relevant passages, that speaks well of them that they weren't acting like a**holes. I've received far worse treatment from cops and airport security in the US than I got from these guys.

Property prices? You misunderstood that little exchange. Few books can change the world like that. Mine will not be one of them.

As for being objective, I am. I related this incident because it happened, and because things like this happen in Dubai to people not as well situated as I am. It's only my luck that I'm an US national. If I were an Indian national, I would have been fckued. I would have spent Id with those guys, and probably much longer. (I still can't believe those cheap bastards didn't give me any food during that whole time. Not a biscuit, no tea. And that they didn't give me a new computer. Cheap bastards.)

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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-12 12:24 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting... or not (part two)

As for this working for the Jews business... That is just a pathetic statement. You sound like the good cop SSD fellow. Blissfully ignorant and arrogantly proud of it. Should I say nothing because the Jews or Americans or whoever might get some mileage out of it? I should support my Muslim brothers just because they are Muslim, ignoring that they are a**holes?

Your statement is a variant on the idea that people within a group should not criticize others of the group to people outside the group -- don't air our dirty laundry in public. Well, I actually like Dubai a lot and would love to come back to work. (Are you listening, chief?) And when you like a place or a person and they're doing something wrong, you speak up. Likely nothing will happen. But then again, maybe some bad press will get whipped up and they'll have to change. Like all the bad press they got over 3 year old camel jockeys. Did you, Wasim, say then that it's wrong to be critical of locals over their cultural passion of camel racing, ignoring that the racers were trafficked boys velcro-ed crying to the backs of camels?

This is basically a freedom of ideas and expression issue. Ok sure, this is a kingdom and they set the rules. But if they want to play in the international arena they have to bend. They arrest journalists here all the time, and apparently researchers too. And people who say the wrong things in front of the wrong people, whether face to face, on the phone, or in blogs. So watch your words cuz the men in white are everywhere.

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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-12 04:47 pm (UTC)

From Rekha: What a story!

Syed,

What an adventure. My first thought was glad you were ok, and glad Eli was there to call everyone who needed calling. My second thought was, they wanted your music, which is why they kept the iPod. They could have uploaded to someone's computer, but the guy with the iTunes installed was out for the week. So they gave you a new one.

My third thought was, is this the same kind of posting that a visitor to the US might write if he or she fell under the suspicions of our lower echelons of intelligence? Though I'm not so cynical as to completely equate: clearly your Fulbright should have been a magic shield.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-13 12:51 am (UTC)

Re: From Rekha: What a story!

They could have been after my five CD set of Billie Holliday on the iPod, but it had crashed early on in my stay and I had to reboot it, losing all my music.

As for your third thought, clearly I was treated better by these fellows than homeland security or any other US agency treats immigrants who they take notice of. These guys are relatively alright. A quick look at HRW's country rights reports and they compare favorably to much of the world, certainly with other Arab states.

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[User Picture]From: dubaiwalla
2006-11-12 05:17 pm (UTC)
This adds a whole new dimension to 'If you don't like it here, leave.'
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(Deleted comment)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-12 06:57 pm (UTC)

Re: so, what was the big panic about the lost files?

Did you even THINK of the of the trouble you just writing THIS here, full of sarcasm and insult towards the country, can now get those you interviewed into since the CID still has your files?

I'm disgusted. And there had better not be a word of my personal conversations with you in your finished piece.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-12 07:49 pm (UTC)
Can't wait for my autographed copy of the yet unfinished book with the intriguing title. Good to have you and the family in one piece!

Rog
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-12 09:25 pm (UTC)

You Blinked

Next it will be the NSA
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-13 11:55 am (UTC)

Re: Interesting... or not (part two)

Wasim,

I'm glad we have both vented and moved to a more reasoned, intellectual discussion. For criticizing the US, you have to move behind me in line. From at least the beginnings of the Cold War and escalating with Bush the Junior the US has indeed increasingly become a security state, spying on its citizens and others, planting evidence to trump up bogus charges to either defame, deligitimate or simply jail. Speaking of which, the numbers of jailed have gone through the roof, especially since the beginning of the war on drugs. Drug trade which was run in part to fund the tail end of the cold war conflict in Afghanistan, which of course directly funds the mujahideen who become al qaida and their spawn. And make Pakistan the number one heroin producer in the world (at the time, I don't know if this is still the case).

That having said, the issue here is not what the US or other western nations do or do not do. They are not the reference. The reference is one internal to Dubai. What is Dubai, and where is it going. The promise of Dubai, the dream of Dubai is as a safe, tax-free haven where people can come and make their money. (Of course there is much griping that they don't invest in Dubai. Good chipmunk SSD cop made that very clear in his criticism of expats.) So people come and stay, because, as you point out, they want to stay (a point I was trying to make with good cop that my results paint a positive picture of life in Dubai).

The larger point of this post, beyond telling one person's story, is to shine a light on the underside, mini-muckraking if you will. Yes, there is much that is great about Dubai compared to anywhere else. But it rests upon a structural instability, the fact that no matter how long you are here, you are treated like anyone else coming in today. You have no RIGHT to be here and you have no inalienable RIGHTS; you are here at the pleasure of the UAE government, and they can revoke your privilege of staying here at any time. (Note that I use the word privilege.)

As for owning a house or two, sure. So long as you don't say the wrong thing to the wrong person. But not everyone who is here can afford a house, let alone two. And even then, there is no certainty. They have not, as far as I know, drawn the boundary lines of what is or is not freehold property, and I'm not sure if they have decided whether or not you own the property or have 99 year leases. These are details that will change; the broader point is that because law here is more of an edict, the sands can shift very quickly.

Camel jockeys replaced, sure. But only in the last year or two. It took a long time to respond. When will they do anything about other kinds of human trafficking like sex workers? Here it would be quite easy, given the size of Dubai, the easily found places where the sex workers and their pimps are to be found (i.e., every hotel), and the time that CID and SSD must have (I mean, if they can have eight people spending their entire day and night hounding me for this small project...)

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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-13 11:56 am (UTC)

Re: Interesting... or not (part two) -- continued

Are these issues of control by the state temporary is an interesting question. I guess it depends if you see the glass half empty or half full. I'm more cynical of the actions of any state (but not just because of what happened to me). Actors of the state do things to benefit themselves and their supporters generally. If it coincides with what's best for most everybody, fine. If it doesn't, that's fine too. The government here is more stable, more rational, and just better than those of other Arab states. Comparing Saudia and UAE is no real comparison; the Saudi princes consume, and the Saudi public gets poorer (per capita income went from $20,000 in early 80s to around $7000 today). The rulers here are much better at sharing the wealth among locals. I doubt it has anything to do with inner morality; more a function of smart management. For a state to maintain legitimacy, it has to have a crucial segment of the people on its side; otherwise it must be repressive.

Please note that I have not brought out the stale argument that there is no democracy here. I'm not one of these fellows who believes that democracy is the end-all, be-all of freedom. There is much freedom here in Dubai, but there is a lot of shady stuff going on that is not seen, that is only known as rumor. Largely because there is no real freedom of the press (though that has changed a bit since the web has opened up, and since 7days was launched). One way to put a check on the state's ability to be repressive is for things to be known to the wider public. my point in writing here is not to make Dubai look bad (though of course it does). The point is, if enough of such occurrences are made public, it could, possibly, pressure the government to reform itself, to take a step back from this system of information control. Given what you have said above, I think you would agree that this is a laudable goal. They are keen on having a free market economic system. Would a free market system of ideas be that dangerous in comparison? I doubt it.

Again, thanks for the discussion. I wish we could have had this at Pars over kebabs and shisha!
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-13 02:46 pm (UTC)

Are you sure????

After reading your tale of woe and the fact that you have been in dxb for some considerable time (more than 2 wks) researching 'society', I'm shocked by what seems to be your written belief that your 'day at the spa' was courtesy of some rogue offshot of the secret police with no input or guidance by Highly Placed Dishdashas. I might have missed the sarcasm or innuendo that is subtly placed in your entry but if there is one thing I know about dxb -nothing escapes the attention of the Big Ears, himself.

And dxb's image is the first and foremost priority -not any mamsby pambsy allusions to freedom or social egalitarianism.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-13 03:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Are you sure????

I agree fully. This was no rogue offshoot; certainly highly placed people had me tracked for a long time. And that is why it is so strange that they bothered with me. They had to know what I was doing was in no way threatening to Dubai's image. But this most certainly is. So... what was the point?
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-14 09:04 am (UTC)

So What

You were interviewed for 13 hours and you cant believe it. White skins shouldn't be questioned? I personally know Americans who are banned from entering UAE bcoz of suspicious activity. And no, this is not your typical democracy. I have to go through more questioning passing through any of your airports. And how come you don't even tell us what stuff you had in your ipod or your macbook.
Next time remember the innocents being held for years in your country. How would they be feeling.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-15 01:08 am (UTC)

you are a twat!

OK Mr Ace Reporter I've got somthing I'd like you to try. Try to get yourself a UAE passport and make sure your name is nice and Muslim - Mohammed Abdullah or something.

OK now pass through the US, for a short while, on your way to... I dunno - let's say Guatemala. While you are there make sure to snoop around asking as many Arabic expats as you can about their lives in America.

Then come back here in 15 years and tell us what it was like having your arse rammed hard every day for over a decade by the Guantanamo wardens.

Prick!

Hugs and kisse,

Alex from London
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-15 08:13 am (UTC)

Re: you are a twat!

I read your first posting and was offended. Your ammended post is still quite offensive.
Firstly I have not managed to find ONE UAE National that knows what a FullBrighter is (nor cares). I have covered lots of ground on that one. It really is no big deal over here.
What about all the people who you have notes on, are they being left vulnerable here?
Do you know about the laws regarding journalism in this country? Do you know that you need to be licensed before going fishing?
Do you know that no matter what passport/fullbright you have, in the eyes of a National you are only an INDIAN. Sad but true. I am not making a dig here, but for an Indian, you have done a pretty stooooooooopid thing.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-15 04:45 pm (UTC)

Wife weighs in...

As the wife of this fabulous blogger, I feel it is time that I weighed in on his experience. Since I was the person left behind in the strange apartment with a crying and jetlagged 14-month-old I would like to weigh in on the discourse going back and forth.

I think the most germane point about what happened to Syed is that it brings to light some serious problems in the Dubai government and shows Dubai’s precarious position in the international world and how it is much more of a 'house of cards' than people might think. I will get to this point in a minute.

First, just to remind those of you who questioned his purpose for this work, his research proposal was APPROVED at the highest level of the Dubai government before he arrived. THEY accepted his research topic and invited him to come, then proceeded to monitor him and take all of his research after months and months of interviews and work. If they didn’t want him there, they should not have invited him in the first place. I certainly would have appreciated having my husband at home rather than in Dubai for the last five months!

When Syed wrote he was a Fulbright Scholar he said it had nothing do to with bragging, but just to let the reader know WHY he was in Dubai. If you do not know what a Fulbright is, that’s fine, it is a U.S. program, I wouldn’t expect people outside the U.S. to know automatically, but you should at least educate yourself before criticizing. The program has sent American’s and their foreign counterparts to more than 150 countries over the last 60 years to foster leadership, learning and empathy between cultures. Just Google it and you will find a slew of sites covering their different programs.

We are both VERY aware that what happened to Syed was minor compared to what could have happened to him had he been picked up in another country, such as Guatemala where I have a friend who has lost loved ones to the secret police. She told me quite frankly that we were lucky. We agree.

Despite being lucky, we still recognize that what the Dubai secret police did was wrong. It doesn’t justify it because they were ‘nice.’ If you came to the U.S. and were picked up by our government and mistreated, I would in no way endorse or support my government’s actions. Why does it seem that you [Alex from London and others] are trying to justify what the secret police did? Maybe you are a part of the secret police? Wrong is wrong, whether the egregious act is perpetuated by the U.S. government or any other government. I mean, for those of you who are not clued in, my husband is a brown-skinned Muslim man living in the U.S. He could just as easily get picked up here as he did there. Wake up. It should not happen anywhere, so stop justifying it...

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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-15 04:46 pm (UTC)

Wife weighs in #2...

Now, onto the most important part of this whole experience, the ‘house of cards’ comment I made above. Sheikh Mohammed is working so hard to open up Dubai to the international world. He agreed to the bi-lateral Fulbright program with the U.S. and to create an exchange of international teachers and researchers so this brings up three possible ways to look at the disconnect in the Dubai government…

1. …the secret police are not aware of of the Sheikh's agenda to internationalize the country and don’t understand how he is trying to lead the country well into the 21st century.
2. …his secret police understand his long-term goals for the country but don’t care and don’t agree so they are working to counter his progress behind the scenes and were quite outraged when they started to hear from the US Embassy regarding Syed since this meant the news of their poor behavior would reach the Sheikh himself, exposing their secret agenda. (this is quite a frightening thought because it would mean, among many things, that the country is much less stable than it appears, making it vulnerable to great rifts and possible instability in government leadership).
3. …Sheikh Mohammed has a secret agenda. While openly inviting foreigners he secretly does not really want them in Dubai, only their money, and by having his secret police do this kind of dirty work he can quietly squash any kind of intellectual discourse going on about the country while at the same time keeping his hands clean.

Who knows?

All I know for sure is that after being in Dubai for only 12 hours I “lost” my husband for 14 hours to five men who showed no identification and who would not allow me to come with them. They saw that I had a small child with me and no phone access to call for help if needed. Fortunately I had the wherewithal to contact the consulate for help. I am positive they did not expect me to do this. What were they thinking? That I would sit quietly with my son waiting for my husband to return?

While this whole experience has been quite unfortunate, what I find most disappointing is that my husband really liked Dubai. We had even entertained moving there for a few years if he could get a teaching gig at one of the Universities. Obviously, this is no longer an option.
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Writing style - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-16 03:57 pm (UTC)

Writing style

If the style of your post is indicative of your writing skills then good luck with your book, you will cretainly need all the sensationalist slur you can muster.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-16 04:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Writing style

What's the slur to which you refer? My goal is not to malign, but if you feel that I have, if you show me specifics I can correct this.
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[User Picture]From: nativeinformant
2006-11-16 05:14 pm (UTC)

a couple concerns

Hi. I have been following this thread closely, as it pertains to me as a researcher in Dubai and also as a friend and colleague. I hope then that you will take my concerns seriously. The tone of people's responses has been personal attacks, and you are understandably defensive in your responses. I am however completely in support of your work, and appalled at what has happened to you. That said, I do have one major concern, which ties in with my reaction to the tone of your post and the information that you convey.

First of all, the tone. While I am completely for freedom of speech, I think you do come across a bit arrogant and this may be putting people off. You talk about being "bored" during the ordeal and wishing they resorted to violence. My guess is that, like I would have been, you were probably very scared, if not for yourself then for your wife and child, who were left alone in a strange place with no real support system to speak of. You are understandably very angry now that you have had time to process the experience, as you should be, but from the perspective of many Emiratis as well as expats, there is a lack of cultural sensitivity in this post - your descriptions of the arresting officers being one exammple of this.

So what? This is my major point. If this were just about you no problem. But as a researcher, you have an ethical responsibility above all else to protect the safety and anonymity of your informants.

This is my main concern - where does freedom of expression end and responsibility begin? You are on some kind of blacklist somewhere, and you and those near to you are obviously being monitored (you mentioned a friend in Dubai's apt being bugged). You can still piss people off from the safety of the US, and if they have your mobile records, hard drive, and ipod interviews, what does this mean for your informants if you continue to piss people off?

A couple of posts which you have not yet responded to have asked this question, although couched in a personal attack. Since you wanted a public discussion, I am asking you as a concerned supporter of your research to address these issues... Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-16 06:03 pm (UTC)

Re: a couple concerns

Well, ok. Your first point about tone. I wrote what happened and how I reacted -- believe don't believe. I was bored. Which may have been a product of being tired and hungry and thirsty. I was a little worried about wife and child, but not too much. She's resourceful, and Dubai police have a reputation as straightforward. They were straightforward with me, I had no reason to think they wouldn't be with her. My boredom reflects rather well on the secret police guys I think. It shows that they weren't coercive, and they weren't a bunch of bullies. (That's more than I can say for American police/FBI/homeland security, a point I had made earlier in a separate response.) If I come off as arrogant, well, I come off as arrogant. Saying that I wished they had become violent was a little tongue in cheek, perhaps a bit out of place given the situation. Ok. As for the description of the officers being culturally insensitive, tell me how it is. I don't see it, but I could be blind to it. Though I doubt it. Making fun of the cops has nothing to do with their being Emirati, it has to do with my interactions with them in that situation. Should I be respectful and deferential of them and not poke fun?

But that is your minor point. Your major point about what it means to people I talked with is the heart of the matter, and something I thought about for quite a while. Honestly, I don't know. Yeah, they have all my records. And they could go after them (though as far as I know they haven't). Would these secret guys do nothing if I kept quiet? Maybe, maybe not. Would these secret guys be vengeful because I'm speaking up on this blog? Maybe, maybe not. Would my going public encourage them to back off? Maybe, maybe not. These secret fellows already have info through my SIM card, so they know who I talked with. And while a couple of people here have said I should shut up, others have been encouraging of this blogging.

I'm hoping that these secret fellows will have figured out by now that they've made much more of this than warranted. It can't be good for them to have the US embassy on their case about this and I can't believe that Sheikh Mohammed would allow this to continue if he hears of it. It is a complete contradiction of HIS projection of what Dubai is and should be.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-18 11:36 am (UTC)
There is more to the story than you say.
I'm glad that you posted this, and wish more read it, so they know that you know how many of us feel when we are "detained with no charges" in your great country.
I remember you posting about your lovely research in the UAE community blog (I think it was you) and to be honest, I had questions.
You want to make a case for your people as an American Indian is just pathetic. Instead of taking all the trouble in doing that, why don't you write a book on how India failed its over populated country and how America won't help out and take them in with more decent ways of living. Instead of criticizing a country that has opened doors for them. Nobody is forced to come in here and the caml jokey stories are old. Prostitiutio is everywhere and more so in your beloved India. Fixed it there before you come here. We all know how difficult Indian employers are back in India. My family lived there and know exactly how things are run there.
And I agree with the above writer, your fake arrogance that you tried to convince us of just doesnt fly well. I'm sure you wet your pants. And just because those men didn't use foul language or beating up that you are obviously used to somewhere else or the fact that they don't speak english fluently doesn't make them incompetent. The fact tehy gave you a new ipod has nothing to do with "not being able to down load your stupid songs".
You seem to be a sad frustrated man. I'm glad your out of here.
You and your wife can go back to where you belong. Fix your problems and address them before you search for problems else where.
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-18 12:01 pm (UTC)
Your comments are irrelevant and avoid the issues that I raise. And who is this "us" who have been "detained with no charges" in my great country? Were you detained?
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-20 11:15 am (UTC)

The story of a new iPod

That sure makes for a gud book or a movie... While reading it, I was almost drawing up a flowchart thinking wat wud hav happened if this thing was done differently (like ya ending up takign Eliya Mami along to the mall)! But, yea, it very well transforms ur research output. And hats off to ya for handling this so calmly.

Moid
http://renditions.wordpress.com
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[User Picture]From: bklyn_in_dubai
2006-11-21 04:44 pm (UTC)

Re: The story of a new iPod

sounds great... maybe ya can consider adding the "blistering desert" phrase as well... unless it seems outta place :)

Suggestion-1: iron chains, gilded cages and a blistering desert: controlling workers in dubai
Suggestion-2: iron chains and gilded cages in a blistering desert: controlling workers in dubai
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-12-27 10:41 am (UTC)

shut up

be thankful that its the dubai police u were dealing with and the fbi or cia.. u would definitely have been held (without charges) for ever or may be even killed

be thankful that u atleast got out alive from dubai....

dont spy for US government....sad thing is that u do not know that u are spying...
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