Observer (the Sunday newspaper of The Guardian) did rather strike a chord. I'm not much of a Dubai apologist but have to confess that having lived here for the past 17 years (I've been travelling around the Middle East for the past 24 and yes, thank you, I do feel old) the old place must be doing something right to keep me here.
I'm not about to set myself up ready to leap to Dubai's defence as everyone points out how crap it is. I spend enough time pontificating in various media already without adding 'official apologist' to my job title. But the Observer piece by 'William Butler', apparently recently returned after four years in Dubai, really does take the digestive.
There is a thriving sex trade in Dubai and I have seen it with my own two eyes. A great deal more could be done to address said trade, without a doubt. But if you really clamped down on that trade, along with many other trades in the city's margins and hideaways, you'd start to peck away at the principles that make Dubai a pleasant place to be in - that we're all pretty much left alone to do whatever we want as long as we're reasonably discreet and don't take it too far. That has always been at the very core of the Dubai I have been travelling to and living in since the eighties. They like to call it 'laissez faire'. I'm not arguing that this is perfection, but it's a damn sight better than an across-the-board 'No, you can't'.
So it's not that the piece is wholly inaccurate, it's just that it's peppered with silly errors, sweeping statements of fact that are unsustainable and unfounded assertions. So a piece that could have been a well-argued, explosive investigation into the trade and its many victims is, instead, a badly cobbled together and sloppy tissue of baseless assertion. What a wasted opportunity.
'I asked her what she did for a living. "You know what I do," she replied. "I'm a whore."
I know this is one man's word, but I wouldn't write that line into one of my books.
"It was obvious that every woman in the place was a prostitute. And the men were all potential punters, or at least window-shoppers."
Every woman a prostitute and all the men punters? In a five star hotel bar? Must be a different bar to all the ones I've gone to over the years... How is a prostitute 'obvious' in this way? The burden of proof here is met by some bloke's idea of what a prostitute looks like? What next from the Observer? "It was clear they were all gay"?
"Dubai is a heaving maelstrom of sexual activity that would make the hair stand up on even the most worldly westerner's head."
I'm really, really sorry but I must have been living an unusually cloistered life, a 'heaving maelstrom'? What have I been missing out on all these years?
"It is known by some residents as "Sodom-sur-Mer".
No it's not. Certainly not by anyone I know. Maybe to William Butler and his best friend Yeats. It's a daft epithet and too wooden to be popular.
"Western girls fall for handsome, flash Lebanese men"
This is simply awful. Is the Observer telling us that Dubai, the place where young people from all around the world come to seek opportunity, is responsible for inter-cultural relationships? Pity the poor ugly, boring Lebanese men, too...
"most of the "romance" in Dubai is paid-for sex, accepted by expatriates as the norm"
This is absolute rubbish. Quantify 'most of the romance'. Nobody I know of accepts paid-for-sex as the norm. Why is this man allowed to assert such complete tosh in a national newspaper?
"Virtually every five-star hotel has a bar where "working girls" are tolerated, even encouraged, to help pull in the punters"
More baseless assertion. We aren't told how hotels encourage prostitutes to help pull in the punters. Most hotels are more than happy to give incentives to FaceCard holders, Emirates staff. But encouraging prostitutes? How, precisely?
"it would be hard to take into account the "casual" or "part-time" sex trade. One recent estimate put the figure at about 30,000 out of a population of about 1.5 million"
Whose estimate? I've got no problem with the number, crumbs, double it if you want - fill your boots. But prove it - at least have a source or a credible figure quoted. Again, we wouldn't let a press release out with that kind of fact standing up a story and I wouldn't expect it to last ten minutes out there if we did. Why the hell is a respected paper running this sort of thing?
"Although strictly illegal under United Arab Emirates' and Islamic law, it is virtually a national pastime"
Virtually a national pastime? WTF? We are, surely, losing the plot here...
"A few drinks with the lads on a Thursday night, maybe a curry, some semi-intoxicated ribaldry, and then off to a bar where you know "that" kind of girl will be waiting. In the west, peer group morality might frown on such leisure activities, but in Dubai it's as normal as watching the late-night movie."
No it's not. This is rubbish. And, again, it's uninformed opinion.
"Middle-aged men in responsible jobs – accountants, marketeers, bankers – who for 10 months of the year are devoted husbands, transform in July and August into priapic stallions roaming the bars of Sheikh Zayed Road."
This is amazing. I am quite sure that some of the 'summer bachelors' do indeed go astray, but this image of a city filled with 'Priapic stallions roaming the bars' every summer is bunkum. Lonely drunks, maybe.
"In my experience, many men will be unfaithful if they have the opportunity and a reasonable expectation that they will not be found out."
Why superimpose your experience of morality on everyone around you, particularly when it is quite so egregious? This 'experience' says more about the author than we perhaps need to know...
"Above all, there is opportunity. There is the Indonesian maid who makes it apparent that she has no objection to extending her duties, for a price; the central Asian shop assistant in one of the glittering malls who writes her mobile number on the back of your credit card receipt "in case you need anything else"; the Filipina manicurist at the hairdresser's who suggests you might also want a pedicure in the private room."
Singling out the nationalities like this is also telling. I have never heard of an Indonesian maid who extends her duties - certainly not willingly. I know one Sri Lankan maid who'd probably give you a good smack for even suggesting anything of the sort. And as far as manicurists (does she have to be Filipina, Observer?) go, those I know would be hurt and offended at the very idea.
"Cyclone, a notorious whorehouse near the airport, was closed down a few years back, but then it really did go too far – a special area of the vast sex supermarket was dedicated to in-house oral sex."
This is clearly crap. Cyclone was a nightclub, albeit one increasingly notorious for the 'working girls' to be found there. But it was not a whorehouse - and it was closed before 'William Butler' came to the UAE. So he is just (as he does much of the time) reporting overheard tittle-tattle rather than researched or sustainable fact. In the latter days I avoided Cyclone, it was never really my kind of place (being a middle aged Priapus every summer, you understand), but I'd love to see the evidence for an area of 'the vast sex supermarket' (whaat?) being dedicated to anything of the sort. And let us not forget, Cyclone. was. shut. down.
It's simply not good enough. This is not great journalism, this is not investigative reporting. It's a poorly hacked together, ill-informed job from a freelance former expat that a lazy editor has just unquestioningly jacked into the system to fill a page or two and it is the sort of thing that people here will point to when arguing that media freedom is a bad thing.
It's interesting that comments are not enabled on the online version. The Observer not willing to countenance another wave of clarification of the sort that expats have helpfully contributed to previous Dubai bunkum pieces?
I'd love to see this shameful rubbish referred to the PCC...