Those who used to sing the praises of the Arabs, of the vast starlit desert, and the presumed effect of that vast starlit desert on the leather-faced noble Bedu, hawk on hand, standing barefoot on an outcrop of rock (see Freya Stark, see Wilfred Thesiger, see Lawrence, see them all) did not live to see what the children of those noble Bedu have done with the unmerited wealth that came from an accident of geology. They never imagined what the Arabs have managed to do — in Riyadh, in Jiddah, in Dubai — with their vulgar pleasure-palaces out-topping one another, the xanadus that mimic Western buildings, and then some.
Dubai, by the way, is full of Iranians and hundreds of billions of dollars in Iranian investments. It is, in atmosphere, much above the other, entirely Arab-controlled sheikhlets of the Emirates. While the Sunni Arabs have had to worry about the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and about Bahrain (where the Sunni ruler worries about the 75% of his subjects who are Shi’a and don’t much care for the present governing arrangement — so much so that he is trying to give instant citizenship to 50,000 Iraqis, as long as they are all Sunni Iraqis), they didn’t worry about Dubai.
After all, wasn’t this Iranian capital in flight from the Islamic Republic? And aren’t the kind of Iranians who live and invest in Dubai the good kind, the kind who only want to make money? In other words, Sunni Arabs make the same mistake with Shi’a Iranians as Infidels do when they swallow the akyolish nonsense about the swellness of Erdogan et al. because of “economic growth” — or when they swallow the d’souzaish nonsense about the swellness of those law-abiding, straight-as-Mitt-Romney “traditional Muslims.”
Dubai may be an offense to Muslim sensibilities, both Sunni and Shi”ite, but for other reasons. It is an offense to good taste and a sense not only of aesthetic, but moral proportion. The whole project of modern, empty Dubai, hollow Dubai, nothing Dubai is offensive. Each building represents an attempt to outdo another with gimmicks: this building turns with the sun, and that one can stand on stilts, and this one prostrates itself five times a day. The most grotesque and unappealing luxury (Warren Buffett won’t be impressed) merely puts on display all the comic bad taste of the Arabs and Iranians who, with the money they do not spend on mosques and madrasas around the world and on weapons purchases and weapons projects, and on buying armies of Western hirelings, build the kind of thing, more or less, on display in the picture here.
In the rich Muslim states, the best of the West — which has nothing to do with money, but with intellect and the imagination — is not being emulated. Instead, much as they denounce that West, it is the worst of that West that in the rich Arab and Muslim states is being sedulously aped.
The luxury of Dubai is nauseating to contemplate. There is nothing there but that. No art, no science, no thought. Luxury, money, gold in the souks. Perhaps the locals will rent some paintings for display from the Louvre, or rent a succursale or two of Western universities looking for loot, in order to pretend there are minds to be cultivated and something like civilization to be found in Dubai. But it’s not to be found. All of Dubai is not worth a single star in your personal Michelin. Dubai is merely a cheesy holiday resort with elephantiasis, the result of the hundreds of billions that are so freely spent because they have been not earned, but merely accidentally acquired.
That photograph (here it is again) tells you all you need to know not only about Dubai, but about all the other pleasure-towns that the Arabs have built up with the oil money lavished upon them.
Civilizationally, they remind me of the story — a true story, told to be by a former member of the staff — about the famous London bookseller Hatchard’s. One day a rich Arab entered the store. It seems he had bought a country estate with a large library, and he asked that that library now be filled — he motioned around the vast bookstore — with “one of each.”