Dubai intrigued me- it is an intriguing city- and that is perhaps the only way I can describe it. Sure it is unnecessarily opulent and filled with beautiful architecture, but the culture that has manifested itself underneath all this is a contradictory one. The westernisation of Dubai is clear as the city has attempted to craft itself as a cultural metropolis for tourists to indulge in the over the top, yet how has this affected its traditional cultural beliefs?
More so than anything else, it is the conflicting moral and cultural values that interested me. On the one hand, the traditional Islamic cultural that established itself in the Middle East is present, yet on the other hand we have modern Western ideals heavily embedded within in. Islam opposes drinking and bequeathes very little rights upon women, however, speak to any local or walk into any nightclub/bar, and a very different picture is painted. Women dress, well, like any other Western woman- even some of the more liberated locals. Shorts skirts are worn, high heels are strapped on and cleavage is out, all to impress the male specimen. However, overtly sexual behaviour, including dancing together and touching, is frowned upon. Never have I heard the word ‘prison’ be thrown around as a legitimate threat to combat such behaviour. Combine this with heavy drinking, debauchery, and a lot of underground activity, and Dubai seems to be be forgoing its traditions in a bid to lure tourists. It appears that money trumps all.
Speaking to a local, I questioned the operations of the clubs and bars and how they felt about this. His response was that what I see is only the tip of the iceberg. Dubai supposedly has a thriving underground gay scene, countless prostitutes (the oldest profession will forever be present), drugs are easily accessible, and the locals indulge in a lot of it. It was something I had to see to believe, so standing in front of a nightclub at 3am one evening, we were searching for something to do. The city supposedly shuts down at this hour, however we began to chat to a pretty young blonde lady standing next to us (turned out she was a Russian prostitute) who informed us of the after hours scene. She gave us directions to a private party located at another hotel, which we proceeded to try and find. Upon arrival, we asked security about it, who feigned ignorance until one let slip that we needed to be invited up, and to look for the people wearing the white wrist bands. Although our efforts to get in failed, it was clear that there was an entire hidden side to Dubai.
So has their desire to capture the attention, and money, of tourists resulted in a loss of culture?
Not necessarily. The Islamic culture is heavily present, simply walk into any public arena, yet it is one that is adapting. It is difficult to maintain traditions in an ever changing society, particularly one that is a central travel hub, so it becomes a battle of give and take. The line does need to be drawn somewhere, it is just a matter of deciding where. A city that is supposedly bleeding money needs means of counteracting that, and tourism is big business. If opening bars and clubs so people can partake in sex, drugs and debauchery means thriving tourism, then perhaps turning a blind eye is the easiest method.
Next time you visit Dubai, scratch the surface a little. Underneath the gold leaf ceiling is a world one would not expect to find in the Middle East.