Friday, December 04, 2009


A view of Dubai-->

Dubai - A stately pleasure-dome

Watch the video. Then read this.

This is not some medieval fantasy induced by opium. It is real and a source of local pride. But why? What is the achievement in huge buildings, gold plated faucets financed by money that comes from oil?

Compare the garish opulence of this "oasis" --its meaningless skyscrapers and soulless titanic ventures-- with the sheer elegance and eternal brilliance of the Alhambra, the fortress built in Granada during the fourteenth century, at a time when Muslims were contenders for dominance in the world in terms of art, crafts, sciences, philosophy, poetry... Built by Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353-1391), the Alhambra reflects a culture where
artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as Christian Spain was becoming increasingly
violent and intolerant. The Alhambra mixes natural elements with man-made ones, and is a testament to the skill of Muslim craftsmen of that time.

What does Dubai represent? Shining artifice, a desire to amaze by sheer size and counter-nature habitats, a need to escape from what I suspect is an empty self, defined by a desperate over-reaching ambition to be counted in this world not by merit, intellect, labour, and virtue, but by money and oil.

Fareed Zakaria, in his latest book, whose thesis is explained in shorter form in this article , much to my astonishment, listed a number of examples which in his opinion are symptomatic of America' declining power in the world:

"Look around. The world's tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood... The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn't make the top ten...."

I cannot begin to figure out how the juvenile phallus envy of "mine is bigger than yours" can be cited, and trotted out as proof of an ascendancy or decline of any kind. It does, however, resemble the thinking in certain countries, let's say, in the Middle East. It's not the real thing. It's about appearances, not substance. Those pleasure domes are built not by the people and indigenous talent of Dubai but by foreigners, imported for the task, either as architects from the West or manual workers from the East.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. [-]
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid..

That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
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