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Dubai Transit

In May 2014 I had a four-hour transit at the Dubai International Airport on my way to the research field in Jordan. This was the first time for me to reconnect—not reconcile—with the Middle East after nine years of living in exile, since I left occupied Iraq in 2005. The flight from the U.S. to Dubai; the transit time I spent at the Dubai Airport; and the connection flight to my final destination were all experiences that captured so much of our world’s shallow and hypocritical reality of “diversity”, “marketing and consumerism”, and “multiculturalism”, which I would like to share with you today.

Let us begin with the U.S. flight coming from Washington, DC, to Dubai. The flight attendants were obviously selected according to the phony American-style of “diversity” and “cultural representation”. They were: a white woman, an Asian woman, an Indian woman, and an Arab man. This phony style of diversity is seen in almost every American work place, including universities. What is noticeably shocking about it is the fact that such employees that presumably represent “diversity” almost always work in hideously underpaid jobs, simply assisting those running the show behind the scenes. The former always act as marketing faces to support the latter in the job of exploiting the world while at the same time giving the unobservant and unvigilant viewer the false impression of “diversity”. What we see in every corporate transaction is always a “diverse” face doing the dirty work on behalf of the almost exclusively homogenous masters constantly preaching a shallow form of diversity and multiculturalism in trainings and workshops. Whenever you protest an unjust and inhumane rule or a racist policy, the “diverse” employee will always helplessly—and sometimes coldly—tell you, “Sorry, I am just doing my job.” In a sense, this selection of “diverse” people is so similar to Hollywood productions where everything is made to look so shiny and harmonious on the surface, to display the “merits” of the diverse American culture to the world, which are expected to be copied and even emulated by everyone else around the world.

The people on the flight consisted mainly of Arabic-speaking, Hindi-speaking, and English-speaking passengers. Thus, every single announcement was made in all these three languages. Looking at the passengers’ faces and listening to them speak, it was apparent that the largest number of them were Arabic-speaking, followed by speakers from southern Asia. The smallest number was of the English-speaking passengers, perhaps “expats” on their way to do “business” in the UAE. Yet the announcements were made in the reverse order of these languages to reflect the place of each group on the global map of power relations rather than proportionately and fairly represent the demographic reality of the passengers.

As the plane landed in Dubai, I felt as though I had just landed in a hot, dusty U.S. city. Every logo, from construction companies working inside the airport to each and every brand displayed outside the shops, was of American or European corporations. The very first logos I noticed were of FedEx, DHL, HSBC, and many others. As we entered the airport, the shops included Subway, McDonald’s, KFC, and other “chain” stores that have managed to enchain as many consumers as possible worldwide. Looking at the specific items inside the shops at the “duty-free” area, most items were made in the U.S. or in European countries: deodorants, perfumes, gels, creams, body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and countless other consumer goods. European chocolate and alcohol were also displayed on some shelves. The questions that immediately came to my mind upon seeing these products were: why is it that even simple things like creams, shampoos and lotions have to be imported to the Middle East from locations that are thousands of miles away? What and who imposed this reality on the region? To whose benefit this is? Is this reality even being interrogated, questioned, or resisted by people, or are most people falling for this culture of consumption that is turning them into sedated consumers who simply take it for granted? Would any Middle Eastern countries willing to produce at least their shampoos and body lotions—not to say build their own airports and fly their own planes—even be allowed to exist on the neocolonial  geopolitical map of the world, or will they immediately be added to the “axis of evil” list?

The Western-manufactured consumer goods had Arabic translations of the exact same English, French or German text of each product. Most translations on the products were poorly done. They were actually transliterations rather than translations. They sounded awkward and foreign even to those for whom Arabic is a second language. Indeed, these transliterations were alarming, because they clearly show how even the different languages around the world are being held hostages by those who insist on spreading the cancer of capitalism worldwide. These literal translations show that even our colorful and diverse languages around the globe are at stake. Instead of being diverse mediums of thinking, sensing, and writing differently, different languages are being turned into one corporate language that enables you to click on this agreement or that; to login, logout, or accept the “terms and conditions of use” of this service or that blindly. Sometimes you can use a corporate service in a language that you don’t speak simply because it is a carbon copy of one which you had previously encountered on a different product or service in your own language. In other words, languages are saying one and the same thing: be a good and obedient customer to the masters! Indeed, the Internet is being run by few moguls that monopolize the online world which is, like the physical world, becoming owned by few actors. In brief, the virtual world is owned by the same few actors who are trying to control and suffocate the physical one, which means that its usefulness as a tool should not be exaggerated or evaluated without taking this factor into serious consideration.

While waiting in the “duty-free” area, I decided to sit at a small table in a quiet corner at an open space, just across from KFC and McDonald’s. As I sat, I looked at some Arabs in traditional dresses eating greasy fried chicken, burgers, and fries with their hands; talking about prayer times and the location of the chapel at the airport. The looks, the dresses, the language, the friendly faces were all familiar. The only unfamiliar thing was what was going in their mouths—junk foods loaded with grease and unhealthy ingredients. I was struck by the disharmony and disconnect between the people and the foods they were eating.

As always, all these shocking observations took me back to the Iraqi reality and made me wonder whether all the turmoil, destruction, and death Iraqis have been put through will only be considered a “success story” when Iraqis, too, are turned into sedated, blinded consumers who cannot even manufacture their own body lotions and shampoos. Iraqis will only be considered a “success story” when they are disciplined by all means possible, including violence, until they learn the skill of ordering the right KFC meal, the right burger from Burger King, the right coffee from Starbucks, or buy the right Western-manufactured body lotion for their skins that have been burning for decades with the fires of Western bombs and missiles. One of my friends once asked me why is it that I go back to the Iraq war even when I write about other topics. My response to that is because Iraq is one of the best contemporary wounds that captures how the global struggle for genuine dignity and freedom are at stake. Iraq is the most important contemporary example that proves that the entire world is neither free nor democratic, because if it was, such a large scale of death and destruction would not have been allowed to happen. It is a big mistake to think that the Iraq war was ever over. The war in Iraq and elsewhere will never be over so long as the causes that lead to these wars still exist, and so long as the criminals who plot and wage these wars are still not held accountable for their actions. If we buy the illusion that it is over, we are simply sleeping on pillows stuffed with fake hopes of peace, only to wake up one day to the sounds of bullets, mortars, and missiles in most cities and villages in the Middle East and in many parts around the world.

The connection flight from Dubai to my final destination was with one of UAE’s airlines. After nearly thirteen hours of sleep deprivation (add to that the time difference between the U.S. and the Middle East), I was unable to shut my eyes on this flight, because the lights were kept on the entire time as one announcement followed another asking people to buy food, “duty-free” goods, and gifts for the “loved ones”. It was as though the only way to prove our love for the loved ones is by buying them duty-free gifts on a Dubai flight. I was reminded of a phrase my mom used to repeat when I was a child: “A love fed with gifts only will forever suffer from malnutrition!” Of course, at the end of the flight, they sincerely thanked passengers for flying with them. To say that I am terrified of this reality is an understatement. All I can hope for is that humanity is currently, as I was then at the Dubai Airport, simply in-transit, and that people will rise up soon to say “no!” to all this; that we will create and make our own dreams as we see fit for our struggles, future, and the well-being of our planet and humanity. I hope that humanity is soon going to scream in the faces of the merciless, corporate mafias trying to paint our world with one color, to revise and rewrite its history as well as turn its present into one agreed upon lie. Isn’t it time for us to say it loud and clear: Give us our dreams back and to hell with your junk foods, iPhones, iPads, shampoos, perfumes, and body lotions?

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Louis Yako is an independent Iraqi-American writer, poet, cultural anthropologist, journalist, and researcher.

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