Arriving at City Centre – one of Dubai’s largest shopping malls – I was quickly taken in by what looked like a bookshop – a 500 square metre Borders lookalike called MacGrudy’s.
While the ladies went on the trail of this and that to pick up, put down, put on, pay for, haul home and then consign to the back of the cupboard, here, I thought, I would find my solace. With a couple of hundred dollars I could source myself with perhaps more than a year’s worth of reading. In Iran, the books you want are not always easy to come by – what treasures would I find here?
Then I stubbed my toe on a huge two volume tome entitled “Feng Shui – A Practical Encyclopedia”. The cursed thing was a trip hazard, not even worth its weight as a door stop to let those positive energies flow in. I was in the “General Knowledge” section, just to the right of the dictionaries. I remembered enough about the Dewey system to know that if this bookshop was arranged in library format, Philosophy would be here.
I wasn’t initially dismayed by the fact that philosophy and psychology had been bundled together –plenty of non-specialist bookshops do the same. But to my anguish I saw that “MacGrudy’s” (the name was probably poached off a bottle of cheap Bulgarian Scotch) had committed the ultimate bibliophilic sin– philosophy and psychology had been supplanted by “self-help”. “You – The Owner’s Manual”, a near complete library of the Dalai Lama Publications© psychic survival repertoire, “Teach Your Children How To Think” by Edward de Bono. “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. Between endless volumes of self-confidence-boosting, anxiety-busting platitudes I spied the name “Aristotle” – only to find below it – “A Very Short Introduction”.
According to the earliest records where its name appears, Dubai was a pearl-fishing village until it became an important trade stopover on the way to India. Then with the discovery of oil, it found a place on the modern economic map. Nowadays oil accounts for just 6% of Dubai’s trade revenue with supplies running out fast. Oil money was used as a stepping stone to establish the Jebel Ali free trade haven which has fuelled Dubai’s astronomic economic growth ever since.
The foreign wage-slave population of Dubai is now more twice as large as the native Arab population. Indian and Bangladeshi men toiling on construction sites in the summer heat, sometimes unpaid for months, sometimes dying on the job unpaid. Philipino girls folding t-shirts for tourists in GAP. All doggedly chasing the historically and statistically implausible ideal of rags to riches in a ceaseless frenzy of cut, chase and run. White Western professionals too – why else would they be here but to sell their skills to the current world’s highest bidders? And then there are the poor Iranians who find in Dubai what they lack back home.
If you’re successful here, you can be more or less comfortable, give or take a few modern neuroses. For the foreign workers on the tough end perhaps there’s nothing for it but to cushion the daily blows with dreams. Either way, in such a crass wasteland of inflated hopes and superficial desires, there’s little room on the shelf for philosophy. That voice inside that compels man to step back, to reflect, to question his place in the world, is simply drowned out by the collective unconscious crying for help.