We have often had harsh things to say about the treatment of South Asian guest workers in Dubai/UAE in many posts here (for instance), but here is one that hit home for me as an academic.
Syed Ali is an American citizen of Indian descent who teaches sociology at Long Island University. In 2007, he was in Dubai on a Fulbright with his family. One day before he was to leave the country, he got a knock on the door, and five men in white robes and a woman in police uniform asked him to come with them. What followed was a rather bizarre kind of interrogation by the UAE police:
Then the questioning began. Why are you here? Who do you know? He explained that he was a Fulbright scholar, on a grant by the very U.S. government that was the United Arab Emirates’ main strategic partner.
Ali, now 41, was in Dubai researching about second-generation expatriates from South Asia for an academic paper about how professional Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in the Persian Gulf were adjusting to life and work far from home, in a place where they could live in for decades but could never gain permanent residency. He was shocked that his line of inquiry would set off alarm bells.
“It ended up I was interviewing people who were quite well off,” he said. “That’s why I was so really stunned. I never had any sense that there was anything objectionable about what I was doing. No one had any serious complaints about being there.”
Yet despite the reams of information they had on him, “there was a lack of basic information that they didn’t get or have or really understand,” said Ali, who wrote about his experiences in Dubai for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. They didn’t seem to get what a Fulbright was. “‘We think you’re working for the ‘Jewish,’ ” one interrogator accused Ali, who is a secular Muslim. “‘Maybe also the CIA.'” (link)
Note that he was researching white collar workers, not the folks working in construction (whose miserable working and living conditions have been amply documented). Eventually they let him go, warning him not to return to the country to do any further research: “The research you are doing is creating divisions in our society and we will not allow it” (See Syed Ali’s original account of his experience here.) They also took his laptop and the IPod he had been using to record interviews. They later returned the computer without its hard disk, and bought him a new IPod instead of returning the old one. So much for the months of research!
Now Syed Ali’s book, Dubai: Gilded Cage is out from Yale University Press. Revenge is a dish best served with coverage in the Chicago Tribune (above), The LA Times, and the Independent.
Maybe someone should mail a copy to Dubai’s secret police: here’s that scurrilous book by the “Jewish” “CIA” agent named … umm… Syed Ali. Continue reading