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What is ‘Civilisation’?
Some people, typically on the Political Left, claim (and presumably believe) that ‘Civilisation’ is fundamentally indistinct from ‘affluence’.
By implication then, ‘Civilisation’ is at base just a commodity, available for purchase to every culture and people the world over. The essence of a ‘Civilised country’ meanwhile isn’t Literature, Human Rights, Liberty, or Justice, but simply skyscrapers, fast cars, cable TV, and KFC Restaurants.
These people are wrong of course, and no better pursuasion of this can be found than the modern City-State of Dubai.
This blog is called ‘Defend the Modern World’. I should probably clarify then, exactly what I classify as ‘Modern’.
Imagine if you met an apolitical simpleton and showed him two photographs, the first of the small town of Fleming, Saskatchewan in Canada, and the second of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
If you then asked him which city of the two is more ‘ modern’, the simpleton would almost certainly pick the latter.
He’d be wrong.
Modernity for me, has little to do with technology or convenience. While I would gladly live in a Scandinavian village without electricity, I could never live happily in Abu Dhabi or Qatar. This is because the first would doubtlessly be more ‘modern’ and Civilised than the latter (with the first term here qualified by the criteria above).
Every year, Great hordes of Westerners (permanent settlers among them) travel to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Their reasons for doing so (and this needs clarifying) have only a little to do with tax, and a lot to do with immorality.
In Dubai, after-all, you can not only exercise the mod-cons of a millionaire, but the cruelty of a medieval King.
Dubai has an entire class (by some estimates making up a majority of those resident in the country at any given time) of East and South Asian slaves. Yes, that’s right, slaves…
But maybe that’s unexeptional. Many African countries – after-all – still operate systems of slavery and then there’s the ‘caste system’ of India etc….
Where Dubai is different is in the way the slaves are treated by their masters, and by the laxity of the law in protecting them.
Regard the words of the Guardian’s Tanya Gold:
“There are 250,000 foreign workers in Dubai, drawn mostly from India and Bangladesh. They are indentured servants, in other words, slaves. The usual way to recruit them is to draw them a picture of joy — great wages, fabulous working conditions — and charge them an enormous recruitment fee. Then, when they arrive, the construction companies often steal their passports, deny them their wages and say they must work endlessly to pay for their return home, while living 10 to a room and working in the terrible heat. In Dubai, they cannot change jobs, and they cannot strike; those who do face violence or deportation. Last year, 113 Indians committed suicide in Dubai, or one every three days.”
To return to the photo comparison thought-experiment, when was the last time a migrant worker jumped off an unfinished building in Canada?
Alongside slavery, Dubai also offers lengthy prison sentences for adultery, kissing on the beach, homosexuality, transvestism, and possession of such horrific drugs of abuse as Benadryl. These prohibitions too, demonstrate a great lag in cultural time, perhaps (relative to the West) of more than a century.
Civilization, to conclude, is not a commodity. It cannot be bought. It develops inside the psyche of a population over many centuries. The desert Sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf then, skyscrapers and underwater hotels aside, have a long distance to travel.