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Dec 15, 2005 - travelogue    Comments Off

Dubai’s Xmas Trees

Dubai, UAE

The first thing I saw when I stood at the top of the escalators looking down at Dubai International Airport was the huge lit Christmas tree in the center. The next were the holiday decorations hanging everywhere. As if that wasn’t a surprising sight to see in a Muslim country, as I looked around, I was blinded by the Swarovski crystals dripping and sparkling off every glass countertop, and then noticed store after store of duty free shopping with every designer bag, purse, watch, clothes, and electronics brand ever known. If you think American malls are nice, you’ve never seen anything until you’ve seen the shopping malls in the Arab world. Mammoth, gorgeous, shiny and beautiful, they sell only everything exclusive.

I read in one of the plane magazines from Paris that the only reason its couture houses have not closed down is their clientele of Arab royalty and the nouveau riche of Russia. What does that and these incredible malls say about Muslims? Where is our money being spent? It seems like my cousins in India and friends in Syria know more about name brands and Paris fashion houses than I ever will.

Dubai is no exception to this trend in the Muslim world. It desperately wants to be the superstar Las Vegas of the Middle East. Glitz, glitter and glamour, they are even building islands in the shape of the world! Well they can congratulate themselves on their airport. It is seriously beautiful and beats any airport I’ve ever been in including O’Hare and JFK with its every amenity, including shopping, banks, free internet kiosks, wireless, Starbucks and even a service to take bubble baths or massages during your layover!

I have nothing against shopping (I bought some rings for my sister and mother here) but I really have to wonder what direction the Arab world is going in. They want to be modern – ultra modern. There is no mall in the US that can compare to the ones in Saudi. But are they still keeping their values and traditions? It seems like Arabs want to prove that they can be as modern as the West, but in the process don’t mind losing their own positive values and culture, to the point of displaying Christmas trees to show that they can be ‘as modern’ as the West.

Why can it not glorify and cherish its own civilization of traditional arts, architecture, culture of Souks and cafes, values of generosity, hospitality and honesty? Why can they not develop their own products, stores and brands that are distinctly their own instead of worshipping KFCs, Starbucks and Hiltons?

Well, I could go on endlessly about the problems of the Muslim world but my little friend that I wrote about before is toddling around the gate area as we wait for the flight to New Delhi. I offered him some cheddar gold fish but he was too shy to take them. I said ‘bye bye’ but he just stared. Then a few feet away next to his mother, he smiled and waved.