It seems to be that time of the year again: slow news days for independent journalists with a conscience.

There's little to write about. Nothing seems to be too wrong with the world. There's no one to save. George W. Bush has gone and his successor Barack Obama seems to be of stable mind. All is well at 10 Downing Street too. And Mother Teresa, or the Saint of the Gutters, as labelled by some journalists, has been dead and gone for 12 years. No news angle on her too. No questions to raise on how she got her funds, never mind that she tended to the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and gave hope to those shunned by their societies.

But if news days were slow a decade or so ago, journalists, endeavouring to save the world, had a ready cause: bash Mother Teresa. After skimming the surface, word smiths would conjure up a dark image of the nun. Never had such a witch lived even in the dark ages.

Had they seen both sides of the story? No. Had they lived even a week in her shoes? No.

Alas! That angle's dead too.

But wait a minute. There's something to bash after all... Dubai.

And they come, one by one, ever so often, to prove that they still have fire in their souls. Their hearts have not turned to stone despite being on the field for years and witnessing man's every perversion. And if injustice is perceived, then they spew vitriol. But they say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

One such writer from The Independent descended on Dubai recently, and was apparently deeply moved by the tale of a woman who was living in a car. She and her husband, like many others, came from Canada to find a better life here. The question is why come here? But that's another story for a slow news day. Just a fleeting thought: her husband came here to make big bucks, right?

Her husband, according to the woman, went on a shopping spree, buying a few properties here and there as they party-hopped. It later emerged the man was living way beyond his means because he had been diagnosed with an illness and felt he didn't have much time left in this world.

The saga continued - he resigned, believing his end of service benefits would clear his debts. But the payment wasn't enough - he was still in debt. The man, therefore, went to jail, as per the law of the land.

The woman lamented that they weren't aware of the consequences of bankruptcy. Whose fault is that? Dubai's? What happens when you offend the law in any other country?

She recounts the death of her husband's Sri Lankan cellmate, another man with debts. He allegedly committed suicide by swallowing blades. And who is to blame for that? Dubai? Aren't there similar stories around the world? Or is bankruptcy and its tragic fallouts peculiar to Dubai?

The writer goes on to say there are many like the protagonist in this tale who live in the airport and in cars. There are even some who apparently sleep secretly in the sand dunes! Now, isn't that stretching a vivid imagination a wee much? The desert can be unforgiving terrain. The wise, old Bedouin will tell you that without batting an eyelid. And if that were the case, with scores sleeping in sand dunes, we wouldn't have many slow news days here.

No writer worth his salt would paint a dark picture without dramatising the labour problems here. Yes, we know they exist. The authorities have strengthened the law, set up courts and are paying full attention to human rights. But to question whether the toil is worth the few dirhams more is downright absurd. Tell that to the Third World mother of the young girl with matted brown hair and rheumy eyes - the tell-tale signs of malnutrition - who rummages through the garbage skip looking for discarded chicken bones. That will be dinner for the night, boiled in a steel vessel by the roadside, right next to the open drain that carries sewage. Her husband is out for most of the day, looking for odd jobs to provide his family with one square meal a day, while the woman chases away roving roadside perverts. Tell that to the 16-year-old mother, who suffered third-degree burns as she tried to save her newborn, who nearly fell into the pot she was cooking in. She lay on the street, her legs eaten by gangrene, infested with maggots. Her husband, a fruit seller, didn't have the wherewithal to get her treated. Shahida Khatoon died a few days later.

Workers have it tough. There can be no debate on that. But what are their governments doing to improve their lot in their homelands? The issue is complex. Romanticising a problem with blinkered vision leads to a jaundiced opinion.

No twisted picture would be complete without reference to a slavish society, one that is waited upon hand on foot by housemaids. Agreed, those who sell slaves are at fault, but what about those who use their services? Those who get someone to wheel the groceries to their expensive cars, and another to wash their floors, but cannot afford the luxury back home. Crusade only when you haven't sinned. You cannot uphold the law when you break its clauses. There's even reference to members of one nationality throwing themselves before cars so that their relatives are paid blood money. How ludicrous does that sound?

And can you fault a government for doing the right thing for its people? Why is Dubai to blame for encouraging Emiratis and looking after their welfare?

Perhaps, it's time writers looked within during those slow news days. Teenage crime and homelessness are on the rise and jobs are evaporating fast.

Why lampoon Dubai because some adults took the chapter on the reproductive system in their biology textbooks a little too seriously on the beach and the law then took its course.

One cannot but wonder if there is a hint of jealousy. After all, the desert sands were transformed into a wonder in three decades thanks to the vision of its leadership. Or do these word smiths want a piece of the Dubai cake? Did someone say something about grapes being sour?

Your comments

Dubai: love it or leave it. Meher Murshed, you're a Mencken and Murrow rolled into one.
H.L. Edward
Posted: April 10, 2009, 17:05

The British press is like a vulture. It scavenges better than it builds. Ignore it Dubai and carry right on to the other side of this difficult time worldwide.
John Kidd
Posted: April 10, 2009, 14:58

Guilty conscience? I agreed with a lot in that article in the Independent, because I had witnessed it. For Mr. Murshed to simply berate the Canadian woman without even knowing her shows HIS lack of journalistic integrity. Have YOU interviewed her? And what's ludicrous about throwing yourself infront of a car? We all know that to be true in Dubai. Get a clue, please.
Posted: April 10, 2009, 13:35

A lot of truth.
Kumar Maini
Posted: April 10, 2009, 13:04

Excellent article.
Taimur Khan
Posted: April 10, 2009, 09:44

Perfectly narrated. Its payback time!
Posted: April 10, 2009, 05:57

I have been travelling to the UAE since 1992 so I have seen the amazing growth.
Michael Shetzer
Miami Beach,USA
Posted: April 10, 2009, 03:37

Nothing is jealousy, it is a fact.
Don Moorree
Posted: April 10, 2009, 00:13