It is equally disheartening to see how the concepts of “culture” and “diversity” are being abused and deployed by those who run the multi-national corporations that not only do not give a damn about culture and diversity, but in fact would do everything in their power to exploit such concepts to normalize the cancerous culture that is destroying everything meaningful and colorful in our world.
This May I had a four-hour transit at the Dubai International Airport. This was the first time for me to reconnect—not reconcile—with the Middle East after years of living in diaspora, since I left occupied Iraq in 2005. The flight from the US to Dubai, the transit time at the Dubai Airport and the connection flight to my final destination were disturbing experiences in so many ways.
Let us begin with the US flight coming from Washington, DC to Dubai. The flight attendants were obviously selected according to the phony American-style of “diversity” and “cultural representation”. They were: a white woman, an Asian woman, an Indian woman, and an Arab man. This phony style of diversity is seen in almost every American work place, including universities. What is shockingly scandalous about it is the fact that the “diverse” employees almost always work in hideously underpaid jobs, simply assisting those running the show. The former are always assisting the latter to do the job of exploiting and looting the world as best as possible. What we see in every corporate transaction is always a “diverse” face doing the dirty work on behalf of the masters. But more importantly, this selection is so similar to Hollywood productions where everything is made to look so shiny and harmonious on the surface, to display the “merits” of the diverse American culture to the world, which should be copied by everyone else.
The passengers on the flight consisted of mainly Arabic-speaking, Hindi-speaking, and English-speaking people. Thus, every single announcement was made in all these three languages. Looking at the passengers’ faces and listening to them speak, it was apparent that the largest number of them were Arabic-speaking people, followed by people from Southern Asia. The smallest number was of the English-speaking passengers. Yet the announcements were made in the reversed order, to reflect not the number of the passengers, but the place of each group on the global map of power relations.
As the plane landed in Dubai, I felt as though I had just landed in a hot, dusty US city. Every logo, from construction companies working inside the airport to each and every brand displayed outside the shops, were of American or European corporations. The very first logos I noticed were of FedEx, DHL, HSBC, and others. As we entered the airport, the shops included Subway, McDonald’s, KFC, and many other chain stores that have managed to enchain as many people as possible on the planet. Looking at the specific items inside the shops at the “duty-free” area, most items were made in the US or in European countries: deodorants, perfumes, gels, creams, body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and other shiny consumer goods. European chocolate and alcohol were also displayed on some shelves. The questions that immediately came to my mind upon seeing this were: why is it that even simple things like creams, shampoos and lotions have to be imported to the Arabs from thousands of miles away? What and who made this as the only reality to live with in the Arab World? To whose benefit this is? Is this reality even being investigated, questioned, or resisted by people, or are people mostly falling for this culture of consumption that is turning them into sedated consumers who take it for granted? Would any Arab countries willing to produce at least their shampoos and body lotions—not to say build their own airports and fly their own planes—even be allowed to exist on the map?
While waiting in the “duty-free” area, I decided to sit at a small table in a quiet corner at an open space, just across from KFC and McDonald’s. As I sat, I looked at some Arabs in traditional dresses eating greasy fried chicken, burgers and fries with their hands; talking about prayer times and the location of the chapel at the airport. The looks, the dresses, the language, the friendliness were all familiar. The only unfamiliar thing was what was going inside their bellies—junk foods loaded with grease and unhealthy ingredients. There was a disturbing disharmony between the people and the foods being eaten.
I felt sad about what I saw, because I realized how the Gulf States, often praised as “successful” examples of “modernity” and using oil revenues for the “good” of the citizens, are in fact nothing more than a minority of oligarchs in bed with cruel, merciless, and heartless mega corporations whose primary concern is to make infinite profits, regardless of the human costs. They are countries whose citizens are encouraged to only open their mouths to swallow junk foods, instead of protesting what is going on. Moreover, Western governments are more than happy to condone and keep silence over the endless stories of human abuses taking place in the Gulf States, lest they lose their business deals in these countries. It is important that the so-called Western expatriates—a term that has become almost synonymous with looters, at least in the Middle East—to keep the profits flowing. Of course there is no doubt that these abuses are kept under watch and they are certainly to be used as “evidence” like Saddam’s “chemical weapons” once any ruling elites in the Gulf States dare to contradict the wishes of their masters.
It is equally disheartening to see how the concepts of “culture” and “diversity” are being abused and deployed by those who run the multi-national corporations that not only do not give a damn about culture and diversity, but in fact would do everything in their power to exploit such concepts to normalize the cancerous culture that is destroying everything meaningful and colorful in our world. And, as always, all these shocking observations took me back to the Iraqi reality and made me wonder whether all the turmoil, destruction, and death Iraqis have been put through will only be considered a “success story” when Iraqis, too, are turned into sedated, blinded consumers who cannot even manufacture their own body lotions and shampoos; Iraqis will only be considered a “success story” when they learn the skill of ordering the right KFC meal, the right burger from Burger King, the right coffee from Starbucks, or buy the right Western-manufactured body lotion for their skin. One of my friends recently asked me why is it that I go back to the Iraq war even when I write about other topics. My response to that is because Iraq, in my analysis, is one of the best contemporary examples that capture how the global struggle for genuine dignity and freedom are at stake. Iraq is the most important contemporary example that proves that the entire world is neither free nor democratic, because if it was, the death and destruction in Iraq would not have been allowed to happen the way it has been for the last 11 years. It is a big mistake to think that the Iraq war was ever over. The war will never be over so long as the causes that led to that war still exist, and so long that the criminals who raged that war are still not held accountable for their actions. If we buy the illusion that it is over, we are simply sleeping on pillows stuffed with fake hopes of peace, only to wake up one day to the sounds of bullets, mortars, and missiles in every city and village in the Arab World.
The connection flight from Dubai to my next destination was with the “UAE” airlines. After nearly thirteen hours of sleep deprivation (add to that the time difference between the US and the Dubai), I was unable to shut my eyes on this flight, because the lights were kept on the entire time as one announcement followed another asking people to continue to buy food, “duty-free” goods, and gifts for the “loved ones”. It was as though the only way to prove our love for the loved ones is by buying them duty-free gifts from Dubai. It reminded me of a phrase my mom used to repeat when I was a child: “A love fed with gifts only, will forever suffer from malnutrition!” Of course, at the end of each of these flights, they sincerely thanked the passengers for flying with them. They also made sure to thank us on behalf of the pilots whose names are always Joseph, Tom, John, and so on. Is that because no good Arab pilots are born yet in the Gulf States, or is it because an Arab pilot is always a potential terrorist, and thus should not be allowed to fly planes? Are we at a point when it is safer to keep potential Arab “terrorists” busy shopping at malls and eating junk foods to distract them from blowing themselves up? To say that I am terrified of this reality is an understatement. All I can hope for is that humanity is currently, as I was at the Dubai Airport, simply in-transit, and that we will rise up soon to say “no!” to Kafkaesque world of ours; that we will create and make our own dreams as we see fit for our struggles, future, and the well-being of our planet; that we are soon going to scream in the faces of the merciless, corporate mafias ruling us: Give us our dreams back and to hell with your junk foods, iPhones, iPads, shampoos, perfumes, and body lotions!
Louis Yako is an Iraqi-American writer, poet and a scholar of cultural anthropology researching Iraqi higher education and intellectuals at Duke University.