News & Views from 465 California Street

The Islamic Disneyland

Clint Reilly

If Al Gore could take every U.S. citizen on a tour of Dubai, his 10-year vision for a fossil fuel-free America would jump start like a Prius with a new battery.

I just returned from the glossy desert city, where I saw firsthand what is happening to our $75 gas station fill-ups. With oil revenue for the United Arab Emirates projected to exceed $100 billion in 2008, a fantasyland is rising from the hot desert sands along the Arabian Sea.

It is a gilded kingdom built on American petrodollars that would embarrass the pharaohs for its pomp and ostentation.

Dubai’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – who is also the Prime Minister of the UAE – has a grand vision to build a world-class tourist destination and Middle East financial center. But what is really taking shape is a distorted caricature of American culture.

A man-made island in the shape of a palm tree pokes through the Arabian Gulf providing space for lavish resort hotels and world-renowned homes, each marked by its opulence and signature architecture.

The Burj Al Arab hotel’s distinctive sail shape has come to symbolize Dubai the world over. Of course, the world’s tallest building is also under construction – more than 160 stories set to open for business in 2010.

Next, imagine a massive shopping mall with luxury brands and marble-faced stores crowned by a gargantuan rectangular box that slants out more than 100 yards.

Obviously, that’s the indoor ski slope thronged with skiers retreating from the searing desert heat! An adjacent hotel simulating a winter ski lodge completes the scene.

Rows of office buildings and residential complexes sprout from wide boulevards – interspersed by American retail outlets like Starbucks, and TGI Fridays and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But that’s just the hors d’œuvres. The entrée is “Dubailand.

Two tigers pace in a glass cage at the entrance to Dubailand’s headquarters. Inside, employees of the government-owned development company tout a huge scale model of the project, a destination with “over three billion square feet of world class theme parks, cultural, wellbeing, sports, shopping, hospitality and entertainment venues.”

Yes, you read that right – three billion square feet, including Golf City (featuring a Tiger Woods Resort), a Six Flags Theme Park, a DreamWorks Theme Park, a world class motor raceway, 55 hotels and much, much more.

Beauty Land” offers “complete tranquility and a relaxing environment for de-stress and wind down.” For horse lovers, “Plantation” promises “three polo fields, a polo academy, 800 stables, kindergarten for the kids, a community park and a mosque.”

Maybe you don’t like horses. Luckily, Dubailand has dinosaurs! Life-size, state-of-the-art, computer-controlled beasts in their own temperature-controlled bio-dome!

By the way, Dubai is investing our petrodollars all over the world, in golf courses, ports, office buildings, casinos, banks and construction firms.

They are diversifying their wealth, preparing for the future 95 years from now when their oil reserves have run dry.

Dubai is an Islamic society where the men dress in long white robes and red-checkered headdresses as they manage a global empire. Women cover themselves with black veils while shopping at Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton.

In many ways, the city feeds off the icons of other civilizations rather than reflecting the history and accomplishments of Islamic peoples and Middle Eastern cultures.

Ironically, Dubailand celebrates the very symbols of America that many Muslims deride and detest such as Hollywood, conspicuous consumption, no-holds-barred capitalism and in-your-face materialism.

Perhaps that is why many Muslims suspect us. The iconic symbols replicated in Dubailand lack the grit, generosity and soul of the real America.

Yes, our oil dollars are building a fantasy city. Our revenge is that we don’t have to live there.

Comments (5)

  • How long must we endure these low-quality, misleading, often thinly veiled anti-Islamic propaganda pieces?

    Mr. Reilly states: “It is a gilded kingdom built on American petrodollars…” This statement is almost entirely false. Actually the vast majority of UAE and Dubai oil exports go to Japan. Only a very small fraction of US oil imports come from the UAE/Dubai.

    Reilly repeats his false claim once more at the end: “Yes our oil dollars are building a fantasy city.” He should have said : “Japan’s (and others’) oil money”.

    He states another time: “By the way, Dubai is investing our petrodollars all over the world.” He means Japan’s and other countries’ petrodollars. For a man who is so well-traveled, it is surprising how ill-informed he is of international political and economic affairs.

    I am not a fan of Dubai because of the horrendous labour conditions, treatment of workers, and lack of democratic accountabililty, however Reilly fails to mention these yet disapproves for other reasons that are mostly false or superficial. I don’t see the real reason he dislikes the place so much.

    Why is he trying to whip up resentment of Dubai? Does Reilly have interests in Big Oil? Blaming the Arab oil producers is a convenient way to divert attention away from the record profits of companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil.

    If he does not like the place, why was he there? Does he have investments there? Many US companies are investing there and Dubai is one of the few places where the US has a trade surplus, not deficit. Given this fact, many US businessmen love Dubai. Dubai is now home to Halliburton, for a recent example.

    My advice for Mr. Reilly: if you dislike Islamic countries, or dislike the architecture, please stay away.

    Posted by: Jon Foster | July 29th, 2008 at 8:29 am

  • We have become so dependent on foreign oil that we now import roughly 72% of our Oil needs. We also consume more than China (#2), Japan (#3), Germany (#4), Russia (#5), India (#6), Canada (#7), COMBINED.

    We are also the only nation that has the capability to switch over to natural gas or alternative energy driven vehicles such as clean electric, hybrid (gas/electric, gas/renewable ethanol known as “flex”) or clean hydrogen fuel cell.

    All we need is the political will to make that necessary transformation or metamorphosis.

    Yet, there are still so many other consumer products that are derived from OIL and/or are petroleum-based that have long contributed to our way of life, those creatures of necessity/comfort such as plastic toothbrushes, tennis shoes, rubber extrusions, the list goes on and on.

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | July 30th, 2008 at 2:39 am

  • Mr. Foster -

    If you re-read the column, I hope that you will find that there is absolutely NOTHING attacking Islam or the people of the UAE. What I was trying to illustrate was the profound misunderstanding of what America is. As they build their fantasy city, they are importing all of the worst of America, which I explained near the end of the column. I’m not trying to “whip up resentment of Dubai;” they can do what they wish with their oil revenues. Nevertheless, I wanted to point out that much of the resentment of America in the Muslim world is because of our greedy, materialistic values, which are represented to such an extreme in Dubai. What I did not see were the better values our country has symbolized over the years. To this end we agree, since you pointed out the poor labor conditions, lack of democratic accountability and poor treatment of workers. Of course, the United States is no panacea in these areas, but we have set the standard over the years.

    Your point about the UAE’s oil revenues is well-taken. Even so, the end result is the same, because oil is sold on the world market. The UAE’s breakneck growth is not a function of Japan buying more oil; it is a function of increased global demand. That said, the United States’ oil consumption exceeds the total of the next 5 largest consumers – China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and India COMBINED. It’s not hard to see who is driving global demand; it’s us, even as developing countries like China and India begin to demand more and more. We aren’t demanding less, so the price stays high. If you take U.S. demand off the table, Dubai would look like it did in 1990 instead of the way it does today.

    Thank you for reading; I appreciate your feedback.

    Posted by: Clint Reilly | July 30th, 2008 at 10:28 am

  • Hello Clint
    The facts in your article are for the most part correct but where you go totally wrong is in your conclusion.
    Muslims don’t suspect the US of targeting Islam because of what is going on in Dubai! This is ridiculous. The causes for this suspition are elsewhere and are a lot to do with the US foreign policies and actions of at least the last 2 administrations. There is rarely smoke without fire.
    As for “our revenge is that we don’t have to live there” statement, I have 2 things to say:
    1. there is no revenge to have as what Dubai is doing is not against the US, and the American society has greatly benefited from the oil money.
    2. Dubailand is not targeting North-American tourism but instead bets on attracting a new tourism from Africa, the Middle-East, East-Europe and Asia. I have inside knowledge about this.

    Posted by: Peter-Anthony Glick | July 30th, 2008 at 12:41 pm

  • Clint,
    This weeks column made me wonder why Exxon hasn’t jumped on the tourist mecca band wagon. They could name it Exxonland. And Alaska might be the ideal location for Exxonland with all it’s vast open spaces. Think of all the fun and exciting exhibits Exxonland could have! How about Oilrigland where the whole family gets to drill for oil. Or ExxonValdezland where mom, dad and the kids get to see what an Oil slick looks like up close and personal. Oh and dont forget everyones favorite, Fantasyland the make believe world where Global Warming doesn’t exist. And thats just the tip of the ever decreasing iceberg when it comes to the fun You and your loved ones will have when visiting Exxonland! But wait thats not all, Exxon wouldn’t have to stop there, they could open Exxonland’s in Florida and off the coast of California as well.Oh well just a thought. By the way not to change the subject but does Dubailand have a Log ride ? Westerners love Log rides.

    Posted by: Bob Snider | August 3rd, 2008 at 7:11 pm

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