Feb 27, 2006

Las Vegas on the Gulf

Martin Kramer reminisces about his one visit to Dubai.
One afternoon in Dubai, I had a bit of spare time on my hands, so I went out to the brand new Ibn Battuta Mall, named after the 14th-century Muslim traveler who journeyed from his birthplace in Morocco across North Africa and Asia to China. The mall is set up as a series of arcades, themed around the various highlights on Ibn Battuta's route: Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, and China. The place gives new meaning to the familiar phrase "shopping mecca." The Persian arcade is a giant dome, itself a work of art on a considerable level, no doubt meant to be admired by the many Iranians who come through Dubai. Smack in the middle of it [...] is a Starbucks.

Orientalist kitsch? Definitely. But Arabs have built it. Such cross-cultural play is possible only where people are comfortable with amalgams. To see the incredible mix of people strolling this mall, happily shopping for designer labels and making their choice at the 21-cinema "megaplex," restores one's faith in the Arabs' potential for embracing a global future. It's no doubt fragile, this odd experiment in our own style of consumerism, on a stretch of hot sand a world away from us. That's all the more reason not to turn Dubai into a whipping boy for our disappointment with the rest of the Arab world.

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