In response to an article written on Dubai by Jonathan Hari and published online on 07th April, 2009 by “The Independent,” Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi published a rejoinder on 10th April 2009 in which he not only disparages Hari’s style but also his professionalism and motivating factor (Qassemi, 2009).
In this essay, I will show that while the two journalists definitely have clear distinction in their approach towards influencing their readership and in their attitude towards their subject matter, certain similarities and differences can still be drawn between them and their articles.
Hari’s article seeks to portray Dubai as a city state whose size and prosperity was achieved in a period so short as to be considered unreal (Hari, 2009). He shows its growth is sustained by consumerism and unsustainable economic and environmental practices; and most importantly, he portrays it as a sweatshop whose growth relies on the exploitation of immigrants in a classic case of modern day slavery.
Qassemi, in his rejoinder, seeks to call Hari’s intentions into question and query his credibility, professionalism, honesty and fairness. Thus, he questions his alleged overgeneralization of otherwise possibly isolated cases of maltreatment of immigrant laborers; and to show that similar problems to those that Dubai face are to be found everywhere including in established western cities such as London itself.
The first major difference between the works of the two journalists is that while Hari adopts a direct approach to his exploration of the dark side of Dubai, Qassemi favors a more implicit way of achieving his goals.
He hides behind the veil of a theoretical situation in order to achieve his criticism of the city of London. For instance, he starts on the many hypothetical problems he might have chosen to tarnish London which had not come to his senses by stating “say for example that I had written an article that states that, in wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people…” (Qassemi, 2009).
This allows him to both highlight London’s problems, a city he claims to love, while portraying his sensibility in refusing to exploit them. Hari on the other hand is explicit and leaves one little doubt regarding his intentions from the outset. For instance, he writes regarding the popular notion that Dubai owes its existence to the sheikh: “but this is a lie. The sheikh did not build this city. It was built by slaves. They are building it now” (Hari, 2009).
The second difference between the two writers is that while Hari leans towards the New Journalism by refusing to report impersonally and instead infusing his opinions into his work and using the opinions and emotions of his interviewees to prove his point, Qassemi tends to be more traditional especially regarding the statistical and objective nature of his sources.
For instance, Hari writes regarding a deserted hotel: “standing in the middle, there is a giant shining glass structure that looks like the intestines of every guest who has ever stayed at the Atlantis” (Hari, 2009).
This is clearly his subjective impression of the hotel. One of his interviewees, Karen, says about Dubai: “this isn’t a city; it’s a con-job. They lure you in telling you it’s one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it’s a medieval dictatorship” (Hari, 2009).
Qassemi on the other hand tactfully chooses to use hard statistics in highlighting London’s problems. He at times goes even further to cite credible sources to aid his argument. In one apt example, he writes: “or that according to Oxfam 13.2 million people in the UK live in poverty; a staggering 20 per cent of the population in the sixth richest nation in the world” (Qassemi, 2009). In doing so, Qassemi is able to paint Hari as subjective and therefore make his proposition that Hari is sensational more plausible.
The most obvious similarity between Qassemi’s and Hari’s work regards their intentions for writing the articles. Both intended to disparage their subject matter: Hari intended to vilify Dubai in its treatment of its low cadre immigrant labor force while Qassemi’s objective was to discredit Hari along with western journalists of his ilk. Further consideration of the motivation behind these articles reveals a more fundamental similarity: that both journalists are plagued by fixed mindsets regarding their subject matter.
To begin with, Hari’s complete refusal to acknowledge the great historical feat that Dubai represents, coupled with his complete disregard of the contribution and opinion of the technicians, investors, engineers and many other technocrats who made Dubai a possibility is very obvious.
This blindness to even the slightest positive aspect to Dubai gives the reader the notion that Hari was probably incapable of perceiving any possible positivity relating to Dubai as the result of a deeply ingrained mindset regarding the city state. This is further aggravated by his tone and diction. It hints at a journalist who went into the field, not to find the truth but to prove a certain notion true. This is the reason that this article lacks balance
Qassemi isn’t innocent of this mindset problem regarding his subject matter either. While he would like to paint Hari as quick to make generalizations, he begins his article with such a generalization himself: “I recently figured that if British journalists such as Johann Hari (Tuesday, 7 April) who come to Dubai don’t send back something sensationalist it won’t get printed and they won’t get paid. After all, sleaze sells” (Qassemi, 2009).
His mindset regards the work of western journalists. He regards them all as subjective and as motivated by a need to come with unreal sensational pieces in order to get published. He relates how he told this to a British journalist: “I’m going to write an article about London, the same way your compatriots write about Dubai” (Qassemi, 2009). His use of hard statistics notwithstanding, Qassemi still finds himself using them to validate a subjective attitude regarding western journalism.
It is clear that while the two articles may have employed different approaches, they both were informed by similar attitudes and mindsets. This is in spite of the fact that these are the same attitudes that Qassemi wanted to bring to light.
Hari, J. (2009). The dark side of Dubai. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/
Qassemi, S. (2009). If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/sultan-sooud-al-qassemi-if-you-think-dubai-is-bad-just-look-at-your-own-country-1666748.html