Dubai slathers on the mascara and rouge when she’s on the red carpet or hobnobbing with the rich and famous, but you should see what she looks like in the morning. I worked in the UAE for 10 years as a professor and magazine editor. My employers were rather unscrupulous. I quit one job because I couldn’t stomach plagiarism, factual error, incoherent grammar, labor exploitation, or any of the really bad things that were going on. Afterward, I critiqued the employer—in objective, decorous, syntactically rigorous language—by email. That’s when the police phoned. I was accused of Offensive Language and Insult. There’s a slapstick element in what follows—the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) man lunges with broken English and I parry with nonexistent Arabic—but it’s hard to laugh when you’re getting grilled by the intelligence arm of the Emirati police.
First, interrogation and affidavit. They play zone defense: some wear uniforms and red berets; others, pristine white dishdashas. Is the difference one of rank, socio-economics, pure whimsy? In the Emirates, you never know. Ask Kafka. It begins gently enough. Would you like tea? Is “Whodunit?” correct English? I heard it from a movie. Eventually, I speak and they write, arguing violently about Arabic transliteration. I sign the affidavit, written in Arabic. I have no idea what it says. Have I confessed to murder? Next, I’m summoned to the Ministry of Justice. Several hours in an airless room with hundreds of Subcontinental laborers awaiting justice (in a Venn Diagram, the Accused and Guilty ovals would overlap almost completely). I consider the sentencing range. $20,000 fine, confiscation of property, imprisonment, loss of job, deportation, banishment. Security guard grabs my arm, leading me down a narrow corridor. We enter an office through an unseen back door. African and Arab men in business suits argue. They do not look happy with me. The process is repeated. In each room the men are identical. Finally, the guards bring me to a counter. A brass placard reads: Execute. I hope it signifies “to do,” rather than “to kill.” A veiled woman barks at me. The verdict is Guilty: 200-dirham fine, suspended. Alhamdulillah! The guard tells me a story about his son, who has flipper hands and needs an operation. I place a 500-dirham note in his outstretched hand.