"All I ever wanted was... all my friends in one city."- Anne Boyer. Let's make a city of the heart for Anne Boyer while she navigates stage 2, grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.--Samantha Giles.
Donate here: You Caring.
PS The quote is derived from this poem:
SAY HISTORY HAS ENDED, SAY YOU WON.
All I ever wanted was the opposite
to be Dante never Beatrice,
sexual love as a library
also poets’ councils,
bodily risk refiguring,
all my friends in one city
and an upswelling of feminized anarchism
aware of natality
GENEVA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2013 driven by a surge in the level of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday, urging international action to combat climate change.
"We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a statement to accompany the WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
The rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels is outpacing fossil fuel use, implying that the planet's natural ability to soak up emissions of the gas may be slowing down, the report said.
"It may be due to the reduced uptake of CO2 by the biosphere," Jarraud told a news conference, but said more research was needed. "If that is confirmed, it is of significant concern."
The biosphere, including plants and soil, and the oceans each absorb about 25 percent of human CO2 emissions. If that ratio falls, more of the planet-warming gas will remain in the atmosphere, where it can stay for hundreds of years.
The ocean is getting rapidly more acidic, impairing its ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The rate of ocean acidification is unprecedented at least over the past 300 million years, the WMO said.
"The total change of ocean acidity since pre-industrial (times)... is 25 percent, and 6 percent was done within the last 10 years," said WMO scientific officer Oksana Tarasova.
Even if human-made carbon emissions fall by 80 percent by 2050, the total warming effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will have barely receded by 2100. The longer fossil fuel use grows, the harder it will be to reverse the warming effect, the WMO said.
"Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable," Jarraud said. "We are running out of time."
The volume of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, was 396.0 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, 2.9 ppm higher than in 2012, the largest year-to-year increase since 1984, when reliable global records began.
Methane, the second most important greenhouse gas, continued to grow at a similar rate as the last five years, reaching a global average of 1824 parts per billion (ppb). The other main contributor, nitrous oxide, reached 325.9 ppb, growing at a rate comparable to the average over the past decade.
Greenhouse gas emissions are rising mainly due to industrial growth in China, India and other emerging economy nations. Almost 200 governments have agreed to work out a deal to limit global warming at a summit in Paris next year.
The world has the knowledge and tools to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, a U.N. goal set in 2010, Jarraud said, which would "give our planet a chance and ... our children and grandchildren a future".
The U.N.'s panel of climate scientists says it is at least 95 percent probable that human activities are the main driver of global warming since 1950. But voters in many countries are doubtful, suspecting that natural variations are to blame.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
When I saw this video posted here recently, I had to go back and look at it again.
I saw a white man with a gun.
I heard a policeman saying, "Place the weapon down on the ground, please. ... are crossing the street illegally ... I need you to put the gun down before I talk to you. ... You have committed a crime ... you are jaywalking. ... I don't want to shoot you, I'm not here to do that. ... Why are you so angry. ... Why are you cursing at me?"
Or they were leaning on a toy gun in Walmart. Like John Crawford III.
The man, Joseph Houseman, is a gun rights advocate. He got his 15 minutes (more like 40 or 50) of fame and walked.
In the Department of Public Safety's decision not to pursue charges, Webster said later that even though Houseman did not have the rifle in a sling and was "fidgeting" with it, it was not evident that he was "brandishing" it.This news got covered as a "gun rights" story.
From my perspective it's a "white rights" story.
Does anyone honestly believe a black man, or teen, or boy would have walked away from this alive?
Follow me below the fold for more.
I know what happens in this country to black men with guns.
See how fast gun laws were changed in the U.S. when the Black Panther Party decided to patrol the police in their community, after the police murder of unarmed black construction worker Denzil Dowell. In "Fear of a Black Gun Owner," Edward Wyckoff Williams wrote:
The Panthers responded to racial violence by patrolling black neighborhoods brandishing guns -- in an effort to police the police. The fear of black people with firearms sent shockwaves across white communities, and conservative lawmakers immediately responded with gun-control legislation.I know what is done to black men who arm themselves in self-defense against the occupying army you call police, and if you are white, you may not fear.
Then Gov. Ronald Reagan, now lauded as the patron saint of modern conservatism, told reporters in California that he saw "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons." Reagan claimed that the Mulford Act, as it became known, "would work no hardship on the honest citizen." The NRA actually helped craft similar legislation in states across the country.
You see, I remember Elaine Brown singing in "The End of Silence," "we'll just have to get guns and be men."
I also remember many Panthers shot down like dogs, some asleep like Fred Hampton.
The NRA is all about gun control. As long as those guns are in white hands.
From my black perspective, I get real angry when I watch the Bundy Bunch get away with whatever they fuc*ing feel like and nothing happens to them. I watch white serial killers, and mass murderers explained away as "loners," and "disturbed individuals." I watch my young brothers executed and shot down in cold blood by cops and vigilantes, and the media noise machine pumps up the vilification volume, 'cause we're just thugs and animals.
This white problem affects not just community members, but it affects officers of the law who are not white. See the case of New York State parole officers who were held at gunpoint by white cops in Ramapo while on duty. Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and other black and Latino police groups have spoken out. Far too often being a cop of color is a death warrant from other police, who are white. Police Departments call them "fraternal shootings," but there is nothing brotherly about white cops "accidentally" killing black and Latino officers.
Latinos also smell the cafe sin leche. Some national Latino groups are speaking up, andjoining the outcry around Ferguson. In New York, Anthony Baez's family sees parallels with the recent police murder of Eric Garner.
There is no way in hell black people and Latinos and Native Americans can "fix" America's "race problem."
More white folks have to step up to the plate. Systemic racism in police departments across America, in the criminal injustice system, in housing, education, and health care has got to go.
I'm tired of hearing about "the race problem," as if we are an equal partner in this mess we didn't make.
America's got a problem with white racism, and y'all need to clean house.
August 18, 2014 1:44 AM
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon listens to residents and faith and community leaders as they discuss unrest in the town of Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown during a forum held at Christ the King UCC Church on Aug. 14, 2014 in Florissant, Mo. (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) – Gov. Jay Nixon has signed an executive order directing additional resources through the Missouri National Guard “to help restore peace and order and to protect the citizens of Ferguson.”
Early Monday morning, Nixon’s office released the following statement:
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk. I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning this criminal activity that included firing upon law enforcement officers, shooting a civilian, throwing Molotov cocktails, looting, and a coordinated attempt to block roads and overrun the Unified Command Center. These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory, and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served, and to feel safe in their own homes. Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist Colonel Ron Replogle and the Unified Command in restoring peace and order to this community.”
Detectives examine a burned out police car following rioting in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 1964. (Stanley Wolfson / Library of Congress)
Over the weekend, police in Ferguson, Missourimurdered Michael Brown, a black teenager. While details are still trickling in, it’s clear that during a confrontation with a squad car a block away from his grandmother’s house, an officer shot and killed the unarmed teen in the middle of the street. Witnesses say Brown was running away from the policeman and had his hands in the air just before the officer shot him.
Ferguson is a city with a large concentration of poor blacks under the control of overwhelmingly white institutions. The killing immediately struck a nerve. Rallies and protests erupted as people took to the streets — eventually culminating in a riot. Crowds went from holding candle light vigils at the site of Brown’s death to burning down a number of businesses and lighting molotov cocktails during confrontations with police. How did we get here?
Far from a mindless, violent mob, the people of Ferguson were engaged in concerted political consciousness-raising leading up to the insurrection. A video taken at the scene shows a number of political
agitators talking with the crowd, converting momentary outrage into political unity. One speaker in particular, a young black male, offers a cogent political analysis that frames the injustice of police brutality as a byproduct of the community’s economic dislocation.
We keep giving these crackers our money, staying in they complexes, and we can’t get no justice. No respect. They ready to put you out [if you] miss a bill … You got to be fed up.
Riots, like other forms of political action, can build solidarity. They can create strong feelings of common identity. The outrage in Ferguson quickly attracted marginalized people throughout the region. Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these “outsiders” reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.
From the outset, the anti-police police rallies that preceded the riots had a clear “us versus them” dynamic. At one point during the rally, the woman holding the camera says, “Where the thugs at? Where the street tribes when we need y’all?” and the crowd then begins to call on various street gangs to abandon “black-on-black” violence and unite in struggle against oppression. The community was unified and ready to take action. The police were the problem, and they had to be stopped.
The crowd was not irrational and apolitical. They were attempting to use this opportunity to address their broader political needs. They knew that intraracial violence within the community was also an issue, and that in most cases the perpetrators of violence are the communities’ own children, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Though many claim that black people don’t care about violence within our communities, the crowd’s calls for gang unity demonstrate that anti-police uprisings provide unique opportunities to unite people in ways that seek to resolve long-term issues like gang violence.
Following the insurrection, participants continued to discuss the uprising in political terms. DeAndre Smith, who was present at the burned down QuikTrip, told the local news, “I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce and everything. They’re not worried about the murder.” A second man added, “I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that they don’t run everything.” Smith then concludes, “I don’t think they did enough.”
In a second interview, this time with Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smith expanded on his belief in the riot as a viable political strategy.
This is exactly what’s supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community … I was out here with the community, that’s all I can say … I don’t think it’s over, honestly. I think they just got a case of what fighting back means, in St. Louis, the last state to abolish slavery. Do they think they still have power over certain things? I believe so.
This is how they receive money: businesses and taxes, police stopping people and giving them tickets, taking them to court, locking them up — this is how they make money in St. Louis. Everything is all about money in St. Louis. So when you stop their flow of income they have things organized in a certain way … ‘we’re gonna eat, you’re gonna starve,’ gentrification — put you in a certain neighborhood by yourself and see if you can starve … It’s not going to happen, not in St. Louis.
Smith identifies what so many self-styled anti-racists and leftists fail to understand — that racism is not an issue of moral character. He recognizes that the broader economic order facilitates and benefits from racial subjugation, and so he’s looking for ways to intervene and disrupt that process. Not only is this a more substantive analysis than what is often offered on the Left, but acting on this analysis is the only way to eradicate entrenched racial hierarchy.
Typically, when events like the Ferguson rebellion occur, well-meaning people rush to condemn the participants. At a minimum, they dismiss rioting as unproductive and opportunistic — a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. This is precisely the attitude that Deandre Smith was criticizing in his first interview. Most detractors, some of whom are black themselves, seek to police these communities with “respectability politics” — a call for subjugated people to present themselves in ways that are acceptable to the dominant class in an effort to make political gains.
As the political scientist Frederick Harris wrote in an article this year:
What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity.
But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class.
Whereas riots are often galvanizing community events with the potential to unleash concerted political energy in dynamic and unpredictable directions, the stale politics of respectability only leads to further marginalization and dislocation. Now, it’s possible to disagree with the utility of insurrection. But these communities’ responses to subjugation must be discussed in political terms and not simply dismissed out of hand.
We live in a context of white supremacy and neoliberal capitalism, where race-neutral policies are being used to maintain class exploitation and racial hierarchy, and any overt attempts to address racism are being dismantled or disregarded. These policies only intensify the economic dislocation and poverty experienced by those at the margins.
What both the local news interviewees and the crowd at the scene of Brown’s death seemed to understand was that they needed to disrupt the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism. They felt that a march or some other acceptable form of benign indignation would not address their political needs — and they weren’t wrong.
Many of us rush to condemn these types of disruptions because we’re actually content with neoliberalism’s post-racial illusion. At the burned down QuikTrip, someone left a sign addressed to their “corporate neighbor,” in the hopes that the business would return: “Dear Corporate Neighbor, I am sorry this act of robbery & violence has happened. Please return soon. I stop in 2-3 time[s] per week.”
On the surface, addressing the effects of rioting is an important political issue. By framing themselves as a customer in need of their “corporate neighbor,” it’s possible that this person is acting not out of concern for the working people that lost their jobs — their actual neighbors — but from the fear that their shopping routine will be disturbed. Like Deandre Smith observed, we identify more strongly with broken windows than broken people.
From the Boston Tea Party to Shays’ Rebellion, riots made America, for better or worse. In the past, white rioters have had access to institutional power, which allowed some of their grievances to be legitimized and politically resolved, at least to extent possible in a capitalist society. The key for the Ferguson uprising, as with any unsustainable political moment, is to transition outrage and disruption into constructive political organization. Easier said than done — but it’s a better reaction than dismissing the riots and only making it more difficult for the people to accomplish this herculean task.
Malcolm X reminds us that media is a key instrument of subjugation because it determines which acts are respectable and which are extreme and thus illegitimate. Instead of following that familiar script, let’s push back against narratives about rioters being devoid of politics. Let’s find ways to honestly observe and discuss their political needs, rather than simply criticizing the nature of their response to social violence.
The Palestinian death toll in the Israeli operation has passed 1,700, including about 400 children. At least 9,000 have been wounded, the Gaza health ministry said. Rights groups have estimated that more than 10,000 houses have been destroyed in the Israeli offensive.
All illustrations by the author
My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,” said Tariq,* a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.
“See our living conditions and think about the promises they made,” Tariq told me through a translator.
Last year, in his mid 30s, Tariq left his job at a Pakistani textile mill with dreams of being a crane operator in the Gulf. He showed me his certificate of crane proficiency, pulling the worn piece of paper out of the pocket of his beige salwar kameez. Recruiters promised him a salary of $326 a month—for a $1,776 recruitment fee to be paid in advance. With a cousin guiding him through the process, Tariq flew to Abu Dhabi to work for the Regal Construction company, one of roughly 900 construction outfits that employ foreign workers in the emirate.
But when Tariq arrived, Regal didn’t need him. For 24 days, he waited without pay, living in a squalid workers’ camp. When work finally materialized, he learned he would make only $176 a month. His boss confiscated his passport so that he couldn’t change jobs or leave the country. He sends half his salary back to his family. After 11 months in the Gulf, he still has not paid back the loan he took out to get there.
“How can I stay happy with a salary of $176?” Tariq asked, with an uncomfortable smile.
Tariq is one of dozens of construction workers laboring on Saadiyat Island whom I interviewed this May. He took out his flip phone and snapped a picture of the drawing I’d sketched of him. He had a gentle face that lit up when he talked about cricket. He told me he’d use my drawing as a profile pic on Facebook.
Though it is now only a sunbaked construction site, Saadiyat, a ten-square-mile atoll 500 yards off the coast of Abu Dhabi, will be home to branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim, and New York University, alongside hotels, shopping, and luxurious homes. It will be a cultural paradise, conjured by the country’s vast oil wealth but built on the backs of men who are little more than indentured servants.
While there are no official statistics, there may be as many as 1 million migrant construction workers in the UAE today. Like Tariq, the men I talked to have had their passports confiscated and earn between $150 and $300 a month. They will have to spend years working off debts to recruiters who have gotten them their jobs.
Reports about the conditions of workers in the Gulf have been wide and probing. Articles contrast the glittering skyscrapers they build and the scant wages they receive. In May, the New York Times published a scathing exposé of labor abuses at NYU Abu Dhabi.
But what’s often lost in much of the reporting about foreign labor in the United Arab Emirates—and Abu Dhabi specifically—is the agency of the workers themselves. The men I met in the Gulf are brave and ambitious—heroes to their families back home. They dared to chase better prospects and were met with repression instead. In a country where the faintest whisper of dissent can get you deported, more than a hundred strikes have rocked the construction industry in the past three years. While workers may be lied to and forced to live and work in brutal conditions, they also—improbably—are fighting back.
The Saadiyat Island Cultural District is the flagship project of TDIC (Tourism Development & Investment Company), a state-owned firm responsible for much of Abu Dhabi’s development. Announced in 2007, with an initial budget of $27 billion, according to media reports, Saadiyat will be the largest mixed-use development on the Arabian Gulf.
TDIC’s website promises fantasias of contemporary architecture. Plans show museums that look like they are pierced with moonbeams or modeled after the feathers of giant birds. After a day of culture, visitors will be able to relax at the St. Regis hotel or the Shangri-La. They will be able to play golf on world-class courses, or lounge by a series of man-made lagoons and mangrove forests, and then eat at one of dozens of gourmet restaurants run by international celebrity chefs. While construction of all these projects is happening piecemeal, Saadiyat, as envisioned by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan, chairman of TDIC and member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, may be completed by 2020. For at least five more years, the island will need a veritable army of laborers.
I first set foot on Saadiyat on a day so hot it nearly made me faint. Journalists are not allowed to visit without government minders, so I sneaked in. Saadiyat’s terrain looked like the moon. Bulldozers churned up pearl-colored dust. The dust dried my eyes. It came out in my snot. In company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.
Ibrahim served as my translator. He is in his early 20s. With his carefully styled black hair, he resembles a South Asian James Dean. Ibrahim asked me to withhold details about his life for fear of deportation, or worse. “If I speak to the media, they will take me from my room and put me somewhere no one will find me,” he said. Ibrahim has the sort of intelligence that crackles around him in sly, sarcastic sparks. He is smart in a way so obvious that he tries to hide it from his bosses by speaking in broken English. He knows five languages, loves poetry, and dreams of getting a master’s degree.
In his home country, Ibrahim had worked as a translator for an international NGO. Insurgents murdered locals who collaborated with foreigners. Ibrahim’s friends worried that he’d be next. The NGO offered little protection because he wasn’t an employee, so it was time to skip town.
Seeing a newspaper ad for construction jobs in Abu Dhabi, Ibrahim scraped together $760 from friends to pay a recruiter. He arrived in the UAE in the summer of 2013. “It’s so hot under that sun,” Ibrahim told me. “The sweat pours off your body like rain.”
“Hell is better than here,” he told his boss soon after he came to work on Saadiyat.
“Haha! Go to hell then,” the boss responded.
Ibrahim relished describing his boss, a blowhard who berates his workers and often calls them donkeys, which means “idiot” in idiomatic Arabic. Because of Ibrahim’s language proficiency, workers demand that he tell his boss that they work hard, that they are men.
We drove around Saadiyat in a creaky rental. It overheated whenever we turned on the air. At the NYU site, cheerful signs invited workers to share their opinions about their conditions. They were in English, a language few workers understand. We drove past the Louvre site. TDIC had hung banners from the perimeter fence showing the museum as it would be in 2015. When I looked inside, the building was nothing more than a shell of steel beams. Workers at the Louvre are all employed by a company called Arabtec, one of the Gulf’s largest construction outfits. The government of Abu Dhabi holds a 20 percent stake in Arabtec, and workers have staged strikes against them for years.
In 2007, up to 30,000 Arabtec workers went on strike in Dubai. Men building Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, put down their tools. The strike had been coordinated with mobile phones to protest low wages and poor living conditions. Police arrested 4,000 strikers. At the end of ten days, Arabtec promised a pay raise. Managing Director Riad Kamal told Reuters that the impact on the company’s profits would be less than 1 percent.
But the strikes—and crackdowns—continued. Three thousand more workers went on strike in Dubai in 2011. They made $176 a month and wanted a $41 raise. The police arrested 70 men they claimed were ringleaders. “Their presence in the country is dangerous,” Colonel Mohammed al Murr, director of the Dubai Police’s General Department of Legal and Disciplinary Control, told theNational, a state-owned newspaper.
After this, Bangladeshi workers, who were alleged to have helped organize the strikes, were banned for an indefinite period from seeking UAE visas.
In May 2013, thousands of Arabtec workers stopped work in Dubai and on Saadiyat—including at the Louvre. They demanded an $81 a month stipend for food. According to a source who asked for anonymity, “The police were called in after one day. Workers were told to return to work or they’d be sent home. Over the coming weeks at least a thousand Arabtec workers in Abu Dhabi alone were rounded up and had their visas canceled. The majority were Bangladeshis.”
In response, Arabtec promised a 20 percent wage hike. No worker I interviewed had seen the promised cash.
Arabtec also replaced Bangladeshis with Pakistanis. It was classic divide-and-rule strategy, harking back to the British Empire. In August 2013, the tension exploded into riots between Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Saadiyat Village. Workers turned their tools against one another. The police fired live ammo into the air.
After the riots, Pakistani workers were shipped off to other camps.
Arabtec is not the only company to draw protests. In May 2014, the New York Times reported that hundreds of workers at BKGulf (which is building NYU Abu Dhabi) had been deported for striking. Management bluffed that they’d negotiate, but police broke down workers’ doors instead. Workers told the Times that police had beaten them to force confessions.
Ibrahim told me about smaller disobediences. On the Bani Yas villas site, about 15 miles inland from downtown Abu Dhabi, workers had organized a brutal beat-down of an abusive engineer. To protest the lack of air conditioning in buses, workers had staged impromptu soccer games with their hard hats to prevent the buses from leaving.
While wages may sometimes rise, the Emirates will never permit workers to formally organize. Workers’ councils, or any form of unionization, are strictly banned.
We parked the car on a spot overlooking the Louvre site on Saadiyat. Ibrahim and I stepped into the hallucinatory heat and walked up to two workers who seemed to be on break.
We made sure no supervisors were around, then asked the laborers how much money they made. They answered gladly.
One said $200 a month; the other said $175. Yes, their bosses kept their passports.
Ibrahim lives in one of Abu Dhabi’s labor camps, in a low-rise building set among row after row of identical blocks. Like most camps, it is hidden deep in the desert, far from central Abu Dhabi. Forty thousand men can live in a single camp. They are Nepali, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian—and work for a variety of companies. Often, since they don’t speak English, they won’t know what project they’re building
Corporate buses ferry workers to job sites. Even these are no respite from the heat. Despite laws to the contrary, many buses have no air conditioning. Commutes last up to two hours, and the temperatures often reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ibrahim showed me a cell-phone video of the windowless dorm he shares with ten men. Outside, he has only a mosque, a hypermarket, and the sun.
On his one day off, Ibrahim told me, he would like to stroll Abu Dhabi’s corniche. But there’s no public transit. He is a virtual prisoner in the workers’ city.
Besides a few cashiers, the camps contain no women—just as the UAE, flush with laborers, is two-thirds male. Men save up for occasional visits to Ethiopian prostitutes. They too are migrants, often former maids who ran away from abusive employers. Because of their dark skin, Ethiopian prostitutes aren’t favored by the country’s Emirati elite and have to charge prices that even laborers can afford.
“We are so bored, and it’s a long time away from home,” Ibrahim told me when I asked him about the women. “We sit in that room for the whole day. We can’t go outside because of the heat, can’t afford to get to the beach or the mall.”
Some workers sleep with each other. Several of Ibrahim’s acquaintances have been jailed for having romantic relationships with other men. To save face, one of them, a Pashtun, told his family he’d been charged with murder.
“A beautiful boy is like a girlfriend,” Ibrahim said. Bus drivers, among the best-paid workers, court good-looking young men with promises of meals at restaurants and cell-phone credit. One driver offered Ibrahim 20 dirhams to find him a boyfriend. After a week he called Ibrahim, peeved he had turned up no one. Promising to do better, Ibrahim shook him down for ten dirhams more.
If Ibrahim is late sending money back home, his mom voices her displeasure. “What are you doing? Drinking at nightclubs in Dubai?” Ibrahim shouted, in imitation of her maternal holler. “If you’re not going to send money, come home!”
“If you ask a thousand workers,” Ibrahim said, “not one will tell you we are happy.”
Roughly 10 percent of the UAE’s 9.2 million residents are citizens. The rest are “expats” (if they’re white-collar professionals) or “migrant labor” (if they’re working class). Foreigners can live in the Emirates for generations, but short of proving Emirati heritage, there’s no way they can get citizenship. They can be deported at whim.
Amid this disenfranchisement, Emiratis can appear to foreigners like aristocrats. One can be arrested just for flipping them off in traffic.
Pravasalokam is a hit TV show in Kerala, India. A reality program whose name means “Workers’ World” in Malayalam, the show depicts the rescue of workers who have disappeared—due to jail, poverty, or abuse—in the Gulf. The Gulf nightmare is well known, yet migrants keep coming. The $14 billion a year in remittances they send home is integral to the economies of Nepal and Bangladesh (in Bangladesh the two largest sources of foreign currency are migrant labor and garments). But migrants are pushed by war as well as cash. Many workers hail from Kashmir, Pakistan’s Taliban-dominated Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and other crisis areas in South Asia.
Whatever his country of origin, a migrant almost always has to pay a recruiter fee (which is then shared with subcontractors inside the Emirates). While hiring companies claim to cover costs like airfare, visas, and medical exams, recruiters in the sending countries and their partners in the UAE often skim a year’s potential wages from the worker himself. In some countries recruiters dodge local labor laws by hiring subcontractors, who trawl villages for the illiterate, the desperate, or those simply frustrated enough to risk the dangers of the Gulf. Workers take out loans, empty their families’ savings, or use land as collateral.
At Mafraq Workers’ City No. 2, a labor camp 23 miles from central Abu Dhabi, I interviewed workers cutting one another’s hair in an improvised outdoor barbershop. They crowded around me, telling me about salaries of $150 to $300 a month and police who hassled them if they dared visit the beach in their salwar kameez. While Emiratis are dependent on migrant labor, they’d prefer that the workers stay invisible in their off-hours.
Friends crouched in the shade beneath buses. One group sneaked a forbidden bottle of wine. The rules here were as strict as summer camp—no booze, no cooking, no gambling, no porn.
In addition to the acres-wide sandpits and towering construction cranes, Saadiyat Island is also home to what is billed to be the most humane labor camp in the entire Gulf. In response to international pressure, TDIC created what they call the Saadiyat Accommodation Village to house all workers building Western cultural institutions. In the words of its developer, it “provide[s] an internationally recognized world-class standard of living.” Its huge cricket field, writing classes, and a library containing Steinbeck are everything a visiting dignitary could desire.
But despite TDIC’s claims, many workers live elsewhere, including in crumbling tenements in central Abu Dhabi. And Saadiyat Village is hardly a paradise.
Tariq, the Louvre worker, told me, “The grounds are the only things that are good. Everything else will make you feel awful. The bathrooms always stink. We don’t even have doors there. The food given to us is inedible.”
Andrew Ross is an NYU professor and activist from Gulf Labor, a coalition of artists who advocate for the rights of workers building cultural institutions on Saadiyat. In May, TDIC invited Gulf Labor to tour Saadiyat Village. But when the activists visited other labor camps unsupervised, they noticed that they were followed. The surveillance only stopped when they left their cell phones behind.
According to Ross, Saadiyat Village is a “high-security zone” where workers are constantly monitored.
Workers live more than a mile beyond a checkpoint they are forbidden from walking to. Their only escape is a bus that runs once a week to Abu Dhabi. In the wake of the Arab Spring, security concerns are cited to outside visitors as a reason for keeping the all-male workforce in physical isolation. But if controlling and isolating workers helps TDIC manage the fallout of international pressure, it also produces a less than ideal side effect for the press-shy Emiratis: It helps workers organize and resist.
In 2006, three eminent figures in the French art world wrote an open letter to Le Monde titled “Museums Are Not for Sale.” Françoise Cachin, Jean Clair, and Roland Recht decried the Louvre’s partnership with Abu Dhabi. “Isn’t that ‘selling your soul’?” they asked.
The most simplistic accusation against Abu Dhabi is that by building branches of the Louvre or Guggenheim, the city is buying culture. This logic pretends that Cleopatra’s Needle ended up in Paris through the goodness of Egyptian hearts, or that Lord Elgin didn’t just pillage the marbles that bear his name.
Those accusations also perpetuate another myth: The UAE has no culture of its own.
Two generations ago, the Emiratis were Bedouins, nomadic desert people whose main economic activity was pearl diving. They built wind towers, trained falcons, and composed swashbuckling poetry. Emirati culture was rich, but Emiratis were poor. Now they are wealthy. From the lens of European dominance, Emiratis can seem like improper overlords.
Or perhaps Europeans are just jealous. The UAE’s oil money could have disappeared in the coffers of Western energy companies or corrupt leaders. Instead, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, built a munificent welfare state. Emirati citizens get free education, health care, and electricity, as well as generous wages subsidized by the government. They pay no taxes. But the foreigners who compose 90 percent of the population don’t share in this largesse.
At times the dream of Abu Dhabi slayed me. One afternoon I stood inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in central Abu Dhabi. Built in 2007, the gigantic structure made me gasp at its loveliness. Its design spans the breadth of Muslim art: The domes were Taj Mahal, the stucco Moroccan, the tiles Turkish, the gold palm columns seemingly from the future. It embodied the cosmopolitanism of the Muslim world, vital with the energy of this young country.
For this piece, I met with several Emiratis involved in culture. None would speak on the record. They were charming, passionate about the arts, proud of their country. But when I asked them about workers, they frowned with irritation. Why did the press keep picking on them?
They would prefer to talk about charity: free Bollywood movies, free food baskets for Ramadan. The Radisson Blu’s Box project distributes boxes of toiletries. Their Facebook page shows a grim Emirati handing a box to a grim Bangladeshi worker. It’s turned logo-side toward the camera.
Charity can get you cheap Facebook photos. But what does it fix if workers aren’t paid enough to afford a bar of soap?
The Guggenheim Museum’s PR team claims, incorrectly, that labor is not a problem because construction has not yet begun on the Abu Dhabi outpost. Conversely, NYU asserts labor is not a problem because construction is technically over. I saw men working on both sites.
Andrew Ross from Gulf Labor stressed that an institution’s responsibilities don’t end with construction. “If you visit Saadiyat, you find NYU is the only finished building. Apart from the workers’ village, it’s surrounded by nothing. It will have construction going on for 20 years around it.”
When I asked the Guggenheim for comment on workers’ conditions, the director, Richard Armstrong, did not respond to my queries. The chief of global communications, Eleanor R. Goldhar, told me that construction workers were subcontractors.
“The main construction contract has not yet been awarded for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. We are working closely with TDIC so that existing labor laws and high standards are enforced on all aspects of the project,” Goldhar wrote.
Our world runs on subcontractors. How could any client know what they were up to, except that everything was too cheap to be true?
“You know how Ford said you can have any car you like as long as it’s black? In the UAE they can make whatever you want, as long as it’s a building. They can’t make free speech or human rights,” Ahmed Mansoor told me in the curtained-off back room of a Dubai restaurant.
An engineer by trade, Mansoor spent about eight months in jail in 2011 for running a website that allowed those living in the Emirates to speak frankly about politics, religion, and culture. It was at one time the most popular public forum in the country.
Mansoor and his co-defendants, known as the UAE5, were arrested for “publicly insulting” Abu Dhabi’s president, vice president, and crown prince. At the same time, the government mounted a smear campaign, allegedly bribing sheikhs to organize petitions denouncing Mansoor. One of his co-defendants was a lecturer at the Sorbonne.
In prison, guards gave Mansoor a wheelchair lined with infected fabric. He caught scabies. Guards denied him access to a dermatologist for months. After nearly eight months of incarceration, Mansoor and his co-defendants began a 16-day-long hunger strike that finally led to their pardon. He still hasn’t gotten his passport back.
Ever since Mansoor’s release, he’s suffered unfortunate coincidences. Thugs attacked him twice—once, brutally beating his head. A hundred and forty thousand dollars disappeared from Mansoor’s bank account, and his car was stolen. The police have not found a culprit for any of these crimes.
When I asked him about the Western cultural institutions being built on Saadiyat, he told me, “All these glittering buildings and huge names are there to hide an ugly face… Artists around the world appreciate the human struggle for freedom. In the UAE, we are only buying the image.”
Can you have art without freedom? Splendid objects get made for the highest bidder. Challenging ideas require something more than the Emirates may care to provide.
I put this question to a young artist born in the UAE. He told me: “By entertaining any vision of a culturally engaged metropolis, [the UAE] has opened up a Pandora’s box. Critical culture is forced into a more subversive form. This subversion itself can be a form of poetry. I have to think like this, because I live here and I need to survive the aftermath of my own thoughts.”
The artist is well off but not a citizen. Afraid of being deported, he asked me not to use his name.
One morning Ibrahim took me to a market in Musaffah, a port city southeast of Abu Dhabi. Construction workers sweating it out on $170 a month spent their free day going to Dubai to buy flash drives or watermelon, which they sold to other workers in Musaffah’s markets. This would earn them an extra $10 a day. One man sold dolls for workers to take home to the children they’d left behind. Each vendor said he was there because his salary was too low. No, they had no rest. Yes, they were tired.
As we got farther in, we passed homemade roulette wheels and porn. The market was illegal but tolerated. As I spoke to vendors, more and more men gathered around me. In all-male Musaffah, a white girl might as well be an alien.
I asked a butcher the price of a cow’s head. The crowd screamed as undercover cops yanked him away. The butcher was arrested, seemingly as punishment for speaking to a Westerner. Terrified that he might also be arrested, Ibrahim suggested that we leave the market quickly.
“I will leave this fucking country. I never want to come back to the Middle East in my life,” Ibrahim poured out to me as we drove away from the market. “This is a prison. People see the world’s tallest building, not the people who built it.”
“I have nothing to do with the workers,” said Zaha Hadid, the star architect behind one of Qatar’s phantasmagoric soccer stadiums being built for the 2022 World Cup, when the Guardian asked her in February 2014 about the deaths of 882 migrant laborers constructing her design. “It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.” Hadid is now designing the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre on Saadiyat.
The West’s museums lie atop metaphoric graveyards. Art’s temples have always been built on the backs of the poor. The Louvre in Paris touts its history in the passive voice on its website: “Was built to the west of the city”; “wings begun under Louis XIV were partially completed.” But what of the peasants who sweated and died in the construction? Of them, official histories have little to say. Neither do official histories mention the miners who mined the fortune that let Solomon R. Guggenheim build the museum that bears his name.
Defenders of Western institutions in Abu Dhabi are right about one thing. They are not unique. The labor abuses at the Louvre or NYU are the same labor abuses that are happening throughout the UAE. The UAE is not the worst country for workers in the Gulf, and the Gulf is not the worst region for workers in the world. Most countries sustain themselves on the labor of transient, disposable people. This may be unofficial, as in the United States (our agricultural industry would collapse overnight without undocumented migrants), or it may be institutionalized, as in the UAE.
“Capital is global and derives its velocity from replicating the same model everywhere. Gulf Labor is arguing for a global, humane, and fair standard of labor and migration regulations to accompany, and slow down, global capital,” said Naeem Mohaiemen, a New York–based Bangladeshi artist who is a member of Gulf Labor. “The implications can be staggering. If Saadiyat implemented world-standard labor and migration rights, that could become a precedent for implementing the same standards in the entire region. Then people would ask, what about migrant labor in Malaysia? In Texas? And so on…”
On my last day, Ibrahim and I drove out to the Guggenheim site on Saadiyat. Even though he was exhausted, Ibrahim grinned. After nearly a year in the UAE, he’d paid off his debts to recruiters. Once his contract concluded, he’d be free.
We interviewed Vijay*, a worker building a tunnel that will lead into the Guggenheim. His group of workers are laying the infrastructure that will feed the museum, and we believe he’s the first Guggenheim worker to speak about the conditions working there. In the back of our car, Vijay gulped water. He’d wrapped his head in wet cloth. His skin was beaded with sweat.
Vijay came to Abu Dhabi in 2004. His family was eking out a living growing vegetables on a small farm they owned near Chennai, India. Vijay has three sisters. Since he’s the only son, his father decided he would work in the Gulf. Vijay’s family rounded up $2,100 to pay a recruiter.
By 2008, his salary had peaked at $435 a month.
Then came the 2008 financial crash. On the pretext that there was less work, Vijay’s company slashed his monthly base salary to $217 (up to $326 with overtime), though his hours remained the same. His wages have not risen since.
“Some days I start at 7 AM. I never know when I will get done. We sometimes work past midnight. I sometimes sleep for only two or three hours,” he told me. “Yet we cannot complain.”
Vijay works seven days a week. His company withholds salaries for months at a time, especially if workers visit home. He believes that his company is cheating workers on overtime, denying them access to the ledgers in which their hours are marked.
“I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. My body is on the verge of giving up, but I cannot leave my job because I am responsible for my sisters,” he told me.
Vijay dreams of getting married in India and returning to his family’s modest farm near Chennai. But first, he wants to get a license to drive a minibus. Drivers are paid better and can work out of the sun, sitting down.
They say Sheikh Zayed built Abu Dhabi, just like Louis XIV built the Louvre. But this is a myth. Vijay built Abu Dhabi more than Sheikh Zayed did. He built it growing deeper in debt each day, his feet sinking into the lunar sand.
An Emirati curator told me that these museums were Abu Dhabi’s “gifts to the region.” She refused to go on record, certain my article would overplay the UAE’s labor problems. But she allowed that quote.
She is wrong about the giver of the gift. Saadiyat is a “gift” to the UAE from Vijay, from Tariq, from Ibrahim—from all the men whose hands have built these cities. But migrant workers’ names are never engraved on donor lists.
In a few years Saadiyat will be open for business. Artists and patrons will mingle at the Louvre and Guggenheim’s opening galas. The fresh buildings will sparkle like starlight.
Unfortunately, Vijay will not be in attendance. He will be working elsewhere, still trying to pay off his debt.
*Name has been changed.
"The Israeli offensive, which began on July 8, has killed mostly civilians according to the UN and injured over 7,000. The fighting has forced over 215,000 Gazans to flee their homes in the overcrowded coastal strip, the WHO said."
Which reminds me of this poem by Alexander Wat:
from Persian Parables
By great, swift waters
on a stony bank
a human skull lay shouting:
Allah la ilah
And in that shout such horror
and such supplication
so great was its despair
that I asked the helmsman:
What is there left to cry for? Why is it still afraid?
What divine judgement could strike it again?
Suddenly a rising wave
took hold of the skull
and tossing it about
smashed it against the bank
Nothing is ever over
- the helmsman's voice was hollow -
and there is no bottom to evil.
(trans. Milosz and Nathan)