The Third World was found face down in his apartment today

Haroon Moghul

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When people ask, I tell them Dubai is like an imperialist, a bigot and a socialist have all woken up inside each other’s worst nightmares. This is met with blank stares or, sometimes, hesitant amusement. But it’s true. The future is happening somewhere else, all the announcements are in Arabic and, as you expected, you can’t afford anything.

The third world might be dying, but so is the first. The categories with which we have long made sense of the world cease to apply. It is, in other words, safe to smile. Take an exemplary Friday; an illustration of the collision of approaches to the world, access to resources and accommodations of traditional practices - in hypermodern forms - that underline how fast the world changes.

After attending the day’s sermon, I trod back to my car in the scorching sun. My eye caught a black Mercedes AMG S63 parked in a sandlot, not because I’m materialist, simply a good analyst. His car was stuck. Or, rather could be, but no, wait, I was right: The driver got behind the wheel, punched the accelerator, and his tires revolved at a furious and futile speed. The poor (well, relatively speaking) man began to examine his options.

How was he going to get his massive, overweight, overpowered, over-the-top car out of this unsuspected sand trap?

As I walk over to offer a hand, the minaret’s microphones are reactivated; we were privy to an Imam’s class on Islamic ritual even as we attempted to extricate this man from his terrible parking. It was, mind you, about 110 degrees outside, with a sun different from the globally northern; this one had fists with which it punched you in the face (and gave me sunburn through the slots in my sandals). I catch snippets of the Imam’s teaching.

“Yes, if you need to go to the bathroom … I think you should tell your mother-in-law to…”

The driver of the trapped car pulled a massive prayer rug out of a trunk that could hold several large suitcases, five murdered people or three Americans, and he spread this prayer rug behind his car, either so that we worship his wealth or in the hopes that the tires would roll over it, freeing him and his vehicle. The Imam had, by this point, arrived at the story of Moses and Pharaoh. The sand, however, was in this case not parted. Miracles don’t happen to just anyone.

Digging himself a deeper hole

Rather than drive over the prayer rug, the S63, with an engine of several hundred horses, sucked it up like a monster vacuum cleaner from hell. His car was now exactly the same as before, except shards of tortured, brutalized, pulverized prayer rug were dripping like the blood of martyrs from the rear tire well.

The driver of the trapped car pulled a massive prayer rug out of a trunk that could hold several large suitcases, five murdered people or three Americans

Haroon Moghul

Then, a fellow arrived in a Range Rover, offering to tow the car out. The ambient car price on the street had risen to a full-on undergraduate degree, and that before the gunmetal gray Porsche Cayenne showed up.

We decided to hitch the Benz to the Range. Someone provided bungee cord for this purpose. If this could suspend a person, we must’ve reasoned, it could tow a car of several thousand pounds. The Range Rover’s driver got back in his vehicle, and lurched forward. The cord snapped, as you’d expect. Meanwhile, my friend, boarding a plane bound for New York, is furiously texting.

He’s seated, he told me, next to a guy who leans over and asks: “Is this the plane to America?”

I approached the Benz’s flustered driver and asked: “Don’t you have 24-hour emergency service?”

After the ordeal

That night, I arrived early to meet a friend at Café Nero. The time for Maghrib (sunset) prayer is upon us, except I can barely hear the adhan (call for prayer). This is not just a mostly Muslim city but a modern Muslim city, which means I have options for redress. I tweet @DXBMarinaMall, ask them what’s up with the low volume and ten minutes later, get a response!

“We’ll look into it. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Where else, really, can you tweet about the volume of the adhan at a mall, and get a response when you should be praying? Third World or First? Don’t tell Thomas Friedman that this isn’t about hot, flat, or crowded. It’s like the global north and global south woke up to find each other having traded places, like a bad movie. Most of which, these days, are outsourced and made elsewhere.


Haroon Moghul is the Fellow in Muslim Politics and Societies at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. He is a graduate student at Columbia University, a widely-recognized speaker on Islamic thought and Muslim history, and the author of The Order of Light (Penguin 2006). Haroon's writings have been featured on Foreign Policy, Boston Review, Salon, Tikkun, Religion Dispatches, Al-Jazeera, Today's Zaman and Dawn. He is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and serves as an expert guide to the Muslim heritage of Spain, Turkey, and Bosnia. Twitter: @hsmoghul

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