Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where does the truth lie on Davidson's book?

Christopher Davidson claims his book was banned in the UAE.

I'd like to know what his reaction is to these statements:
The National Media Council denied last night that it had banned a study of Dubai written by a former professor at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University and said approval for publication in the UAE had been granted.

There were claims in the British press that Dr Christopher Davidson’s book, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, had been banned due to its content.

But yesterday, the NMC confirmed it had already been approved for countrywide distribution, said Peter Hellyer, the council’s information adviser.
...
Mr Hellyer said that while there had never been a ban, the study contained “a plethora of errors”.

“There is a statement that there was no tarmac highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai until the mid-1990s, and no all-weather road between Dubai and Fujairah until 2006,” Mr Hellyer said. “These are clearly completely wrong and it makes one doubt the quality and depth of his research.”

He also took issue, he said, with a section regarding the discovery of Dubai’s oil fields.

Mr Davidson “writes that in the mid-1960s, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the Ruler of Dubai, created a company to operate Dubai’s on-shore oil fields,” Mr Hellyer said. “The only on-shore oil fields were not discovered until 1982.”
When I arrived in the UAE I drove the modern roads between Dubai and Fujairah. That's an odd error to make, really.

But the real questions are (1) does the book contain a "plethora" of errors, and simply a typical number of errors, and (2) what is the evidence that the book was banned?

Until I hear more, I'll go with the National Media Council's account. That said, it is worth noting that the UAE is not as open as some other societies. It has made the choice of having a National Media Council that reviews books, and can ban them from distribution. My guess is a strong majority of UAE citizens have no problem with that choice.

Thanks to samurai sam for the link.

I've ordered the book, and will evaluate it.

Addendum: Our second commenter (whose location was rather easy to determine) writes "guardian story here, more detail?!
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/15/uae.denies.banned.book "

Here's some of what is in that Guardian article:
UAE booksellers, Davidson and his publisher Hurst said they had previously been told the book, published in May in the UK, was banned.

"We sent copies of the book out to the main bookshops in June," said the Hurst managing director, Michael Dwyer. "They said they had been contacted by ... [the National Media Council] telling them not to order it, that it was banned, and that if they had any copies to return them."

A query to the NMC from Mirna Mneimneh, a wholesale English non-fiction buyer in the region, met with a similar response.

"We sent a copy to the authorities," she said, "and they informed us that it has been banned."

But the UAE's National Media Council (NMC) denied it had ruled against the book, saying that no decision was made until yesterday.

"I think the distributor's agent probably got the wrong end of the stick because he was told it hadn't yet been approved, and he mistakenly took that to mean that the book was being banned," said information adviser Peter Hellyer. "He should, of course, have told the bookshops that no decision had yet been taken."

Hellyer said the NMC decided yesterday not to ban the book. "Whether or not it is distributed and sold is now entirely a matter for the distributor and the bookshops," he added.
...
Davidson welcomed the decision but queried the NMC's identification of errors, fearing that "they will produce a 200-plus list of errata which may be open to interpretation, that will greatly undermine me."
I will be surprised if the NMC produce an errata sheet. And, if it does, the audience for whom the book is intended will be able to do its own parsing and interpreting of the scholarship.

Addendum 2: See Peter Hellyer's comment. He says work on an errata sheet is going forward, and provides some examples.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Acad Ronin said...

In 1975, there was a tarmac road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the all-weather road between Dubai and Fujairah was about 75% complete, admittedly the flat land part. I doubt that it took 15 years to complete the part through the hills.

The problem with small errors is that, as I often point out to students in justifying why I take off points for typos in their essays, they undermine confidence in the work. If the author is ignorant or sloppy about things that are easy to check, can I trust them to be conscientious about things that are not easy for me to verify, such as their reading of the evidence.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

guardian story here, more detail?!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/

2008/sep/15/uae.denies.banned.book

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Peter Hellyer said...

John Chilton wrote:

"I will be surprised if the NMC produce an errata sheet. And, if it does, the audience for whom the book is intended will be able to do its own parsing and interpreting of the scholarship."

Well, work on the errata sheet is well under way - but it's taking a long time! A few more examples:

Page 9-10

"Since the mid-eighteenth century, a small village had existed at the mouth of the most prominent natural water inlet in the lower Persian Gulf. By the early 19th century, little had really changed, with only a few palm frond barasti huts lining the shores of the creek.'"

Archaeological evidence confirms occupation of the broader Dubai area from the Late Stone Age, c. 5,000 BC, with several settlements or cemeteries from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. A major site from the earlier Islamic period is present in Jumeirah and "Dibei" is among a list of places mentioned in a 1580 book by Venetian traveller Gasparo Balbi. Other evidence is believed buried under the present-day city. The Fahidi Fort, the former residence of the Rulers, is said to have been built at the end of the 18th Century. The 'prominent natural water inlet' has, of course, been an attraction since well before the Christian era, as one might expect.

P. 35

In dealing with oil, and suggesting that the company that obtained the oil concessions in the Emirates was effectively British.

"In 1935, the London-based and British Government-backed Iraq Petroleum Company, (IPC) formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, Petroleum Concessions Limited, which was to be the sole operator of concessions in the lower Gulf… These accords… should not necessarily be seen as reflections of British interest in the discovery of oil deposits in the region… but instead as expressions of the continuing British desire to exclude other foreign parties from the region's affairs."

Shareholders in IPC/PCL were British Petroleum (now BP), Shell (an Anglo-Dutch company), Companie Francaise des Petroles (French) and the forerunners of Exxon and Mobil (now ExxonMobil), both American, as well as Partex, representing the interest of the Gulbenkian family. The percentage share of the French and American companies was equal to that of the British and Anglo- Dutch companies – i.e. there was no exclusion of non-British interests.

Page 28

"While Sheikh Abdulla bin Salim Al-Ka'abi, the Bani Ka'b chief and tax collector of Mahadha, repeatedly presented his case (for recognition as an independent emirate)to the British in 1950s, and even provided the British agent with many soldiers in an effort to improve relations, this was to no avail, as Britain allowed Mahadha to be absorbed into Oman."

Mahadha and the Bani Ka'ab were traditionally subject to the Sultans and Imams of Muscat/Oman, for whom Sheikh Abdulla was the tax-collector. It is not that Britain allowed Mahadha to be absorbed into Oman, but that it refused to endorse an attempt to secede from Oman.

Page 60

"By February 1968, the two rulers (Rashid of Dubai and Zayed of Abu Dhabi) met again, this time at a specially-constructed camp-site at Ghantoot, closed to their shared border."

They met at Al-Semeih, which is several kilometres to the south-west of Ghantoot.

Many more errors that that - and many of much more significance, too.

Acad ronin said that in 1975, "the all weather road between Dubai and Fujairah was about 75% complete - "I doubt that it took 15 years to complete the part thgrough the hills." No it didn't - I drove the whole way in 1978, and the road was completed before that, but Davidson says it wasn't completed till 2006, even though he had himself been living in the UAE for at least a couple of years by that time. Sloppy, to say the least, in my view.

The original press story in The Times Higher Educatoinal Supplement said:

"We sent copies of the book out to the main bookshops in June," said the Hurst managing director, Michael Dwyer. "They said they had been contacted by ... [the National Media Council] telling them not to order it, that it was banned, and that if they had any copies to return them."

This, I think, is where confusion may have arisen. Hurst, the publisher, or their local distributor, should know that bookshops in the UAE are not permitted to sell books before approval has been granted for them to be sold. If books were sent to shops in June, that was too early - the National Media Council only received a copy in August to put through the review process. hat process wasn't completed till early September (well, August IS a holiday month!). The bookshops, or rather the distributor, was told that the books could not be sold UNTIL the review process had been completed, NOT that the book had been banned.

Incidentally, the National Media Council, and its predecessor, the Ministry of Information, haven't banned a single foreign language (i.e. non-Arabic) book, apart from books deemed pornographic, since at least 1994.

11:22 AM  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...

Thank you, Peter.

6:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

I think it's absolutely pathetic that this quasi-censorship board is going through this guy's book and sending out a list of errors.

How petty - really shows that Dubai howls like a baby at even the mildest of criticisms.

Well Peter Hellyer - nice to see a Westerner who has benefited from freedom of speech working for a body which can revoke the publication of literature! Hope the cheque's big! - you can publish all the laughable corrections about Sheikhs meeting two kilometres further down the road than the author said, but let's see you take issue with the central thrust of his criticisms.

Namely:

Huge sex industry and people trafficing

Money laundering hub

High potential from terrorist attack.

Unfortunately for Dubai the genie is out of the bottle - expect a lot more criticism in years to come.

Oh and buy the way - enjoy the coming housing crash!

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Peter Hellyer said...

John (not John Chilton) said:

++
Well Peter Hellyer - nice to see a Westerner who has benefited from freedom of speech working for a body which can revoke the publication of literature! Hope the cheque's big! - you can publish all the laughable corrections about Sheikhs meeting two kilometres further down the road than the author said, but let's see you take issue with the central thrust of his criticisms.
++

I've just measured the distance between Ghantoot, where Davidson says the meeting between Zayed and Rashid took pace in 1968, and Al-Semeih. it's actually 17 kilometres - quite a distance. It may be less than 10 minutes down the highway today, but more more 40 years ago.
The importance of Al-Semeih, though, isn't just that it's half way between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but that it was the place where tribal parties used to gather prior to warfare and raids. The last time it had been used as such, if I recall correctly, was in the late 1940s, when Abu Dhabi tribesmen were called together there before raids against Dubai.Both Zayed and Rashid, you can be sure, were well aware of the symbolism of choosing Al-Semeih to talk abouty a union - they had both been engaged in the "war" just over 20 years earlier.

John, it's not my job to "take issue with the central thrust of (Davidson's) criticisms, Namely:

Huge sex industry and people trafficing

Money laundering hub

High potential from terrorist attack."

It would seem - even from publicly-available information, such as from Dubai Government sources, in some cases,like the sex industry and people trafficking - that there is at least some truth in them. How much, I simply don't know.

But when there are errors of fact in other parts of the book - as there are - then I think acad ronin's comment is completely fair:

"
The problem with small errors is that, as I often point out to students in justifying why I take off points for typos in their essays, they undermine confidence in the work. If the author is ignorant or sloppy about things that are easy to check, can I trust them to be conscientious about things that are not easy for me to verify, such as their reading of the evidence."

Peter Hellyer

PS:
Yes, I receive a cheque from the UAE Government (well, a bank-to-bank transfer, actually). It would be nice if it was bigger.

But that's utterly irrelevant with regards to the profesional quality of a book by someone who claims to be an expert on Dubai, yet makes numerous, simple,basic errors of fact both about Dubai and the rest of the UAE.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Ankit Nanda said...

That's very relevant! You clearly have a stake in pointing attention towards these factual errors which you believe (I don't) compromise the quality and even the character of the author! His arguments are mostly sound and considering the scarceness of similar resources on the subject, this book is precious.

6:58 AM  

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