My driver is Mohammed, originally from Peshawar, Pakistan, making his home in Dubai for the past 5 years. When he hears that I am a journalist, his eyes light up and he hands me a book as we drive out of Media City on a quiet Saturday night.
“Currently I am reading this one sir, it is by a very popular writer in my country.” – He hands me a book with some English text on the cover “The Secrets of Persuasive Speech.” I’m surprised to have been handed a self-help book, but he gives me no time to think about it, as he goes back to explaining how he has travelled extensively in Afghanistan for research. When I tell him I have worked in Afghanistan he gets even more excited. “You won’t believe it sir, my research has been the Talibanization of Afghanistan. I have been to almost all provinces and my book sold 20,000 copies.”
Mohammed sits low in in the drivers seat, he has very few hairs left on his head, and I get the impression as he speaks with such enthusiasm that he hasn’t had the opportunity to explain these things in a very long time. “My other two books were on Islamophobia, as perhaps you know, after 9/11 there was much hatred towards muslims coming from the west. Even in Europe with the mosque referendums (Switzerland reference) and head cover bans (France and others), there has been a lot of prejudice.I have written on this topic but these books have also been contreversial in my country. My region is very dangerous unfortunately, I came here and now I drive a taxi.” This transition from best selling (Urdu language) author to taxi driver is what doesn’t add up in my ignorant brain. As he goes on about how many copies each book sold, I find myself confused and unable to get him to explain how his books offended people to the point that he left the country. I try to ask again but to no avail, Mohammed is speaking with authority now on topics like corruption and religion. Both of which he believes the Emirates have gotten right and his home country has gotten wrong.
“In Pakistan our leaders, even the ones people love so much like Sharif and Bhutto, they are corrupt. They use fear and religion to get votes, scaring people into supporting them. And you know what happens when you have such corruption…” We drive passed a cavalcade of sky scrapers, each with its own futuristic design and blinking light array. In the eyes of this veteran of the media and transportation world, the rulers of the UAE have done things right. “They have vision! Not corruption. Vision and planning,” he points at a whole series of overpasses that seem to twirl around in beautiful patterns in between luxurious office buildings and 5 star hotels with names like Shangri-la and Ritz Carleton. – And oil? – I throw in just to see what reactions this causes. But he is not phased, “Yes, they have the oil, but they invest in their country. Not like other oil nations.”
As we approach our destination Mohammed’s volume lowers a bit, from school teacher tone to friendly neighbor, “But many people when you talk religion or money, they forget we are all just humans. We should be equal. When I sit here talking to you, I talk to you like an equal. We could be best friends the way we are talking. Doesn’t matter your religion or your job. But there is a force in this world trying to keep us from realizing this. Unfortunately.”
Like a cliffhanger at the end of an episode of your favorite television drama, we arrive at our destination, and the conversation stops abruptly. I pay the bill and he we exchange names. Despite all the other things we could have talked on about, it was the end of the ride. He extends his hand, “Pleasure to meet another journalist. I wish you good luck in life!” – I wished him the same as I shook his hand and said goodbye.