The Mythologies of Tower of Babel versus Burj Khalifa


Mythologies are often knitted around imagined, complete or incomplete mega projects. The Tower of Babel is one typical imagined grand project that had been surround by countless of myths. In contrast, however, barely any myths are yet to be woven into the actuality of Khalifa Tower. However, what is most important for now are the realities
Burj Khalifa means to Dubai, UAE and possibly to humanity at large, from a sociological perspective.

As conceived by the early Sumerians, the conception of building of the Tower of Babel Tower, signified early signs of their self-confidence as a rising nation. Building the tower was intended to challenge God, who could, in their perspective only be challenged face-to-face, once physically reached. This incredibly powerful imaginative myth tells us that there came a time when God presumably saw the tower as a threat to His status by a people speaking one language.

That fascinating imagination propelled into yet another level of creative proposition that God decided to sabotage the project by an equally ingenious act of letting this monolingual population, go to sleep one night, , only to wake up the following day speaking thousands of languages. Unable to communicate with each other, the Sumerians could never complete the ambitious task they had set out to accomplish.

In many ways the genesis and the construction of the Burj Khalifa is a dichotomy to that of the Tower of Babel, encapsulating a totally different idea for its conception. In contrast, Burj Khalifa was not meant to challenge God. It was rather meant to challenge the limits of human imagination, putting existing scientific and technological know-how to its ultimate practice, and test human creativity, belief, will power and resilience.

What is most significant, however, is that people from across the world, speaking different languages, under one leadership and a clear vision, were able to complete that colossal task. There is no doubt however that the plans and processes for such a mammoth task may have been put in place in a universal language to ensure the start and completion of the Burj Khalifa. .

One key take-out here is that albeit the demise of the construction of the Tower of Babel and possibly the Sumerian nation, was due to linguistic diversity, it is that linguistic diversity under a visionary leadership of doing the extra-ordinary, that led to the completion of the Burj Khalifa and build its place of pride for a nation that flourishes as
a society and nation.

In refuting the notion that humanity did in ancient times speak one language, Louis-Jean Calvet quotes in his book Language Wars and Linguistic Politics (1998), from Surah Al -Hujurat 13. ‘ … We made you races and tribes, so that you may come to know one another

In the case of the UAE, the congregation of an estimated 10+ million population, coming from over 195 countries, of different cultures, practicing different traditions and speaking different languages, extends the ‘know one another’, towards living a singular ‘new human experience’ with diversity in its unity.

This new human experience has been in the making for over half a century due to the foresight of the nation’s architects, and has rapidly and energetically accelerated in the last decade or so during which the UAE population had more than doubled. The highly visible economic, trade, business, cultural and scientific dynamism of the UAE is
limitless and is likely to triple the population of the UAE over the next fifty years. Amongst those of us who were fortunate to witness first-hand the phenomenal growth of the UAE over the past 50 years, we hope our future generations will have the opportunity to experience a greater nation over the next 50 years as manifested by ‘Museum of the Future’, that takes a place of pride in in close proximity of Burj Khlaifa.

The museum has many zones or sections where scientists and people of different specializations contemplate the development and the evolution of humanity’s future, 50 years hence. . Given the unique human experience offered by the UAE, I strongly feel the need having a full-fledged sociological section that invites social scientists from UAE’s academic institutions encompassing different ethnicities to theorize and build a narrative of the evolution of the UAE society 5o years from now.

The UAE’s new societal experience will continue to pose novel intellectual challenges to sociologists in terms of understanding and explaining its process of evolution and social development, assimilation, integration, and the potential emergence of UAE’s universalism in parallel to its national identity.

All existing theorizations are based on more established societal experiences, especially of Western societies. It is very common to come across definitions of society that still stress the notion of one language, shared culture, practices, values, beliefs, norms and artifacts.

Such a standard definition of society is in line with how Emirati scholar Dr. Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi 2020 Gulf News essay identifies and analyses several aspects of what constitutes the UAE national identity, its geographic location, shared history, shared rights, one common language and a unified flag.

In his analysis, Dr. Suwaidi makes reference to the UAE citizens national identity, focusing on the strong foundations it stands on despite the inevitable encroachment of globalization which in his view has led ‘to a change in both the notion and nature of national identity’ which in some instances has inadvertently resulted in the notion of ‘global citizen’. Dr. Suwaidi goes on to note that ‘accelerating developments in information technology and the resulting new means of communication that have transformed the world into a

small village’ remain a main challenge to UAE national identity as it may do with respect to the national identity of any other nation. Globalization may be more than just a cultural variable that impacts the lives of people across the globe. Similarly, the notions of ‘global citizen’ and that ‘world has turned into a small village’ remain abstract notions.

In the scheme of things, the challenge that globalization poses to the UAE national identity is minor in its impact. The same may apply to the identities of other expatriate nationality groups who have made the UAE their home especially those for whom their home countries have merely become a vacation destination.

Of more concrete intellectual challenge to UAE leaders and its social science community is that citizens from across the globe are now settling permanently or semi-permanently in the UAE, negotiating their identities, navigating their lives in the UAE, as well as their actions and behaviors towards those who form the melting pot of this enviable nation.

In the minds of many of us, when the term ‘Emirati society’ is evoked, it is the local community that comes to mind. The challenging intellectual question is: How will the UAE society evolve in fifty years from now given that its leaders have set a future UAE on an accelerated journey of excellence in spheres that were a priori based on the notions of a unified people.

UAE’s leaders may not the luxury of waiting for the country’s social scientists to theorize about the processes and the evolution of a society that is evolving at a pace humanity has seldom witnessed, reflected upon and studied in the past.

As more towers taller than Burj Khalifa rise across the UAE and ever more people from across the world choose UAE to be their new home, social scientists across academic institutions in the UAE are on the threshold of great opportunities to decode ‘what next’.

They now bear witness to a unique evolving societal experience where a country has transformed from an arid desert to an enviable global destination within a span of a generation.

The Museum of the Future is the most appropriate incubation center for motivating social scientists to think outside the classical social theorization box when it comes to the study of the evolution of UAE as a society that is inclusive of its entire population.

The Tower of Babel, the ingenious concept that still endures, had at the same time symbolized confusion — the term babbling has its origin is how it was forced to stop. Burj Khalifa emerges as a unifying symbol. In short, what Burj Khalifa signifies may end up being the exact antithesis of Tower of Babel, conceptually and in reality.

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About Author

Jihad Fakhreddine

PhD, is a social and media research consultant. He is formerly the Regional Research Director for Gallup World Poll- MENA, and former Media and Public Opinion Research Director at Pan Arab Research Center (PARC) -Dubai.

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