The concept of this rifle is an insult to the mosque, to the man who spurred its construction and to Islam itself.
Gunmaker's royal tribute that backfires spectacularly
There is much to commend about this week's Adihex hunting and equestrian exhibition at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. There are horse auctions, Saluki dogs and fine falcons on show, along with a falcon veterinary clinic, and, appropriately for an exhibition devoted to hunting, a stand for the Environment Agency -Abu Dhabi. The EAD is showing off the success being achieved locally in conservation, for as any responsible hunter or falconer knows, their pastimes can only be assured a guaranteed future if they go hand-in-hand with conservation.
There is the spectacular Musical Ride by the Household Cavalry of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, something never before seen in the Gulf or, indeed, anywhere else outside Europe. It provides powerful evidence of the close relationships between the UAE and the UK and underlines the fact that no other country can do "pomp and splendour" quite like Britain. For those interested in shooting wild animals, there are stands offering safari excursions in Africa and elsewhere - not quite my scene these days, but quite popular nonetheless. And those who prefer to shoot at artificial targets will find much to interest them as well. Indeed, since the UAE's only Olympic medal - and a gold, at that - was won at shooting, the more that can be done to draw attention to this sport the better.
Besides all of the above, there are stands from some of the world's leading gun-makers, offering the latest rifles and shotguns, and very fine some of them are, too. It's one of these stands, that of Swedish gun-makers VO Gun and Rifle, that has prompted me to write this piece. Let me quote from a story that appeared in The National on Tuesday: "With a price tag of 650,000 euros (Dh3.5m), it is one weapon you may prefer to keep wrapped in cotton wool.
"The Sheikh Zayed Mosque rifle, designed as a tribute to the building and its creator, is inlaid with 36 coloured diamonds and engraved with an image of the late founder of the nation. It will go on sale at the Abu Dhabi Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex) for the second time when the event opens tomorrow. "Amid the global financial crisis, the gun failed to sell at last year's event, but its maker, VO Gun & Rifle Maker Sweden, hopes prospective buyers will train their sights on the unique weapon during this week's four-day exhibition."
I went to take a look at the rifle. Frankly, the whole idea of it sticks in my craw. A rifle, an instrument of death, being conceived "as a tribute" to a mosque, of all places? To rub salt in the wound, the handle of the rifle's bolt is carefully inscribed "Allah" - scarcely appropriate, I would have thought. Surely a mosque - like a church or cathedral - is fundamentally a place where a message of peace should be propounded. Whatever next? The Al Aqsa Mosque machine-gun? The St Paul's Cathedral gallows? The Vatican City electric chair?
The concept of this rifle is an insult to the mosque, to the man who spurred its construction and to Islam itself. It is also an insult to those attending the show. Do the gun's manufacturers think that the deep affection in which Sheikh Zayed is held by the people of the UAE, both Emiratis and expatriates, is such that the mere tacking of his name on to a rifle adorned with diamonds is sufficient to persuade someone to buy it? What possible "tribute" can it offer, either to Sheikh Zayed or to the great mosque bearing his name as a testament of his abiding religious faith?
When the much-beloved Diana, Princess of Wales, died 10 years ago, a special charitable organisation was established to try to ensure that her name and image were not used inappropriately to promote the sale of tacky souvenirs. That organisation, if I remember correctly, has had to engage in a number of lawsuits to block the use of her name and picture for a wide variety of utterly unsuitable items. The Princess Diana toilet roll, the Princess Diana singing alarm-clock, anyone?
Perhaps such an organisation devoted to ensuring the good name of Sheikh Zayed is not inappropriately used for commercial purposes wouldn't work effectively. In a world where salesmen dig deep into the gutter for the lowest common denominator of what might appeal to a gullible, foolish or simply disrespectful public, it's probably not possible to issue licences to control the use of his name for marketing purposes, however much one might disapprove of the items produced.
It is difficult, of course, to come up with a suitable single way of commemorating Sheikh Zayed, not least because, in a real sense, the whole country is his memorial. The naming of one of the world's largest mosques is probably a pretty good option, not least because he himself conceived it. But not, please, a diamond-studded rifle. I would hope that anyone interested in hunting who would consider spending such an enormous amount of money on a decorated rifle, would simply make the choice not to reward VO Gun & Rifle Maker Sweden for its disrespect, both for the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and for the man after whom it is named. I would hope also that it is made abundantly clear to the firm that its attempt to make a massive profit in this manner is perceived by the people to whom it is trying to market the item as being utterly inappropriate.
I note that the manufacturers believe that their failure to sell the rifle at last year's Adihex may have been due to the fact that there was a global financial crisis. I prefer to hope that the lack of a buyer was due simply to the fact that the rifle was felt to be unworthy of the building, or of the person, after whom it was named. I hope the Sheikh Zayed Mosque rifle fails to sell again this year, and that it is taken back to Sweden and dismantled, with its 36 coloured diamonds being put on some other piece of weaponry - or jewellery. Perhaps, though I doubt it, the manufacturers might learn a lesson from that.
Peter Hellyer is a writer and consultant specialising in the UAE's heritage and environment and has written extensively on the country's social, political and economic development