Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thinking Again about the Dubai Ports Deal

UAE’s economy minister Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi
in interview with Wolf Blitzer

At first, it seemed like a victory. Democrats and Republicans joining forces with some 70% of Americans to defeat President Bush’s Dubai Port Deal, which he was going to defend with all his veto power. Before the showdown, however, the company, Dubai Ports World decided to withdraw from the deal.

The charge, led by senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton (both D- NY) seemed to give Democrats a rare opportunity to gain the upper hand on security a traditionally Republican issue. Having started the fuss though, they suddenly seemed to realize that there was nothing of real substance to the issue, that corporate takeovers are commonplace in our economy. Experts seem to agree that DP World didn’t pose nearly the security threat that 80% of the containers that pass through the ports unexamined, do. So they came up with a 45 day face saving measure during which period DP World withdrew from the deal. Now questions about whether the deal would sour the relations with a US friendly economic powerhouse in the Middle East, remain.

Islamophobic overtones of the incident, though, are unavoidable. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute responded: "When you have members of Congress literally tripping over themselves to run to a microphone . . . saying, 'The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming,' preying off that fear because [the UAE is] an Arab country, that constitutes bigotry."

Pointing out that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, congressional leaders tried to link UAE to terrorism. In doing so, they failed to mention that 15 of the other hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally and business partner. In a CNN Situation Room interview with UAE's sharp and charming economy minister Sheika Lubna Al Qasimi Wolf Blitzer pointed out that money for 9/11 was laundered through the UAE, to which she replied, yes and through 96 countries!

Jim Wall, in this week’s Christian Century (March 21, 2006) wrote, “The negative responses to the DPW deal are an excuse to curry favor with a public that has been persuaded that the world is locked in a clash of civilizations. This clash theory has lost favor in some intellectual circles now that Iraq has become such a political and human disaster. But although it's a simplistic and incorrect response to the horrors of 9/11, some politicians and journalists still find the clash to be a convenient theory, one that hides other motives.”

Wall is right. Schumer, Clinton and others represented a blatant attempt to rile up base xenophobic sentiments among the population. The Islamophobia inherent in the issue, with all its political intrigue and the couched in the language of anxiety and fear, could have easily been overlooked. The incident reminds us that xenophonia or Islamophobia are not only the prerogative of Republicans and that we need to constantly vigilant to name and call those evils when they occur.


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