Column: Undercurrents: Anti-Arab Racism Haunts Dubai Port Deal By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday February 24, 2006

There is a certain boy-caught-with-matches quality to the Bush administration’s reactions regarding the U.S. port terminal transfers, like the little kid who has been busy setting fires all over the neighborhood and then finds, to his horror, that his own playhouse is suddenly threatened. 

For those who missed the story—and to do so, you would have had to stop watching cable and network news for the past several days and toss the front section of your daily newspaper—a company run by the United Arab Emirates has received U.S. government approval to purchase the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, a deal which would give the Emirate company—Dubai Ports World—operational control over most port operations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, and New Orleans. 

Does that mean U.S. security at those six ports will be less than it was before the Dubai Port World purchase? We’ll get to that, in a moment. Maybe. 

The story has its positive effects, one of them being a running geography lesson as our national leaders take us into new and interesting parts of the world. Google searches exploding all over the nation informed us that the United Arab Emirates is a collection of seven small countries—Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah—bordering on Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Instruction in the world economy is also taking place, as we have discovered this week that actually, “foreign-based companies already control more than 30 percent of the port terminals” according to the New York Times, including the operation of terminals in Oakland and Los Angeles by Singapore government-controlled APL Limited (you’ve probably seen the APL ships and trucks if you live in the Bay Area; you probably just never knew about the Singapore government connection). We learn in the same New York Times article this week from Philip Damas, research director at Drewry Shipping Consultants of London, in fact, that “the location of the headquarters of a company in the age of globalism is irrelevant.” 

Apparently not irrelevant to everyone. The proposed Dubai Port World U.S. port operation takeover—now scheduled for early March, but that could change—has come under intense criticism from national politicians of both parties in the United States, with the Republican governors of both New York and Maryland threatening legal action, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, among others, releasing a letter that read in part that “our port security is too important to place in the hands of foreign governments” and Republican Senate leader Bill Frist stating that “if the administration cannot delay this process, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review.”  

In response comes the almost poignant notation in the New York Times this week that “some administration officials, refusing to be quoted by name, suggested that there was a whiff of racism in the objections to an Arab owner taking over the terminals.” 

Well of course there’s a “whiff of racism” here, which those unnamed “administration officials” ought to recognize, since it’s the same one that’s been gleefully fanned by the Bush administration over the past four and a half years to fuel its “war on terror.” 

This gets complicated, so let’s try to walk through it slowly. 

The Bush family is not anti-Arab, not by any means. The family’s long-held personal ties to the Saudi royal family in particular and Arab-operated oil companies in general is well documented (see Kevin Phillips’ Bush family exposé American Dynasty for a good rundown of the Bush/Saudi family connections). 

But to raise popular support for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration had to covertly encourage the ugly, anti-Arab sentiment that peaked in the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And so we had Mr. Bush’s famous post-9/11 remark that “this crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.” The president later “apologized” for using the loaded term “crusade,” which recalled Christian Europe’s several military invasions of the Middle East to seize the Holy Lands from the Muslims, and some commentators at the time tried to pass it off as one of Mr. Bush’s many dubya-dumbisms. Myself, I tend to think it both calculated and clever, and wink-and-nod signal to his religious right base that he was reviving the old Christian-against-Muslim/Arab Holy Wars, and with it the old cries of “death to the Saracens” and “on to Jerusalem.” 

In more formal settings and speeches, Mr. Bush has repeatedly denied and denounced the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim tendencies that began to rise in earnest in this country as far back as the first Gulf War. In a speech last October to the National Endowment For Democracy in Washington, for example, he tried to draw a distinction between Islam and terrorism, stating that the terrorists he is battling “serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane. Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam.” 

In such a manner did many Southern white politicians and civic leaders announce—in the dark days of the ‘20s and the ‘30s—that they were not “anti-Negro,” they were only against those “nigger brutes who lay in wait to rape white women.” Their hands washed pure and clean, these politicians and civic leaders were then able to pretend that they had no connection to—or responsibility for—the mobs who lynched innocent black men from Southern oak trees, burning them while still alive and then picking their “strange fruit” to keep souvenirs of fingers and ears in pickle jars on Mississippi mantelpieces. 

Thus, too, do Bush administration officials deny that they have any responsibilities for such things as the dungeons of Abu Grahib, the atrocities at Guantanamo, the declaration by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Lieutenant General William Boykin that he was once able to defeat a Muslim Somalian leader because “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” the denial by Christian religious right leader Pat Robertson that Islam was a peaceful religion because “the founder of Islam preached violence” (ignoring the violent roots of Christianity which you can look up in the Bible), all reflecting the simmering, seething, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment in many areas of the country, resulting, in one small example, in the attacks by American terrorists on American Sikhs because Sikhs wear turbans and grow long beards and so can “easily” be mistaken by the careless and the thoughtless for Arab Muslim terrorists. 

But having sewn the wind of anti-Arab racism, as the old-time preachers used to say, the Bush administration is now reaping the whirlwind.  

Back to the original question: will U.S. security at those six ports will be less than it was before the Dubai Port World purchase? If that’s the only question that’s being asked, we’re missing what’s going on here.