First Published: 2006-02-27

 
Harboring prejudice and politics: The ‘Dubai ports’ debate
 

Because it involves an Arab country, members of Congress assume that they won't be called to account for a falsehood. Smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America, says James Zogby.

 

Middle East Online

During the past week we witnessed a virtual frenzy with Senators, Congressmen, and then Governors jumping over each other to take the lead in bashing the "Dubai port deal," the United Arab Emirates, or the Bush Administration. It's all being done, critics say, in the name of national security. In reality, what is taking place here is nothing more than crass political posturing and an irresponsible and ill-informed attack on an Arab country that has been a strong ally of the United States.

At its essence, there are three factors that are driving this ruckus: It's an election year, the public has a continued concern about national security, and there's an Arab country involved. Elected officials are preying off of the public's fear by exploiting an Arab "boogeyman." The language they've used is shameful, irresponsible, and downright false.

But in election year politics, it doesn't matter.

Because it involves an Arab country, members of Congress assume that they won't be called to account for a falsehood. Smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America. As a result of this mindset, the UAE, one of America's closest Mideast allies in the war on terror — a country that has sent troops to fight alongside ours in Afghanistan, complied with all of our antiterrorism initiatives, and provides the largest base port for American military ships — is being called a "rogue government," an "Islamic fascist" state, and "home of terrorists."

In the Mid East, people are scratching their heads. If the UAE which has stuck its neck out to support the US can be treated with such scorn, then, some ask, "what's the point of being a friend of America?" It is ironic and troubling that just a week ago US public diplomacy czar Karen Hughes was in the United Arab Emirates to promote America and this week, UAE and US trade teams enter yet another round in their talks towards establishing a US-UAE free trade agreement. Ms. Hughes must feel like packing it up and going back to Texas. If this anti-UAE campaign succeeds, there is no public diplomacy campaign that can salvage the damage. Arabs, you see — not unlike any other people — react not by what you say about yourself but by how you treat them.

Having said all this, the current exercise in Arab-bashing is, in fact, nothing more than election year politicking at its worst with Democrats feeling that Bush is vulnerable and piling on, and Republicans feeling vulnerable and joining the fray. If it weren't so serious and dangerous, it might be comical. We've seen scenes like this before, as Congressmen and Senators literally trip over each other, risking injury on their way to the microphone, calculating just how outrageous they need to be to guarantee that their sound bite will be the one on the evening news. In this game, facts don't matter. Instead, hyperventilating on their own rhetoric, exaggerations abound.

Especially disturbing in all of this, is that the legitimate issue of port security has been lost in the melee. If Congress really wanted to have a debate about port security and the failings of the current system, they would be talking about increasing funding for hiring more customs officials, beefing up our coast guard presence, and providing additional equipment to screen more of the containers that entire our country. This is what is needed.

None of these issues will be affected, neither adversely nor positively, by the acquisition under consideration. Regardless of what company owns the management of our ports, the security issues remain in the hand of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of a real debate, we're given scapegoating. Instead of making us more secure, politicians engage in the exercise of making us more isolated in the world and damaging our relationship with an important ally in the Middle East. They ought to be ashamed. They owe an apology not only to the UAE, but to the American people. But since politics and shame are estranged bedfellows, I'm not holding my breath.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

 

'Islamic State' captures Jordan pilot after plane went down in Syria

Deadly suicide attack targets Sahwa fighters in Iraq

Iran says lasting nuclear agreement 'within reach'

Pilgrims gather in Bethlehem to begin global celebration of Christmas

Land of true Arabian culture hopes to boost selective tourism

Israel gives final approval for new settler homes in east Jerusalem

Syria dissidents meet in Cairo to discuss ways to end war

Somalia parliament gives unanimous approval to new PM

Egypt, Qatar to end row over Morsi ouster

Israel strikes Gaza for second time since summer war

Egypt jihadists unveil video of army informant 'executions'

Sudan prosecutor probes detained opposition figures

Turkey's EU bid suffers tough blow

New round of Libya peace talks set for January 5

Abbas will no longer deal with Israel if UN fails

Gazans celebrate Christmas tinged with sadness

Sudan postpones elections for constitutional amendment

Iraq cabinet approves $102.5 billion budget for 2015

UN warns of war crimes as hundreds of civilians die in Libya violence

Coalition strikes in Syria kill more than 1,000 jihadists in three months

New leader to people of Tunisia: We must look to future

Algeria army kills head of Jund al-Khilafa jihadist group

Egypt President ratifies law to pave way for parliamentary elections

5 small bombs hit Yemen capital

Iraq IS girls forced into sex slavery commit suicide

Deadly 2014 for international journalists

Deadly clashes in Libya's Benghazi erupt anew

Erdogan slams birth control as ‘treason’ against Turkey ambitions

Syria civil war has cost tiny neighbour Lebanon more than $ 20 billion

Israel charges Palestinians for ‘inciting violence on Facebook’

Arts Canteen London presents Attab Haddad: Iraqi oud with a western twist

Essebsi wins Tunisia election to become first freely elected President

Hollande urges ‘utmost vigilance’ after brutal weekend attacks in France

Turkey graft scandal: Four ex-ministers await decision on their fate

Berlin seeks to set up trauma centre for IS rape victims

Syria claims downing of Israeli reconnaissance drone

Rafah border crossing reopens for two days

Israel parliament approves funding for settler tourism plan

Five jihadists killed in clashes with Egypt police

U-turn: Qatar pledges 'full support' to Sisi's Egypt

Essebsi claims victory in Tunisia presidential poll

Coalition targets ‘Islamic State’ in areas north of Aleppo

Libya Islamist-backed government urges foreigners to return to Tripoli

Palestinians enter Egypt as Rafah crossing reopens for two days

Davutoglu accuses EU of 'dirty campaign' against Turkey