There is a dangerous theme emerging in the post September 11 era. It’s the frightening willingness for our citizens and our leaders to treat foreigners as threats to national security, solely because they are of Middle Eastern descent. This anti-Arab bigotry rears its ugly head in the mass media’s tendency to portray terrorists as exclusively Muslim. We see it in the ethnic profiling that goes on in airports and in our cities. We see it in the rise in hate crimes against Arab Americans. Worst of all, we see it in the public’s willingness to peel away the civil liberties of Arab Americans. According to a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 68% of those surveyed favored the ethnic profiling of Middle Easterners. In other words, they favor treating all Middle Easterners as inherently suspect, despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of Middle Easterners are terrorists. Forget the Constitution. The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming seems to be the new national slogan.
This new strain of anti-Arab racism is exemplified by the hubbub that greeted the United Arab Emirates plan to take over shipping operations at six U.S. ports. The operations had previously been rented out to a British navigation company. No one had a problem with that. Nor does anyone have a problem with ports being rented to other countries, which they are. Legislators are only exhorting the President to block Arabs from taking over operations at the ports. To his credit, the president has said those who oppose putting the United Arab Emirates in charge of operations need to "step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard."
The response has been predictable: the Arabs are coming; the Arabs are coming, exclaim legislators from both sides of the aisle. The fearful response only makes sense if the United Arab Emirates deal represents some sort of imminent threat to national security. It does not. The security of the ports would continue to be overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard, and that many of the port workers would be Americans. Consequently, the change in management will have no discernable effect on security.