Ports and pitchforks

Diana West

3/6/2006 12:05:00 AM - Diana West

One of the weirder sideshows to open alongside a main event -- the proposed operational transfer of six major American ports to a firm owned by the United Arab Emirates -- is the growing chorus of road-company Zolas, "J'accusing" everybody opposed to the sale of "xenophobia," "isolationist mass hysteria," "bigotry," "nativism," "panic," and "prejudice" against innocent Araby.

Such accusations are supposed to make you hang your head in shame. They make me shake mine in consternation -- wondering how in tarnation a hefty chunk of the American elite has the chutzpah to castigate the American people (64 percent of whom, says a Rasmussen Poll, think the deal is a Bad Thing) for "xenophobia" and "prejudice" on behalf of a culture that is the embodiment of xenophobia and prejudice. The words precisely describe the official state of normal in the Arab-Islamic world since at least 1948, when the modern state of Israel was founded.

Nonetheless, we're the "pitchfork-wielding xenophobes" en route to the "Dark Ages," says The New York Times' Thomas Friedman. I'd say we're heading in the other direction, trying to escape the Dark Ages -- as represented by the spreading influence of sharia (Islamic law), which, in terms of the sharia-compliant port deal, would make deep inroads into global financial markets. I would add, as Rachel Ehrenfeld and Alyssa A. Lappen have suggested in The Washington Times, "It's time for the United States to limit financial transactions that involve American companies" -- and the U.S. government -- "to governance by secular laws."

Tut tut. Isn't that "Islamophobia"? -- a subject National Review's Larry Kudlow denounces in his defense of the deal. "There is no room for prejudice and bigotry here," he writes. Here? What about there, in the UAE (a huge Hamas supporter, by the way)? As the Jerusalem Post reports, the UAE-owned firm Dubai Ports World "participates in the Arab boycott of Israel." And why not?

The UAE doesn't even recognize Israel -- although it did recognize the Taliban, which is about as prejudiced and bigoted as it gets. As a UAE customs employee told the paper, "If a product contained even some components that were made in Israel ... it would be a problem."

And we're the xenophobic pitchfork-wielding ones? No doubt my old pal David Brooks would think so. In a New York Times column unforgettably called, "Kicking Arabs in the Teeth," Brooks seethes about the "collective mania," the "xenophobic tsunami" that threatens to wash out the ports deal. "The oil-rich nations of the Middle East," he writes, "have plenty of places to invest their money and don't need to do favors for nations that kick them in the teeth." Favors? What are we -- the United Supplicants of America? But I digress.
Besides, he adds, "the United Arab Emirates is a modernizing, globalizing place."

This week, the UAE modernized and globalized by seizing 100 sixth-grade social studies textbooks at a private American school in Abu Dhabi. Why? Because, as the Khaleej Times Online put it, the books "promoted Israel as one of the few democracies in North Africa and the Middle East, and some Arab countries as sponsors of terrorism."

Horrors. Or perhaps I should say: xenophobes and nativists. In a pro-book-banning editorial called "What about damage that's already done?" the UAE newspaper said the books gave off the "smell of racism," adding: "The ministry might have withdrawn copies of the textbook ... but will it be possible to withdraw the information already fed into the minds of students?"
Nobody will know for sure until the kids pick up their first pitchforks.

Of course, everybody gets carried away sometimes. After the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a UAE columnist named Hamed Salamin was moved to write that the death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was "enough to arouse joy in every heart that beats Arabism and Islam." Then there's Ali Al-Hamadi, the founder of something in the UAE called "The Creative Thinking Center." According to a MEMRI translation, Al-Hamadi waxed rhapsodic in 2005 about mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers who, he maintained during an Iqra TV interview, actually listen in on their offspring's detonation via cell phone ("then she utters cries of joy ..."). Maybe it's nativist or tsunamist to mention this, but I found a Creative Thinking Center client list online that includes -- can you guess? -- our pals at the Dubai Ports.

If that's modern and global, I'm sharpening my pitchfork.