In the last few days, several free market and other conservative commentators -- along with various U.S. governmental spokesmen -- have taken to labeling those of us with reservations concerning the Dubai Ports World (DPW) deal as nativist, racist or Islamophobic. With 70 percent of the public in opposition to the port deal, this is as searing a criticism of American tolerance as ever has been hurled from America's cultural or political opponents over the years. No Soviet propagandist or third-world revolutionary has more stingingly libeled the American people.
Apparently, this rampant Islamophobia reaches to the highest level of the U.S. Coast Guard, which, before they apparently were bureaucratically brought to heel in early January, asserted in then-secret documents that "there are many intelligence gaps concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations" … [That] "the breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential unknown vulnerabilities ... [including operations, personnel and foreign influence.]"
Particularly galling was the air of supposed Olympian understanding projected by these name callers -- columnists, spokesmen, cable hosts, etc. In fact, most of them had never previously demonstrated any familiarity with port security issues. Indeed the government spokesmen seemed to be speaking almost phonetically off the talking point pieces of paper they had been handed before stepping in front of the camera.
Not by chance, some months ago -- well before the Dubai port issue had emerged -- I had had extended conversations with senior executives of an American port management company. They had explained the close inter-working of the management team with the Coast Guard, Customs and local law enforcement in trying to secure the full import process (which starts at foreign ports and continues on board ship, through the terminal and includes local law enforcement -- with management an active agent of that strived-for seamless process) .
Based on that and other research I had carried out last year for my book, I understood that merely repeating the mantra that "security is exclusively run by the Coast Guard, Customs and Homeland Security" -- as we heard late last week -- was somewhere between an incomplete and a deceptive statement. But for those with a limited knowledge of the topic and other policy axes to grind, once they were fed the mantra, it was a short step to the nativist, Islamophobic charge.
Of course Islamophobia is a repulsive mentality -- suggestive of old-fashioned hate of others. But, as Denmark's leading Islamic scholar, Jacob Skovgaard-Petersen, explained in 2004, there is a different and growing phobia, which he named "Islamistphobia." This is not an atavistic hatred of another man's skin or faith or last name, but is instead the fear of the ideas and conduct of radical Muslims.
How far the radical ideology has reached is, of course, not accurately knowable. But the phenomenon cannot in reason and security be ignored. Consider the analysis of professor Maleiha Malik of King's College London, a jurist who specializes in U.K. and E.U anti-discrimination law -- and who is of self-described "Muslim allegiance."
She observed at an Oxford University Symposium in 2004: "There are legitimate security concerns, which have to be acknowledged in any reasonable debate on the post-September 11 situation. It has to be recognized that the state, the United States, and the European Union member states will have to undertake heavier policing of the Muslim community similar to the heavier policing of the Irish community during the period of attacks by the IRA in the U.K." ("The West's Last Chance," pages 90-91, Regnery Press, 2005, Washington, D.C.)
That common-sense observation by a leading British Muslim anti-discrimination scholar is at the crux of the public concern. But for those of us who are not Muslim to talk about this sensitive matter is to expose ourselves to false and sometimes malicious charges by people who are either too stupid to comprehend current reality or too cowed by the politically correctness police to speak their minds.
And, for those who place a premium on commerce over security, consider this: If a terrible device is brought into this country through a port -- any port -- port traffic will inevitably be closed down for a while, just as air traffic was closed down after Sept. 11. The magnitude of that economic contraction would dwarf the post-Sept. 11 contraction.
It is in the highest interest of free international trade -- as well as national security-- that the ports be made as secure as possible. And to that end, the ownership of port management firms is only a small part of the reforms and improvements that are so vitally needed.
Now that port security is finally being publicly debated, it is time to consider drastic improvements across the board.