There has been a good amount of hyperbole about a Middle Eastern corporation’s buyout of a company that runs operations in several ports around the United States.
The takeover of the British Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company by Dubai Ports World, a United Arab Emirates government enterprise, has inspired strong reaction that, sadly, has sometimes had a tinge of anti-Arab sentiment.
“How are they going to safeguard against things like infiltration by al-Qaida or someone else, how are they going to guard against corruption?" asked Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. The outrage seems to be bipartisan. Democratic Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Robert Menendez are co-sponsoring legislation that will bar the control of port operations by foreign governments if President Bush doesn’t stop by March 2 Dubai Ports World from completing its takeover.
Now, I’m not naïve. The United Arab Emirates served as a financial transfer point for the September 11 operation. (This is at least partly due to the fact that UAE has become a major money laundering center due to lax oversight.) But Hamburg was a major plotting center for the terrorists, too. Can anyone imagine a similar outcry if a German state-owned firm had acquired Peninsular and Oriental? “To call the United Arab Emirates a country ‘tied to 9/11’ by virtue of the fact that one of the hijackers was born there and others transited through it is akin to attaching the same label to Britain (where shoe-bomber Richard Reid was born) or Germany (where a number of the 9/11 conspirators were based for a time),” writes Time magazine.
The UAE regime does have a less than stellar record on human rights, especially when it comes to its treatment of its large immigrant population.
But its government is not particularly known for its zeal in exporting Islamic fundamentalism. Nor is it riddled with Al Qaeda financiers, unlike say, Saudi Arabia. In fact, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a quasi-governmental organization, does not have the United Arab Emirates in its list of “countries of particular concern”—nations that suppress religious freedoms. (Key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia are either countries of concern or on a watch list.)
The reaction of some to the takeover is unwarranted. Dubai Ports “is not exactly a shadow organization for Al Qaeda," says Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations. And Dubai was one of the first places in the Middle East to join the U.S. Container Security Initiative—an effort that puts U.S. customs agents in overseas ports to begin the screening process for U.S.-bound cargo, as Time magazine reports.
Even Jimmy Carter, a frequent critic of the Bush Administration, has defended the deal.
"I don't think there's any particular threat to our security," Carter told CNN.
But that has not stopped even some in the mainstream media from engaging in a rhetorical frenzy over the issue.
“If the President does not stop the sale, Congress must,” writes the Herald News in New Jersey. “To do less is to spit in the faces of the men and women in uniform dying to stop the spread of terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“It sounds absurd when U.S. soldiers are dying in the cause of preventing further terror attacks on America, but it's true: A company from the United Arab Emirates—home to one of the 9/11 hijackers, and loaded with al-Qaida sympathizers who helped finance its attacks—is poised to take over significant operations at the Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as the ports of Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia,” states the Providence, Rhode Island, Journal, in an editorial titled “Our Arab-Run Ports?”
This ugliness is way off the mark. It equates all Arab countries as enemies of the United States and all Arabs as terrorists.
That is no way for America to improve its image in the Arab world. This failing image is a bigger threat to the United States than Dubai Ports World.