Memories of Islamophobia Past: Dubai Ports World

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 17 2010 10:15 AM

Memories of Islamophobia Past: Dubai Ports World

Talking to a Republican strategist just now, I heard three words that I hadn't thought about in a very long time. Let's see if you remember them:

Dubai Ports World.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Remember that? In 2006, for a few weeks, there was no more important issue in America than that of a company owned by the United Arab Emirates securing a deal to run security at a few U.S. ports. In the beginning, there were only some quiet complaints about the deal. But on Feb. 13 it became an outrage, in large part because of a rally Chuck Schumer held with 9/11 family members. I'm just going to go ahead and quote the title of Schumer's press release :

Joined By Outraged 9-11 Families, Schumer Calls On President To Personally Intervene To Override Secret Committee’s Deal To Give United Arab Emirates Control Of Our Ports 

Go back and read contemporary reporting and you see familiar faces like Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., then chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, worrying that the the rules governing the deal "don't address theunderlying conditions, which is how are they going to guard againstthings like infiltration by al Qaeda or someone else." Schumer, too, speculated about terrorists infiltrating the Dubai Ports World apparatus.

This chewed up news cycles for days. Bush, on track to lose his congressional majorities, sounded naive and helpless. "In orderto win the war on terror, " he said during the furor, "we have got to strengthen our relationshipsand friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East. UAE is a committed ally in the war on terror. They are a keypartner for our military in a critical region." He sounded like Obama does now.

There's no one-to-one comparison here, because the ports deal involved international corporations and national security. But you had a very familiar response to those complications: politicians simplifying the situation and pandering to suspicion and mistrust of Muslims.

UPDATE: Ben Smith links with more , and I want to emphasize one thing: I am not saying Bush was naive and helpless. He had the correct position. He sounded naive because the story flummoxed the White House, and he sounded helpless because, well, the deal collapsed.

 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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