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By bigotry's unintelligent design (*)

Dubai Ports Deal
Yes, the Reaction Is Racist. But So Is US World View.

In his February 24 column Thomas Friedman, who represents America’s compulsive need to have its cake and eat it too (forgive the cliché, but Friedman inspires those in direct proportion to the way his columns terrorize style), wrote that the backlash against the Dubai port deal was “borderline racist.” What is that borderline doing there, exactly — a word that evokes precisely the sort of demarcation Friedman is ostensibly denouncing in his 750 words, the sort of demarcation Friedman’s entire Globalism-as-creed oeuvre has been denouncing since his first column eleven years ago?

Borderline. Such a Bush-era word, like borderline torture, borderline gulags, borderline occupations and repression: If brutality can be made acceptable by the mere use of qualifiers, as the Bush administration has so ably done in its war on the rule of law, why not racism? And so it’s just borderline, because even the word racism makes Americans uncomfortable: Michael Barone, another columnist in the Friedman weave, can’t even bring himself to say the word in The New Americans (Regnery, 2001). Saying it might concede that it exists, which domestic neo-cons have been claiming it no longer does since the mid-1990s. So he calls it an “unfair negative stereotype” instead (see p. 182), as opposed to, one assumes, fair negative stereotypes of the Dubai kind, perhaps in the Ann Coulter tradition: “ Isn’t it enough,” she writes this week, “that we’re already patronizing the savages over the cartoons? Do we have to let them operate our ports, too?” Very borderline, that.

It is an innocuous image, an innocuous code word, that borderline, and it is so Times-like, so redolent of mainstream sensibilities. It ensures against calling bigotry quite by its proper name so as not to offend the mass of Americans—liberals, conservatives, moderates, “Christian” in the cast-no-stones sense of the term, Southerners, Yankees, blacks—who’ve shown the colors beneath their colors over the port deal. With a touch of savagery, I might add.

Of course the reaction against the port deal was racist. Not merely “prejudiced” (judging against the deal for lack of facts), but racist, as in judging against the deal not for lack of facts so much as for disdain of a race. The visceral rejection of the port deal has little to do with lack of knowledge about world trade and multinational ownerships in the age of globalism. It has virtually nothing to do with the port company, or with Dubai in particular. Rather, it’s the unraveling of latent racism against Arabs that Americans just couldn’t bring themselves to express in this post 9/11 public projection—honorable enough, one must admit—of tolerance toward all creatures foreign and brown.

But how authentic was the projection? Two years ago Cornel West wrote of the “niggerization” of America following 9/11: “Never before have Americans of all classes, colors, regions, religions, genders, and sexual orientations felt unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated. Yet to have been designated and treated as a nigger in America for over 350 years has been to feel unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated.” It was in response to that “niggerization” that the world felt compelled to announce in one voice that “We Are All Americans Now,” the way that headline in Le Monde (of all places) did the week of the attacks. But the solidarity didn’t last—not among Americans, not from the rest of the world. It was a matter of time before Americans, whose affection for vengefulness is as weathered as the creases in their Old Testament door-stoppers, would turn payback into the new century’s globalist crusade. Wasn’t that the underpinning of Bush’s famous and, in 2001 and 2002, relentlessly repeated, “you’re either with us or against us” equation? Isn’t it the underpinning of the 2002 “National Security Strategy of the United States,” in which the Bush Doctrine unabashedly equates “national security strategy” with “a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests,” while promising to “dissuade future military competition”?

Iraq and Afghanistan are only the marquee theaters of operation. Relations with Europe reached a post-World War II low during the first Bush term. Latin America is turning into a bastion of Anti-Americanism led either by populist tyrants like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or by populist pop stars like Diego Maradona, Argentina’s soccer deity. President Bush is about to head for India and Pakistan, where anti-Americanism has spawned its own cottage subgenre of blogs. Much of it is racist in return (and of course never sell the Mideas short for its innate affection for all things anti-Semitic and, increasingly, anti-American). But it’s a backlash against a distinct American attitude of superiority to all things not American, to all things not compliant with the American world view—an attitude that can hide behind the code words of strategy and national security, but that cannot hide its essentially racist, imperial assumption that the world is a dangerous place, and America will defend its own. There is nothing more racist than the explicit Bush policy of “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”

You reap what you sow. Bush is playing the tolerance and pluralism card over the Dubai port deal, lambasting its opponents for being un-American. But no one more than Bush fostered this climate of intolerance and racism over the past five years. No one more than Bush fostered the climate of paranoia about South Asia in general, and about Arabs in particular (so long as it didn’t interfere with the Bush family’s traditional and continuing business deals in the Arab world.) And why look so far beyond American borders? What is the divide between red and blue America, nurtured and exploited by the Bush White House election after election, but a strategy of conquest built on bigotry—on turning Americans against each other rather than governing as the “uniter” Bush promised to be in his first inaugural five years ago? He has divided America and called it politics. He has wrecked the Mideast and called it democracy. And now he claims outrage, Captain Renault-like, over the reaction against the Dubai port deal.

This is the America of George Bush: As racist as it is unaware of its racism, beginning with its chauvinist-in-chief’s disingenuous disclaimers. The only thing borderline about America’s racism is its hope for recovery. The redemptive has always been part of the American tradition down to the country’s most brutal legacies, foreign and domestic. But it takes self-recognition. For now, the nation is in denial. Bush’s approval ratings may be in the upper 30s. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t get reelected if polls were open today, or that his ratings wouldn’t go sky-high the next time “those savages” pull off an attack on American soil. For all of America’s recent slouch away from this president, the fact remains that in its present make-up, in its present attitudes, in its present world outlook, America completes Bush, and vice-versa. It is a co-dependency made of fear, of paranoia, of xenophobia. In short, of racism.

Nothing borderline about that.

Pierre Tristam is an editorial writer and columnist at the Daytona Beach, Fla., News-Journal, and editor of Candide's Notebooks. Reach him at

(*) The image is taken from "Planet of the Arabs," a 10-minute film depicting the vilification of Arabs by Hollywood through the years. See this link.


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