March 6, 2006
My name is Ahmad Ahmad and I dont fly anywhere!
was a joke delivered by a Muslim comic [who knew?] in a piece
of tape shown to me at a client meeting. This gentleman and
a Jewish rabbi comic [who knew?] have been touring the country,
doing stand up comedy in an effort to further good relations
between Muslims and Jews and, by extension, to the rest of
On a news talk program, an Arab American gentleman described
the kinds of discrimination encountered by Arab Americans
these days, including one sad tale of people asked to leave
a restaurant where they were dining by other patrons who told
them: we dont want you here; your people killed three
thousand of our people.
American/Muslim relations are in the spotlight due to the
heated discussion about whether we should let management of
six American ports fall into the hands of a company owned
by Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates. With less
oil than other U.A.E. countries, Dubai has been diversifying
with dizzying speed, turning its bit of desert into a tourist
destination [havent seen that picture of a hotel that
looks like a sail?], a banking center, airline transit stop,
whatever it can to turn a dollar once the oil runs out. In
fact, Dubai is doing better than almost any other Muslim country
in integrating itself into the world economy and, according
to some accounts, is becoming the Singapore of the Mideast.
A company owned by the Royal Family of Dubai is attempting
to buy P&O, a venerable British company that has been
running the ports in question. There havent been second
thoughts about letting a British company run them but there
are LOTS of second thoughts about letting an Arab owned company.
Intellectually, I understand the concern and I also understand
it from an emotional point of view. It does, however, underscore
a concerning current in the American consciousness.
In the wake of 9/11, we are a little sensitive about all
things Arabic. And Dubai is definitely an Arab country, though
from all reports its a bit like Las Vegas crossed with
Palm Springs with a soupcon of Araby mixed in, just enough
to make it exotic enough for westerners and comfortable enough
From our POV, the view we have been getting of the Muslim
world is frightening and grim and brimming with hatred.
There has been a constant drumbeat that Arabs cannot be trusted,
a beat drummed by both right and left, attempting to score
points with confused and frightened voters [we are marching
toward mid-term elections, after all].
As a result, Arab-Americans are beginning to feel the kind
of racial heat once only felt by individuals of darker skin
tones. Most everyone has a degree of discomfort about Arabs
these days. Post 1970s oil crisis, my impression was
we considered Arabs eccentric, somewhat barbaric creatures
[as mostly portrayed] to which we were mortgaging our futures
for the sake of the black crude we needed to keep our world
Benign contempt has escalated in the last five years and
I suspect we feel, as Americans, that we are better than those
dirty Arabs, a term I unfortunately heard in passing
in Penn Station.
Americans have a capacity for contempt; weve shown
it throughout our history, looking our noses down upon Native
Americans when we arrived and continuing that with every newcomer
that came to our shores.
It was a mark of integration into American society that you
had arrived if you could look down upon someone else.
It is an attitude often incubated in the young and which
thinking adults find themselves spending their whole lives
shedding. In the dawning days of this new century, it is an
attitude we need to shed quickly if we are going to integrate
ourselves into global society.
We have lived aloof and above, needing, we thought, nothing
from anyone else, an attitude that is leaving us isolated
and incapable of understanding the swift fluidity with which
world economics and geopolitical realities are changing.
It is, unfortunately, no laughing matter.