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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

March 6, 2006

“My name is Ahmad Ahmad and I don’t 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 us.

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 don’t 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 [haven’t 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 haven’t 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 it’s 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 for Muslims.

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 1970’s 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 humming.

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; we’ve 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.