March 15, 2006
Dubai and Dunces - New York Times
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
When it came to the Dubai ports issue, the facts never really had a chance — not in this political season. Still, it's hard to imagine a more ignorant, bogus, xenophobic, reckless debate than the one indulged in by both Republicans and Democrats around this question of whether an Arab-owned company might oversee loading and unloading services in some U.S. ports. If you had any doubts before, have none now: 9/11 has made us stupid. We don't need any more pre-9/11 commissions. We need a post-9/11 commission, one that looks at all the big and little things we are doing — from sanctioning torture to warrantless wiretaps to turning our embassies abroad into fortresses — that over time could eat away at the core DNA of America. What is so crazy about the Dubai ports issue is that Dubai is precisely the sort of decent, modernizing model we should be trying to nurture in the Arab-Muslim world. But we've never really had an honest discussion about either the real problems out there or the real solutions, have we?
The real problem was recently spelled out by an Arab-American psychiatrist, Dr. Wafa Sultan, in a stunning interview with Al Jazeera. Speaking about the Arab-Muslim world, Dr. Sultan said: "The clash we are witnessing ... is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings."
The Jazeera host then asked:
"I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?"
Dr. Sultan: "Yes, that is what I mean."
Dr. Sultan voiced truths that many Muslims know: their civilization is, in many places, in turmoil, falling further and further behind the world in science, education, industry and innovation, while falling deeper and deeper into the grip of crackpot clerics, tin-pot dictators, violent mobs and madmen like bin Laden and Saddam.
President Bush keeps talking about Iraq and the Arab world as if democracy alone is the cure and all we need to do is get rid of a few bad apples. The problem is much deeper — we're dealing with a civilization that is still highly tribalized and is struggling with modernity. Mr. Bush was right in thinking it is important to help Iraq become a model where Arab Muslims could freely discuss their real problems, the ones identified by Dr. Sultan, and chart new courses. His crime was thinking it would be easy.
I don't know how Iraq will end, but I sure know that we aren't going to repeat the Iraq invasion elsewhere anytime soon. Yet the need for reform in this region still cries out. Is there another way? Yes — nurturing internally generated Arab models for evolutionary reform, and one of the best is Dubai, the Arab Singapore.
Dubai is not a democracy, and it is not without warts. But it is a bridge of decency that leads away from the failing civilization described by Dr. Sultan to a much more optimistic, open and self-confident society. Dubaians are building a future based on butter not guns, private property not caprice, services more than oil, and globally competitive companies, not terror networks. Dubai is about nurturing Arab dignity through success not suicide. As a result, its people want to embrace the future, not blow it up.
What's ironic is that if Democrats who hate the Bush war in Iraq actually had a peaceful alternative policy for promoting transformation in the Arab-Muslim world, it would be called "the Dubai policy": supporting internally driven Arab engines of change. That's why Arab progressives are stunned by our behavior. As an Arab businessman friend said to me of the Dubai saga: "This deal has left a real bad taste in many mouths. I mean this was Dubai, for God's sake!
You could not have a better friend and more of a symbol of globalization and openness. If they are a security danger to the U.S., then who is not?" So whatever happens with the Iraq experiment — but especially if it fails — we need Dubai to succeed.
Dubai is where we should want the Arab world to go. Unfortunately, we just told Dubai to go to hell.