Ports Controversy Reveals Prejudices

    To heck with them.

    That’s the sort of phrase one would expect to hear coming from President George W. Bush in reference to countries who oppose the nation’s involvement in Iraq. But, surprisingly, this month Congress has taken over the president’s usual duty of promoting intense isolationism. For once it appears the president might actually be in the right.

    In Congress’ latest muddling with Dubai Ports (DP) World’s acquisition of six U.S. ports from the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, it highlights a distasteful dogmatism among national leaders and underscores the common belief by non-Americans that we’re just a country full of self-loving, world-ignoring citizens.

    Democrats and several Republicans raised security concerns over the acquisition, arguing the United Arab Emirates-based company could easily lose sight of America’s interest in protecting its people from any possible threats that might result from loose security.

    “Our public is very concerned about a foreign country, in this case specifically a foreign country from the Middle East, having a major role in our ports,” said Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).

    Keep in mind, however, that the company was not previously owned by an American enterprise but rather an English one. Furthermore, several Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Danish companies already own or lease American ports. Thus safety fears are based on a prejudice against the Middle East, which will hinder any American attempt to make peace in that part of the world.

    If members of Congress want to talk about security, fine. I say change the security measures, rules and regulations — but don’t go out of your way to disrupt the economic growth of a company (which paid $6.8 billion for the lease of U.S. ports) largely because of its location.

    I’m not suggesting we submit to the whims of terrorists; rather, if security truly is the issue, congressional leaders should continuously emphasize the tightening of security through the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who are actually responsible for American port safety, not individual companies.

    Otherwise, the government is just promoting nativism at its worst.

    Members of Congress, however, are not the only ones blatantly supporting a nativist rationality. In a recent poll, the Washington Post found that 46 percent of Americans “have a negative view of Islam,” 43 percent “reported having heard negative remarks about Arabs,” and “one in four Americans admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims, the same proportion that expressed some personal bias against Arabs.”

    Negative views like these, which stem from the nation’s nativist attitude, produce several unfortunate external costs, especially for America’s universities. The decline in the number of international students highlights this notion and indicates that the Dubai ports controversy is only one example of the nation’s prejudices producing unexpected effects, including decreased diversity at colleges.

    According to the Institute of International Education, during the 2003-04 school year, the United States experienced a 2.4-percent decline in U.S. of international students studying at the nation’s universities. California, which hosts the greatest number of international students, saw a 4-percent drop, which amounts to almost 3,000 students.

    This decrease, however, is hardly as frightening as the suggested causes for the decline, which include “real and perceived difficulties in obtaining student visas … rising U.S. tuition costs, vigorous recruitment activities by other English-speaking nations,” and my personal favorite, “perceptions abroad that international students may no longer be welcome in the U.S.”

    While the level of international students at UCSD actually increased from 1,607 to 1,811 during the 2003-04, according to the UCSD International Center, the national decrease outweighs the small success of one University of California school. Furthermore, an expansive education requires a global understanding and tolerance. That is, after all, the entire point of Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Making of the Modern World general education requirement.

    This cannot be accomplished, however, only on college campuses. The nation as a whole must promote global understanding, not only in the Dubai ports situation, but in all aspects of politics.

    And so I say, to heck with Congress and all this ado surrounding the Dubai ports. Americans need to take it upon themselves to be a more tolerant people — and we can do this while keeping our security intact.

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