MY U.A.E. EXPERIENCEHere we are some two or three weeks past the “official demise” of the U.A.E. port deal and I am still hearing about this debate on TV. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!! While I’m not entirely sure how I feel about a company owned by a foreign government having “operational management” control over a vital part of our national infrastructure, I am absolutely certain that the United Arab Emirates has been unfairly characterized in the media by knee jerk reactionaries who have never experienced first hand life in the U.A.E or taken the time to find about anything about its people. In the wake of 9/11 and knowing the state of port security in the United States, it is understandable that some people would be nervous at the prospect of an Arab owned company having such a presence in the US. However, I believe that a lot of that mistrust and paranoia leveled toward the U.A.E. is misplaced. I say this in part because of my personal experiences in that country during the first Gulf War.
While assigned to the USS Midway, we spent ¾ of Desert Shield and all of Desert Storm in the Gulf region. That time included a two-week period around Christmas of 1990. During that week, I had the opportunity to spend several days with a family from the port city of Abu-Dhabi. Except for their religion (yes they were Islamic), this family was much like any average American family. Mom, Dad, and their two children lived their daily lives with all the same wants, needs, and desires. Both Mom and Dad had jobs they attended to every day. The mother also attended classes at the local university. Both children attended school everyday too. And dad worked hard at his job at the Port of Abu Dhabi to provide for his family. They also had they same worries about their country that we currently have for ours. So needless to say, considering the tensions of that time period, they were very happy to see the American presence in the Middle East. As they proudly showed us their community and introduced us to their culture, friends, and family…. it became obvious to me that, at least in that part of the Middle East, we were not viewed as evil intruders the way many would have us believe. It was a real eye opening experience for a person who had been accustomed to thinking that these people were not to be trusted. That’s not to say there weren’t people there who didn’t like the United States. There certainly was a fair share of those too, but that is not enough to condemn an entire country. Every country, even the United States, has a segment of its population that loves to hate (i.e.: Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Timothy McVay, and the list goes on).
The real shocker came on Christmas Eve, when this Arab family prepared a traditional Christmas dinner complete with all the trimmings. I don’t think I have to remind anyone of the significance of this. Yes you read right. This was an Islamic family in an Arab nation preparing a ham dinner in celebration of a Christian holiday for American service members. They even went out and bought gifts for us. That night, this same scenario played out in homes all over the city. All because they wanted to show us how much they appreciated what we were doing. Everywhere we went during our stay there, people were going out of their way to make us feel welcome and thank us for our sacrifices.
While it’s true that there are some very distinct differences between our two nations, there are many more things that we have in common. When I see people who should know better (our elected leaders to start with) succumb to the typical knee jerk paranoid type reactions, well, it’s just plain disappointing. Equally disappointing was the way this whole deal was presented to the American people. I don't think there is any doubt in anyones mind that it could've been handled a whole lot better.
Like I said before, I’m not sure how I feel about that port deal. Maybe it would’ve been ok, maybe not. Not that it really matters now since it’s a dead issue, but it sure would have been nice to see and hear a legitimate discussion based on fact. Instead, all we got was a lot hysteria, misinformation, and in some cases downright prejudice and in many respects that’s the most disappointing part of all.
(originally posted 3-19-06 on Yahoo 360)