Harboring a grudge

A primer on the differences between Middle Easterners and the Great British

“And I want those who are questioning it to explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company.”

—George W. Bush,
defending the plan to allow a United Arab Emirates-based company to manage ports in the United States; February 21, 2006

In times like these, it’s incumbent upon us to give our president all the help we can, especially when he comes right out and asks for it, something he is temperamentally disinclined to do. Uncharacteristically, he’s asked for an explanation of the differences between Arabs and Brits, and the least we can do is to try to sketch in some of those distinctions for him. He cannot be blamed, after all, for an inferior education that awarded him an undergraduate degree in history but failed to clue him in, for instance, about the presence of black people in Brazil (“Do you have blacks, too?” Bush asked Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso on November 8, 2001).

Perhaps the president was at cheerleading practice the day the existence of a black population in Brazil was covered in class, but, to his great credit, the president is good about admitting his personal shortcomings. Back in June 2003, he told reporters, “I’m also not very analytical. You know, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.”

Liberals pounce on the president whenever he shows uncertainty, but the more compassionate conservatives among us know that when a man admits limitations, the proper course is to salute his honesty and then offer whatever help we can.

So the president isn’t very analytical. So what? He’s a man of action, not like those dithering Democrats. So what if he sometimes has trouble drawing distinctions? There’s nothing new in that. He was a little uncertain about the even more fundamental difference between moms and dads back in September 2003 when he said, “We had a chance to visit with Teresa Nelson who’s a parent, and a mom or a dad.”

Before making fun of the president, we should remember that he is a member of that generation of baby boomers who devoted so much energy to getting everyone all mixed up about gender roles. Why, then, blame the president for giving voice to a confusion common to people his age?

More important distinctions have eluded him. For instance, in May 2003, the president said, “We ended the rule of one of history’s worst tyrants, and in so doing, we not only freed the American people; we made our own people more secure.” In this instance, he seems puzzled about the difference between Americans and “our people,” whoever they might be, so his inability to see much distinction between the British and the Arabs is a minor matter. The president’s No. 2 man was, after all, not able to distinguish between a quail and a lawyer, so we should count ourselves lucky that we have a man in charge whose ability to sort out differences is as refined as it is.

The president’s failures to see differences between the British and the Arabs is certainly understandable. Both peoples live far to the east, and both have strange and exotic customs. The British, however, once actually torched Washington, D.C., back in 1812, setting fire to the White House itself. To date, no Arab nation has ever offered us such an affront. Sure, some Arabs did fly a plane into a corner of the Pentagon, but that’s in Virginia, not in the capital. Besides, those Arabs who flew planes into American buildings on September 11, 2001, were not agents of any particular country, whereas our rows with the Great British have all been rooted in nationalism.

Furthermore, it is difficult to find people anywhere with the supercilious sense of superiority commonly associated with the British. Their prissiness about the proper use of the English language, for instance, is utterly annoying and stands in marked contrast to Arab peoples who are quite willing to be corrected on their use of English, even by Americans.

The Arabs are also a much more devout people than the British. Though England has a quasi-official Anglican religion, the number of Brits willing to put their lives and bodies in full service to their faiths is a small number indeed. Americans admire people who are ardent in their religious beliefs, and on this point, the Arabs have a clear superiority over the British, who were willing to change their religious stance entirely when one of their kings had trouble securing a divorce. It’s hard to count on people with that streak of perfidiousness in them.

Besides, history shows us that the British and ports don’t mix too well. There was that tea incident in Boston Harbor more than 200 years ago, for instance, when Americans were forced to wrest control of imports away from the Brits, who were intent on taxing tea at exorbitant rates. That’s what can happen when you let foreigners with loose religious commitments gain control over vital agencies.

Add to that the British penchant for buggery and bad dentistry, and it’s easy to see that we’re better off with an Arab nation in charge of our ports. We wouldn’t, of course, want to have our own government in charge of those ports, because that would be socialistic, but having a foreign government in charge allows for the entrepreneurial spirit, and as the president has pointed out, “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.” We surely would never want people from that nation in charge of our ports.