Column: Keeping paranoia in check

By Se Young Lee

Considering the duality of globalization, the phenomenon of a world that is both getting smaller and bigger by the second, it is easy for Americans to renew their fears about the foreign influence, especially when it comes to the states of the Middle East that are, fairly or not, held in deep suspicion.

So when a deal that would give control of major ports on U.S. soil to a firm based in the United Arab Emirates, the homeland of two Sept. 11 hijackers, was announced, it is not too surprising that several politicians immediately spoke out against the deal. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y, chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have argued that allowing a foreign country with ties with terrorists could further jeopardize the security of this nation.

But the U.S. must be judicious and reasonable in balancing its interests against the risks, instead of continuing to pander to elementary rhetoric that preys on sentiments of protectionism and paranoia that persist to this day. While the concerns about the safety of this nation are legitimate, Congress should not interfere with the deal without finding justifiable cause to do so.

While the reported channeling of funds from sources in the UAE to terrorists is certainly a cause for concern, issue of national security is not something that can be solved through rudimentary syllogisms. To connect Dubai Ports World, the company gaining control of the London-based firm that controls the ports, to terrorism simply because it is based in UAE is silly.

The firm also has a history of working with the U.S. government, as Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff noted. Several executives of the company are American, and the firm has worked with the government in maintaining security of cargo coming into the U.S. from overseas. The deal managed to pass the review of the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S., a 12-member group involving members from the departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland security, Justice and State.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    The idea that the Arab firm would not comply with the laws of the U.S., suggested by a Miami firm that filed a suit calling for an injunction against the deal, is equally ludicrous and smacks of prejudice, considering the fact that such concerns have not been voiced against the British firm that is being purchased. Even without the ignorant racial and cultural overtones, this idea leaves the U.S. vulnerable to a misconception that U.S. firms would somehow provide better security and comply more fully with federal laws. These firms can leave citizens just as vulnerable to future attacks and threats from questionable hiring practices and reckless disregard for regulation.

    It would certainly be prudent to investigate whether the firm had connections to those who funded acts of terror or had a knowing hand in transferring smuggled components for weapons of mass destruction to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, or Libya. And it would be wise to take more time to make sure nothing was overlooked. But, until findings of clear wrongdoings emerge, it would be in the best interests of this nation to allow the innocent to make a good-faith effort to do business on its soil. Witch hunts against foreign firms not only pander to isolationist sentiments, but also leaves U.S. firms vulnerable to foreign retaliation.

    Se Young Lee is a junior in Communications and the director of Communications of the Illinois Student Senate. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]