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Western Racism Will Cost It Money Mac 1, 2006

Posted by ummahonline in Islam Bi La Hudud.
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By: Farish A. NoorOver the past few weeks a number of events, apparently disparate but nonetheless inter-connected, have taken place all over the world. First came the news that the bid by India-based Mittal Steel to inch its way into the European steel market will be blocked by Western governments and corporations hostile to its attempted take-over.

Now there is the row in the United States of America over the future management of six key port facilities that may soon be taken over by Dubai Ports World Corporation of the United Arab Emirates. So strong is the opposition to the latter venture that even Republican stalwarts are threatening to go against the w! ill of President Bush, and the President himself has threatened to exercise his powers of veto to intervene in the matter to ensure that the deal with the Arab corporation is signed, sealed and delivered.

In both cases there is a rather clear subtext: Despite assurances to the contrary, it was noted by many pundits and media observers that the attempts to block the Indian and Arab corporations has more to do with reactionary racist prejudices towards the other than sound business sense. In the wake of 11 September and the vainglorious ‘War on Terror’ that is being fought on all fronts, Western perceptions of foreigners – particularly if they happen to be Arab, Mediterranean or Indian-looking – is at an all-time low.

Suspicion of otherness is nothing new, but it has certainly been enhanced and even rendered respectable under the present circumstances we live in. Alongside attempts to keep out foreign capital there have also been attempts to monitor, police and regulate the movement of foreigners in general: from unprecedented visa checks to all tourists ! coming to the West to the racial profiling of possible terrorist agents walking around the streets of Europe and North America. Muslim males – and even those who may pass as Muslim males – are now routinely harassed, arrested and marginalised as never before.

The net result of this climate of fear and prejudice has been the gradual shifting of Arab-Muslim capital to other parts of the world. Over the past few years, new regulations imposed on the transfer of funds and capital from Arab countries to the West has caused many an Arab government or corporation to think of other potentially lucrative investment destinations el! sewhere.

Already the number of trade missions from the Arab states to China have increased, with more and more Arab investment moving to the Far East. The Arabs are ‘rediscovering’ China, and what they have found so far is quite attractive to them: The Chinese do not carry the same cultural and historical baggage of Europeans and there is no talk of the legacy of the Crusades. Furthermore it should be noted that China also looms large in the Huntingtonian thesis of ‘Clash of Civilisations’, and like the Arabs, the Chinese – particularly among the political elite and educated classes – are worried about the prospect of being cast as the new enemy of the West, a theme that harks back to the days of the ‘yellow peril’ and Sinophobia! in Europe. Oddly enough, it is this common perception that Arabs and Chinese are equally unwanted in the West that has brought them closer together. It is only natural that the cheque books and joint development projects come soon after…

In other parts of Asia, other Asian countries have been even quicker than the Chinese to explore and exploit the anxieties of the Arabs: Malaysia, an Asian country that is predominantly Muslim, has benefited tremendously as a result of the anti-Arab sentiments currently en vogue in the Western wor! ld. Since 2001, the influx of Arab tourists to Malaysia has increased to an unprecedented level, making Arab tourists (alongside Chinese tourists) an ever important constituency to court and win over. The urban landscape of the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, has experienced a change on a grand scale: The streets of the city are now festooned with Arab restaurants and diners, Arab coffee-shops and smoking houses; kebabs and falafel are now staple fare for Malaysia’s hungry consumers and the shopping malls of Malaysia are filled with Arab tourists eager to shop and Malaysians eager to sell. What is more, the open policy of granting tourist visas to Arabs means that they can come in peace, knowing that they would not be harassed for speaking their language or dressing according to Muslim attire.

The Malaysian government has tapped into the aspirations and wants of Arab consumers faster than ever: In the heart of Kuala Lumpur there is now an ‘Arab village’ built specifically for the Arab tourists, to make them feel at home. Snug between ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Little India’, the Arab tourist and expatriate community now feels that it has a corner to call its own, all within the multicultural milieu of cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur.

Sealing the deal has been various Arab financial houses and banks, which have also decided to relocate in Malaysia. The latest entry into the Malaysia banking sector is the al-Rajhi Banking and Investment corporation of Saudi Arabia (Al-Rajhi Bank) which has recently announced that it will locate some of its services in Malaysia, a country that is friendly towards other Muslim economies and welcoming to the ‘Muslim dollar’. Al-Rajhi made its name as one of the premier banks of Saudi Arabia to introduce the system of Islamic banking, something that has grown extremely popular and economically viable in Malaysia as well. So popular is Islamic banking in Malaysia that even Western banks have offered similar services, tailored to suit the needs and demands of Malaysia’s increasingly large and growing Malay-M! uslim middle classes. With al-Rajhi relocating its branches in Malaysia, Arab tourists wont even have to bring cash with them when they come to the country: their credit cards would suffice.

The lesson to be learnt from all this is that prejudice and racism – blatant or unstated – never pays. Anti-Arab prejudice may serve the short term interests of neo-Con ideologues who need an external enemy to frame the West against, but this does not guarantee the success of Western businesses or ensure that workers in the West will remain e! mployed.

Free markets thrive on the freedom of movement, be it of capital or people. Racism and xenophobia on the other hand are both irrational and economically costly in real terms. As the global economy grows more and more integrated, and with easier movement of capital worldwide, rich countries in the Arab world and Asia will sooner or later realise that its easier (and more pleasant) to do business among themselves, rather than submit to the humiliation of being interrogated every time one takes the plane for a business trip to London, Paris or New! York. Pushing Arabs away from the West will merely drive them into the waiting arms of Asia; and Asia, as the tourists ads tell you, is a welcoming place indeed.

Nota: Dr Farish Ahmad-Noor adalah seorang akademik berlatarbelakang sains politik dan falsafah. Dia sedang bertugas sebagai penganalisa akademik di Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, German. Buku-buku yang dikarang beliau termasuk ‘New Voices of Islam’ (ISIM Institute, Leiden, 2002), ‘The Other Malaysia’ (Silverfish, Kuala Lumpur 2002) dan ‘Islam Embedded: The Historical Development of PAS 1951-2003’, (MSRI, KL, 2004, 2 jilid). Beliau juga seorang pengarang bagi siri radio ‘Letters from Abroad’, BBC Radio World Service. Impian beliau ialah untuk mendirikan suatu madrasah moden yang bisa menghidupkan kembali dinamika Islamisme progresif zaman Syed Sheikh al-Hady dan Dr. Burhanuddin al-Helmy.

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