Western Racism Will Cost It Money

Farish A. Noor

Posted Feb 24, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Western Racism Will Cost It Money

By Farish A. Noor

Over 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 will of
President Bush Junior, 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 barely concealed subtext that reeks to the high
heavens: 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 and lost 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

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 elsewhere.
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 world.
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-Muslim middle classes. Will 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 intellectuals and 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 employed.
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.