Finally, Tom Friedman came right out and told us how he looks at the world. In his new column today, Friedman once again attacks critics of the Dubai port deal, this time claiming that the United Arab Emirates "is precisely the sort of decent, modernizing model we should be trying to nurture" in the Muslim world, and that "it is a bridge of decency...to a much more optimistic, open and self-confident society." And there you have it - Tom Friedman has now publicly admitted in black and white just how committed a global class warrior he really is.
For someone like Friedman who gallivants around the globe hobnobbing at four-star hotels with CEOs, Sultans and other like-minded elitists, it's true: there is much to like about the UAE. Here's what Fortune Magazine had to say about the UAE in its profile of Dubai's leader, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is one of the richest people on the planet:
"You might recognize the sail-shaped $1 billion Burj Al Arab superluxury hotel jutting into the Persian Gulf. Perhaps you haven't heard of the $3 billion construction of two islands in the shape of palm trees. Or the 480,000-square-foot hole for a new $4.1 billion airport terminal. That's in front of the site for Dubailand, an improbable $5 billion Disneyesque project comprising indoor snow skiing, an animal safari and amusement rides...Think of Dubai as a corporation and Mohammed its chief executive - without a board of directors getting in his way...To keep things humming, he funnels cash to his friends in the form of highway and hospital contracts."
In other words, the UAE is a place where one of the wealthiest people in the world rules as a dictator, and uses his power to build all sorts of lavish playgrounds for the rich people like Friedman. Meanwhile, the average citizen in the country is oppressed and disenfranchised, almost totally disconnected from the massive wealth being accrued in their country. This is Tom Friedman's Muslim utopia - one that he shamelessly claims is a "model" that will supposedly get ordinary Muslims to accept Western culture.
Here's the real story of the UAE, that Friedman doesn't want anyone to take a look at. According to the U.S. State Department in 2005, the UAE's "respect for human rights remained problematic" - that's diplomatic-ese for "atrocious." Among other things, the UAE allows "no citizens' right to change the government and no popularly elected representatives of any kind...flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment...arbitrary detention...restrictions on civil liberties--freedom of speech and of the press, and assembly...restrictions on right of association, particularly for human rights groups...domestic abuse of women, sometimes enabled by police...trafficking in women and children...legal and societal discrimination against women...restrictions on and abuses of workers' rights."
Human Rights Watch notes that in the UAE, "there are persistent credible reports of abuses committed by employers, especially in small firms and against low-skilled workers...Abuses committed against migrant workers include nonpayment of wages, extended working hours without overtime compensation, unsafe working environments resulting in death and injury, squalid living conditions in labor camps, and withholding of passports and travel documents by employers."
To be sure, Friedman and his fellow corporate elite will cite the UAE's macroeconomic statistics purporting to show that the country really is good to ordinary people. For instance, the CIA World Factbook notes glowingly that "The UAE's per capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations" (interestingly, the CIA World Factbook says nothing about the UAE's recent connections to terrorism - yet another mundane example of America's national security apparatus apparently more focused on corporate commerce than security). But this says nothing about wealth inequality, which is likely extraordinary in the UAE (though such stats are hard to come by in this region). While UAE's leaders flaunt their billions, there have been widespread reports of Big Business abusing the UAE's lax laws governing its massive migrant labor pool - with wealthy corporations often refusing to pay workers anything.
This is Tom Friedman's world view - a view that has made him the shining star of what economist Jeff Faux calls "The Party of Davos." It is a view we see not only in his writing about the UAE, but in his book "The World Is Flat." His vision is of a world that is terrific for wealthy people like Friedman. He writes glowingly of booming metropolises in India, China and the UAE. But he refuses to go even one inch beneath the alluring veneer and actually look at day-to-day life for non-elites in the countries he trumpets as "modernizing models."
That's not by accident, because Friedman is not stupid. His utopia is a world where a tiny handful of very rich people use "free" trade to move their capital wherever they please, exploit the most oppressed workers on the planet, and underwrite dictatorships who disenfranchise citizens. It is a world where the term "shared prosperity" means hundreds of billions of dollars being shared only between a tiny group of sheiks, dictators, businessmen and political elites. It is a world where the President of the United States simultaneously talks about his supposed desire to spread democracy, then publicly fawns all over the world's worst dictators, and then wonders why anti-Americanism is on the rise.
That world is a dream for someone like Friedman - it means he and his fellow class warriors get to continue living the high life, no matter how much anti-Western resentment their rhetoric and policies breed throughout the world, no matter how much economic destruction they are wreaking on ordinary people.
David Sirota is a writer and veteran political strategist. He just completed a book for Random House's Crown Publishers entitled "Hostile Takeover" - it will be released in the Spring of 2006. Sirota is currently the co-chairperson of the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN). - a position he took after finishing a two-year stint at the Center for American Progress. Sirota is currently a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, and a regular contributor to The Nation magazine. He is also a twice-weekly guest on the Al Franken Show.
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