Goodbye, Dubai

I work with ex-offenders. Sometimes I ask them why they chose to stop committing crimes as a means of surviving. Overwhelmingly, they say how nice it is to not have to look over their shoulders. Fear, is a natural product of doing business through violence and when you survive through criminality you cannot escape the sense that somewhere, someone may be looking to exact some measure of revenge. I wonder: Could this same fear explain the United States un-relenting paranoia of the Third World?

There is a pathology of fear in U.S. culture. For white-Americans it has its domestic roots in slavery. For all of us it has its international roots in the U.S.’s imperial influence and military presence in the Third World. We, as a nation, are terrified that the bill for our practice of doing business throughviolence may well be coming due.

The U.S. acts a bureaucratized La Cosa Nostra. We hand out favors and offer protection. Our “family” enjoys enormous security and wealth and exacts terrible retribution if anyone dares to compete or question. The fear that this produces, that one of our many enemies may be calling to collect, makes us act in some truly bizarre ways. We forgo action that may benefit us, and we engage in some activity that can only be described as delusional.

A case in point. On February 25 the Teamsters International Union organized protests in twenty cities to voice their disapproval of the recent port deal involving the United Arab Emirates based company Dubai Ports World. “I would sleep better at night”, if the ports were controlled by an American company,
one Teamster said.

Why is this Teamster so restless with fear lying in his safe American bed? Is he equally fearful of other more tangible affronts to U.S. safety and security?

Does this pensive union man suffer the same apnea dwelling on the plight of the thousands of U.S. citizens who die because they lack adequate health insurance? Is his digestion troubled when he dwells on the racial profiling that takes place against People of Color on the highways where he makes his living? Does he consider braving chilling winds to protest these terrors?

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters wasable to organize rallies in 20-cities with only 24-hours of preparation. You know … so members could sleep better at night. So I have to wonder: Where is this remarkable organizing efficiency when it comes to the War in Iraq, fighting CIA involvement in Syria, Haiti, Venezuela?

In this business of violence our insomniac Teamster seems only to concern himself with the bill due and not the “service” that it’s due for. His only motivation to action comes as a response to fear, he isn’t concerned with the activity that created the situation he fears.

Or . . . I almost forgot! His same organization has been concerned with providing these services and creating this situation. They lent their organizational efficiency to Reagan’s re-election and support for the Cold War policies that entangled the U.S. in the business of violence in the Middle East. In this current conflict his union president, James R. Hoffa Jr., was an active member of Bush’s Committee to Liberate Iraq, aiding in the planning of the greatest compromise to U.S. security since our domestic policy of genocide, which allowed us to manifest our destiny of fear in the first place.

Out of fear, our insomniac has: Foregone action that may benefit him, engaged in action that is itself giving him greater reason to be afraid, and acteddefinitively against a merger that will have no bearing on his safety and security.

After foregoing so many chances to organize for their own benefit the Teamsters, and our insomniac, act to stop a business deal trading control from one foreign conglomerate to another. Not fearing corporate control itself, the effects of global capitalism, or the idea that some far off company will continue to exploit him. Instead our insomniac fears that the face of his new exploiter is a little darker than it used to be, that the new boss, may actually have been on the brown end of some of that business through violence that he has benefitted from, and that his “family” helped to organize.

“Goodbye Dubai,” the union made signs read — a sentiment so removed from reality it is as if it came from some alternate universe.

Our insomniac Teamster can’t even hide behind protectionism as his justification. Both companies involved in this port deal are foreign owned. He can only, being honest, admit that his fear is based on nothing more than his fear of the A-rab.

While I can claim that fear is unfounded, you must applaud this man’s unconscious insight that we all have quite a few debts to pay. Maybe in one of his sleepless nights our insomniac will make the same realization that many of my clients have made: that life is good when you are making a fast buck, but constantly looking over your shoulder gets tiring.

COLIN ASHER is an organizer in San Francisco and is currently working on a book with Makis Antzoulatos about the relationship between the radical left and organized labor. He can be reached at