Lautenberg's 'Devil and Dubai' Comments Prompt Outrage

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, has angered Arab-Americans with remarks comparing the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai to the devil.

"Don't let them tell you that it's just a transfer of title," Lautenberg told longshoremen at the Port of Newark on Monday. "Baloney! We wouldn't transfer the title to the devil, and we're not going to transfer it to Dubai," the senator said.

Lautenberg's comments drew applause from union members, who oppose a Bush administration deal allowing a Dubai-owned company, located in the United Arab Emirates, to manage some of the terminals at six major U.S. ports.

However, some believe New Jersey's 82-year-old senior senator crossed the line.

"Mr. Lautenberg's overheated language is just plain destructive," said an editorial in Thursday's Bergen Record newspaper. "Sen. Frank Lautenberg owes the Arab-American community an apology," the newspaper added.

Arab-American and Islamic-American groups also weighed in.

"This is a flagrant example of demagoguery and hate-mongering," said Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, at a State Assembly hearing in Trenton.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee called the comparison of Dubai to the devil "unacceptable" and "of a larger trend of bias rhetoric and backlash surrounding the debate over port security."

"The concern we have is that if an ally of the United States like the U.A.E. can be smeared in this manner, simply because it's an Arab country, then our relations with the broader Arab world may be irreparably damaged.

"It is not just wrong, it is unconscionable for the U.A.E. to be described using language such as a "rogue" government with "ties to Islamic fascism," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

On Thursday, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations accused Sen. Lautenberg of racism and called his statement comparing Dubai to the devil "unacceptable."

"All Americans should be concerned when a top political official compares a staunch U.S. ally with the devil. The U.A.E. has long and strong ties with the United States," said Ibraham Hooper, spokesman for the the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"Inflammatory rhetoric such as the statements made by Senator Lautenberg can only harm relations between the U.S. and its ally, Dubai, which has been on this nation's side in the war on terror."

Hooper told Cybercast News Service he believes America will look past the Lautenberg comments and Congress will approve the Dubai Ports World agreement.

"With President Bush's strong support I believe some version of the deal will pass. However, there may be some modifications as it travels through Congress," said Hooper.

Lautenberg appeared at the Port of Newark with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

He later admitted he might have "overdramatized" the situation, but he called the furor over his remarks a "bum rap."

In related news on Wednesday, a federal judge blocked New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's request to allow a full investigation into the Dubai Ports World deal pertaining to the Port of Newark.

The judge also denied Corzine access to classified documents detailing security concerns.

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