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Christopher Dickey on Hamas, Protests, and Iran

A new Hamas-led government; protests against cartoons of Muhammad; a re-started nuclear program in Iran: It's a busy time for journalists specializing in the Middle East. Christopher Dickey is the regional editor for Newsweek.

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Transcript

DATE February 23, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East editor and
Paris bureau chief, discusses political changes happening through
the Middle East and the US deal with UAE to take over control of
six US ports
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In his position as Newsweek's Middle East editor and Paris bureau chief,
Christopher Dickey is in a good position to discuss political changes
happening through the Middle East and to analyze the cartoon protests and
their impact on Europe. Dickey is also Newsweek's former Cairo bureau chief
and has played a key role in the magazine's coverage on the war on terror. He
went to a studio in Paris this morning to record our interview.

Christopher Dickey, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's consider some of the
things happening right now, mostly in the Middle East. We have the militant
Islamic group Hamas now leading the Palestinian government. The militant
Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood, did very well in the Egyptian
parliamentary election. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah did well in the
elections in Lebanon. Iran is pursuing its nuclear program in defiance of the
International Atomic Energy Agency. The Iranian--the new Iranian president
basically says Israel should be wiped off the maps. Tens of thousands of
Muslims have protested the Muhammad cartoons. People have been killed,
embassies destroyed, death threats issued, and with the destruction yesterday
of the shrine in Iraq, Iraq seems closer to a civil war.

Are all these events happening in some kind of coincidental manner, or do you
think that there's something larger that is connecting all of these issues and
events?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER DICKEY (Middle East Regional Editor, Newsweek Magazine): I
don't know if they're all completely connected, but there are some fundamental
misconceptions and misapprehensions that are tending to drive these conflicts
and create these problems, especially on the American side. There's a real
genuine failure by American policy makers to address what are seen as central
problems in the Arab and Muslim world. First among those is the question of
occupation. We very rarely hear American officials talk about occupation and
the problems that that can bring and the resentments that it creates, but the
question of occupation, either directly with foreign forces, Israelis in
Palestinian territories or American forces in Iraq, or indirectly with
governments there seen as essentially proxies or clients of the United States
and the West, like Mubarak in Egypt and to some extent King Abdullah in
Jordan, all of that creates a huge amount of anger, and I don't think
Americans really understand that. I know American policy doesn't begin to
address that. You listen to Rumsfeld talking about problems with
communication with the Arab world and the Muslim world, and he doesn't begin
to address the central issues for Arabs and Muslims, most of which revolve
around this question of colonial history and present-day occupations.

GROSS: Now, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestinian territories, the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are these groups connected in any way?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, Hezbollah is a slightly different element here, but Hamas
and the Muslim Brotherhood are intimately connected. Hamas was a creation
essentially of the Muslim Brotherhood and is very close to it. It is the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood is Syria, Muslim Brotherhood
internationally as an organization dates back to the early part of the 20th
century. It was founded in Egypt, and it was essentially an Islamic answer to
fascist and communist parties at that time. And it has essentially adopted
that kind of political and organizational model where it's got a very strong
ideology, very coherent organization, very committed cadre, and it is
potentially a very powerful organization that has entered electoral politics
in the past where that's been possible in the Arab and Muslim world but has
also been behind armed insurrections in places as diverse as Syria and, of
course, in the Palestinian territory.

GROSS: So you use the word "fascist" when talking about the Muslim
Brotherhood and that they came of age in a time of fascism. Do you consider
them a fascist group?

Mr. DICKEY: Not exactly. I think that when we use the word fascist in
American society, it's very hard to understand. It's been denatured by a lot
of political discourse over the years. What I mean is that they came into
existence at the time when the powerful political forces in the world were
fascism and communism, that were very organized parties organized in very
specific ways with cadre, with ideology, with commitment, with a real zeal to
take power using many different means. And maybe people who've grown up since
Cold War have forgotten that, but they are the last party that really is in
existence today that sprang from that old style ideology, old style model of
organization. And they are very effective because of that. And loose-knit
democratic movements find it very difficult to stand against them. And
dictatorships find that they mount a real challenge to their authority, but,
then again, the dictatorships use their own cruder means of power to suppress
them. So that's what I'm talking about. I'm not saying that they admire
Hitler. I'm saying that they use the kind of organization that Mussolini used
or that the Nazis used or that the communists used to push their political
program.

GROSS: One of the paradoxes right now politically is that, you know, the Bush
policy, the Bush foreign policy has been about democracy. His explanation now
for invading Iraq is, you know, we wanted a democratic government there. We
wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein and open it for democracy, and the idea
was that democracy would spread. But we're close to civil war in Iraq. The
democratic election in the Palestinian territory has led to a government led
by an Islamist group, Hamas. In Egypt, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood did
well in the parliamentary elections. So what do you see when you look at this
paradox of a policy about democracy leading to elections that are making the
West, democratic countries, unhappy?

Mr. DICKEY: Democracy is about organization, as the Bush administration
certainly should know. And the parties that are organized in the Muslim world
are generally religious parties. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, some
other fundamentalist organizations, partly because dating back to the Cold
War, the United States supported all kinds of measures to crush left wing
parties who are identified with Soviet interests, and often rightly so. So
the only parties who were allowed to continue an existence were these right
wing Islamic groups. And when you have an election, the parties that are
going to win are the ones that can get their loyal followers to go to the
polls and vote. And, in fact, that is what has happened in all those cases
that you mentioned. And to say, we want democracy and ignore the fact that
the most coherent and disciplined political organizations are essentially
groups of fundamentalist Muslims who are often guerilla groups in the past,
is, I think, extremely naive.

And, of course, Iraq is another case. The two parties that dominate Iraqi
political life now are the Shiite Dawa Party and the Shiite SCIRI, Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, both of which were guerilla groups
originally. Very tight knit. Lived in secrecy for a long time. Suffered a
lot of persecution and have emerged as the most coherent, focused, militant
and successful political organizations in modern-day Iraq.

GROSS: So are you saying that to call for democracy in the Middle East and
expect that democracy to look like it does in the West is naive?

Mr. DICKEY: It certainly is unless you're going to create an environment
where more moderate parties can thrive and where they have a message that
means something to people. You know, it's fine for us to say, `Gee,' you
know, `free enterprise would be great, more democracy, more freedom for people
to speak out and to live their lives just like we do. We'd all be wonderful.'
But that doesn't really seem like a concrete offering in most of these
societies. And when it comes to going to the polls, the people who are going
to mobilize those votes are going to be people who are committed ideologues,
not just people who think, vaguely, `We'd like more freedom.'

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to the conversation I recorded this morning with
Christopher Dickey of Newsweek.

Christopher Dickey, as Newsweek's Middle East editor and Paris bureau chief,
and somebody who spends a lot of time in Europe and in the Middle East, you're
in a kind of unique position to talk about the cartoon protests. I'd like to
talk with you about that and see what you've been learning.

The editor, the Danish editor who commissioned these cartoons had a piece in
The Washington Post yesterday and in it he said that he commissioned the
cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused
by widening fears and feelings of intimidation with issues related to Islam.
He said our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression
that seemed to be closing in tighter, and as examples of this kind of
self-censorship he offered this. A Danish children's writer had trouble
finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people
turned down the job for fear of consequences, and the person who finally
accepted insisted on anonymity. And then European translators of a book
critical of Islam didn't want their names to appear on the book cover, and one
of the authors, a Somalia-born Dutch politician, has been in hiding.

Mr. DICKEY: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, yeah.

GROSS: So, yeah, what are your impressions of his motives for commissioning
these cartoons as a way to challenge this kind of self-censorship?

Mr. DICKEY: I think that initially the editor clearly had no idea this was
going to be such a huge sensation. He thought he was making, I suspect, a
fairly small statement in his newspaper in Denmark. And it has just gotten
way, way out of control. But now he's justifying it as if we should have left
it there to begin with. It should never have gotten blown up. Nobody should
have paid any attention to it. And I have to say I think that's naive in the
current circumstances. Look, there are a lot, in Europe especially,
especially in Europe, there are all kinds of things that cannot be said.
And...

GROSS: You're talking about hate crime laws.

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I think, it's, again,
disingenuous and provocative for the Iranians to be saying, `Oh, well, let's
promote Holocaust denial and freedom of the press that way.' But for Muslims
in Europe and elsewhere, it's a legitimate question. Why is it that nothing
can be said in that regard and yet it's fine to caricature Muhammad and offend
the sensibilities of Muslims? In American society, there are all sorts of
words that we don't want to use in terms of race relations in the United
States or that may be OK for black people to use but it wouldn't be OK for me
to use. And we get used to those constraints. Is that a real limit on
freedom of the press? Or is that simply paying attention to people's
sensibilities and understanding that there's a history, maybe of faith
involved, and that that ought to be taken into account.

Now as a journalist, as a writer, I tend to be anarchic. I'd like to be able
to say anything I want to say. But also as somebody who looks at the world as
it is, I think you have to recognize that sensibilities are out there, and
you're going to face a lot of anger.

GROSS: What do the hate laws have to say about speech in European countries?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, it varies from country to country, but, of course, you
just had an author, historian, Holocaust denier sentenced to jail in Austria
for writing a book and giving speeches in which he called into question the
existence of the Holocaust. I mean, an evil, pernicious analysis of
pseudo-history if ever there was one. But should he be free to do that or
should he be thrown in jail for that? I don't know.

GROSS: So, you know, again, the Danish editor says he published these
cartoons to challenge self-censorship and the chilling effect. Do you think
there is now, as a result, more self-censorship?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, obviously, there's a hell of a lot more self-censorship
now. After he made his stand for children's book illustrators, we now have a
situation where you have the governments of many European countries and you
have major publications in the United States and elsewhere that clearly more
reluctant to publish those kinds of things, to address those kinds of problems
head-on because they basically don't know...

GROSS: What kind of problems?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, look, have you seen these cartoons published in major
American publications?

GROSS: Well, I know Philadelphia Enquirer published them.

Mr. DICKEY: In, say, The New York Times or The Washington Post?

GROSS: No. I know the Philadelphia Enquirer published them.

Mr. DICKEY: Right, and it was a big deal for them to publish them. You
know, I think that in another environment, we might have had a situation in
which lots of places would have published them. But because of the reaction,
because nobody wants to be responsible for a situation where people are
getting killed, even if this is just an excuse for the riots, there's a lot
more self-censorship than there was before.

GROSS: What are you hearing from editors in Europe? And I know you were just
in Italy. Were you talking to people in the press there?

Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, I think that in Italy, you have a lot of people who are
afraid, including in the government right now because they have a very
volatile situation. They sent troops to Iraq, so they're afraid of being
targeted by terrorists either inside Europe or as part of some larger plot.
They were afraid of that before. Then you have this, you know, very
irresponsible minister with his T-shirt with Muhammad cartoons suddenly making
this move, and there was something like panic in the Italian government
because the last thing they want is to be seen to have provoked outrage that
then results in some kind of terrorist attack or that people claim is the
reason for a terrorist attack.

If we can backtrack on this issue just one second, we keep focusing on the
cartoons. The cartoons provide a pretext for all kinds of discontent in lots
of different countries. One of the things that happened in Libya, where 14
people were killed, is that a protest was allowed against the cartoons that
suddenly started to sound very much like a protest against the Qaddafi
government in Damascus and then in Beirut, where the Danish embassies were
burned. Those were really staged events. Those were not out of control, and
those had to do with pushing back Europe, intimidating Europe, showing that
the Syrians were not going to give in to Europe on issues that have nothing to
do with the cartoons.

So you have the cartoon issue exploited a lot in the Arab and Muslim world by
groups with their own political agendas that use this as an excuse, and I
think that has to be understood. At the same time, you have a lot of
provocation and a lot of game playing by certain politicians in Europe. You
mentioned Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a woman who was born in Somalia, grew up in
Saudi Arabia, has essentially rejected...

GROSS: This is the children's book...

Mr. DICKEY: Well, she's a Dutch member of parliament.

GROSS: I'm sorry. No, she was the children's book person. She was the
person who's writing a history of Islam that was critical of...

Mr. DICKEY: Well, critical hardly touches it.

GROSS: Oh. I see.

Mr. DICKEY: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very intelligent, very articulate woman who
speaks out in favor of what you and I, I think, would see as classic Western
freedoms. But she does this in the context of militantly, violently rejecting
traditional Islamic teaching and to a large extent, traditional Islamic
values. She makes a frontal attack on Islam, and she was the woman who wrote
the script for the film that was made by Theo van Gogh that eventually
resulted in his being murdered by a Islamic radical in Holland. So she's not
exactly a passive actor in this, just a woman who's hiding out because she
said a few provocative things. She's been actively, as provocative as she
possibly can be, stretching the limits of freedom. And, frankly, there are
times when you listen to her and you read her and you think, `That's right.
Let's push freedom to its limits. Let's not let these ideologues, religious
ideologues, intimidate us and co-opt us and terrify us.'

But I would simply say let's also not think that the only groups that's likely
to try to do that is a Muslim group. There are certainly groups in the United
States that try to use their religious authority, their moral authority to
intimidate people, to limit free speech and to limit what can be said and to
some extent even thought. And I think that there's a big problem when we talk
about the Muslim world that we tend to identify all these problems only with
Islam and we miss the fact that it's really a problem of fundamentalism in any
religion where you basically say we have got the received truth and anybody
who doesn't agree with our received truth doesn't really have a right to
speak. And that certainly is not unique to Islam.

GROSS: You know, watching the protests and the riots around the Islamic world
in response to the Muhammad cartoons, it's easy to wonder where are the
moderate Muslim leaders. Why aren't there more people standing up and calling
for a more peaceful protest? I mean, people are getting killed.

Mr. DICKEY: Well, there are. There are people standing up and calling for
more peaceful protests. There are journalists who are sometimes taking very
brave positions. There have been Arab journalists who've published these
cartoons and are now under indictment in a couple of different countries, in
Yemen and in Jordan, for having published these cartoons in the context of
saying, `Let's look this issue in its face, let's condemn what's being done,
and let's find a reasonable response to it.' And they have now run afoul of
the radicals and to some extent government officials who want to play to those
radical elements in their own countries. But there are voices standing up.
There have been lots of peaceful protests. But it is the nature of the news
business, I'm sad to say, that peaceful protests don't get as much attention
as 12 or 14 people being gunned down.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Middle East editor and Paris bureau
chief. His latest book is a novel about terrorism called "The Sleeper." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Iran's new president is pursuing its nuclear program in defiance of
the International Atomic Energy Agency, and he said that Israel should be
wiped off the map. Why is he being so provocative? Coming up, we continue
our conversation with Newsweek's Middle East regional editor Christopher
Dickey.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Christopher Dickey,
Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris bureau chief. He's played a
key role in the magazine's reporting on the war on terror. We're discussing
changes through the Middle East.

Yesterday in Iraq, men blew up a Shia mosque in a largely Sunni town. And I
know we don't officially know yet who was behind this, but, you know, you have
to wonder about how there are such protests to cartoons, and I know there were
huge protests in Iraq to the destruction of this mosque, but there weren't
huge protests that I know of around the rest of the Islamic world.

Mr. DICKEY: Well, not yet. There certainly were protests in Iran as well,
and probably Iran will find other ways to exploit this situation. But it is
true that the Muslim world has a lot of sectarian differences. They may unite
around the idea that a Danish cartoonist or a collection of a Danish
cartoonists should not be drawing parodies of the prophet Muhammad, but that
doesn't mean that they're united on everything else, and in fact there are
terrible differences among them, and attacks on mosques in Iraq, on Shia
mosques particularly, have become commonplace, but one of the things that's
going on is the Shia leadership in Iraq sees these as provocations intended to
create a sectarian Sunni-Shia war. And the Shia leadership, Ayatollah
Sistani, most conspicuously, doesn't want that to happen. So instead of
inflaming passions, what the Shia clergy in Iraq have been saying is `Stay
cool. Don't go out and take revenge.' And even with those efforts of
restraint, it looks like dozens of people have been killed in the riots and
retributions that have taken place over the last day, day and a half. But
there you have an issue of leadership where people are--where leaders are
being listened to. You know, again, as I say, we have fairly disciplined
electorate there, and a fairly disciplined society, Shia society in Iraq, that
listens to what Ayatollah Sistani says. And so it's been muted.

Your question was about the wider problem: Why have there not been huge riots
everywhere? Well, there're not that many areas where there're really large
Shia populations. Iraq, Iran, southern Lebanon, southern Beirut and some in
Pakistan, and there's some in Saudi Arabia. But other than that, those are
the places you would expect to see reaction, and you saw it in Iran and Iraq.

GROSS: You recently wrote about the new Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad. And would you tell us a little bit about his background? Just
to refresh people's memory, he is acting in defiance of the International
Atomic Energy Agency in continuing to pursue Iran's nuclear program. He's
also basically called for Israel to be wiped off the map. What's his
background? What's his resume?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, he comes from very humble beginnings, as they say. His
father was a blacksmith. They moved from a little town on the edge of the
desert to one of the slums of Tehran when he was one year old. And he grew up
in an environment where it was hard to get a job, hard to get an education,
hard to get ahead. Then the revolution happened in 1978 and '79, and like
many other young Iranians, he was drawn to that and soon became involved with
some of the most radical and best-known elements of that revolution. He was
not involved directly with the hostage taking at the US Embassy, but he knew
the people who were involved with it. And eventually he went out to the
Kurdish areas during the war with Iraq and worked his way up through the
revolutionary guards and through revolutionary administration then and he
eventually found his calling as a populist politician. He's unlike, for
instance, Ali Larijani, who's another powerful political figure. He's the
main nuclear negotiator who comes from a family of ayatollahs and in that
sense, has had all the advantages.

This guy, he's gotten ahead by playing to popular prejudices, popular beliefs,
simplistic beliefs, whether about the corruption of other Iranian politicians
and clergy or about Israel or about national pride and developing nuclear
technology. And he used that very, very successfully to get himself elected
from the limited field of candidates who were permitted to run in Iran last
year. And, of course, he's thrust himself onto the international stage again
and again by saying things that he knew would be outrageous to the
international community, but at the same time that he knew would have a kind
of simplistic appeal to his core audience, who are people from backgrounds
more or less like his. And he's been very successful with that, politically
in Iran.

GROSS: You've also written that he plays to a nostalgia for war among parts
of Iran's leadership and even some of its young people. What do you mean by
that?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, in Iran, the clerical leadership, certain parts of it,
look back on the period from the revolution in '78, '79, up through the war
against Iraq, all through the '80s and into the 1988 as their finest hour.
That's not actually that unusual. A lot of people who have gone through a war
look back on the war with a sort of nostalgia, `that's when our motives were
pure. That's when we really knew what we were doing. We had direction. We
had commitment, we had courage. We made sacrifices. And all the people were
behind us.' And that is the kind of thinking that dominates the sort of the
Ahmadinejad generation. They were made by war and revolution. And to settle
back and try to lead the life of contented bazzaries, that doesn't interest
them very much. They see those people as corrupt, and they see the efforts at
Westernization, liberalization, opening up to the West, that took place
through most of the 1990s as weakening the revolution, weakening its
commitment, weakening its ideology, and most importantly perhaps, weakening
their grip on power. So Ahmadinejad is himself and he represents a movement
to roll the clock back to raise problems anew that were resolved or seemed to
be on their way to resolution. You know, the Arab world has spent more than a
decade trying to say that the Palestinian/Israeli issue is essentially a
Palestinian/Israeli issue, not a pan-Arab, not a pan-Muslim issue. And
Ahmadinejad is saying, `Oh, no. No, no, no. It's our issue. It's Iran's
issue. We want to deal with this. We want to make a big deal out of it. We
want to use this for confrontation.' So that's the game he's playing.

GROSS: Well, you say that, you know, the new Iranian president wants to kind
of confront the Israel-Palestine question, and the secretary of Iran's Supreme
National Security Council in talking about the new Hamas-led government and
addressing the fact that the US and Israel plan to withhold money and aid has
said, `We will definitely help this Hamas government financially in order to
resist America's cruelty.' So is Iran trying to set this up as being about
America, too?

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. It goes back to what we were talking
about at the beginning. Iran understands very clearly that this issue of
occupation, humiliation, subjugation, use any of those words you want, is one
that has a lot of resonance in the Arab and the Muslim world. So Hamas
presents itself now as the legitimately elected government of the Palestinian
territories, and immediately, it claims it's being persecuted by Israel and
isolated by Israel. It is being isolated by Israel and by the United States
and by Europe. And Iran says, `We're there to help you because we understand
what you're all about. You're fighting against occupation. You're fighting
for your liberation. And we support that.' And it's just absolutely
ready-made. Even if not a penny of Iranian money ever actually makes it to
Hamas or to the Palestinians, it's just ready-made as a propaganda issue for
Tehran.

GROSS: With Iran saying now that it will support Hamas, is that a new
alliance? Does that change in any fundamental way the political alliances
within the Middle East?

Mr. DICKEY: Iran has been supporting Hamas to some extent for a long time.
But the core support for Hamas has come from the Arab countries of the Gulf
over the long term. And we just saw that Condoleezza Rice was in Saudi Arabia
and asked the Saudis to cut off support for the Hamas government in the
Palestinian territory, and the Saudis said, `No, we're not going to do that.'
So I think we're going to see a lot of movement around the question of who
supports Hamas and why. And the simple discourse that Hamas is a terrorist
organization while certainly that's true in Israeli terms is not something
that many Arabs and Muslims believe. They see it as an organization using
whatever means are at its disposal to fight against occupation. And they're
going to continue trying to support it.

GROSS: So how do you describe the American policy right now toward Iran?

Mr. DICKEY: I think that the American-European policy toward Iran, which are
very similar, is in a real bind. I mean Iranians know that. Essentially, the
Iranians understand, not just Ahmadinejad but also Ali Khamenei, the supreme
leader, and Ali Larijani, the new negotiator. They all understand very well,
and as long as oil prices are up around $60 a barrel and the market is as
tight as it is, nobody's going to risk imposing serious sanctions on Iran, as
that will result in a major cutback of Iranian oil exports. If you did that,
either because you impose sanctions on Iranian oil or because the Iranians
themselves decide to shut off the taps, you'd see oil heading up around $100 a
barrel. And the economic effects around the world, and especially in the
United States, will be enormous. So that's not going to be the case forever.

Within the next three years, there'll be more Saudi oil coming on line.
There'll be more oil from other OPEC and non-OPEC countries is likely to come
on line, and there will start to be more flexibility in the market. But for
the time being, they know that they're protected by this. That's why they're
rushing ahead, and that's why the European policy is `freeze your nuclear
enrichment program. Don't do this. Just wait a while longer,' because right
now the Europeans and the Americans have virtually no coercive measures that
they can use effectively against Tehran, and Iran knows it. So it's rushing
to push ahead with its enrichment program as quickly as it possibly can, and
it doesn't see any reason to give in to any of the diplomatic initiatives that
have been taken so far.

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief.

You know, we're using your visit to FRESH AIR today as an opportunity to look
at the larger Middle East region, and I'm wondering how you see the president
of Iran and his more militant and provocative policies as affecting the larger
region. Like, what influences is his government going to have on the region?

Mr. DICKEY: It's going to be profoundly destabilizing for the region because
Iran does not see itself as playing a constructive role, building positive
alliances, even with like-minded governments. There aren't many like-minded
governments. If it comes right down to it, it is the only fundamentalist
Shiite regime that exists. And it is in a region where the Saudi are not
sympathetic to that, certainly the Jordanians are not, and in fact it sees
itself as surrounded by either countries occupied by the United States or that
are clients of the United States: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and so on.
It's trying to assert its authority, trying to assert its influence. It's
doing that by being provocative and by trying to show the weakness by the
United States and of the West. And so it's going to be a very big,
destabilizing factor for the foreseeable future.

GROSS: Do you think that the new Iranian president is likely to try to create
a stronger alliance with the Shia majority in Iraq?

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. And it's not just him. It's the supreme leader.
It's the whole clerical establishment. And for a lot of different reasons.
First of all, they have a very long border with Iraq. They see Iraq as
strategically the most important neighbor they have. They are not going to
permit the United States--if they have any say about it, they're not going to
permit the United States to set up a long-term presence in Iraq, with military
bases and the possibility of eventually launching military actions out of
Iraq. That's just not something that Iran will tolerate. And it will use
every method at its disposal to make sure that doesn't happen. At the same
time, the parties that have come to power in Iraq as a result of the elections
sponsored by the United States are parties that are essentially beholden, not
to Washington, but to Tehran which gave them asylum, which gave them
protection, at a time when the US was backing Saddam Hussein back in the 1980s
and denouncing these same groups, like the Dawa, as terrorist organizations.

So they have a long history, lots of contact, very deep, deep penetration of
Iraqi society. As you know, Ayatollah Sistani, the leading figure in Shia
political life in Iraq, is Iranian. Ali Larijani, an important figure in
Iran, was born in Iraq. We as Americans don't have any counterweight to offer
to that. And the Iranians know that. So they are going to exploit this
situation, whoever's in charge in Iran is going to exploit this situation for
the national interests of Iran in the short, the medium and the very long
time.

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey. He's Newsweek's Middle East regional
editor and Paris bureau chief. And we've been basically taking a political
tour of the Middle East and looking at the recent changes there and what their
effects might be. I'd like to end our little tour at home in the United
States with a look at this proposed deal with Dubai Ports World, the group
based in the United Arab Emirates. The deal was made for them to take over
control or partial control of six ports in American cities.

Mr. DICKEY: Essentially the loading operations. Yeah.

GROSS: So, I think a lot of people are really confused about what this deal
is really about and what it would mean. Do you see this as largely just like
a business deal? Or a political deal? A deal with two countries? What do
you see as the subtext of this deal is, I guess, what I'd like to know. Is it
about an ally in the war on terror? Is it a business deal? Is it...

Mr. DICKEY: Well, essentially, it was created as a business deal, and it was
a business deal. It's partly a factor of the United States wanting to
participate in a global economy that usually works for the benefit of the
United States, but in order to do that, you have to make American assets
available to foreign buyers. And those port facilities are enormously
worthwhile assets, and a lot of foreign buyers are interested in them. It's
not only Dubai Ports, but Dubai Ports managed to put the deal together. And I
think President Bush is worried about a situation where you say no to Dubai
Ports because, why? Because you're Arabs. And that's definitely not the kind
of message that he wants to send to America's rather uneasy Arab friends at
this moment. And I think he's very clear about that. He thinks it's sending
a very bad signal. On the other hand, ports are not only a source of security
concern, they're also a source of, if you will, nationalist pride. They're
the gateways to the United States. Symbolically, it has a lot of resonance
when you say, `We're selling our ports to foreign powers or to foreign
governments or to companies owned by foreign governments, even if those
governments are not Arab.' But you put all that together, and you have really
the mess that we see today.

GROSS: What can you tell us about the government of the United Arab Emirates
which owns this company?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, they're really seven governments in the United Arab
Emirates. It's a loose coalition of principalities or city states, if you
will, and by far, the most dynamic is Dubai. The richest one is Abu Dhabi.
It's got most of the oil, and it is sort of number one
among...(unintelligible)...in the Emirates. But Dubai has been much more
creative. I first started going there about 20 years ago, and it was a
collection of a few duty-free shopping centers between the sand and the sea,
if you will. And before that, it was kind of a ramshackle smuggling center
for people taking gold into India. But in the last 20 years, it's developed
into this huge hub, and a big part of that has been the duty-free port and the
dry dock and other port facilities that were built in the 1980s and that are
the core business of Dubai Ports. So they've got a lot of experience in
developing very modern ports and port facilities, and they now have a huge
influx of capital because oil prices are so high that money has just been
pouring into Dubai as one of the best places in the Arab world to invest. And
the growth of the stock market there is just phenomenal. Growth of the real
estate market is unbelievable. Return is well over 100 percent a year. So,
as a result, there's a lot of capital and a lot of expertise, and they decided
to go shopping for what looked like good deals to them. And those ports in
the United States, they originally approached the British owner, it looked
like a good deal for them.

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief. When we left off, we were talking about the deal for
a company from the United Arab Emirates to take over operations at ports in
six American cities.

It seems, if I understand things correctly, that the governments of the United
Arab Emirates have been cooperating in the war on terror, and yet two of the
September 11th hijackers were citizens of the UAE.

Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, they were from citizens of Ras Al-Khaimah, which is one of
the poorest of the Emirates. But this is a Dubai thing. It really is not so
much a UAE thing, and Dubai is an interesting place. It's a little bit like
Istanbul during World War I or, you know, Beirut back in the old days before
the war. It's one of these places that's full of intrigue because it's
basically a free port. Anybody can move in and out of there. Not only in
terms of shipping but flying in, flying out. There are no taxes to speak of,
and it's just an area where there's been laissez-faire commerce for a very
long time. It attracts not only lots of Iranians but lots of Russians,
Ukrainians. All kinds of people go to Dubai, and it's an enormous tourist
mecca for the British and for other Europeans, but especially for the British.
It's got some of the most fabulous luxury hotels in the world.

So, it's not, you know, this idea, I was reading Maureen Dowd's column today
in which she conflated American allies in the Muslim world, and she sort of
ran down a list that, obviously was drawn from everybody from Egypt to
Pakistan and make it seem as if she was talking about Dubai. But that isn't
Dubai at all. Dubai is about commerce first and last, and if that makes it
sometimes a place where people launder money, that certainly has done that in
the past. If it's a place where people sometimes move contraband goods, it
certainly has been that. Then that's all true. But it's also a place where
the CIA has had a very big station for a very long time because it's a place
where you can meet lots of people and get lots of information. And it's not
the kind of place that the Bush administration would really like to alienate.

GROSS: But what about how it might hurt our security at the ports to have
this deal?

Mr. DICKEY: I think that the Bush administration has a lot of explaining to
do about the way security is handled. Some of what we read is that their
extensive briefings on security arrangements for these companies and they are
enlisted to cooperate--so does that mean that we're telling them all the
sources and methods that we use for homeland security, these foreign
companies? Put aside Dubai, Chinese companies, other companies, we're telling
them all this information? Is that the way we want to handle homeland
security? Well, that's a real question. But I'm not sure that the most
effective way to deal with that is to say that foreigners can't buy the ports.
And we know that we need to do this anyway. We need to reorganize homeland
security and make it a hell of a lot more efficient organization than it is.

GROSS: Do you think that we are heading towards some kind of larger war
between the Islamic world and the West?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, the Islamic world, as we talked about, is not one coherent
world. But to the extent that the West gets trapped into a situation of
provocation and prejudice and fails to understand certain key issues that
create common resentments really across the Muslim world, then I think we are
at risk of creating, if not one big conflagration, one little fire and one
medium-sized fire after another for the foreseeable future. And that will
increase resentment. That will increase hatred, and, eventually, it could
lead to, if not certainly not a world war, but it could lead to all kinds of
persecutions and anger and violence.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DICKEY: Well, thank you, Terry. It's always a pleasure.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris
bureau chief. His latest book is a novel about terrorism called "The
Sleeper." He spoke to us from Paris. Our interview was recorded this morning.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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