Friday, February 25, 2005

Friendly fire.

NPR this morning ran an interesting piece about an Islamic investment bank, out of Bahrein, that follows Koranic lending principles. Since they cannot collect interest, their revenues come from other sources, like leasebacks, the details of which I couldn't quite follow. Who could have predicted that the Koran would create a market niche for corporate lawyers? In addition, these folks are more driven to taken equity positions than most i-bankers, and have a share of several recognizable American companies, including Church's fried chicken and Caribou coffee.

The reporter explained that a few years ago, a rumor spread that Caribou coffee had a connection to Islamist terrorists, prompted by anti-Israel statements made by someone associated with the bank. Caribou's CEO was speaking in a corporate dialect that doesn't translate well to plain English, but it sounds like some of their locations took a hit, including a Chicago location that they had to close.

And then Richard Cohen writes about Saudi greivances about the U.S. in today's Washington Post:

Since [1945] Saudi Arabia has been closely aligned with the United States, and it is the rare Saudi businessman or government official who has not studied in America -- and in some cases longs for it still. In a sandstorm, thoughts can sometimes turn to student days spent in verdant North Carolina or the cool California coast.

Yet the same elites often express a bitterness toward the United States that even former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, traveling though the region, found startling. That anger usually shows itself 10 or 15 minutes into a meeting and is always preceded with a declaration of affection, which of course makes it all the more vehement. It is one thing, after all, to be dissed by your enemies, but your friends are another matter.

Some of the grievances sound petty, but they wound. It seems every businessman here has a story about some abuse by a customs or immigration official or even a traffic cop. One told of a young man who was denied a visa because on a previous trip to the United States he had blown off a traffic ticket. Another told how a cop in the Denver area summoned the FBI when a Saudi student there got into a fender bender. Others tell of humiliating delays at immigration -- hours spent at one airport or another waiting to see if they will be readmitted to the country where they attended school and, often, own a home.

Are all these stories true? I don't know. But they are widely believed and considered typical.

Aren't Islamic i-bankers and Saudi elites the sorts of folks we most need as allies if we're going to win this whole war on terror? Well, maybe not the Saudi elites, but certainly the Bahreini bankers. If these allies are so easily confused for enemies, isn't something going very wrong?

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