By Daniel Pipes
How does the Council on American-Islamic Relations (and others in the Islamist victimization industry) fare so well when it complains to a corporation? Thats the question Margaret Wente, the Globe and Mails star columnist, takes up in an insightful analysis fraught with implications.
Wentes article looks at the high-profile case of Jeffrey Rubin, chief economist for the World Markets division of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. In an April 5, 2005, report to clients, he accurately predicted that oil prices would keep rising: The first two oil shocks [in the 1970s] were transitory, as political events encouraged oil producers to seize full sovereignty over their resources and temporarily restrict supply. This time around there wont be any tap that some appeased mullah or sheik can suddenly turn back on.
In response to the phrase some appeased mullah or sheik, the executive director of CAIRs Canadian branch, Riad Saloojee, protested to the CIBC.
We are gravely concerned that Mr. Rubin is promoting stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs in a CIBC publication. We request that Mr. Rubin and CIBC World Markets issue a letter of apology and undergo sensitization training regarding Muslims and Arabs.
In a later formulation, Saloojee put his grievance more simply: Many Muslims felt the comments were inappropriate.
Saloojees point is plain silly, as mullahs (in Iran) and sheiks (on the Arabian Peninsula) make the key decisions turning the oil spigot on or off. But that hardly mattered to CIBC, which quickly fulfilled Saloojees demands, issuing a public apology and requiring Rubin (called by the CIBC one of Canadas long standing premier economists) to undergo cross-cultural diversity training.
Wente provides some interesting details on the latter, which was conducted by Laraine Kaminsky, executive vice president of Graybridge Malkam, diversity specialists based in Ottawa. Kaminsky devised a curriculum especially for Rubin, and CIBC paid a cool C$5,000 for her two-hour session with Rubin. (In the spirit of journalistic grit, Wente voluntarily submitted herself to the same curriculum as Rubin suffered through; she reports the information she picked up was a combination of the anodyne, the obvious and the interesting.)
Why this sudden retreat by CIBC, when Rubin had written an accurate and patently inoffensive passage? Why did the bank not stand by its star economist?
For that matter, why have so many other corporations capitulated to the demands of CAIR and its ilk? In 2000, I tallied up some major corporations (Anheuser-Busch, Burger King, Doubletree Hotels, Los Angeles Times, MasterCard International, Miller Brewing, and Seagrams) that had pulled advertisements found offensive by the Islamists. Disney has reined in two of its radio broadcasters, Michael Graham and Paul Harvey. Two clothing businesses, Liz Claiborne and Warehouse One, withdrew or discontinued womens apparel that bore Arabic script. The worst of these appeasements took place in 1997-98, when, on the basis of a bogus complaint by CAIR, Nike accepted humiliation at its hands.
Wente gives several reasons for these cases of advanced corporate timidity. First, to resist the Islamists means absorbing a public relations hit: because image and reputation are so crucially important, big organizations are vulnerable to small interest groups with loud voices. No CEO wants his shareholders, his employees, his customers and his board of directors to pick up a newspaper and see a headline proclaiming that somebody is boycotting his company for being anti-Muslim.
Second (and conversely) touting ones diversity virtues makes for positive publicity: On the same day this week that the CIBC posted a record third-quarter loss on account of the Enron debacle — $1.9-billion — it made room in its news release to remind people that in June, it celebrated Diversity Month for the 13th year.
Third, beyond the PR angle, looms the legal one. In the United States, where laws are strict and juries tough, companies that lose discrimination suits in court can be forced to pay out millions. Better to call me first than call the lawyer later, Ms. Kaminsky said with a smile.
Kaminsky is here alluding to the corrective dimension of her work. Wente notes that the session with Rubin is now formally documented in his personnel file, which gets the bank off the hook if anyone feels like suing later on, or invoking some hate law, or complaining to a human-rights commission.
Did the CIBC take corrective action with its offending employee? Is the CIBC truly sensitive to diversity issues? Yessirree! Wente concludes that the bank, in other words, took the path of least resistance. It found a quick and dirty way to make the problem go away.
(1) Kenneth Timmerman shows in his book Shakedown how Jesse Jackson developed this racket from practices on the mean streets of Chicago. What began as street gangs intimidating local businesses ended up working with corporate boards and Wall Street. This practice has become a potent weapon in the United States and in other Western countries; Islamists are just getting started at it. Timmerman writes me that Jackson turned the grievance industry into a lucrative money-maker for himself and his political machine; CAIR has clearly studied his tactics and is applying them with success.
(2) In political terms, the top personnel in most corporations are conservative but their appeasing behavior makes them structurally liberal. However much they may bemoan in private the need to apologize and pay out, they do it.
(3) The marketplace places a premium on winning a positive reputation among every segment of consumers, and that points to grievance-mongers wielding power over corporations into the indefinite future. No matter how disreputable the mongers might be, as they often are, corporations would rather pull products, apologize, and pay than fight. This bonanza promises to keep the Islamist and other shakedown artists in both the money and the public eye. The worst of it is, I see no legislative or other means to change this dynamic.