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Emanuel: Profiling makes sense as part of anti-terror security toolkit

| | Story updated at 12:33 AM on Thursday, August 31, 2006

Another terrorist attack on the United States was narrowly averted earlier this month when British authorities arrested nearly 30 conspirators plotting to take down up to 10 airliners with remote-detonating liquid-gel bombs.

The most obvious commonality between this and the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 is that both involved airliners fueled up for long-distance flights. The less obvious commonality, due more to selective reporting than to a dearth of available information, is that, once again, Muslim men of Middle Eastern origin or descent were the prime culprits in an international terrorist plot.

The response to this by such organizations as the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and others was, as usual, a hasty warning not to fall into the trap of racially profiling young Middle Eastern or Muslim men, as well as an issuance of the well-worn admonition that not all Muslims are terrorists.

Despite the truth of these words, the frequency with which they must be publicly spoken should be a matter of some concern, and should lead to more than a bit of thinking about methods of preventing future terrorist attacks.

It's inarguable that, while most Muslims are not terrorists, the vast majority of terrorists are, in fact, Muslim, and of Middle Eastern descent. According to a report from the National Counterterrorism Center, 58.3 percent of verifiable terrorist attacks worldwide in 2005 were carried out by "Islamic extremists." Many more attacks were suspected to have been carried out by radical Islamists.
While America and the majority of the Western world continue to look away from this demographic fact, the British have decided to stop ignoring it, and are working to implement new airport security methods taking it into account.

Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens, in an interview with the UK Guardian, said the protocols include focusing on "people that behave suspiciously, have unusual travel plans or are of a certain religion or ethnicity."
The instinctive recoiling by the politically correct notwithstanding, this decision by British authorities makes perfect sense. Israel has used this method for years. Its national airline singles out young Arabs for extensive searches. As a result, they've gone nearly 30 years without a hijacking.

When there is a demonstrable threat from a particular demographic, it's only logical that people fitting the profile should get closer scrutiny. For example, if I rob a bank or convenience store, it would make perfect sense for the police, in their search for the culprit, to be suspicious of other white males, and to target them more closely for possible investigation. It wouldn't make sense for police to also shake down African American males, white females, etc., for the sole purpose of not hurting white males' feelings.

The airport security practice of randomly searching elderly women, young children and other people who don't remotely fit the profile of a possible terrorist - for the sole purpose of not offending the Middle Eastern and Muslim population - is similarly illogical.

The highest-ranking Muslim in British law enforcement, Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei, spoke out against the initiative, telling the Guardian that, in his opinion, passenger screening "becomes hugely problematic when it's based on ethnicity, religion and country of origin ... I don't think there's a stereotypical image of a terrorist."

The problem, though, is that there is a "stereotypical image of a terrorist." To ignore that, out of fear of offending people, is to leave ourselves open to greater danger.

Profiling is certainly not the sole answer for national security and counterterrorism protocols. It's easy to list non-Muslim, non-Middle Eastern terrorists. However, for everyone like Richard Reid, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph or Jose Padilla who commits, or plans to commit, an act of terror, there are exponentially more terrorists of Middle Eastern descent, such as the 27 now captured in the London bombing plot, the 19 hijackers from 9/11, the 17 arrested in a plot to blow up Canada's parliament and behead the prime minister, the Madrid bombers, the Bali nightclub bombers and countless others.

While profiling itself can't ensure our safety, it can - and should - be a tool available to law enforcement authorities and others. It's true all terrorists aren't young Muslim, Middle Eastern men. But until it's no longer the case that more terrorists fit that description than not, profiling must not only be allowed, but encouraged.

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran who served in Iraq, is a University of Georgia senior.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 083106

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