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Revisiting the case for racial profiling in the War on Terror

Racial profiling, revisited

Why a key tool in the War on Terror should no longer be ignored

Yet another terrorist attack on the West – this time Great Britain – was narrowly averted earlier this month when nine Muslim men, of combined British and Pakistani origin, were arrested in what the British Home Office called a “nationwide operation” and “a reminder of the real and serious nature of the terrorist threat we [all still] face.”

The plot contrived by these would-be terrorists was, as has been covered here before, to abduct an individual, off-duty British soldier – a male in his early 20s, who had served in Afghanistan – off the streets of Birmingham (about 120 miles north of London, and the site of multiple military hospitals where many wounded British troops are currently receiving inpatient and outpatient care) in broad daylight. The captive was to be filmed being tortured and begging both for his life and for Prime Minister Tony Blair to order a complete withdrawal of British forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of Blair’s response, though, the soldier was eventually to be beheaded by his captors – again, on film.

The arrests marked the end of six months of surveillance by MI5, and were carried out at this time because, according to a source in the British security service, the suspects “were ready to go.” Their first target, whose name was (correctly) not released, is now in protective custody, and police are currently in the midst of what West Midlands assistant chief constable David Shaw called a “very, very major investigation” that would take “days, if not weeks” to complete.

Though it no longer seems real to far too many citizens of America, Great Britain, Canada, and much of the rest of the West, the terrorist threat facing us has not gone away, and has, on repeated occasions, shown itself in (largely thwarted, thankfully) plots like this one against each of our nations and their citizens.

As we all remember, last fall British authorities, acting on British, Pakistani, and US-provided information (including “chatter” monitored by the NSA), arrested nearly thirty conspirators who were plotting to take down up to ten airliners over US cities by using liquid-gel bombs which could be detonated by remote electronic device.

The most obvious commonality between this and the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, was that both involved airliners which were fueled up for long-distance flights. The less obvious commonality (due more to selective reporting than to a dearth of available information) was 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 (CAIR), 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 admonishment that “Not all Muslims are terrorists.”

Despite the truth of these words, the frequency with which they must be publicly spoken – seemingly every day – should be a matter of some concern, and should lead a vigilant public (and government) to do more than a bit of thinking about its methods of preventing future terrorist attacks.

Although pointing it out violates the standards of political correctness, it is an inarguable fact that while most Muslims are not terrorists, the vast majority of terrorists are, in fact, Muslim, and of Middle Eastern descent. According to the National Counterterrorism Center’s “Report on Incidents of Terrorism, 2005,” 58.3 percent of terrorist attacks worldwide were carried out by strictly-defined “Islamic extremists” – and that is just the number that was verifiable. Many more were suspected to have been carried out by radical Islamists, but proof of their culpability did not rise to the level necessary for inclusion in the report.

America and the majority of the Western world continue to follow the advice of CAIR and its allies and look the other way rather than address this demonstrable demographic fact and use it to our advantage in the quest to protect against future attacks. Meanwhile, the British, after last fall’s recent brush with what Deputy Commissioner of police Paul Stephenson called “mass murder on an unimaginable scale” (clearly he wasn’t listening to Keith Olbermann on the topic), paid lip service to no longer ignoring this reality, and said that they would be working to implement new airport security methods which take ethnicity and race into account.

Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens, in an interview with the UK Guardian, said that these protocols include focusing on “people that behave suspiciously, have unusual travel plans or are of a certain religion or ethnicity.”

In short, the British said that they would begin racially profiling the demographic which produces the preponderance of terrorists.

The instinctive recoiling on the part of the politically correct notwithstanding, this decision would make perfect sense. Israel has used this method for years; its national airline, El Al, has a policy of singling out young Arabs for extensive search procedures. As a result, they have gone nearly thirty years without a hijacking.

When there is a demonstrable threat from a particular demographic, then it is only logical that people who fit that profile should receive 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 – in this case, a white or Native American male – to be suspicious of other white males, and to target them more closely for possible investigation. It would not make sense, though, for those police to also shake down African-American males, white females, etc., for the sole purpose of not hurting my, or other white males’, feelings. It is similarly illogical for airport security personnel to randomly searching elderly women, young children, and other people who do not even remotely fit the profile of a possible terrorist, for the sole purpose of not offending the Middle Eastern/Muslim population.

The highest-ranking Muslim in British law enforcement, Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei, has spoken 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 Mr. Dizaei, CAIR, and others refuse to acknowledge it, is that there is, in fact, a “stereotypical image of a terrorist” – and to ignore that truth, simply out of fear of offending people, is to leave ourselves open to greater danger.

Profiling is certainly not the be-all, end-all of national security and counter-terror protocol; after all, it is easy to list terrorists who have either been non-Muslim or non-Middle Eastern. However, for every individual 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 arrested in the London liquid-bomb plot, the 19 hijackers from 9/11, the 17 captured in the plot to blow up Canada’s parliament and to behead the Prime Minister, the Madrid bombers, the Bali nightclub bombers, the “Fantastic 4” of the 7/7 bombings in London, the eight arrested this month in Birmingham, and countless others.

While profiling in and of itself cannot ensure the safety of our skies, our motorways, or other aspects of our lives any more than any other individual tactic, it can – and should – be an “alltool” in the figurative tool kit of law enforcement, the TSA, and the general public. It is true that all terrorists are not young Muslim males of Middle Eastern descent. However, until it is no longer the case that far more terrorists fit that description than not, profiling is a tactic which must not only be allowed, but encouraged.

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