Charles Krauthammer recently wrote an op-ed ["Give Grandma a Pass; Politically Correct Screening Won't Catch Jihadists"] in the post supporting racial profiling for the purpose of weeding out terrorists. Krauthammer makes the case that too much time is wasted on patting down 83 year old grandmothers, and that we should just focus on who we all know to be the real potential terrorists.
Assuaging feelings is a good thing, but hunting for terrorists this way is simply nuts. The fact is that jihadist terrorism has been carried out from Bali to Casablanca to Madrid to London to New York to Washington by young Muslim men of North African, Middle Eastern and South Asian origin.
This is not a stereotype. It is a simple statistical fact. Yes, you have your shoe-bomber, a mixed-race Muslim convert, who would not fit the profile. But the overwhelming odds are that the guy bent on blowing up your train traces his origins to the Islamic belt stretching from Mauritania to Indonesia.
Colbert I. King wrote a response ["You Can't Fight Terrorism With Racism"] a few days later in the Post. His argument basically centered around the inherent inequality in singling out certain groups over others for scrutiny, something that has been endlessly repeated in the profiling debate. It's one thing when you're talking about traffic stops, it's quite another when you're talking about dead people. However, King points out another problem with attempting to profile terrorists.
But let's get really current. What about those non-Arab, non-South Asians without black or brown skins who are bombing apartment buildings, train stations and theaters in Russia. They've taken down passenger jets, hijacked schools and used female suicide bombers to a fare-thee-well, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. They are Muslims from Chechnya, and would pass the Krauthammer/Sperry eyeball test for terrorists with ease. After all, these folks hail from the Caucasus; you can't get any more Caucasian than that.What King did not do is take Krauthammer's suggestions to their logical conclusions. Imagine this scenario. The airport has two security lines. People would be directed into one line if they immediately passed the eyeball test, i.e. whites, the elderly, women, children, and hispanics (the British Police have demonstrated how simple eyeballing that last one is). The others would have to file through the examination line, where they were vigorously examined by security personnel. One could say that the separate lines wouldn't be necessary, but why not? Letting everyone group together and then trying to pick through the crowd would be unnecessarily cumbersome, defeating one of the purposes of racial profiling, which is to "give grandma a pass." Hopefully, such an image sufficiently brings back the specter of "white" and "colored" divisions under Jim Crow laws to give even the most hardline individuals pause in considering such a system.
What the racial profilers are proposing is insulting, offensive and -- by thought, word and deed, whether intentional or not -- racist. You want estrangement? Start down that road of using ethnicity, national origin and religion as a basis for police action and there's going to be a push-back unlike any seen in this country in many years.
The best solution, as one man pointed out in a letter to the editor, would be to do as the Israelis have, and make security training focused solely on spotting terrorist behavior. Trying to focus on anything else is simply a distraction. Random searches are still useful for their deterrent effect, and for keeping the searching skills of security personnel sharp. And I'd say that it is in our democratic interest to share the burdens of increased security, least we take out our anxiety on those who we outnumber.
Links used in this post:
Colbert I. King's Response
The Wikipedia Entry on Jean Charles de Menezes
David Harris's Letter to the Editor