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Racial Profiling, Airport Security, and a Mad, Mad World

While the history of racial profiling is most familiarly associated with cases dealing with police officers pulling over a disproportionate number of drivers who are black, let's focus this debate on airport security, Arab or Muslim Americans post September 11, 2001.
Rather than write out pro- and con- aruguments, I'm just going to introduce the topic by offering a loosely organized array of resources that point to two sides of this debate.

Cases for Racial Profiling:
- The American Enterprise, "Better Safe Than (Occasionally) Sorry", by Scott Johnson. Argues that the ACLU et al. claim instances of racial profiling when law officials "are focusing on legitimately suspicious behavior, and not simply picking on people by ethnicity."
- The public supports it. According to a 2001 Gallup Poll which reported that 71 percent of blacks — as opposed to 57 percent of whites — believe Arabs and Arab-Americans should "undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes."
- Another poll demonstrates that this sentiment has not waned over time.
- On Slate.com, "Racial Profiling at the Airport", by Michael Kinsley, makes a strong case for, saying that the practice does not instill racism against Muslims or Arabs but leads to a "huge increase in public sensitivity to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice".
- In June 2003 the US Dept. of Justice released a memo, "Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies", which makes the legal case for federal law enforcement (which, since 2002, include airport security officers) to use race and ethnicity as a "legitimate tool".
Case Against:
- On Salon.com, "Why Racial Profiling Doesn't Work", Kim Zetter writes: "Terrorist attacks have been carried out by people of all ethnicities. What police need to look for is strange behavior, not dark skin."
- Critics claim racial profiling prevailed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, as law enforcement initially focused time and resources on two men of Middle Eastern descent (though Timothy McVeigh was identified and arrested less than two days after the attack).
- Being an Arab or Muslim is not, statistically, a accurate indicator of suspicion.
- ACLU's position and history.
- Islamic extremists increasingly recruit non-arab, of European descent, for terrorism. So racial profiling is ineffective.
- Israeli critique of our airport security and reliance on racial profiling and technology. Note: Israel is known for their strict airport security, racial profiling of Arabs, and success rate in preventing terrorist hijackings on Israeli airlines.
- Breeds and/or justifies racism and paranoia - we are told to report suspicious acts, but what are we instinctively looking for? Exemplified by the media's profiling of Muslims this decade.
- Book by David A. Harris, Profiles in Injustice

- What if it could stop the next attack? Would it be worth it?
- Questionable whether it infringes on civil liberties as outlined in the constitution.
- Does the current use of racial profiling set a dangerous precedent? Could another catastrophe or economic recession or depression lead us to another race, religion or ethnicity to profile?

Examples in the news:

- In 2006, Imams, dressed in Western clothing were pulled off a US Airways flight.

- Wikipedia page on Racial Profiling
- Definition of Racial Profiling by the ACLU
- About.com's section on Racial Profiling after 9/11

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Your first question above ("what if it could stop the next attack?") strikes at the heart of the issue. To my mind, the central question of racial profiling and other measures adopted in the name of security is this: How much freedom are We prepared to trade for greater security?
To make that question meaningful, two debatable propositions need to hold true. First, profiling by race must actually occur. Second, profiling must lead to greater security. Those propositions seem both empirical and questionable--and, in either case, beyond my reach.
What I can say is more abstract. I capitalized "We" in the question above because I want to emphasize that racial profiling and similar measures do not only affect muslims, blacks or any other target. They affect all of us. In the words of Martin Luther King, "injustice anywhere is an affront to justice everywhere." In today's world, as in Dr. King's, those words are not merely high-sounding rhetoric. To see their relevance, simply place yourself in the shoes of a profiled group. For example, what if future security measures call for monitoring politically-active bloggers? That scenario is certainly alarmist, but not unimaginable. The rights and freedoms of Americans should not depend on their skin color or religious beliefs. That equality was enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment 150 years ago, and should remain in force today.
Racial profiling for terrorism is a joke. Basically what government officials and security contractors are looking out for are Muslim terrorists, right? Well, Islam is a religion, not a race. There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world, and they do not all look like Lawrence of Arabia or Aladdin. In the U.S., especially in cities with large African-American populations you have many black Muslims. According to statistics from the Islamic Society of North America, (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1146265), Latinos have become the most numerous recent converts to Islam in the U.S. and number about 40,000. Many North Africans I have met appear Caucasian to me and there are many white American and Europeans who have converted to Islam. Isn't one of the members of the national Italian soccer team a Muslim also?

Like Christianity, Islam is also an evangelical religion with a dark history of using brute force (jihad) to convert non-Muslims. Jihad was meant as warfare to defend Muslims, but has been abused to drive Muslims to force non-Muslims to convert or die. Islamic warriors rode into Africa hundreds of years ago, converting almost all of North Africa and much of Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the country with the largest Muslim population-Indonesia-is nowhere near Arabia. There are millions of Chinese Muslims living along the Pakistani-Chinese border. Islam was introduced to China not even 20 years after Mohamed ascended to heaven (or just plain died, however you view it). In fact, almost every country in the world has a Muslim population. So looking for a Muslim terrorist with stereotypical Arabian features is not only ineffective buy downright idiotic and reflective of our government's gross ignorance of Islam.

Suppose Saudi Arabia was attacked by Christian fundamentalists who were getting revenge for 9/11. The next day Saudi Arabia writes into law legislation that obligates Saudi airport security to racially profile Christian terrorists. What would a Christian look like in the eyes of a Saudi Arabian? If their only contact with Christian infidels is with President George Bush, then they'd be looking for a white guy. In other words, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson could walk right through a Saudi airport with a bomb in their carry-on luggage because airport security would be too busy rifling through Bill Clinton's bags.

Dateline NBC did a story interviewing French and Italian intelligence agents who report Islamic terrorist sleeper cells in their countries with the operatives being Muslims who are clean-shaven, eat pork and drink wine in order to blend in with the general French and Italian population. The intelligence agents report that these Muslims' cause (the jihad against the West) justifies violating their religion by eating pork, drinking alcohol and shaving their beards.

In other words, the real terrorist knows the feds are looking for Lawrence of Arabia, so they are disguising themselves to appear as anything but. It's like those Grand Theft Auto games where the cops are looking for your player's color car but once you change the color of your car and the police stop looking for you.

So even if you disregard the civil liberties argument, racial profiling for Muslim terrorists is still yet another flawed Bush Administration policy.

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