Racial Profiling and Counterterrorism
The Examiner editorial board weighs into the controversial description of 17 Middle Eastern terrorists suspects arrested in Canada last week as coming from “the broad strata of our community.”
[I]n the PC world — where no culture is any “better” or “worse” than any other — nobody is allowed to speak in any way that might ever be conceived as an ethnic or nationalistic slight. That is why the “they are just like us” meme is such a familiar part of the official and mainstream media descriptions of those accused of terrorist planning and crimes.
It is also why gray-haired grandmothers from Dubuque and even a World War II Medal of Honor winner are just as likely to be stopped and searched at the airport as the bearded 21-year-old Abdul from Cairo.
While I agree with my colleague Steve Verdon (here and here) that there are plenty of terrorists, including Islamist ones, who are of European, African, and Asian descent, I agree with the Examiner that profiling and common sense should play a role in the screening process. (Indeed, Steve says as much in a footnote in the initial post.)
Ed Morrissey gets it right when he writes,
We cannot win this war while we ignore the lines of communication from the enemy. We certainly cannot win any war if we remain afraid to name our enemy. Western governments want to pretend that our enemy is a tactic rather than a person, and so play a little dance when the tactic continually gets used by one particular strain of religious fanatics — Islamists. This dance insults our intelligence, and it insults the intelligence of everyone else, our enemies included.
Still, although Lorie Byrd is axiomatically right when she observes, “To Fight Terrorism You Have To Correctly Identify The Enemy,” the enemy is jihadist killers, not young Arab men. The enemy is using teenage girls and old women as suicide bombers these days. They also have white co-conspirators, including the likes of John Walker Lindh. And black men such as the DC snipers and the would-be University of North Carolina killer. So, while young Arab men should reasonably receive more scrutiny than little old ladies, focusing exclusively on the former will let bad guys through; indeed, once the profile became evident, the enemy would use those who don’t fit the profile for most of their operations, with perhaps the occasional sacrificial Arab thrown in to keep us off the scent.
The logical implications of Morrissey’s argument is that we should focus especial attention on radical madrassahs and mosques–including one less than two miles from where I work–without apology. While undermining the training and recruiting ground for our domestic enemies without alienating the vast majority of Muslims who are non-jihadis is a neat trick, it has to be done. We can’t delude ourselves that Islam isn’t a part of the puzzle. Just as dangerous, though, is believing it’s the entire puzzle.
UPDATE: By way of background, the “broad strata” quote originates with Mike McDonnell, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “They’re all residents of Canada and for the most part, they’re all citizens.” McDonell said. “They represent the broad strata of our community. Some are students, some are employed, some are unemployed.”
It should be noted, though, that the very next line in the story is: “‘For various reasons. they appear to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al Qaeda,’ said Luc Portelance, assistant director of operations at the Canadian spy service, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”