Sunday, July 27, 2008
A note on the need for racial profiling
This essay will not plumb the complexities of the issue of racial profiling, since I have done so exhaustively here before—see my previous essays:
Muslim Profiling in a Nutshell,
Muslim Profiling in a Peanut Shell,
Racial Profiling and the Problem of Islam,
Reverse Racism and Islam.
Today, I just want to bring up one typical objection to the proposed utilization of racial profiling when dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism. I do not have in mind that typical objection “but Islam is not a race!”—which I have refuted in the essays linked above.
The objection I have in mind is the concern that, by setting up a profiling methodology that will rationally focus more on people who look like Muslims (i.e., more attention on people who look like Sayid of the popular ABC show Lost rather than Brad Pitt, or more attention on people who look like Mohammed Atta rather than Carrot Top, or more attention on people who look like Kal Penn (of Harold & Kumar fame) rather than Daniel Radcliffe aka Harry Potter—you get the idea), we will end up targeting many people who look like Muslims but are really non-Muslims, such as Middle Eastern Christians or Jews, or Central Asian Buddhists or Hindus—and even sometimes Hispanics in the context of the probability of Muslims entering the US and/or smuggling weapons in via the Mexican border.
While this concern has moral ground, it is not an absolute principle that should trump all counter-concerns for our safety in the face of our overarching danger: a global diaspora of Muslims (who are mostly non-white and non-Western) among whom are innumerable terrorists and terrorist enablers plotting complex, horrendous attacks against us that may take years or even decades to implement—terrorists and their enablers who are for practical purposes indistinguishable from the wider population of Muslims.
Now we get to the punchline: In this context, there was the statement made by an al Qaeda operative, who went by the name Abu Dawood, reported by the Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir who interviewed him some time ago in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the citation for this interview remains rather shadowy; the link I provided above comes from a web news service “canadafreepress.com” and their citation irresponsibly fails to provide a date and an original source for Hamid Mir’s interview. I shall try to track down a better source.
At any rate, according to this report, Abu Dawood told Hamid Mir about the next attack on America, one that is intended to be worse than 911:
We have a different plan for the next attack. You will see. Americans will hardly find out any Muslim names, after the next attack. Most of our brothers are living in Western countries, with Jewish and Christian names, with passports of Western countries. This time, someone with the name of Muhammad Atta will not attack inside America, it would be some David, Richard or Peter.
We—and particularly our political representatives—have an obligation to err on the side of caution when threats like this exist. Given all that we know about the unique nature of the threat of Islam and the potential for ongoing terrorism, it would be foolish to pursue an unnecessarily limited profiling methodology that would let moral concerns for collateral damage among non-Muslims who look like Muslims (whether that damage be simply inconvenience, or the insult of assumptions based on ethnic appearance, or detention, or worse) trump our pre-eminent priority: our safety.