December 28, 2009

Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this – we’re at the point where it’s quickly going to become an issue if you’re “traveling while non-white” in America, but with the recent attempted terrorist plot on Christmas Day, I’m surprised that the wingnuts aren’t jumping up and down claiming that all African passengers should be specifically pulled aside and screened, or people from Nigeria specifically. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the frustration here on all sides, and I understand how exceptionally difficult it can be to screen and find people who, for example, have explosives sewn into their underwear, without strip-searching every individual as they pass through security (which is absolutely unacceptable, by the way).

But to call for a “separate line for anyone named Abdul” is both counterproductive and a pretty ignorant backlash that wouldn’t solve anything and only encourage the people who already hate us to target us more. Hatred breeds more hatred, and while happiness and understanding never stopped an airline hijacking, there are plenty of constructive ideas floating about to keep these kinds of terror threats off our mass transit systems.

Let’s start with the typical right-wing mouth-frothing that’s going on right now:

The right wing’s predictable policy prescription in the aftermath of any terror incident is to impose greater ethnic profiling of Muslims. For instance, following the Ft. Hood shooting, Sarah Palin said, “profile away.” After six imams were removed from a plane in Minnesota in 2006, Ann Coulter justified profiling Muslims by arguing that it’s just like “profiling the Klan.” That same year, after British authorities revealed a terrorist plot to blow up planes headed to the U.S., right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher said, “It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line” at airports.

They’re at it again. In the wake of the failed terrorist attempt aboard a Northwest airlines flight on Christmas Day, the right wing is renewing its pleas for more profiling of Muslims:

Radio host Mike Gallagher: “There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed.” (Note: Those are some of the most common names in the world.)

Rep. Peter King (R-NY): “100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why we should not be profiling people because of their religion?”

Terrorism pundit Steven Emerson: “Remember, there have been so many complaints about quote, profiling, by the quote, Islamic civil rights groups, that they stopped basically profiling. And that basically led to not putting this guy onto the terrorist watch list.”

It’s kind of surprising that these kinds of ideas are coming from people who are so quick to trot out the Nazi analogies when another issue (health care) is up for discussion, when they don’t realize (or choose to ignore the fact) that it’s this kind of religion-based profiling of a group percieved to be a threat to the State that led to concentration camps in Germany. As soon as we start targeting people entirely because of their religion without any evidence of a threat (and claiming their religion is the basis of their threat), regardless of what hoops we choose to make them jump through, we’ve not only violated some of the core American values that we hold dear (as in the freedom to worship) but we march back in the direction of autocracy – the same direction we were pushing and shoving ourselves against when Bush was in office.

Broad-based ethnic profiling is counterproductive for a host of reasons. It creates a false sense of security and causes law enforcement resources to be wasted in chasing the wrong targets. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. John Walker Lindh was white, while Richard Reid was Jamaican and British. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has reported:

Terrorism profiling is a crude substitute for behavior-based enforcement. It violates core American values, including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. It also hinders anti-terrorism efforts because it alienates people and communities that are critical to the success of the anti-terrorism effort.

Non-specific profiling of certain religions or races amounts to a witch-hunt against a class of people, creating the perception among the larger society that those individuals containing certain suspect features (skin color, foreign-sounding names, foreign-language skills, etc) are to be feared.

Yesterday, two Middle Eastern men were pulled off a flight heading to Phoenix because passengers reported they were engaging in suspicious behavior. The men were speaking in a Middle Eastern language. And on a Detroit-bound flight yesterday, a Nigerian businessman was taken off an airplane because passengers became suspicious that he was lingering in the bathroom for too long. The FBI confirmed that the individual’s behavior was due to a legitimate illness.

We need to highlight these kinds of scenarios. I understand that this is very soon after an attempted attack, but we can’t start assuming that speaking Arabic on a plane makes you a threat, and we can’t assume that being African and having diarrhea on a plane makes you a threat either. If we’re getting to that point, we’ve got problems. I can only hope that this, like the same paranoia after other attempts, fades with a little time, and we manage to get a grasp on our collective sanity. After that, we can start thinking about real, proactive, and productive ways to screen people and minimize terror threats.

[ Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling: “There Should be a Separate Line [For] Anybody With the Name Abdul” ]
Source: Think Progress (via AlterNet)

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