Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On discrimination for defense

In light of this past week's anniversary, discussion has again focused upon national defense, and the best available measures for prevention of a repeat of five years ago. Threats have come, supposedly from bin Laden’s camp, that, even as we sit here, there is somebody in-country with the wherewithal to deliver another devastating attack -- details to come in a celebratory film at Ramadan’s conclusion, I suppose. And our Homeland Security people, in theory, have a plan to defend us against it.

Discussing said defense, The Volokh Conspiracy and points elsewhere on the internet, this week, the topic of racial profiling keeps popping up, and the opinion is -- as usual -- divided along political bias (not strictly partisan, though) lines. Most conservatives are in favor of it (Andrea Zinga, our own district’s Republican candidate for Congress, for example, quite undiplomatically said it might be a good thing), while most liberals find it offensive in the extreme, regardless of potential dangers (gads, the dilemma of being a'sploded by a politically correct bomb!). Racial profiling is, it seems, a mighty bone of contention.

Me, I'm agin it.

But I'm not so much opposed because it's politically incorrect or unconstitutional, or whatever. In times of war, lots of constitutional rights have been tossed aside temporarily -- especially habeas corpus. It has been a realistic approach to national security, regardless of the temporary setback to civil rights. If temporarily suspending some people’s civil right could guarantee that our constitution,over the long haul, remained intact and respected, well... I could respect that. And as just about everybody knows, I have no problem with being caught in a politically incorrect opinion. Quite frankly, I don’t care about anybody else’s feelings if my family’s safety is to be compromised in exchanged for somebody’s sense of emotional comfort.

Still, I'm opposed to racial and religious profiling for their defense.

The Left argues that the vast majority of black-haired, brown-skinned men between the ages of, say, fifteen and fifty are law-abiding, decent, caring individuals. In that they're accurate. The Right argues that the vast majority of terrorists are between the ages of 18 and 28, and come from the Arab Muslim community. They're correct, as well. This gets us precisely nowhere. I’m opposed to making all Asian Muslim males form a separate line at airports, not for the common political reasons, but because pragmatically it's not such a good deal.

The “game” isn't about genetic links. It isn't about brown eyes versus blue eyes (although mine are a lovely shade of blue, just like my father's). It isn’t even about religious affiliation, even though that’s a fairly large element in all of this.

The terrorist organizations aren't comprised of complete idiots -- they're in the process of recruiting Scandinavian women, according to a number of secondary news outlets. Women in America and other Western nations are converting to Islam in rather large numbers, many of them falling directly into radical mosques. Rumor has it, they’re not all doing so because they’re looking for husbands in a polygamous culture. In that round-up in London last month was a woman planning to use her infant son as camouflage for her carry-on explosives. And, didn't we just read last spring about some Belgian woman who blew herself and several people up in Iraq? So, religion-induced homicidal insanity is not just for spoiled Arab college boys any more. They will find a way around narrow "look-ism" at security posts.

This is not to say I'm against discrimination. (Personally, I tend to think of myself as a woman of discriminating tastes -- but no money to indulge them.) But discrimination must be based on something other than the absolute superficiality of skin tone and hair/eye color. It should not be limited to separating out the Muslim men waiting in line to travel. When our security teams are taught to profile at airports and train stations and the like, it shouldn't be about Is-he-Arab-Muslim-looking, but about Is-he-or-she-acting-like-a-hit-man. The Israelis have honed the behavioral profiling techniques to a fine edge, and, in their precarious situation, have managed to keep their airports and outgoing flights the most secure in the world, without depriving travelers of every requisite comfort.

That's successful, rational discrimination. And, that's where we need to be heading. God willing and Insha’Allah.

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