In hindsight, the tragic day of September 11th plays back in our heads in slow-motion mellow drama. We remember the buildings collapsing, the bodings flying, the people covered in dust. We remember our flag, our soil, our leader, our country. We remember, above all the fear that spread like chemical warfare and kept us in our shells. And considering all of this, considering all that America has been through, in minds of the country at that moment was the obligation to never allow something like this to happen again.
But let’s stop. Let’s turn off the background music, and start to look at this more objectively. In order to prevent terrorism, emotionally charged mindsets could upset reason and ultimately make the country more susceptible to future terrorist attacks. It is unlike a movie, literature, a romanticized ad. The term “Terrorism”, although popularized in the media as “religious extremism”, is really in its most objective form, abstract and largely dependent on the eye of the beholder or the context of the situation. It is strikingly evident however, that the post-9/11 efforts in preventing “terrorism” have solidified the subject into one entity. This entity is a “young, Arab man”. This entity is “foreigner”. This entity is “dissent”.
Primarily, “racial profiling” has been the most general counterterrorism strategy employed by not only the government but also by the developing prejudice of the entire nation. The initial justification for racial profiling, a term loaded with negative connotations in the law enforcement world, has been that it is simply common sense in the fight against terror. Supporters of racial profiling claim that America shouldn’t worry about being “politically correct” over national security, proposing that terrorist actions are more obvious then they seem
So they [9/11 hijackers] weren’t masters of disguise, adept at blending into any situation. They weren’t like the Nazi spies in war movies, urbane and charming in their unaccented English. It apparently never occurred to them to act natural, read Newsweek, watch a movie, eat a salad, listen to Lite Rock Favourites of the Seventies, treat the infidel- whore waitress the way a westerner would. But it didn’t matter. Because the more they stuck out, the more everyone who mattered was trained not to notice them (Source C)
In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 2005, Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution also defended the racial profiling of young Muslim men in New York City subways as common sense, “Young Muslim men bombed the London tube, and young Muslim men attacked New York with planes in 2001. From everything we know about the terrorists who may be taking aim at our transportation system, they are most likely to be young Muslim men” (Source C). To economists, racial profiling in the Justice System makes statistical sense, “statistical discrimination [business necessity], untainted by bigotry, is optimal from a policing perspective because it maximizes the number of arrests consequent upon a given number of persons stopped” (Source C). While proponents justify racial profiling as “smart law enforcement”, opponents couldn’t disagree more. Establishing an archetypal image of a “terrorist” makes it all the easier for terrorist in reality to evade those characteristics. Addressing the same London bombing stated earlier, Raymond Kelly, a New York City police commissioner argues, “If you look at the London bombings, you have three British citizens of Pakistani descent. You have Germaine Lindsay [the fourth London suicide bomber], who is Jamaican. You have the next crew [in London], on July 21st, who are East African. You have a Chechen woman in Moscow in early 2004 who blows herself up in the subway station. So whom do you profile?” (Source C). The established “young Muslim man” standard also didn’t prevent Richard Reid from his “shoe bomb” attempt and wouldn’t have prevented Timothy McVeigh from implementing the second deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil [Oklahoma City]. Government officials who spoke to the Associated Press only on condition of anonymity said evidence dating before Sept. 11 shows that al-Qaeda operatives have been learning non-Arabic languages like French, English and Spanish. Al Qaeda sympathizers also have reached out to non-Arabic Muslim populations seeking new recruits of different Asian and European ethnicities whose accent or appearance might not draw suspicion (Source E).
Racial profiling is also the primary means of gathering intelligence through detainment. We don’t know how many people have been detained; in early November, less than two months into investigation, the Justice Department said the number was 1147, but as criticism mounted over the numbers detained, the Justice Department responded by simply stopping its practice of announcing the running tally. In his article, “The Ashcroft Raids”, David Cole proposes the striking similarities between the racial targeting of post 9/11 to the Palmer Raids of 1919,
As in the Palmer Raids, the government seems to have dispensed with developing probable cause before arresting individuals, and instead has used pretext- usually of routine immigration violations- as its justification for detention of hundreds of persons for whom it has only the faintest suspicions. As in 1919, the government seems to be proceeding not on grounds of individual culpability, but of guilt by association. And as in the Palmer Raids, the government has targeted its efforts almost exclusively at immigrants, a group that by definition has no voice in the political process (Source A)
Of the 1200-2000 people detained, only Zaracrias Moussaoui, who was picked up three weeks before the attacks had been charged with involvement in the 9/11 violence (Source A). The detainees fall under four categories: More than 725 have been held for alleged immigration status violations, about 120 for federal crimes unrelated to September 11th, an undisclosed number for state criminal charges, and a similarly undisclosed but small number of federal material witnesses. Nearly all the detainees are from Arab countries that have little or no connection to 9/11 (Source A). On a larger scale, the ineffectiveness of racial profiling has been proven in the UK, where the proportion of “Asians” stopped by the police under the new anti-terror legislation tripled in the 18 months following 9/11; to date, not one of these has resulted in conviction for terrorism offence (Source F)
Unfortunately, the government isn’t the only one responsible for promoting racial division between Muslim Americans and the rest of the country. The attitudes of law enforcement and the general public have been largely discriminatory against the Muslim community as violence in hate crimes continue to rise; in Phoenix, for instance, someone threw homemade dry-ice bombs into the backyard of an Iraq-American family. In Burbank, a man blew up a Palestinian family’s van (Source D). Isolating the Muslim community turns away a vital source of intelligence America could be receiving in understanding the real enemy. It seems as though terrorist organizations are only a tiny minority of the Muslim community, the extremity of this status blinds the majority of the world in its perception of true Muslim culture, one that honors the value of peace.
Racial Profiling, in itself, is ineffective because it is built on superficial suspicion rather than empirical evidence. Put into context to the war on terror, however, where recent “terrorist” activity has consistently been related to the Middle East and “Al Qaeda”, it is difficult not to consider the “race” factor in the terrorist profile. Although the term “terrorism” is certainly not limited to the actions of al Qaeda, there is a strong link between Islamic beliefs and terrorist acts shown in recent trends, a link that should not be ignored through forced self-ignorance in hopes of being simply, “politically correct”. Considering this “link” however, does not justify the broad generalization of Arabs; racial description should only be a consideration of the terrorist profile, not used to decide the beliefs and behaviors of an entire race of people. In this respect, the overgeneralization from Muslim Americans to the even broader status of “immigrants” is even more outrageous. In a previous post, Ramona Ripston profiled three screeners fired from their jobs because they held green cards, all of them of Hispanic descent. Casting a large net only brings unwanted prey.
Viewing the events that happened on 9/11 objectively and counterterrorism strategies analytically is not synonymous with emotional detachment from the actual event itself. We must always remember that day and how it shook the entire world- but first base reactions, fear, and fury are never rational means of obtaining true national security. In this sense, the means of protection through racial profiling might perceivably be “common sense” and “smart law enforcement”, but the lasting of its effects are only short term and superficial in quelling the nerves of the mainstream masses. We must keep our heads above the water and look at the facts, whether those facts consider the racial links, culture links, gender links ext, the extent of targeting individuals based only on something as generic as “foreign status” is not considerate enough to generate effective security. In the midst of doing something perceivably “productive”, we are, in reality, being remarkably counterproductive in the fight against terror, isolating our Muslim community, violating civil liberties, wasting time, wasting money, promoting a negative national image, all of which allow terrorism to perpetuate.
Cole, David. The Ashcroft Raids. It’s A Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11. New York: RDV Books, 2002. 280-85. (Source A)
Harcourt, Bernard E. “Muslim Profiles Post9/11: Is Racial Profiling an Effective Counterterrorist Measure and Does it Violate the Right to be Free from Discrimination?” Thesis. University of Chicago, 2006. University of Chicago. 16 May 2009 <http://www.law.uchicago.edu/academics/publiclaw/123.pdf>. (Source B)
Mark Steyn, “Stop Frisking Crippled Nuns,” Spectator, June 1, 2001. Copyright 2001 by Spectator. (Source C)
Paulson, Amanda. “Rise In Hate Crimes Worries Arab-Americans.” 10 Apr. 2003. SIRS. (Source D)
Solomon, John. “Officals Say al- Qaida Is Branching.” 7 Feb. 2002. SIRS. Shanghai American School Pudong, Shanghai. 16 May 2009. Keyword: Racial Profiling. (Source E)Suroor, Hasan. “Racism in teh Air.” Frontline Magazine Sept. & oct. 2006: 48-50. (Source F)