In the wake of last week's London terrorist-plot arrests, some Americans are calling on the U.S. government to apply racial profiling to airport screening. Their argument goes something like this: Why should the federal Transportation Security Authority search little old white ladies, when young Arab and Muslim men were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and other terrorist plots?
The answer is: The feds should avoid racial profiling because it breeds discontent without enhancing security. Strict profiling can't work, as it will prompt terrorist cells to recruit outside the profile. They already are. The London suspects include the English son of a conservative politician, a convert to Islam, as well as a young mother and father whom authorities believe planned to bring their six-month-old baby on their target plane.
In 1986, British authorities stopped a pregnant Irish woman whose Palestinian boyfriend packed her off with a bomb as he flew her to Tel Aviv, ostensibly to meet his family. And don't forget the very white Timothy McVeigh, of Oklahoma City bombing fame. Follow the profile at your own risk.
Nico Melendez of the Department of Homeland Security told me that his agency is "100 percent" opposed to racial profiling because behavior is a better indicator of a threat than race or religion. What kind of behavior? The twitching of the eyes was an example. One advantage, according to Melendez: "The more a person tries to stop that, the more it happens."
As to complaints that seniors and children are searched needlessly, Melendez cited the 67-year-old man who hid a 9-inch knife in his prosthetic leg and the 10-year-old boy who unwittingly brought a teddy bear with a loaded gun a gift to the airport. Although, I should note, Melendez failed to establish that these weapons would have been used in an attack.
Of course, I think some security practices are overkill. I miss metal knives with airline meals, although Melendez tells me the government only bans serrated metal knives. Still, I don't complain much anyway because if a plane plot ever succeeds, I know that the same people who have been grousing about niggling security regulations will stomp all over the TSA for not doing everything possible to prevent an attack.
When people complain about the granny searches, I want to say to them: Get over it. Learn the difference between a nuisance and a hardship.
Law professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University Law School sent out an e-mail Tuesday that argued that racial profiling was constitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colleges could consider race for admissions because there was a "compelling state interest."
Then again, many conservatives I'm one oppose racial profiling for college admissions because it practices invidious discrimination. Or as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a Christian Lebanese American, noted, "The national interest is in treating people like human beings and not differentiating them unless absolutely, positively necessary."
Like me, Issa sees times when authorities might focus on an ethnic group or other profile such as, when intelligence points to a certain group. But, Issa added, "The difference between a lead and racial profiling is the difference between police work and group punishment." Profiling could poison an entire generation of American Arabs and Muslims.
And: "Why take millions of people who would be described as Arabs or Muslims for purposes of profiling and suddenly cause them to have a reason to doubt what's special about America?"
Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States has not seen a terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001. This country must be doing something right. Why go down the road of racial profiling when it likely will create new enemies without stopping old enemies?