Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001 / 21 Tishrei, 5762
As politically incorrect as it sounds, racial/ethnic "profiling" (the word itself has been distorted and become so offensive to some that I hesitate to use it) has been, is, and always should be an important weapon in the ever-depleting arsenal of our nation's crime fighters. For the past several years, African American "leaders" like Al Sharpton have, with significant success, done all they can (mostly for political gain) to discredit the practice of using common sense to combat law-breaking. In New Jersey, where statistics were badly manipulated to make it look as if state troopers where pulling over drivers simply because they were black men, the head of the state police was actually fired for having the gall to quote other statistics that indicate that certain demographic groups (not just African American men) tended to engage in certain types of crime.
Now, in the aftermath of the attack on America, hundreds of witnesses/suspects across the world have been apprehended, and almost all of them are of Arab ancestry. While there have been embarrassing and regrettable incidents of morons disguised as patriots harassing, injuring, and even killing people simply because they looked like the terrorists, the record of law enforcement in this matter, at least so far, is remarkably strong.
Here in the Delaware Valley alone there have been two very different incidents that prove the point. Less than two weeks after the tragedy a man with a handheld global position system requested maps of a hunting area near Wilmington. There was certainly nothing illegal or even necessarily suspicious about that inquiry except when one realizes (as the agent at the Delaware state Fish and Wildlife agency did) that the Cedar Swamp area for which this man was requesting information happens to be directly across from a nuclear power plant. And oh, by the way, the man happened to be of Middle Eastern descent.
The agent quickly called the FBI. A further investigation revealed that the man was an illegal Pakistani immigrant and that he had in his possession five guns, which are illegal for non-legal residents to buy or own. The man was arrested and held without bail the judge said, not because he was a suspected terrorist, but because of the nature of the alleged crime. Somehow, I am guessing that had his name been Steve Jones instead of Raza Nasir Khan, he would have never been questioned in the first place and certainly would have been allowed out on bail. And you know what? I am okay with that. I think many other (even some former worshipers of political correctness) Americans are as well. If we were at war with Germany and there were incidents of young German men terrorizing our nation, as someone named Ziegler, I would certainly expect and accept extra scrutiny.
That seems to be exactly the attitude of the other local player in this recent profiling game. His name is Akram Mena and his story is MUCH better known because it seems to fit far more nicely with the news media's biased view of "profiling." At first glance it seems that this case of mistaken identity is a great example of profiling gone wrong, but it is most certainly not. Mena happens to look a lot like Marwan al-Shehhi, who is believed to have piloted one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower. Residents of Berkeley Township, New Jersey, where Mena used to pump gas, called authorities to report the similarity and several newspapers (whose editorial boards are probably vehemently against profiling of any kind) reported that the gas station was under suspicion. Mena, who had left the gas station six months ago, got fired from his job as a welder, he says because of anti-Arab sentiment. The FBI eventually questioned Mena and acknowledged that the whole incident was indeed a case of mistaken identity.
However, the gas station (which is owned by Mena's cousin) saw its business drop over 75% as the public wrongly viewed it as a haven for terrorists. But even that temporary injustice was rectified when a local radio talk show urged residents to support the gas station (where Mena is now working again). In the end, very little real damage had been done and even Mena recognizes why it all happened. "I love America," he said. "I understand… I am very angry, too."
Nationally, 60 Minutes II reported that the terrorist plan to disrupt the Millennium celebration in Los Angeles was thwarted when a woman in Customs at the end of her shift got a "feeling" about a young Middle-Eastern man with "dead eyes." When searched, the man was found to be transporting the ingredients for a major bomb. Perhaps making better use of women's "intuition" in such cases wouldn't be a bad idea. Certainly we shouldn't be ashamed of using such resourceful tactics.
Keeping a more watchful eye on young Middle Eastern men during these
unprecedented times is hardly a full proof system of weeding out the true
terrorists among us, and feelings are certain to be bruised. But sometimes
fear of hurting the FEELINGS of the innocent must be put aside in favor of
protecting the LIVES of equally innocent people. I believe this is
undoubtedly one of those times, no matter what political correctness and the
news media try to tell
10/05/01:What if Osama just gave himself up?