Jewish World Review August 20, 2004 / 3 Elul 5764
Racial profiling: A matter of survival
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When our national security is on the line, "racial profiling" — or more precisely, threat profiling based on race, religion or nationality — is justified. Targeted intelligence-gathering at mosques and in local Muslim communities, for example, makes perfect sense when we are at war with Islamic extremists.
Yet, last week, the FBI came under fire for questioning Muslims in Seattle about possible terrorist ties. Members of a local mosque complained to Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who called for a congressional investigation of the FBI's innocuous tactics. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington accused the agency of "ethnic profiling."
But where else are federal agents supposed to turn for help in uncovering terrorist plots by Islamic fanatics: Buddhist temples? Knights of Columbus meetings? Amish neighborhoods?
Some might argue that profiling is so offensive to fundamental American values that it ought to be prohibited, even if the prohibition jeopardizes our safety. Yet many of the ethnic activists and civil-liberties groups who object most strenuously to the use of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality classifications during war support the use of similar classifications to ensure "diversity" or "parity" in peacetime.
The civil-rights hypocrites have never met a "compelling government interest" for using racial, ethnicity or nationality classifications they didn't like, except when that compelling interest happens to be the nation's very survival.
Consider what happened in summer 2001, when Phoenix FBI agent Kenneth Williams urged his superiors to investigate militant Muslim men whom he suspected of training in U.S. flight schools as part of al-Qaeda missions.
Williams' recommendation was rejected, FBI Director Robert Mueller later said, partly because of concerns that the plan could be viewed as discriminatory racial profiling.
Mueller acknowledged that if Williams' Phoenix profiling memo had been shared with the agency's Minneapolis office, which had unsuccessfully sought a special intelligence warrant to search suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui's laptop computer, the warrant might have been granted.
If the FBI had taken Williams' advice, the feeling of some Arabs and Muslims might have been hurt. But the Twin Towers might still be standing and 3,000 innocent people might be alive today.
Absolutists who oppose national-security profiling often invoke the World War II experience of Japanese-Americans. When asked whether the 12 Muslim chaplains serving in the armed forces should be vetted more carefully than military rabbis or priests, Sarah Eltantawi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council raised the specter of Japanese internment.
The analogy is ridiculous. The more extensive screening of 12 military officers is a far cry from the evacuation of 112,000 individuals on the West Coast. The targeted profiling of Muslims serving in sensitive positions is not a constitutional crisis.
Some argue that the dismissal of charges against Army Capt. James Yee, a former Muslim chaplain who ministered to enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was initially suspected of espionage, undermines the case for profiling of any kind. Not at all. As the Defense Department has acknowledged, the military's 12 Muslim chaplains were trained by a radical Wahhabi school and were certified by a Muslim group founded by Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was charged in September 2003 with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Libya, a U.S.-designated sponsor of terrorism. These associations cannot be ignored.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon caved in to Eltantawi and her fellow travelers. Rather than focus exclusively on the 12 Muslim chaplains, it pressed forward with a review of all 2,800 military chaplains.
The refusal to be discriminating was, as Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., acknowledged, the "height of politically correct stupidity."
In the wake of 9/11, opponents of profiling have shifted away from arguing against it because it is "racist" and now claim that it endangers security because it is a drain on resources and damages relations with ethnic and religious minorities, thereby hampering intelligence-gathering. These assertions are cleverly fine-tuned to appeal to post-9/11 sensibilities, but they are unfounded and disingenuous. The fact that al-Qaeda is using some non-Arab recruits does not render profiling moot. As long as we have open borders, Osama bin Laden will continue to send Middle East terrorists here by land, sea and air. Profiling is just one discretionary investigative tool among many.
Post-9/11, the belief that racial, religious and nationality profiling is never justified has become a dangerous bugaboo. It is unfortunate that loyal Muslims or Arabs might be burdened because of terrorists who share their race, nationality or religion. But any inconvenience is preferable to suffering a second mass terrorist attack on American soil.
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JWR contributor Michelle Malkin is the author of, most recently, "In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)