Hot off the heels of his brilliant case against considering the War on Terror a “war,” the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart argues against conservative calls for racial & religious profiling in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack, since profiling is “not only ugly, but counterproductive”:
With Pavlovian predictability, right wing pundits greet terror scares with the chant: Profile the swarthy! Stop treating people of all races alike! Don’t let political correctness (once known as the high principle of color blindness) put us all at risk.
Actually, it’s a bit more subtle than that. Conservatives don’t call for racial profiling; they call for religious profiling. Strip-search the Muslims!
Ugly insinuation of racism aside, Beinart argues that giving Muslims and Middle Easterners extra scrutiny “will never work,” because it would have done nothing to prevent numerous acts of violence such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Virginia Tech shooting, and others committed by non-Muslims from Western nations, with Western names and features:
Airport officials have finite resources. The more they concentrate those resources on a profiled subset of the population, the less scrutiny everyone else gets. And the less scrutiny everyone else gets, the greater al Qaeda’s incentive to recruit terrorists who fall into that less-scrutinized category.
Yes, there is no way to prevent every conceivable threat 100% of the time. Bureaucratic incompetence factors unrelated to race must be addressed. We should reevaluate how people get visas in the first place. We need the latest technology, well-trained security personnel, strict restrictions on what can be brought on a plane, and some measure of intrusion and inconvenience for everybody. There’s a lot we could learn from Israel in this regard.
But technology can only go so far, and as Beinart says, resources are finite. We can debate the particular degree that is appropriate, but since there’s an international movement rooted in a specific religion & region that means to destroy us, it’s only common sense to devote some measure of extra attention to those who fit the movement’s profile—especially considering that movement’s known interest in chemical and biological weapons (an interest not shared with your average white supremacist, disgruntled postal worker, or Christian fundamentalist). That attention wouldn’t catch every threat, but it would increase our chances against many—including the perpetrators of 9/11.
In response to the point about al Qaeda’s adaptability, terror expert Steven Emerson points out that:
One thing that has remained relatively constant is the pool of willing and able recruits. If some of the most well-trained and effective terrorists cannot carry out their mission because of profiling, that makes the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack that much slimmer. The new operatives may be less well-trained and hence less deadly. What they will undoubtedly have in common with their more experienced brethren, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality, will be an adherence to radical Islam.
Besides, it’s not as if conservatives are arguing that white Christians should be waved through with little scrutiny while every single Arab who wants to get on a plane is strip-searched and grilled about his life story. Ironically, Beinart’s own column links to a Daily Beast colleague, Tunku Varadarajan, with smart reform proposals that, while not obsessed with race & religion, acknowledge their relevance.
In fact, many conservative complaints about the status quo are not so much about promoting new measures as they are about opposing idiotic, politically-incorrect insistence on ignoring race and religion at all costs. Emerson cites random searches as a prime example: “Nothing is more unproductive than searching an 80-year-old woman in a wheelchair from Sweden or a 3-year-old child simply because she or he was the 10th person in line.” The Left’s hysteria over anything that could even remotely be seen as “discrimination” has created a culture of fear in which multiple warning signs about Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan were ignored because they pertained to his religious beliefs.
Beinart ends with a bizarre attempt to psychoanalyze conservatives: “At root, they simply don’t believe that people who look and pray like them could ever be terrorists.” But in the final analysis, I think this tells us more about liberals like Peter Beinart than it does about those of us who want to inject a little sanity into a system that most certainly does not work.