Increasing hysteria

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Al-Qaeda, Terrorism Views: 3164

With the attempt to bring down that Northwest jet flying into Detroit on Christmas, the urge to profile Muslims and demonize Islam is becoming irresistible for some-especially those on Fox.

On Sunday, retired General Thomas McInerney said, "We have to use profiling. And I mean be very serious and harsh about the profiling. . . ."If you are an 18-28 year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip searched." Since there are a couple hundred million people in that category, this would make strip-searching at airports an interminable exercise.

McInerney didn't make any effort to hide his hatred of the entire religion of Islam, which he called "an ideology, not a religion."

The general is no theologian, but his crude response is quite popular, I'm afraid.

Sarah Palin, after the Fort Hood murders, said the military had fallen victim to "political correctness" and instead should "profile away."

Others on the right have weighed in, also, as Think Progress has noted.

Newt Gingrich said he was all for it.

Radio host Mike Gallagher put it crudely: "There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed."

And Rep. Peter King of New York chimed in: "100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why we should not be profiling people because of their religion?"

In America, we're going to start asking people's religion at the airline gate?

There are hundreds of thousands of African Americans who are Muslims. Should they all automatically be suspect?

There hundreds of millions of Muslims from countries where there is no Al Qaeda presence. Should they all automatically be suspect?

There are also hundreds of millions of Muslims where there is an Al Qaeda presence. Should they all automatically be suspect?

The Obama Administration's new mandatory policy of giving everyone from a list of 14 nations a full-body pat down is also overly broad and misguided. A nine-year-old girl from Lebanon deserves a pat down? A 90-year-old Algerian man traveling with his grandchildren needs one, too?

By relying on such crude yardsticks for measuring the risk of terrorism, the U.S. government and the fulminators on the right are not only going to be searching through endless haystacks, they are also going to be creating enmity among people in all these countries who are singled out. On top of that, the anti-Muslim rhetoric and any de facto anti-Muslim policy will invite hate crimes here in the United States.

That's why it's wise to take a more prudent and nuanced approach, relying on behavioral tip-offs and other tells. When someone pays in cash and carries little baggage, as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab did, then that person merits an extra look and a pat down. When someone is acting peculiar, that person should be pulled aside.

And, of course, when our government receives good intelligence - e.g. when a father goes to the U.S. embassy to warn about his son's radicalism-it would be nice if it could act swiftly and competently on that information.

Instead, whenever there is an intelligence breakdown, as there was here and as there was before 9/11, we're told we need to sacrifice more of our liberties. This leads to an endlessly slippery slope, as Jay Stanley of the ACLU has noted in his critique of full-body scanners.

"If terrorists even perceive that scanners will work, they take the next logical step and conceal explosives in their body cavities," Stanley writes. "Al Qaeda has already used this technique; in September a suicide bomber stowed a full pound of high explosives and a detonator inside his rectum, and attempted to assassinate a Saudi prince by blowing himself up. (The prince survived.) So it seems that when the next terrorist tries to blow up an airliner using this technique, all the usual jittery voices surely will once again say that we must abandon our personal dignity and privacy in order to block that particular kind of plot. So we'd just like to get ahead of the game and state right now that the ACLU will be opposed to that."

We need to be on guard for terrorism, no doubt about it.

But we shouldn't alienate a quarter of the world's population people in the process.

That won't make us any safer.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine, which is one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in the USA.

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Al-Qaeda, Terrorism
Views: 3164

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Older Comments:
Whilst I agree in principle with the ethos of this article, I would like to point out that we must also guard against letting stereotyping sway our judgment of who may or may not be a potential terrorist. The author questions whether a 9 year old girl or a 90 year old grandfather need patting down, as though by reason of age, these people could not possibly be suspects. A study of terrorism shows that making assumptions based on stereotypes about potential terrorists is a dangerous practice. Many of the suicide bombers in Iraq have been women (some even heavily pregnant)taking the security authorities completely by surprise, as they were working on stereotypes of young, male, bearded Muslims as potential terrorists. The PM of India, Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated in 1991 by a young, seemingly humble woman suicide bomber (a Tamil Tiger member), who detonated the deadly charge whilst prostrated at his feet. The Tamil Tigers had used cultural assumptions and utilised tactical advantages that women possess in their culture. The Indian security forces guarding the Prime Minister were working from established profiles of potential terrorists that did not include women. The Prime Minister himself shared the same assumptions as he dismissed the efforts of a female security officer who was attempting to prevent the bomber from prostrating herself at his feet thus enabling her to gain proximity to the target. There are many other examples from Pakistan, Palestine, Chechnya and Sri Lanka.

Terrorist groups respond to increased security measures in one area by devising new modus operandii in currently weak or previously unused areas.

By the way, what countries are the author referring to where there are "hundreds of millions of Muslims from countries where there is no Al Qaeda presence". Groups such as Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia and Abu Sayaf in the Philipines are at the very least ideologically affiliated with Al-Qaeda.