Profiling is Not the Answer

No matter what the question may be.

Despite the expected push to put racial profiling back on the table, in the wake of last week’s thwarted terror attack, racial profiling is illegal, inefficient, and distracts from responsible alternatives. While a significant portion of terrorists have been Arabic or Muslim, this fact gives no information about the likelihood that a given traveler will be a terrorist, and impermissibly blinds law enforcement to other avenues of attack.

Further, by all evidence, instituting racial profiling would be a gross overreaction to a narrow problem. Both recent attacks associated with Islamic fundamentalism — at Fort Hood, and on Flight 253 — stemmed from a failure to act on available intelligence. Nidal Malik Hasan’s radicalization was a tragic but acknowledged fact, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the instigator of last week’s attack, was in the system, and had been flagged to the U.S.’ attention by no less than his father. To catch these terrorists before they act, we don’t need new information (and we don’t need absurd, hyper-narrowly tailored new airline rules): we need to process the information we already have.

The sad truth is that in both cases, the system failed. But while airline inspectors and security departments have the last chance to deter an attack, prevention starts much earlier. The danger we face is not “Islam” — it’s a perverted version of Islam peddled to the poor, the vulnerable, and their sympathizers (contra Erickson’s cartoonish conception of terrorists). To win the war on terror, we must identify our foe, and target the most narrow group possible to accomplish our goal, both to preserve civil society and avoid racism, and to more appropriately deter attacks. That starts by leaving racial profiling where it belongs: in the distant past.



  1. You may be interested in reading the Carnival Booth paper – it’s a demonstration that shows just how useless profiling is.

  2. Sometimes it’s in our own language, without us noticing it: what the heck do you mean with “ethnically Muslim”? It is a religion, not a race (and European convertites are often among the most radical). That reminds of a German news anchor whom I heard speak a few years back about the “state of relations between Germans and Yews”, but I guess most of my compatriots would not even today see the problem with that phrase unless you sat down with them and analyzed each word step by step.

  3. Ah oops, that is Jews in English, isn’t it? Sorry.

  4. Mintman, I hadn’t thought of that. What I meant was Arabic, but I can see that the choice of words was wrong. I’ll change it; thanks!

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