Our political obsession with identifying Others is potentially as dangerous as it is offensive. Safety is a legitimate role for the government, to the extent it can reasonably be achieved. But we need to uncover the psychopaths (or related variants) who would be murderers, regardless of skin color. Racial profiling is the appearance of safety for political cover. With this week’s news about Colleen Renee LaRose, the Philadelphia woman (Image) suspected of recruiting for terrorist organizations, I want to repost an entry I wrote almost five years ago.
With a new terrorist threat to the New York subway system gripping the nation, the blogosphere is abuzz. I obviously share everyone’s concern and want our police and security forces to thwart any (potentially) forthcoming attacks. In an effort to accomplish this, the debate seems to descend to an argument simple profiling. When the constitutionality of profiling inevitably arises, the proponent either responds with some variation of “Constitution be damned” or “random” searches. New York implemented a random search policy for backpacks, which was incomplete, at best. (ed. note: Dead links omitted.) Yet, the proponents of profiling continue to advocate ineffective policies. Consider this from La Shawn Barber, who writes extensively and credibly about the threat of terrorism:
Will Islamofascists bomb the NYC subway? Is it all just a rumor? Your guess is as good as the government s. Flip a coin. Draw a straw. Throw it against a wall and see if it sticks.
Are they still searching little old ladies and skipping young men of Middle Eastern descent because it would be racist to search them? Probably.
It would be racist but I’m not against if for that reason. Immediate threats to safety must shake the debate from simple intellectual discourse. But within that intellectual discourse, reason can provide insight into how such a policy could fail, and fail miserably.
I don’t normally agree with Michelle Malkin on much, as evidenced by the posts here where I’ve referenced her blog. But with her reporting on last weekend’s suicide bomber in Oklahoma, she’s doing excellent work highlighting deeper facts in the case. There are indications that the bomber, Joel Henry Hinrichs III, was a Muslim. He attended a local mosque in Norman, OK. His Pakistani roommate hasn’t been heard from since the bombing. Mr. Hinrichs’ bomb included TATP, an explosive compound not commonly used in America, but popular with terrorists. He tried to purchase a large amount of ammonium nitrate. On Saturday, he apparently tried to enter the stadium during the Oklahoma football game before settling on the bench where he blew himself up (intentionally or unintentionally). Etc. I don’t know what story these and other facts will eventually tell, but it seems clear that there is more to the story than just some depressed guy commiting suicide. While I’m not ready to declare this an Islamofascist suicide bombing on American soil, the details of this case should be pursued.
This case also highlights the ineffectiveness of racial profiling in our attempt to prevent further terrorism. Click this picture of Mr. Hinrichs. (Image Source) Ignore the beard; a roommate of mine in college had a beard like that and he was no terrorist, unless you count accidentally killing fish when his hydroponic fish tank failed. So let me ask the obvious question. Say Mr. Hinrichs had tried to bomb the New York subway. Would racial profiling for “young men of Middle Eastern descent” have caught him? Is it reasonable to assume that if we rely on racial profiling, terrorists will switch tactics to include racial (and gender) profiles we’re not looking for?