To profile or not to profile? Some recent suspicious incidents involving mass purchase of cell phones by Middle Eastern men have given this debate a new urgency. On Tuesday, terrorism charges were dropped against two Muslims from Dearborn, Michigan, who had been arrested in Ohio. Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan had been stopped for a traffic violation a week before; in their car, sheriff’s deputies found $11,000 in cash, airline passenger lists, material about airport security procedures, and twelve cell phones. It turned out that they had bought 600 cell phones recently.
Cell phones can be used as detonators. They’re also a ready means of non-traceable communication, as well as an easy source of ready cash, as they can be resold to people who don’t want their calls traceable. There have been several other strange incidents involving mass purchase of such phones recently: three Palestinians were recently arrested in Texas with 1,000 cell phones in their van, and there was another incident involving “Middle Eastern men” buying cell phones in large quantities in Tucson, Arizona.
These incidents, especially all coming around the same time, are extremely suspicious, but even before prosecutors dropped the terror charges against Houssaiky and Abulhassan, charges of racial profiling began surfacing in the mainstream media. A public defender handling Abulhassan’s case, Ray Smith, said of his client at a hearing: “If his name was Joe Smith, we wouldn’t be here. His origin and appearance and name condition us to (think), ‘Oh my gosh, he’s a terrorist.’” The dropping of the charges will only reinforce this impression, despite the fact that many questions remain about the case and Washington County, Ohio Prosecutor James Schneider said that he still might press terrorism-related charges against the pair. According to AP, “Relatives of the men said they were just trying to make money by reselling the phones and were targeted because of their Arab backgrounds.”
It is unclear, however, what those who are charging that racial profiling was a factor in the arrest of Houssaiky and Abulhassan would have preferred to have happened. The facts of the case remain that they had lists of airline passengers, information on airport security, a large amount of cash, and instruments capable of being used as detonators. I hope that in such circumstances – given the fact that jihad terrorists have abundantly established their taste for targeting airplanes — investigators would have looked into the possibility of terrorism even if Houssaiky and Abulhassan had been two Norwegian grandmothers.
But the fact that they are two young Muslim men makes this not an option, but a necessity. For however unpleasant or politically inconvenient a fact it may be, young Muslim males are responsible for the overwhelming majority of terrorist violence around the world today. Since 9/11 Islamic jihadists have perpetrated well over five thousand terror attacks; no other group even comes close. Sane and courageous law enforcement officials will therefore subject young Muslim males to greater scrutiny, within the bounds of the law – and political correctness can take the hindmost.
Profiling, of course, is an imperfect tool, however useful it may be. Islam is not a race, and neither is the jihad. Adherents of the jihad ideology can be found among all races: as John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla, Richard Reid, Ismail Royer, and Hasan Akbar can attest. All those men have in common is that they are converts to Islam – a phenomenon that doesn’t necessarily have any outward signs. In fact, a recently discovered Al-Qaeda manual directs jihadists to adopt a Western secular appearance, and to eschew any outward manifestation of Islamic faith, precisely in order to divert suspicion: “Have a general appearance that does not indicate Islamic orientation (beard, toothpick, book, [long] shirt, small Koran)….Be careful not to mention the brothers’ common expressions or show their behaviors (special praying appearance, ‘may Allah reward you’, ‘peace be on you’ while arriving and departing, etc.)…Avoid visiting famous Islamic places (mosques, libraries, Islamic fairs, etc.).” Likewise, the recent terror arrests in Britain, which included a pregnant woman, demonstrate that not all jihad terrorists are men, either.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that young Middle Eastern males have committed a disproportionate amount of violent terror attacks in recent years. Although Islamic jihad supremacism is an ideology, not a race, more Middle Eastern males hold to it than do members of other groups. Accordingly, it is simply a waste of resources to subject all airline passengers, from grandmothers to toddlers, to equal scrutiny, while refusing to spend more time investigating passengers who come from the group from which most terrorists spring nowadays.
This is not a question of civil liberties. No one is arguing for the rounding-up of people who are just going about their business. If, however, the police see anything suspicious, as they did in the car of Houssaiky and Abulhassan, they have a right and a duty to check it out, and should be able to do so freely, without worrying about hurting feelings or incurring internal affairs investigations for politically incorrect practices. And it is still true that in a free society, people who are not breaking the law will have nothing to worry about.
After the uncovering of the recent jihadist airplane plot in Britain, British officials have begun moving toward this. However, politically this is an explosive issue: a British source said that the British Department for Transport “is ultra-sensitive about this and won’t say anything publicly because of political concerns about being accused of racial stereotyping.” And predictably, once a report was printed about this in the Times of London, Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Ali Desai declared: “What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offence in this country called ‘traveling whilst Asian.’ What we don’t want to do is actually alienate the very communities who are going to help us catch terrorists.” And of course, we don’t want to do that. But those communities themselves have to take responsibility for the fact that jihadists have lived and recruited and plotted in their midst, generally with no fear that their coreligionists would turn them in. While Muslim tipsters helped expose the latest airplane hijacking plot, and that is highly commendable, all too often the wrath of the Muslim communities in
Britain has been focused on anti-terror efforts and the foreign policy of their governments – when what is needed instead is an understanding of and tolerance for the need for profiling. But Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain doesn’t think profiling is worth doing anyway: “If the profiling is done on the basis of race and religion, it will be wrong, it is not going to work.”
Why not? All the September 11 hijackers were Muslims. So were the July 7 London bombers. And the Madrid train bombers of March 2004. And on and on. All the plotters in the recent international airplane hijacking attempt are Muslims. All were working on the basis of Islamic theology. Why must officials continue not to notice this? To ignore this is to give up voluntarily the one thing that may make it possible to spot the perpetrators of a terror attack before it happens, and head it off. In other words, it is suicidal.