Should airport security procedures include ethnic and religious profiling?
by Daniel Pipes
President George W. Bush refers to the enemy in the war on terror as “Islamic radicalism.” Official U.S. policy sees the country at war with those Muslims who support an extremist, jihadistic, misogynist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, totalitarian form of Islam.
Yet, whatever the president says at the loftiest levels of policymaking, the post-9/11 traveler boarding an airplane in the United States encounters something quite different: an insistence that everyone is equally suspect. Department of Transportation guidelines, for example, forbid security personnel from relying on “generalized stereotypes or attitudes or beliefs about the propensity of members of any racial, ethnic, religious, or national origin group to engage in unlawful activity.”
Fortunately, some movement away from this rigid approach has taken place. In late 2003, the Transportation Security Administration introduced a passenger profiling system known as Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques. It now operates in twelve U.S. airports and uses behavioral pattern recognition to focus on extremely high levels of stress, fear and deception.
This marks a step in the right direction, but well-trained terrorists reveal neither stress nor fear, implying the need for a deeper probe. Toward this end, some analysts, like Michael A. Smerconish in his 2004 book, Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11, propose that counterterrorism focus on race and ethnicity, and specifically on “young Arab male extremists.”
Focusing on observable traits like Arabic names or a Middle Eastern appearance is easily done. But, like nervousness, these are crude criteria that do not get to the heart of the problem. Also, looking exclusively for young Arab males will inevitably spur terrorists to rely on older, female, non-Arab operatives.
Instead, law enforcement must focus on the motivations behind violent acts. Radical Islam inspires Islamist terrorism. All terrorist jihadists are Muslim, using intelligence to focus on the 1 percent of the American population that is Muslim is both logical and inevitable.