12.31.2009 0

Ideological Profiling: Is it Ethnic Profiling?

  • On: 01/08/2010 09:46:12
  • In: Homeland Security
  • By Victor Morawski

    The recent terrorist attempt to down a U.S. airliner and the failure of Homeland Security to prevent him from boarding the plane has raised serious questions, not only about the competence of DHS officials, but the adequacy of our screening techniques.

    One prevalent fear is that we are wasting much time and limited resources casting too wide a net in our screening procedures for reasons of political correctness. The fear seems to be that narrowing our focus to those proven most likely to commit a terrorist act could result in profiling members of a specific minority group in ways that some condemn as racial or ethnic stereotyping.

    The truth, however, is quite the contrary. The sort of ideological filtering that occurs in screening for terrorists is not racial or ethnic profiling at all. And even the staunchest defenders of political correctness should not object to it. Let me illustrate this from personal experience.

    The fact is, I would liked to have entitled this column “The Day I was Profiled as a Terrorist.” But, had I done so, few readers would have taken me seriously. Let me explain.

    In 1985, while in Graduate School, I had the opportunity to participate in two separate academic conferences in the United Kingdom — one in Dublin, Ireland and the other in Aberdeen, Scotland — with ten days in between to be a tourist.

    To get myself from Ireland to London after the Dublin conference, I purchased an overnight bus/ferry package. We exited the ferry in England by walking en masse up a wide ramp. Stationed on it were British immigration officials selectively stopping some of us for questioning.

    To my surprise, I was one of those stopped. Of course, I had nothing to fear since my reasons for being in the country were entirely legitimate, and this was easily determined after the official viewed my US passport and asked me some routine questions. Even though I had a beard at the time, it was nicely trimmed. I thought I looked reasonably respectable and told myself that my being singled out then was a random event.

    Years later, however, after seeing Gerry Adams on the news, I put two and two together. Though he has since denied any IRA associations, there can be little doubt that his image did trigger those associations. When I walked up the ramp of that ferry, I, too, shared a certain look then associated with a group of young men who had entered England to commit acts of terrorism. Simply put, I looked far too much like Gerry Adams.

    Had it been explained to me that I was stopped for questioning because some suspected IRA terrorists looked like me, or vice versa, I do not think that I would have been offended; I would have probably thought that stopping me was reasonable.

    Was it ethnic profiling? I doubt it. I have no reason to believe that English authorities had conjured up some grand theory positing that there was something in the genetic make-up of an Irishman that made him predisposed to commit acts of terrorism. If there was profiling, it was ideological, not ethnic.

    Some young Irishmen, who looked like me, had joined an organization whose ideology condoned acts of terrorism. And is not the situation the same in the case of radical Muslim extremists?

    In singling out Middle Eastern men for increased attention from airport security, we are not presupposing some grand racial theory that says they have something in their genes making them predisposed to commit acts of terrorism. That would, indeed, be ethnic profiling of the worst kind.

    Instead, we are simply doing the same sort of sagacious ideological profiling that the British authorities were doing with the IRA. We are similarly saying that some members of a particular ethnic group have adopted an ideology—that associated with a particular branch of Islam—that condones terrorism. And we have every right to protect ourselves against their murderous behavior.

    Finally, given the Homeland Security memo that surfaced a few months ago telling law enforcement officials to focus on members of certain groups who are politically right of center, I fear I must give Gerry Adams ample warning. Were he to fly to this country today, there is a chance that he might be singled out and questioned by Homeland Security. Simply put, he looks far too much like Victor Morawski.

    Victor Morawski, a professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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