Monday, December 06, 2004

Ingraham Supports Profiling Muslims (Just Don't Call it Bigotry)

Laura Ingraham, on her nationally syndicated radio show tonight, offered a startlingly naive line of reasoning.

Discussing homeland security, specifically as administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Ingraham said that racial profiling (although she actually meant "religious profiling") of "Muslims" should be allowed. And, she said, it's not bigotry.

Bigotry, the conservative pundit suggested, was actually being promulgated by Osama bin Laden himself, since he only allowed Muslims in Al Qaeda. So, Ingraham reasoned, TSA employees should be free to profile Muslims to protect Americans from terror.

But think about the simplicity of what she is saying: TSA agents should screen for Muslims.

How does one know who is a Muslim? Over 1.2 billion people worldwide are Muslims. Only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs. To screen for Muslims, TSA employees would not just be profiling those of Arab descent, but also every U.S. citizen or foreign tourist who could be described as African, British, French, German, Indonesian, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Chinese and Turkish -- for all of those countries have several million Muslims.

***

Ingraham's guest tonight, columnist Heather McDonald, recently wrote: "What is at issue is religious profiling. By definition—by Usama bin Ladin's own definition when he called on all Muslims to kill Americans wherever they can find them—Muslim terrorists must be Muslim. Because religious identity is not always apparent, however, national origin or ethnic heritage should be available as surrogates. Needless to say, Muslim identity should be at most only one factor in assessing someone's security risk."

McDonald argues the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System should identify Muslims. Fine. That's one-fifth of the planet. Then what?

A reasonable answer would be that the U.S. needs to improve its intelligence, and replace stereotypes with that intelligence. Line up any number of randomly screened Muslims, and there's no guarantee you'll find one with ties to Al Qaeda or terrorism. Replacing intelligence with racial (or religious) stereotypes simply doesn't get you very far in fighting potential terror threats.

Yes, Al Qaeda has Muslims among its ranks. But very little good comes when you stereotype based on the worst elements of any people -- or worse, act upon only those stereotypes. Imagine the uproar that would come if people learned the TSA was profiling Jews (because of the actions of the anti-Palestinian extremists) or Irish (because of the actions of a few anti-British extremists) or any other caucasian people. Now imagine you're a law-abiding Muslim and facing the prospect that the Laura Ingrahams of the world might be voicing the opinion of conservative America, at a time when conservatives run the government.

***

The pros and cons of racial (or religious) profiling have been in the news nearly as long as the TSA has been in existence. In April of 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the TSA for civil rights violations stemming from the wrongful arrest of a Lake Worth, Fla., doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves.

The ACLU argues that Dr. Bob Rajcoomar was handcuffed and jailed for four hours in 2002 solely on the basis of his skin color and national origin. He was detained at Philadelphia International Airport urs after air marshals subdued an unruly passenger on his plane. According to the ACLU, there was no connection that could naturally be drawn between the unruly passenger and Dr. Rajcoomar.

"His detention had nothing to do with security and everything to do with blatant discrimination," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

***

U.S. laws regarding what air marshals can or cannot do is vague, opening the door for potential abuse.

According to Anita Ramasastry, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington, an air marshal is empowered to make warrantless arrests if the marshal reasonably believes that the arrestee is committing, or has committed, a federal felony offense.

"What constitutes "reasonable belief"? That is root of the present controversy," Ramasastry wrote following the arrest of Dr. Rajcoomar. "At present, air marshals and airline personnel can force a person to leave a plane, or even arrest him, merely because a passenger or a crew member feels uncomfortable with his flying. Inevitably, the passengers affected are those with darker skin, and Middle Eastern or South Asian appearance. Like Dr. Rajcoomar, they may have done nothing at all objectionable, yet still may be punished as a result of racial profiling. "

***

The question of racial (or religious) profiling is certainly one that needs to be discussed, including within any discussion of the TSA and airline safety.

But pundits like Ingraham, playing to the lowest common denominator, would rather take the easy path. On tonight's show, she fielded a call from a like-minded listener -- claiming to be a TSA employee from Houston -- who said that regardless of the TSA rules, he was going to profile for Muslims, facts be damned.

Yes, it's always easy to stereotype, and Ingraham praised him for doing his job.

***

McDonald has suggested that the issue of racial (or religous) profiling is a "hot potato" that most politicians don't want to touch. I agree. Both left and right should be able to agree that the current system is broken.

But simpletons like Ingraham, with their racial (or religious) insensitivity, aren't providing any answers.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classic liberal elitism - either you agree with my point of view, or you are dumb, a simpleton, a racist, or whatever other epithet they select. Maybe racial profiling is an appropriate response, seeing as though nearly every terrorist action taken against the US, on our soil or on foreign soil, has been done by a certain group of people, who tend to originate from the same geographical area and the same religious affiliation. I known, I know ... we should actually be looking for elderly Russian women, a sure threat to our security. Norwegian teenagers should be the next targeted group. How about those dastardly Fijian accountants? Now maybe Ms. Ingraham made a mistake when she referenced the religion rather than the race, but at the same time, we are not being attacked by those zealots from the First Baptist Church, or those devious Mormons.

Someday, hopefully, the left will become serious about national defense.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classic conservative blowhardiness -- take the original point out of context, and then argue with yourself.

The point, pretty clearly, is that there are 1.2 billion Muslims, from a host of countries. What is simplistic is to think the U.S. can screen one-fifth of the planet and somehow do something about terrorism.

But hey, you go argue with yourself about liberal elitism. That certainly helps solve problems.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To quote the final paragraph of the article, "But simpletons like Ingraham, with their racial (or religious) insensitivity, aren't providing any answers."
Like it or not, Muslims are a specific and definable group, albeit a large group, of people that a specific subset of has declared war on our country. Muslims from the Middle East happen to be a more specific category of individuals who are exponentially more likely to engage in terrorist activies, domestically and internationally, than perhaps, Sen. Kennedy, who was on the watch list. If the radical elements of the Israeli population carried out terrorist attacks on our soil, both domestically and internationally, I would think that the TSA would be negligent in not screening for the nationality and the religion. If some of the extreme elements of the Irish nationalists decide to conduct attacks against the US, then by all means, they should be added to the screening process.

Now, the article itself takes on a seperate, but somewhat related issue of air marshalls, and their duties and responsibilities, but the author is clever and slips it in, giving one the impression that the TSA and the air marshalls are similar or coordinated entities. He then follows up with allegations made by the ACLU, who fights the very laws that may protect our country as far as security measures, but at the same time, does an incredible job of standing up for people's First Amendment rights. However, they are free to make whatever allegations they so choose in their lawsuits, and the author knows that the government cannot and does not respond publicly to the allegations being made, nor does he even bother to point that out. He leaves the allegations out there as fact, with nothing other than an allegation, and then goes off describing a scenario where people can be arrested for any reason.

These issues are more complex and worthy of discussion than the author of this article, and Ms. Ingraham give them credit for. However, because somebody has a different point of view than Mr. Mark does not a simpleton make.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The JABBS article makes a simple point -- if you screen just for Muslims, you have screened one-fifth of the planet. Then what?

Now, Ingraham didn't discuss screening specifically for Middle Eastern Muslims, but wouldn't one have to screen for Muslims from every country that has Al Qaeda? Pakistan? Indonesia? It's a long list.

The bigger point, beyond the First Amendment questions raised, is our need to gather actual intelligence, rather than relying on stereotyping. I think that's a valid point, but one that won't be addressed by this administration. After all, Bush gave a medal of freedom to George Tenet, who oversaw perhaps the biggest intelligence screw-up in our nation's history.

One other point: JABBS doesn't say that the ACLU is correct in its assertions. It just presents the case, saying that profiling has been "in the news" for as long as the TSA has been in business. And the suit was against the TSA, at least in the JABBS piece, so this isn't bait and switch.

4:51 PM  

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