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On Sept. 11, as terrorists assaulted the nation, America canceled its discussions on racial profiling. Literally. That morning in Washington, a previously scheduled White House meeting to discuss profiling of Arabs never took place. And in New Jersey, a convention of the state’s police force — which in 1999 then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman admitted was wrongly pulling over black drivers without cause — adjourned so that law enforcement officials could deal with the crisis. Don’t expect talks to resume any time soon. It has become an oft-repeated statement in these last few weeks that 100 percent of the fanatics who hijack passenger planes in America with mass-homicidal intent and results are Arabs. So it’s no surprise to hear that Americans view Arabs suspiciously. According to a Gallup Poll conducted after the attacks, “A majority of Americans favor having Arabs, even those who are U.S. citizens, being subjected to separate, more intensive security procedures at airports. About half of Americans favor requiring Arabs, even those who are citizens of the U.S., to carry special ID.” And this impulse isn’t limited to bigots — or, at least, not to people we’ve thought of as bigots. When asked whether she favored racial profiling after the attacks, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said, “I think we have to do whatever it takes.” So the profiling has begun. There are already numerous reports of dark-skinned men forced by pilots and flight attendants to get off planes. Airport security guards have acknowledged treating people of apparently Middle Eastern descent differently from others. People are scared. They are scared of Arabs. And they want to do “whatever it takes” to protect themselves. But profiling isn’t the answer. SPOT THE ARAB To start, profile whom? Arabs? There are three million in America. Before targeting them, realize that three-quarters are Christian — and so are not likely to support fundamentalist Islam. Bear in mind that, despite the 20th century’s tragic attempts at refining eugenics, eyeballing races isn’t exactly a science. According to the Arab American Institute, “Arabs may have white skin and blue eyes, olive or dark skin and brown eyes.” Even if you focus on olive skin and dark hair, can you tell a Pashtun from a Tajik from an Uzbek from a Hindu from a Turk from a Sikh from a Sephardic Jew from a Persian from an Arab? Or, for that matter, how quickly can you tell an Arab from an Hispanic-American, an Italian-American, or a Native American? Targeting America’s six million Muslims won’t be any easier. According to The Economist, the “largest contingent . . . is black, not Arab.” And the world’s largest Muslim population — about 200 million — lives in Indonesia. Osama bin Laden, we’ve all been told, has established terrorist cells in up to 60 countries. Is there any reason to think that cell members all come from Middle Eastern nations? He knows Americans are on the lookout for Arab terrorists. Won’t he at least try to recruit Muslim blacks from Sudan, Muslim whites from Bosnia, or Muslim Asians from Indonesia? And what about profiling the rest of us for potential threats? You don’t need to be a bin Laden follower to wreak mass destruction in America. In 1955, a man blew up a DC-6 with a suitcase bomb, killing 44 people, in a scheme to murder his mother and collect on her life insurance policy. Less idiosyncratically, every home-grown, perverse (probably white) nutjob who sees Timothy McVeigh as a fallen hero now has a new measure of mayhem to meet. A HEAVY PRICE Aside from the efficiency of profiling, there’s the very real cost of it. Our hard-won colorblind morals are at stake. As George W. Bush said during the presidential campaign when asked about “traditional” racial profiling of blacks, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be singled out because of race and stopped and harassed. That’s just plain wrong.” And it’s not just blacks that America has a sorry racial history with: We massacred Native Americans in the early 1800s, excluded Chinese in the late 1800s and Southern and Eastern Europeans in the 1920s, and interned Japanese in the 1940s, to name just some of the highlights. We’re still paying for these sins. Do we want to create a new racial wound? Then there’s the legal arguments. Some defenders of Arab profiling claim that the Constitution allows racial distinctions when there’s a “compelling government interest” and the program is “narrowly tailored.” (Never mind how a system that could profile potentially every dark-skinned, dark-haired person in America is in any way “narrowly tailored.”) Problem is, that’s not Supreme Court precedent. The standard, in the Court’s own words, is this: “When race-based action is necessary to further a compelling interest, such action is within constitutional constraints if it satisfies the ‘narrow tailoring’ test this Court has set out in previous cases.” Note that word: necessary. Profiling isn’t necessary to stop terrorism — or even reduce it. To the contrary, profiling might well increase the risk of terrorism, by fomenting animosity in the Arab communities whose cooperation is vital to catching bin Laden’s associates. Furthermore, necessity implies there must be a significant — if not overwhelming — correlation between race and another trait. Does anyone want to argue seriously that Arabs, as a group, are prone toward committing acts of terror? PROFILING POINT-BLANK There’s another legal argument that also needs to be dismissed: that racial profiling refers only to the practice of targeting all people of a racial group or targeting certain individuals solely on the basis of their race. It’s true that it’s not really all Arabs we’re after, but Arab men, generally under the age of 40. This is still racial profiling. FBI Director Robert Mueller III has insisted since Sept. 11 that “we do not, have not, will not target people based solely on their ethnicity — period, point-blank.” That’s not good enough. To realize why, one need only look at the recent violent attacks against Arab and Muslim communities. A man in Cleveland smashed his car into a mosque, not into the clubhouse of a young men’s association. It is devout Muslim women, not just devout men, who are changing the way they dress or staying at home in fear. President Bush told Congress, “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends.” He did not think it enough just to exhort tolerance toward the young men in those groups. In short, law enforcement might be targeting apparently Muslim and Arab men who are young. But society’s rage is targeting people who look Muslim and Arab, period. Any government-approved profiling will only exacerbate the already very real attacks against those who look stereotypically Arab or Muslim. THE COMMON DEFENSE None of this is to say that America should sit on its hands in the war against terrorism. We should all be very concerned about serious lapses in our airport and airplane security. By all means, increase it — quickly. Ban knives, arm pilots, add air marshals, secure cockpits, sniff, poke, prod, and scan. But do it to all of us. To increase safety for all, we should all be willing to shoulder the burden. We shouldn’t skimp on criminal investigations to catch past or future terrorists either. The search for bin Laden’s associates in America is under way, and they are presumed to be young Arab men. That’s fine. Law enforcement has a plethora of devices at its disposal to find, track, arrest, and ruthlessly punish them. Requiring all Middle Eastern men to abandon air travel won’t help. Outside of airports and criminal investigations, there’s still the question of protecting the rest of society — malls, subways, train stations, streets, stadiums, and all the other places where Americans live their lives. We can implement some increased security in those places — and we should. But there is no way to completely secure ourselves. As Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week, while testifying in favor of enhanced police powers, “I cannot say to you if we had enacted these in August, we would have curtailed the activities in September, nor can I assure this committee that we won’t have terrorist acts in the future.” Meaning that terrorists might strike at us again — and that striking out at our minority communities won’t stop them. There is a story about how Denmark’s King Christian X responded to Nazi Germany’s demand to deport Danish Jews: He put on a yellow Jewish star himself and asked everyone else in the country to do the same. Unfortunately, the story is not true. But what is true is that, over a three-week period, Danes rallied together — in the face of a mortal threat to themselves and their country — to smuggle almost all of Denmark’s Jews to safety in Sweden. Similarly, it’s been said that this is a time when Americans need to come together, draw on our collective strength, and share a collective burden. Does anyone really think profiling Arabs will help us do that? Evan P. Schultz is associate opinion editor at Legal Times , where his column, “Controversies & Cases,” appears every other week. He can be reached at [email protected]

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