Wente Watch

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tied in knots over profiling

Wente's latest column is a bit incoherent. At first she talks favourably about racial profiling, but then admits that El Al does things differently, finally winds up by bashing British Muslims. Let's deal with her points in turn.

Racial profiling. Ah yes, the old conservative dream: let Muslims suffer in those hideous airport queues, while white people smoothly sail through. In answer, take a look at this photo:

The Iranian flags and T-shirts give away what country these people hail from, but not their physical appearance. Religion has no skin colour. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world and they come in all colours. Airport staffers cannot tell the difference between southern Italians and Arab North Africans, or between Indian Hindus and Muslims, or between Indonesians and Filipinos.

Conservatives might respond that surely, white, blonde types (i.e. those who look like Margaret Wente) aren't Muslim, and therefore couldn't be a security threat. Following such a policy creates an obvious weakness. If only people who "look like Muslims" (whatever that means) are profiled, terrorists have only to use those who don't. Wente herself cites an example; in 1986, a white Irish woman was found with explosives that had been planted in her luggage by her Lebanese boyfriend.

Profiling can backfire, sometimes comically, sometimes tragically. Today, two Monarch Airlines passengers were forced off a plane merely for speaking Arabic (the plane was also delayed three hours). Last year, London police shot dead a Brazilian man who turned out to be innocent of any wrongdoing, merely because he looked Muslim.

Never has racial profiling actually foiled a terrorist plot. More than one of the 9/11 hijackers were pulled aside for extra screening, but nothing came of it as they weren't carrying explosives or anything else that was then considered a weapon.

Perhaps realizing what thin ground she is on, Wente moves on to attacking British Muslims. Is it worrisome that 10 percent of that community wants to impose shari'a law on Britain? Of course. But then it should be equally worrisome that 22 percent of British whites think you have to be white to be British. Twenty-three percent said they would be unhappy if someone of another race moved next door. The BBC survey reporting these findings has, of course, received a fraction of the attention given to polls highlighting radicalism in the Muslim community.

There is no easy answer to the problem of Islamic radicalism in the UK, or anywhere else. But somehow, I don't think strip-searching young Muslim men in airports while they watch whites airily stroll by is going to help.


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