The Ethics of Profiling

In the wake of al-Qaeda’s failed Christmas Day plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253, several security discussions, once thought closed, ought to be reopened. Among them: this nation’s aversion to “profiling” our adversaries. Opponents of profiling cite the slippery-slope possibilities. We could slide into discriminatory behavior, they forewarn. We must guard against anti-Muslim sentiment, they insist. These worries, however, are likely misplaced. Profiling our enemies wherever they may be -- most imperatively, at the location and moment of attack -- is not only logical, but ethical.

This year alone, there was the Long Island convert who took aim at Penn Station. There was the Arkansas convert who attacked a Little Rock military recruitment center, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding another. There was the prison convert from Illinois who tried to blow up a federal building in Springfield. A businessman from Chicago tried to attack a Danish newspaper and was later charged with assisting the gunmen who slaughtered dozens in Mumbai, India. An Afghan national, Mr. Zazi, targeted Manhattan landmarks for destruction. A Jordanian national, Mr. Smadi, tried to bring down a skyscraper in Dallas. Shirwa Ahmed and company traveled from suburban Minneapolis to kill innocents in Somalia. Ramy Zamzam and friends left Washington, D.C., likely to do the same in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there was November’s massacre at Ford Hood and December’s near-disaster aboard Flight 253.

All these suspects share several common characteristics: 1) they were relatively wealthy; 2) they were highly educated; and 3) they were all Muslim. Stating this aloud does not make one a racist. It proves one to be an empiricist.

Profiling potential threats based upon what someone may believe is not racist. Beliefs, thoughts, and doctrines have nothing to do with “race” -- Islam isn’t a race, after all. Our enemies are Arab and Pashtun, African and Asian, brown and sometimes white, men and sometimes women. It is their Islamist fanaticism which binds them together in their epic struggle against the West. They mean what they say and say what they mean. Recognizing this as fact is an essential prerequisite.

A wiser national posture would involve transcending phony multicultural etiquette. On the New York City subway system, there are signs imploring citizens to “remain vigilant” and “report suspicious activity.” This is well and good, but we undermine such vigilance when the federal government itself is beholden to politically correct feel-good nonsense.