When Disrupting Terrorists, LAPD Prefers Inoffensive to Effective
Are you “iWATCHing” yet? No, it’s not some new product from Apple, but rather an innovation from the Los Angeles Police Department that, like a local neighborhood watch program, enlists citizens across the country in the effort to ferret out any potential terrorists who might be lurking among us.
Boiled down to its essentials, the iWATCH program asks citizens to report, via a toll-free telephone number or website, any suspicious activity that might indicate that some terrorist plot is afoot. It was just such a tip, authorities say, that led to the September arrest of Najibullah Zazi, the Denver man suspected of having al-Qaeda connections. Zazi came under investigation after purchasing large quantities of chemicals from Denver-area beauty supply stores. When a curious employee at one such store asked him why he was buying the chemicals, Zazi reportedly answered that he had “lots of girlfriends.”
And maybe he does, but it seems more likely he was looking forward to an afterlife of rollicking with the 72 virgins he was promised after blowing up himself and as many New Yorkers as possible with the truck bomb he was planning to detonate before he got himself pinched.
We must note here, for you surely never would have expected it, that Zazi is a Muslim -- born in Afghanistan and raised in Pakistan before America threw open the golden door for him in 1999. Purely a coincidence of course, because as all right-thinking Americans know, there is no connection whatsoever -- none, none, none! -- between the Islamic faith and terrorism.
And the folks down at iWATCH headquarters want you to bear that in mind as you keep your eyes peeled for any signs of an embryonic terrorist plot. Responding to criticism of the program from -- surprise! -- the American Civil Liberties Union, LAPD Commander Joan McNamara said police would not accept reports based on race or ethnicity, and that operators at the iWATCH centers would explain this to any callers so ignorant as to assume dark motives in their peace-loving Muslim neighbors.
So, although Zazi and his collaborators were undone by a tip from an appropriately curious citizen, one can well imagine that the iWATCH program, once it’s thoroughly bureaucratized and hamstrung by politically correct policies, will fail to connect some important dots, especially if those dots happen to wear beards and come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or thereabouts. If you doubt this, you probably haven’t traveled by commercial airline lately, for if you had you would have seen small children and pensioners alike taken aside for added scrutiny at the security checkpoint even as swarthy young men of apparent Middle Eastern heritage were whisked through with nary a raised eyebrow from the screeners.
I take you now to an iWATCH call center in New York, where culturally sensitive operators are fielding calls from concerned citizens. We join one such call in progress:
Culturally Sensitive Operator: Thank you for calling iWATCH. What would you like to report?
Concerned Citizen: I think my neighbors might be terrorists.
CSO: Say on! And what has brought you to this opinion?
CC: Well, they’re Muslims, and —
CSO: Ah ah, I must stop you there. We don’t accept reports based on religious faith. Islam is the religion of peace, after all.
CC: Um, okay, but they’re also from Pakistan.
CSO: Again, I must caution you. Their country of origin is of no interest to us here at iWATCH. The American tapestry is all the more vibrant for the threads interwoven from countries like Pakistan. Why, if we didn’t have Pakistanis, who would drive the taxi cabs?
CC: I don’t know. The Russians, I guess. Nigerians, too.
CSO: Perhaps. What else has aroused your suspicion of your peace-loving Pakistani neighbors?
CC: Well, sometimes I can see inside their apartment when they open the door, and they have a picture of Osama bin Laden on the wall.
CSO: How do you know it’s Osama? Could be an honored relative.
CC: Well, he’s a pretty recognizable guy. I’ve seen his picture lots of times.
CSO: Exactly. He’s well known. Maybe your neighbors want to be familiar with his face in the event they should bump into him around town. Tell them to give us a call if they do.
CC: They’ve also got other pictures on the walls, like the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge.
CSO: Lots of people have those pictures. Walk down any block on Broadway from Midtown to Battery Park and you can pick one up for five bucks. Ten bucks nicely framed. Your neighbors are no doubt proud to live in the vicinity of such world-famous landmarks.
CC: But I heard them talking about the structural supports of the Brooklyn Bridge. Who talks about that?
CSO: David McCullough wrote an entire book about the Brooklyn Bridge. Big seller for him. You wouldn’t call him a terrorist, would you?
CC: Well, no, but —
CSO: Listen, we appreciate the call, but I’m afraid you’ve given us nothing to go on. And I must warn you against any further ethnic stereotyping. Your name, phone number, and address have been entered into our database, and you may be ordered to attend cultural sensitivity training if you persist in these unfounded and offensive —
CSO (to coworker): He hung up.
CSO #2: Anything worthwhile?
CSO: Probably not. And anyway, what’s the worst that could happen?