Profiling Muslims at airport security is stupid and unAmerican

For the past few days, I’ve been a bystander in a ridiculous email discussion about airport security and decided that, once I’d spent the entire drive up University Boulevard from County Line to Evans composing a rant in my head, that rant needed to be freed from my head and posted on the blog.

Airport security is a pain in the ass.  But that’s all it is.  Buck up, folks.  I always choose the pat-down because the nude photo thingy creeps me out.  It’s not fun, but it’s not, say, dental surgery.  Hell, it’s not even flossing.  Yup, I’d rather go through airport security than floss.  Life is full of annoying things.  Get over it.

And the thought that — to avoid this mild pain in the ass — we would sacrifice core American values is just beyond me.  I am constantly baffled by what it is conservatives love when they say they love America. It was the question addressed at fabulous verbose length by this guy.

What I really wanted to ask is this: Proud American? Really? What is it exactly that you’re proud of?  You say you love your country? You say you love the United States? Really? Which part? What is it that you love about it? Specifically, what exactly do you love about America?

Because, see, so far as I can tell, people like you seem to hate just about everything that makes the United States what it is.

And so on for like 45 paragraphs or so.  It really is hilarious, but I recommend skimming.

I’ll tell you what I love:  I love the Constitution.  I love the 14th Amendment, the one that promises equal protection of the laws.  Do we really want to violate one of the most fundamental American principles to save 15 minutes at the airport?  Really?

Oh and another thing:  it doesn’t work.  If we start profiling, we would be sacrificing our values for nothing.

[P]rofiling creates two paths through security: one with less scrutiny and one with more. And once you do that, you invite the terrorists to take the path with less scrutiny. That is, a terrorist group can safely probe any profiling system and figure out how to beat the profile. And once they do, they’re going to get through airport security with the minimum level of screening every time.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we’re all more secure when we randomly select people for secondary screening — even if it means occasionally screening wheelchair-bound grandmothers and innocent looking children. And, as an added bonus, it doesn’t needlessly anger the ethnic groups we need on our side if we’re going to be more secure against terrorism.

But more than that, how would it work?  As another security expert noted,

But what do we go by? Name? Appearance? The vast majority of Arab Americans, for instance, are not only innocent of sympathy for terrorism, they’re actually Christian. To profile Muslims you’d have to target blacks, Asians, whites and Hispanics (remember Jose Padilla?). How could that work, and would it really help identify those who are intending harm or would it simply divert resources that could be better used on investigations?

So we set out to profile Muslims, but we can’t use name or appearance. What then?  Seriously, profiling advocates, if you want to target Muslims, you have to figure out a way to do it.  Religious identity cards?  A quick religious catechism with the TSA dudes?  I’m loving the idea of small-government conservatives authorizing the Federales to investigate individual religious beliefs to determine whether you get groped in the security line.

But ultimately, of course, it’s not just Muslims who commit terrorism:

The biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history prior to 9/11—the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing—was carried out by a white ex-Marine with a crew cut. The only major WMD attack of the “war on terror” era—the 2001 anthrax mailings—was apparently the handiwork of a white, Christian microbiologist angry that prominent Catholic politicians were pro-choice. And who stormed the Holocaust Museum last year, killing a security guard? Ayman-al Zawahiri? No, neo-Nazi octogenarian nutcase James Wenneker von Brunn.

I have to wait in line to take off my shoes, start up my computer, and step through a metal detector every time I go to court because Christians like to shoot at, blow up, and threaten federal buildings and officials.  That’s right, Christians.  Oh, right, of course, not Christians like you.  Bad Christians.  Maybe people calling themselves Christians who do not remotely have the values you would call Christian.

Exactly my point.

15 thoughts on “Profiling Muslims at airport security is stupid and unAmerican

  1. Carrie Lucas

    We do need a system where people with disabilities, particularly people using equipment, have the choice between virtual strip searching, and groping.

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  2. B-Rob

    Until we step up to the problem of extremist Islam in this country, we are wasting everyone’s time at the airport check in line. But, it’s not my time or the potential for screening-related personal embarrassment that bothers me. It’s the absolute lunacy of treating the 75 year old white grandmother as having the same threat level as a 25 year old Muslim. She doesn’t and you offer no credible data, other than your own opinion, that lack of profiling makes us safer. So, you’re OK invading the grandmother’s rights with pointless strip searches, while protecting the rights of people with a proven track record of trying to kill us. Sorry, not so much me.

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  3. Blueloom

    I’m the old lady (73, not 75–but I think B-Rob was being metaphorical) who started this discussion by having been groped by a TSA agent this past Sunday. I have to tell you that it is a much more invasive and humiliating procedure than I ever could have imagined. I have no objection to taking off my shoes (though it’s clearly an instance of fighting the last war), emptying my pockets, taking off my coat & sweater, putting my sub-3-oz containers of liquid in a little plastic bag (another instance of fighting the last war), etc. But I draw the line at having a stranger run her hand way down under the waistband of my slacks, up my legs to my crotch, and around & over my boobs. The TSA-groper keeps telling you that she’s “only” using the backs of her hands. This is supposed to make me feel better about undergoing what feels like a sexual assault by a stranger?

    This groping took place in a small, regional airport in New England where there was no option for the see-through x-ray. If I’m ever selected for Extreme Groping again and have the choice of pat-down or x-ray, I’ll definitely go for the x-ray. If they want to laugh at my fat butt off somewhere in a distant room in the airport, fine with me. Just keep your mitts off my body. (B-Rob disagrees on the x-ray only b/c it will take more time, not b/c it shows more of your body. He travels a whole helluva lot more than I do–and than most people do–so time in security lines is more important to him than it is to me.)

    Like Amy (and unlike B-Rob), I am a wild-eyed liberal and foaming-at-the-mouth defender of both the 1st (including we don’t profile Muslims) and 14th Amendments. We three don’t always line up politically in this manner (e.g., I’m pro-choice, they’re not), but I think we as a nation are burying our heads in the sand if we don’t at least have a conversation about the best ways to keep would-be terrorists from using airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. Looking at the best practices in other countries, including countries that do use some form of profiling system, would be a good place to start.

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    1. B-Rob

      Yes – the 75 was totally metaphorical. Sorry about that! When the far left (you) and the reasonably far right (me) find common ground on something this important, I suspect there’s something there….

      Also, to Amy’s original post – she assumes that the big issue is invasive, time-consuming, or bothersome searches at airports. She even tells us to “get over it.” But, that misses the point for me. I understand how difficult this search was for you and I’m sympathetic. That said, if it were making us safer, sorry to say, I would tell you to get over it too. But, it’s not. Every minute we spend strip searching 75 (oops, 73) year old grandmothers at airports, is a minute we’re not focusing our attention on the real terrorist risks that face our country and most of the world.

      Interesting read on this from self-described “liberal conservative” (what the hell is that?) David Cameron, PM of England at http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/02/terrorism-islam-ideology.

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  4. Amy Robertson Post author

    I don’t think you guys are addressing a couple of key questions. So let’s assume, for the purpose of this comment, that we can in fact predict who is going to commit a terrorist act based on his or her religion.

    1. How are we going to tell? Skin tone? Name? Dress? Religious ID card? Seriously. It’s easy to get pissed and announce that you’re pro-profiling. But how on earth do we do it in a way that does not have massive false positives and negatives.

    2. Are you guys both willing to give up the 14th Amendment to do this? To trade the United States constitution for microscopically increased security?

    3. How do we know the bad guys won’t learn how to game the profiling system? So we’ll buy back our 15 minutes of grope-free air travel at the expense of both the constitution and a completely false sense of security.

    4. Would you support a system that imposed significantly heavier screening on Christians seeking to enter federal buildings?

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    1. B-Rob

      1. Whether I have answers to that off the top of my head is totally irrelevant. You’re not even willing to have the dialogue. I’m pretty darn confident we can sort this out and do better than the total waste of time that is airport security today. And, we need to think way broader than airports. Our queasiness about stepping up to this issue cost 13 American lives for no reason at Ft. Hood. The signs were all there, but the government was too weak-kneed to act on it.

      2. We don’t need to. We just need to be smart about what we do here and recognize where the real threats are. By the way, are the 13 people who died at Fort Hood able to exercise their 14th amendment rights today?

      3. Your implication that extremist Muslims will be able to recruit elderly (sorry, Nora) white grandmothers to carry bombs is so preposterous as to not really warrant a response. So, I won’t.

      4. Have you been to NY lately? Every building has security. That said, the question is silly and is the exact “head-in-the-sand” approach to Islamist extremism referred to above and in David Cameron’s speech. Of course, the McVeigh act was awful and unrelated to Islam. But, nearly all of the rest of the serious terrorism in the world is based on extremist Islam. Read Cameron’s speech if you don’t believe me.

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  5. Amy Robertson Post author

    Not irrelevant at all. You’re essentially asking “unicorn farts: pro or con?” How can we have a dialogue over an abstraction? Or perhaps this is the answer: in the abstract, profiling is offensive and illegal. If you have a way to make it not offensive or illegal, I’ll listen.

    The article I linked to above (haven’t figured out how to do links in comments) included this: “Effective profiling is based on the analysis of the appearance and behavior of a passenger and an inspection of the traveler’s itinerary and passport; it does not and should not be based on race, religion, nationality or color of skin.”

    The guy who shot up Ft. Hood gave many more warning signs than his religion or skin color. I’m fine with investigating people who are in direct contact with radicals overseas who have advocated violence against our country. That would not include extra airline security for Ahmed Schmoe who happens to have an Islamic name or appearance.

    Re: recruiting. Already happened. A mid-80s terrorist sent his white girlfriend on an El Al flight with a bomb. And as the security expert I quoted said, once the profiling regime is in place, it’s easy to scope out and evade.

    Re: Ft. Hood and the 14th Amendment. That’s too easy. Let’s ask the 100,000 victims of gun violence last year (http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence) how they feel about the 2d Amendment. If you really care about saving American lives, you could start with things like gun control, auto safety, and (sorry) the uninsured.

    And calling my final question “silly” will not make it go away. The biggest threat to federal officials and buildings is right-wing Christians. Yet I, as a Jewish liberal, happily go through court security to make sure we are both safe and constitutional.

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    1. B-Rob

      Look, the math here is just really simple. Refer to http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001454.html for terrorist attacks in America or involving Americans. Sorry to be so U.S.-centric, as I really do care about keeping other nations and their people safe. It’s just not really part of this discussion. This lists 45 terrorist attacks involving Americans (actually it’s more b/c they lump a few together) in the last 30 years. 42 of them (93.3%) involved Muslim extremists. One of them (2.2%) involved a white supremacist in OK city. I choose to defend against the 93.3% and believe that it is reasonable to take some additional precautions against the 93.3%. You attempt to demonstrate the folly of that by citing the 2.2%, because, in some twisted use of statistics it represents 100% of all bombings of public buildings in Oklahoma. Sorry, but that is, indeed, silly.

      The do Unicorns fart question, while amusing, is a diversion from an important (not funny) problem. If indeed, unicorns farted (I admit to being totally agnostic on this point), I am assuming it wouldn’t kill people. Extreme Muslims do and need to be stopped. Interestingly, your uber left wing president was anti everything George Bush did in the war on terror when he campaigned. When he confronted the realities of his office and terrorism, he changed his tune in many areas (including opening a third war). I am confident he has a lot more data than I do upon which to base those substantial campaign flip/flops (to be clear: good flip/flops).

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  6. Amy Robertson Post author

    I’m not denying that there are Muslim extremists who wish us ill. And let’s assume your statistics are correct. You announced support for the concept of profiling. Putting aside the fact that it’s unconstitutional, I have yet to hear how you are planning to do this in a way that is (1) effective and (2) not laughable (like religious ID cards – or are you not laughing – that’s what I’m trying to get a sense of). I also have yet to hear how your concern for protecting American lives plays out in the arena of gun deaths and deaths from lack of insurance, both of which claim more lives each year by at least an order of magnitude than terrorism.

    Does it bother you that you are proposing something that is unconstitutional? (And, again, likely won’t work.) Do you get that principles like equality before the law are what make us a better place than countries governed by undemocratic regimes, including the ones you fear?

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  7. B-Rob

    Everyone interprets the constitution to suit their needs. You mention gun control (assuming a position for me that, curiously, has never been stated), a clear violation of the 2nd amendment that you feel quite comfortable with b/c it suits your agenda. Profiling doesn’t fit your agenda so you jump up on your constitutional soap box. Along comes Obamacare, a blantant violation of the constitution and you slowly step off your soap box. I’m guessing you have not blogged about any of the other violations of the constitution just by this administration:

    – Appointment of H. Clinton as secretary of state in violation of the emoluments clause

    – and, yes (though I’m no particular birther) the failure of the POTUS to ever produce a document proving his citizenship.

    My point isn’t to say I’m all exercised about each of these (though the unconstitutional ramming of Obamacare down the throats of a populace that didn’t want it and hates it was egregious), but rather to point out the inconsistency in anyone picking and choosing when to stand on constitutional principals.

    And, no, I’m not laughing at all. This is really serious subject matter that requires serious thought and discussion with all options on the table.

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  8. Jenny

    So many intelligent things I want to say, but I keep going back to those unicorn farts, which David and I discussed over dinner. Amy, you owe us a further post on the subject.

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  9. Pingback: Cousin Itt and Airplane Security « Thought Snax

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