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Beware Anti-Muslim Hysteria
Beware Anti-Muslim Hysteria
The hysteria has begun.
Whenever there is an intelligence breakdown, we are told we need to sacrifice more liberties.
Saturday, January 9,2010 22:24
by Matthew Rothschild Middle East Online

Whenever there is an intelligence breakdown, we are told we need to sacrifice more liberties. We need to be on guard for terrorism, no doubt about it. But we shouldn’t alienate a quarter of the world’s population people in the process. That won’t make us any safer, notes Matthew Rothschild.


The hysteria has begun.

With the attempt to bring down that Northwest jet flying into Detroit on Christmas, the urge to profile Muslims and demonize Islam is becoming irresistible for some -- especially those on Fox cable news.

On Sunday, retired General Thomas McInerney said, “We have to use profiling. And I mean be very serious and harsh about the profiling. . . .“If you are an 18-28 year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip searched.” Since there are a couple hundred million people in that category, this would make strip-searching at airports an interminable exercise.

McInerney didn’t make any effort to hide his hatred of the entire religion of Islam, which he called “an ideology, not a religion.” The general is no theologian, but his crude response is quite popular, I’m afraid.

Sarah Palin, after the Fort Hood murders, said the military had fallen victim to “political correctness” and instead should “profile away.”

Others on the right have weighed in, also: Newt Gingrich said he was all for it; radio host Mike Gallagher put it crudely: “There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed.” And Rep. Peter King of New York chimed in: “100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why should we not be profiling people because of their religion?”

In America, we’re going to start asking people’s religion at the airline gate? There are hundreds of thousands of African Americans who are Muslims. Should they all automatically be suspect?

There hundreds of millions of Muslims from countries where there is no Al Qaeda presence. Should they all automatically be suspect?

There are also hundreds of millions of Muslims where there is an Al Qaeda presence. Should they all automatically be suspect?

The Obama Administration’s new mandatory policy of giving everyone from a list of 14 nations a full-body pat down is also overly broad and misguided. A nine-year-old girl from Lebanon deserves a pat down? A 90-year-old Algerian man traveling with his grandchildren needs one, too?

By relying on such crude yardsticks for measuring the risk of terrorism, the US government and the fulminators on the right are not only going to be searching through endless haystacks, they are also going to be creating enmity among people in all these countries who are singled out. On top of that, the anti-Muslim rhetoric and any de facto anti-Muslim policy will invite hate crimes here in the United States.

That’s why it’s wise to take a more prudent and nuanced approach, relying on behavioral tip-offs and other tells. When someone pays in cash and carries little baggage, as Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab did, then that person merits an extra look and a pat down. When someone is acting peculiar, that person should be pulled aside.

And, of course, when our government receives good intelligence -- e.g., when a father goes to the US embassy to warn about his son’s radicalism -- it would be nice if it could act swiftly and competently on that information.

Instead, whenever there is an intelligence breakdown, as there was here and as there was before 9/11, we are told we need to sacrifice more of our liberties. This leads to an endlessly slippery slope, as Jay Stanley of the ACLU has noted in his critique of full-body scanners.

“If terrorists even perceive that scanners will work, they take the next logical step and conceal explosives in their body cavities,” Stanley writes. “Al Qaeda has already used this technique; in September a suicide bomber stowed a full pound of high explosives and a detonator inside his rectum, and attempted to assassinate a Saudi prince by blowing himself up. (The prince survived.) So it seems that when the next terrorist tries to blow up an airliner using this technique, all the usual jittery voices surely will once again say that we must abandon our personal dignity and privacy in order to block that particular kind of plot. So we'd just like to get ahead of the game and state right now that the ACLU will be opposed to that.”

We need to be on guard for terrorism, no doubt about it. But we shouldn’t alienate a quarter of the world’s population people in the process. That won’t make us any safer.

tags: Anti-Muslim / Terrorism / liberties / Northwest / Muslims / Christmas / Profiling
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