Is Racial or Religious Profiling Ever Justified? Ten Years after 9/11, the U.S. Is Still Trying to Balance Safety and Security with Protecting Constitutional Freedoms

By Nomani, Asra Q.; Abbas, Hassan | New York Times Upfront, April 18, 2011 | Go to article overview

Is Racial or Religious Profiling Ever Justified? Ten Years after 9/11, the U.S. Is Still Trying to Balance Safety and Security with Protecting Constitutional Freedoms


Nomani, Asra Q., Abbas, Hassan, New York Times Upfront


YES In the movie Up in the Air, the character played by George Clooney declares that he follows Asian travelers in airport security lines: "They pack light, travel efficiently, and they got a thing for slip-on shoes. God love 'em." He is admonished: "That's racist!" He responds: "I stereotype. It's faster."

Racial and religious profiling is no joke, but it also isn't necessarily racism, discrimination, or harassment. On issues of safety, profiling means making practical threat assessments. It's time that we, as a nation, ditch political correctness and choose pragmatism, recognizing that race, religion, and ethnicity can play an important role in criminality.

Since Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a "declaration of war" against the U.S. in 1996, we've experienced several attacks and near misses, including the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.; "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid; and the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber en route to Detroit. As a Muslim, I know most Muslims aren't terrorists, but sadly, the common denominator among these attackers is one thing: They're Muslim.

Profiling isn't just about Muslims, however. Depending on the situation, it might make sense to focus on Colombian gangsters carrying drugs or white supremacists targeting black churches. Profiling can be legal and rational. The Justice Department says that to prevent "catastrophic events" like airliner attacks, law-enforcement officials and airport screeners "may consider race, ethnicity, alienage *, and other relevant factors."

What it comes down to is that profiling can be one of our best defenses against the alternative: catastrophe.

--ASRA Q. NOMANI

Author, Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam

NO The issue of profiling is part of the ongoing national discussion about how to balance liberty and security in the post-9/11 era. …

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