Friday, March 11, 2011

King Hearings: Profiling Is Not The Answer

Back on Martin Luther King Day, I posted my thoughts on why discrimination hurts our country.  This week, another King is in the news for his Congressional hearings on the "radicalization" of Islam and its impact on Homeland Security.  Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, convened the hearings to focus on what he perceives as a growing threat to the safety of the United States.  I have never met Representative King, so I am not going to speculate on his motives for holding such hearings.  However, the hearings themselves are, at best, misguided, and, at worst, can be harmful to the well being of this nation.

The unstated implication of these hearings are that we, as a country, should be suspicious of Muslims.  The obvious next step is that Muslims should be subjected to extra scrutiny where no suspicion exists.  This is wrong on so many levels.  Others probably can make the legal and moral arguments more eloquently than I could.  The point that I am going to make here is that this profiling of Muslims are terror suspects is actually damaging to national security.

The goal of a smart terrorist is to blend in with the rest of society in order to gain access to a high value target, and once in sight of the target, perform the terrorist act.  If you know that law enforcement and security personnel are going to be on the lookout for a particular type of person, you as a terrorist are going to want to avoid matching that profile.  A smart terrorist is going to travel under an assumed name.  A smart terrorist is going to change his or her appearance to look less Middle Eastern.  In summary, a smart terrorist is going to do everything to not fit the profile.  Homeland Security, like all Government agencies, has very limited resources.  If they put all of their resources focusing on those who fit some profile, they naturally will not give much focus to those who don't fit the standards profile.  However, this is precisely the attack vector that a smart terrorist would use in their next attack.

Likewise, once this whole "recruiting at the Mosque" concept becomes part of the law enforcement profile, what is a smart terrorist going to do?  He or she is going to recruit through a different venue.  Law enforcement is going to be so focused on keeping an eye on the thousands of Mosques that nobody will have time to be on the lookout for other threats.

There is danger when you act on a profile rather than hard evidence.  Not only do you waste resources chasing ghosts, but you ignore the real criminals who may not fit your narrow conception of what a terrorist looks like or acts like.  There is an old saying about how the military is always preparing to fight yesterday's war while ignoring the war of tomorrow.  Representative King is thinking about how we were harmed in the past, while those who oppose the United States are thinking about how to harm us in the future.  Let's not fight yesterdays war with this dangerous concept of profiling.

I said that I would leave the legal and moral arguments to those who are better equipped to make such statements.  However, I will leave you with one more thought:

One of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century is a man named Muhammad Ali.  Yes, he was a great fighter - arguably the greatest of all time.  However, what made him great American was that he had the courage of his convictions.  Fighting in the Vietnam War was against his beliefs.  He gave up four years of his boxing career in his prime in the name of his beliefs.  This is precisely what America is about:  making the hard choices because they are right choice.  The U.S. Constitution is filled with hard choices.  Giving people freedom of speech is a hard choice because that freedom means that we might have to listen to things that we don't want to hear.  Giving people the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure is a hard choice because it means that sometimes criminals are protected by these freedoms, too.  However, these hard choices that our Founding Fathers made are what make America what it is.

Yes, what Representative King sounds like the quick and easy.  We'll just single out all Muslims and all Mosques as a threat so we don't have to do the hard work of actually investigating the real threats.  Easy, but wrong.  In order to truly protect this country, both in term of security and in terms of its soul, we have to suspect nobody until they merit suspicion.  We have to be like Muhammad Ali and make the hard choice, which is also the right choice.

By the way, Muhammad Ali was a Muslim.

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