We got lucky, but we need to get better!
And now it begins again. It’s easy to predict the next breaking wave in the wake of the disaster-that-almost-was-in-Detroit. The attempt of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an airliner will certainly lead to beefed up airport security. Translation: longer lines, more searches, and more bad news for under-booked air carriers already pitching in turbulent recession air.

Congress is also certain to get into the act, and one can only hope that it does more than add to the turbulence. At the end of the day, there are, at present, only three options and each is problematic: search everyone, implement whole body security scanners, or profile.

Searching every passenger (and their luggage) would be enormously time consuming, would entail hiring many new security agents, and would certainly entail steep rises in airport security taxes. Airlines are likely to resist this option as it would devastate the lucrative short-haul business flight sector. Why fly from Boston to New York if you have to show up four hours early for an hour-long flight? Why not take Amtrak or the bus and save the hassle?

The best long-term solution is to follow the lead of airports such as Schiphol in Amsterdam and require every passenger to pass through a whole body scanner that sees through clothing. This technology faces hurdles in the US because: (a) it’s costly, and (b) alarmists have tarred it as a dirty-old-man machine. In truth it produces images of the body’s contours, not the kind of lurid detail Superman’s x-ray vision could offer, but this needs to be sold to prudes, privacy advocates, and politicians.

That leaves one other option, profiling, and it raises the ire of civil libertarians, civil rights veterans, and liberals. The latter can be summarily dismissed from the debate if they manifest bleeding heart symptoms. Liberals may want to believe there is good in everyone. They also make a good case when they say that US policy is responsible for anger toward Americans. Fine. That and a dime will get you… well, nothing. Let’s talk like grown-ups and admit that there are some truly nasty people in the world, many of whom share none of altruism of well-meaning one-world advocates. And while we’re on the subject, let’s have the common sense to admit that a disproportionate number of security risks come from the Muslim world—enough that it makes sense to profile Muslims.

Are all Muslims terrorists? Of course not! The vast majority of Muslim people are victims of the damage that terrorists do to the reputation of their faith. They are innocents. But then again, so are most of the victims of terrorism. Until the day that air terrorism ceases to be associated primarily with Muslims, the barbarism of those acts will continue to taint followers of Islam. Is that fair? No. Is it the reality? Yes. Profiling might ironically help law-abiding Muslims cast off the terrorism stigma. Imagine the response if Muslims led the hue-and-cry for airport profiling.

Profiling is, by nature, distasteful and imprecise. Many Americans recall the high-profile 1989 Carol Stuart murder case in which Boston police pursued black suspects—and even made an arrest—before it was revealed that Mrs. Stuart and her unborn child were slain by her husband Charles, who concocted the black assailant lie. Twenty years later racial profiling remains troublesome and many African Americans complain that whites remain too willing to assume that black drivers, shoppers, and passersby are crime-prone.

So why on earth should we profile Muslims? Lost in the Stuart ballyhoo is the fact that Boston police actually conducted their investigation pretty well. Stuart was the prime suspect early on and police only shifted their emphasis when medical examiners assured them that Stuart’s wounds were unlikely to be self-inflicted. Police then investigated based on what little evidence they had. They did not profile white Bostonians because the assailant was said to be black. The cops were wrong, but their reasoning was sound. Why profile? Because it’s all we’ve got at present.

As things currently stand it is simply absurd to pull Iowa grandmothers from security lines and search them just so we can say we don’t profile. We have enough evidence to suggest what kind of profile security should be looking at. In order, a terrorist is most likely to be a male coming from Muslim countries who is not traveling with family, a male with an assumed Muslim name that is not his birth name, a person traveling to or from a Muslim country who is traveling alone, a Muslim who has studied engineering, an American who has spent considerable periods of time in Muslim lands, and loners.

As in the Stuart case, profiling is hardly foolproof. Erstwhile shoe bomber Richard Reid might have still slipped through the net. So too would domestic copycats, unbalanced individuals of various persuasions, and recruits to the terrorist cause who fall outside the profile. And, yes, profiling would also stigmatize Hindus, Buddhists, and other anyone else who “looks” Muslim.

Should we do it? My choice would be the whole body scanner. Those too shy, too paranoid, or too prudish can choose not to fly. But until the machines come, rational profiling is the best we’ve got. And we need to do it because (sigh!) the world isn’t always the way that liberals and civil libertarians would wish it to be.--LV

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