Kathleen Parker

In the wake of last week's foiled terrorist plot to blow up 10 U.S. jetliners flying between Britain and the United States, sensible people are reconsidering our government's stubborn opposition to profiling.

Among the sensible elsewhere are officials of the British Department for Transport, who are proposing ethnic profiling as a means of more effectively identifying potential terrorists. The predictable chorus of opposition has chimed in on cue.

The Muslim Council of Britain has warned the government to think ``very carefully,'' saying that including ``behavioral pattern recognition'' in passenger profiling would lead to discrimination. A spokesman for the council said, ``Before some kind of religious profiling is introduced, a case has to be made.'' Challenge accepted.

Most terrorist acts of the past several decades have been perpetrated by Muslim men between the ages of 17 and 40. A complete list would fill this space, but following is a partial Islamic terrorist resume:

Eleven Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics (1972); U.S. Marine barracks blown up in Beirut (1983), Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacked and elderly, disabled American passenger killed (1985); TWA Flight 847 hijacked (1985); Pan Am Flight 103 bombed (1988); World Trade Center bombed (1993); U.S. embassies bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (1998); USS Cole bombed (2000); Sept. 11, 2001; Madrid and London train bombings (2004 and 2005).

Yet we are torn. Profiling seems both un-American and dangerous in an era of slippery slopes. The paranoid leap is that detention camps are just around the bend. Thus, instead of deciding to closely scrutinize airline passengers who fit the description of a likely perpetrator -- based not on bigotry, but on evidence, history and common sense -- we frisk the elderly and confiscate toddlers' sippy cups.

Critics of profiling insist that focusing on one group will distract us from other possible terrorists -- presumably all those Baptist grandmothers recently converted to Islam. They also invariably point to Timothy McVeigh, our own homegrown terrorist who blew up a federal office building in Oklahoma City. As if one white-bred misfit -- or the occasional Caucasian Muslim -- cancels out 35 years of Middle Eastern terrorists invoking Muhammad.

For a nation that laments its lapse in dot-connecting before 9/11, we are curiously blind when it comes to dealing honestly with certain people of a certain sort. Profiling isn't aimed at demonizing Muslims; it's aimed at saving lives, including Muslims.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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